Looking Back in History: The First Ever Little League World Series -- What Has And Has Not Changed

In 1938, a man named Carl Stotz had an idea. An idea, albeit small, that has turned into a global event. He wanted to start an organized baseball league in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
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In 1938, a man named Carl Stotz had an idea. An idea, albeit small, that has turned into a global event. He wanted to start an organized baseball league in Williamsport, Pennsylvania for his nephews to play in, according to Little League. Only ten years later, the league had expanded beyond not only Williamsport, but Pennsylvania, too. Hammonton, New Jersey had the first team outside of the state of Pennsylvania to participate in the tournament that was then known as the National Little League Tournament, according to Little League. This is remembered as the first Little League World Series.

Carm Grieco played in that first Little League World Series for the Lock Haven All-Stars. Lock Haven is about 25 miles West of Williamsport. He was a 12-year-old boy who loved baseball.

"I saw the most beautiful glove," he said, "I fell in love with the mitt. It was real bright, yellowish-orange. You had to take some oil and rub it in."

And that was it. He became a catcher.

Lock Haven had four regular-season teams. In order to make the Lock Haven All-Stars, who competed in the Little League World Series, players were selected by their regular-season managers, according to Grieco.

When Grieco was selected, his excitement was accompanied by some confusion.

Grieco's family had moved from Lock Haven to Williamsport that summer. Grieco's father was a pharmacist and moved his drug store from Lock Haven to Williamsport.

So as all of his teammates were in Lock Haven, Grieco was down in Williamsport, the hometown for many of the other teams in the Little League World Series. In fact, there were so many leagues in Williamsport that a different section of the city would mean a different league.

There was a Lock Haven League, a Montgomery League, a Lincoln League, a Milton League, a Montoursville League, a West Shore League, a Jersey Shore League, and several for teams from Williamsport. In all, there were 11 teams in this tournament, according to Little League.

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Lock Haven had an extremely successful first year in the tournament, especially since its league formed and played together for the first time that year. But the fact that only 11 teams partook in the tournament made it easier to advance, according to Grieco.

"I think we only won a couple of games before we got into the championship game."

In the semifinals, they played the team from Hammonton, New Jersey. Lock Haven won.

"We had peanut butter sandwiches and Coca-Cola in between the games," Grieco said with a chuckle. The semifinals and finals were played on the same day.

They waited to find out who they were to play the Maynard Little League Midgets, a team from Williamsport. According to Grieco, the Maynard league a few years before - and this Maynard team was one of the best teams he'd seen.

The Lock Haven All-Stars fell to the Maynard Midgets, by a 16-7 score.

Grieco did not start that game. Being a catcher, he started the semifinals game earlier that day. When he did get in the game, he hit two doubles, his most memorable moments. But it wasn't enough.

'I wasn't too happy because we lost."

However, the Lock Haven All-Stars got a silver medal for coming in second place.

"Just as big as a nickel," he said.

Interestingly, to Grieco though, the tournament was not a stressful event.

"It was like, "We're getting together. We're playing some teams from Williamsport and there might be some teams outside of Williamsport,'" Grieco explained. "At the time, you just didn't even think it was a World Series."

It was, in fact, the first tournament Grieco played in.

The championship was not even a can't-miss event, according to Grieco, evident by a conversation he had with his father on the day of the championship game.

"I said, "Dad, you going come see me play?' And he said, 'No, I can't get a substitute pharmacist. If you going play because I'm there, you're playing for the wrong reason.'"

Grieco's father only saw him play a few times, because he had to open up the drug store. He was more focused, according to Grieco, on the well-being of his family.

"My father just worked and worked and worked," Grieco said. He had four younger brothers. "He put us through college," Grieco admitted. All of them.

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And because of his dad's work, Grieco went to college, attending Lycoming College in Williamsport. And he wasn't alone. Grieco said that around six or seven players alone, from the two championship contenders, went to Lycoming College.

Grieco, like many of his teammates, became a teacher. He taught for 35 years in Hughesville, Pennsylvania, just East of Williamsport. With his interest in teaching, he developed a love for coaching. He got into coaching basketball, football, and little league baseball. When he took his first teaching job in 1957, Grieco got involved with elementary basketball programs and elementary football programs. He even worked his way up to coaching varsity basketball for a year.

In that first Lock Haven Little League, parents were not managers - often not even coaches. Instead, managers were older guys who cared about the game, giving up free time to coach the teams. These men were very respected.

"When the managers told you to do something, you did it," Grieco said, reminiscing. "No question. You did it. No moaning or groaning."

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Today, ESPN covers the Little League World Series on television. Games are recapped by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. It's a global event, attracting teams from even Taiwan. Back then, the tournament only ventured outside of Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Back then, it was papers like the Lock Haven Express and the Williamsport Sun covering the Little League World Series, and it certainly was not on television.

Then, there were no sponsors for the tournament. The first sponsor came a year later. Now, it's sponsored by Allstate, Frosted Flakes, active.com, David Seeds, and Baseball Factory just to name a few.

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Of course, though, the difference is going to be drastic comparing the first year of the Little League World Series to the 64th year. It shouldn't be surprising that Grieco admitted that comparing the equipment today to back then is impossible.

"Some of the bats were taped," Grieco said. And they were wooden. Now they use metal bats. They didn't even have protective helmets, just wearing their normal hats.

Last year, there were over 32,000 people attending the championship game, compared to the modest approximation of 2,500, according to Little League, who went to that game 64 years ago between the Maynard Midgets and the Lock Haven All-Stars.

There is a big annual pre-tournament parade to start off the Little League World Series; there are parades for the winners; Williamsport comes alive for a few weeks with tourists from not only around the United States, but the world, too.

"Little League, you know, has come a long, long way," Grieco said, "Since the 1947 World Series."

But it's not about whether it's better now or how it used to be. How the team would get ice cream or sodas and walk home together after games. When pick-up games were common, instead of organized baseball. All of that is not the point; it's about what hasn't changed.

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Little did Grieco know, back when he played in the championship game against Maynard League, two Maynard Midgets would become his best friends: Jack Losch and Jimmy Sughrue. Grieco was the best man at Losch's wedding. These were lifelong friends to Grieco. And it was because of the Little League World Series.

The message hasn't changed. According to Little League's site, "the Little League program assists youth in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being."

It may be true that there are more sponsors. It may be more competitive and nationally recognized. But ultimately, the message of Little League has not changed, but neither have the goals of playing baseball and all other sports.

"I saw the most beautiful glove," he said, "I fell in love with the mitt. It was real bright, yellowish orange. You had to take some oil and rub it in."

And that was it. Grieco became a catcher. Because of love. Because he wanted to. And he had fun.

"Fun. It's the bottom line now isn't it," Grieco said.

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