In his 78th summer and after nearly four decades as th manager of Baltimore's sandlot baseball power, Walter Youse is ready to step down.
He doesn't say he will and he doesn't say he won't. He says he might. It's not because of his age and it's not because of his cranky left knee. It's because the team's longtime sponsor, Johnny's New and Used Cars, no longer can afford to lend the generous financial support to which the club has been accustomed.
"This was my last year," Youse said. "That is, unless something unforeseen happens, like a sponsor coming forth with a lot of money. It would take a lot. Johnny's had to cut way back. I'm not going to run the team on a shoestring again."
Youse ran it this year on about $10,000, including $2,000 for jackets at Christmas. In years past, before Johnny's business dropped off, the team budget was about $15,000.
"We would need $30,000 next year, because we need new uniforms," Youse said. "There's also things like gasoline, health insurance and umpires at $35 per for 80 games. We should pay a few of our coaches, too."
Johnny's this month captured the All-American Amateur Baseball Association tournament championship in Johnstown, Pa., for the time in 13 years and the 18th time in all, dating to 1955. The tournament brings together the 16 best 20-and-under teams east of the Mississippi River for a week of double-elimination play.
Johnny's has won 37 straight Baltimore City titles and has sent 300 of its graduates into pro baseball. Forty-five of those have made the big leagues, one (Al Kaline) is in the Hall of Fame and another (Reggie Jackson) appears headed there.
Youse's best team? It might have been his 1990 club, "position-wise," meaning excluding the pitching. Or it might have been the 1967 unit, which sent 15 of its 18 players into pro ball. Three of them made major-league rosters -- Chuck Scrivener (Tigers), George Kazmarek (Mets) and Tim Nordbrook, an infielder with the Orioles in the mid-1970s.
No matter what becomes of Johnny's, Youse will still keep his hand in baseball. He intends to remain as the Milwaukee Brewers' East Coast scouting supervisor.
Youse played baseball at City College, graduating in 1934, and for local semipro teams like Bloomingdale, Glen Burnie and Blue Coal. After a tour in the Navy, he managed "three or four pro teams," including Bluefield, which is in the Orioles' farm system to this day, and an Orioles affiliate in Kingsport, Tenn.
"The Kingsport manager got sick and they sent me to manage," Youse said. "Steve Dalkowski won his first pro game there for me. That boy threw 100 miles an hour."
Dalkowski was heralded as the second coming of Bob Feller, lefthanded version. Flaky and wild, off the field as well as on it, Dalkowski's fastball became legend, but he never did appear in a major-league game with the Orioles.
Youse was managing the Westport American Legion team in the 1950s and had two players, Barry Shetrone and Danny Welsh, who attracted the Orioles' interest. Paul Richards, then the Orioles manager, particularly wanted Shetrone. This was before
the days of the draft, and after the fleet outfielder signed, Richards offered Youse a part-time scouting job.
"I took it," Youse said. "My first prospect was Cal Ripken Sr. TheOrioles sent me to watch this catcher in Aberdeen and asked me if he could play in the Arizona State League. I said yeah and they signed him. Two years later I became a full-time scout."
Youse was with the Orioles for 19 years. When Harry Dalton left his front-office job with the club to become the California Angels' general manager, he took Youse with him. Dalton then went to Milwaukee and Youse followed.
As a baseball professional, scouting for the Orioles in the 1950s, Youse no longer was allowed by the American Legion to manage Westport. At the time, Dominic, Vince and Tony Leone and his two brothers agreed to sponsor a sandlot team, with Youse as manager. Leone's Boys Club it became.
"The team kept getting bigger and better and we needed more money," said Youse, who also coached Calvert Hall's team for five years in the 1950s. "Johnny's came into the picture about 1967 and for a while the team was known as Johnny's-Leone's."
By any name, the team was the scourge of local amateur baseball. This year, typically, Johnny's was in three leagues, including the tough semipro Baltimore Major, and compiled a 67-12 record.
Early last month Johnny's captured the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands. Facing teams from Canada, Cuba, Aruba and the Dutch Antilles, Johnny's won the championship after a runner-up finish in the every-other-year round-robin event in 1989.
When Johnny's was winning again at Johnstown this month, Youse's knee gave him a fit. He faces surgery this fall for insertion of a new knee joint because "the old one is worn out." He knows the first thing the doctors will tell him -- Mr. Youse, you should lose 20 pounds -- and he really doesn't want to hear that.
"I'm walking now," Youse said. "Maybe I won't be able to walk after surgery."
For a man who has made a habit of getting to baseball games since the dawn of time, that would never do. The doctors may have a selling job on their hands.