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They didn’t call him ‘Rip’ for nothing

Sports Columnist

With tournament baseball in full swing in Troy it makes me think back to the years when I was playing Little League Baseball.

After watching the Troy National Dixie Youth team play a practice game against the Southeastern League from Montgomery the other night it made me think about one of the best 12-year-old pitchers I ever saw.

Watching David Williams and Casey Weston of the Nationals pitch they both remind me of the great Rip Tolbert.

Yes, Rip Tolbert was a great little pitcher for the Troy Little League Tournament team back in 1957. In fact, he was almost un-hitable for an 11 or 12-year-old.

Unlike today’s baseball, when you can put a speed gun on young pitchers like David and Casey, who are clocked in the low 70s with their fastball, there was no way to know just how fast Tolbert threw the ball. But I can tell you he was very fast and daddy Bob "Pappy" Tolbert would not allow him to throw a curve ball.

All I know is that there was only four or five batters in the league that could hit him and three of them were on his team, the Indians.

He was so dominant that one night against Z.B. McLendon’s Red Sox, he faced 17 straight batters and struck out all 17. The last batter up was a 10-year-old named Johnny McClendon and he popped out in foul territory to our third baseman who was my brother, Joel Amos, for the final out. A perfect game with 17 strike outs. I watched every pitch from my position as a 10-year-old right fielder.

Rip was big and strong for his age and our catcher Stanley Humer had to also be big and strong to catch him behind the plate.

For Rip, being big and strong back then, does not mean he was as big and strong as David Williams.

I don’t think there is a 12-year-old in Alabama as big as David. If you know a 12-year-old out there that is 6-foot tall, wears a 13 size shoe, weighs 220 pounds and throws a baseball 72 miles per hour, please let me know so I can go watch him.

Casey’s also a big boy, standing around 5-foot-10 and he throws almost as hard as Williams.

The big difference that I can see in the three is that Rip threw more strikes. He kept the ball down and it was always somewhere around the plate.

David and Casey, when they are pitching well, can be just as dominant as Rip was. In fact, the hitters that I’ve watched face those two seemed to be much more concerned about how close to the plate they need to be.

It’s all about control. If Williams and Weston throw strikes in this week’s Dixie Youth League sub-district tournament in Eufaula, which starts on Friday at 4 p.m., the Nationals could go a long way. If they walk a lot of batters, of course, it’s going to be hard to win.

It’s been 45 years since the late Rip Tolbert hit the mound for the Troy All-Stars, but the people who played with him and against him will never forget how dominant of a player he was.

Going into tournament play Coach Pete Farrar, then Troy’s recreation director, had put together one of Troy’s best ever Little League All-Star teams.

Not only did he have Rip that could pitch but he also had Ronnie Jones, big Jack Jeffcoat, Jimmy Norman, Richard Williford, Thomas Walker and Johnny Stroud that had good arms.

Farrar’s team sailed through sub-districts and ended up in the finals of the Little League district tournament in Montgomery. The game was played at Cloverdale Park which is adjacent to Cloverdale Junior High School in Montgomery. The opponent was Auburn who also had a great pitcher named Arnold Umbach. If you’ll remember, Umbach later pitched for the Atlanta Braves.

Troy went into the game without one of its best players, Ronnie Jones, who was their best catcher and also the team’s second best pitcher and hitter.

Farrar had to move Jimmy Norman in from shortstop to catch the hard throwing Tolbert. Norman, of course, was Troy’s best player. He could do it all at the plate on defense and was Troy’s third best pitcher. Norman signed out of high school with the Chicago Cubs where he played in that organization for four years.

The game was a pitcher’s dual all the way. Tolbert and Umbach gave up just two hits. Tied 1-1 going into the last inning, Auburn won the ball game when their runner from third base scored on a pass ball.

After winning 2-1 over Troy, Auburn then won the State Little League title and came within one game of going to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Tolbert never pitched again after that Little League game. He became an outstanding track star and football player at Charles Henderson. In fact, he led Troy Junior High School to the state Junior High School track championship in Montgomery, winning the shot put, discus and pole vault in 1959. He later was the state high school champ in the discus throw two years in a row.

After a stint in the Air Force, he and his lovely wife, the former Martha Pruitt of Troy, came back to go to school at Troy State. Rip went out for track and won three conference championships in the discus.

After many years as a very successful home builder in Troy, Rip collapsed while officiating a high school basketball game in Luverne. He died a short time later. It’s been more then 15 years since Rip’s death, but his memory as a fine athlete and man lives on in the annuals of Troy sports history.

Yes, from this vantage point, all the great Little League pitchers that pass through here, and there’s been many of them, will be compared to Rip Tolbert and rightfully so.

Remember! Guys, you’re only as good as the next strike you throw. So go out there and throw strikes! Those bases on balls will get you beat!

Good luck to all of Troy’s girls and boys tournament teams!