If you have been around baseball the past 61 years, then you would likely have seen Larry Gallagher. He passed away last November after completing six decades of umpiring, He retired from working the field at age 80 and spent the next two years evaluating umpires from the stands. Larry said he retired because he just couldn't run anymore. When asked how many miles he thought he logged on the field over the years he replied "not enough". Town ball. College ball. High school ball. Legion ball. And even a few games in the major leagues.
Larry delighted in the details and nuances of the game. He shared his knowledge on the field and was accessible to anyone who called with an issue or uncertainly of a rule or a particular situation. One such item was the "four out inning". It actually happened in a college game. No one had ever seen it. Its too involved to tell here. But ask Northwestern University Coach Hieb about Larry's explanation. Baseball- there is always something new. Always something you never saw before.
Larry Gallagher was known at all levels of baseball in Minnesota. After many years umpiring the great game, the Minnesota Twins honored Larry on the field prior to a White Sox game. Never known for a great arm from behind the plate, Larry delivered the honorary pitch by throwing the pitch into the dirt. That was no strike, he muttered.
Here is a conversation at Parade Stadium with Larry that tells you about his love for the game. He hadn't seen a certain Legion coach for well over 15 years. The two engaged each other behind the pitcher's mound before the game. The coach asked: "Man, Larry what keeps you going? " Larry pointed out to the gleaming Basilica way out past centerfield and replied: 'To many people that is their cathedral." Then he pointed around the grass and infield and then out to the vine covered fences and said "And this is my cathedral". You just knew that this was exactly what is meant by the famous quote "baseball is life". The game started a few minutes late as the home plate umpire had to walk out and break up the little on-field reunion.
Larry Gallagher took his role and performance seriously. He had, after all, been called to umpire MLB games in the late 70's when major league umpires went on strike. Yes. Larry Gallagher was that good. Talk about serious and conscientious. During a Legion game, one team and their coach was on him about his strike zone. You should know that his strike zone was consistent for sixty years. Larry came over to the other team's coach (the same guy from Parade Stadium) and asked 'how's my strike zone look to you?" The coach thought for a second. Not wanting Larry to think he wasn't paying attention, the coach replied "Larry. Your outside zone is two inches lower than inside." The next inning, Larry took a side glance at the coach, got the OK sign, and nodded slightly to say thanks. The coach never had the heart to tell Larry that he didn't have a clue about the strike zone that day. That was not because it might seem like a joke was pulled. Instead the coach didn't want Larry Gallagher to think he wasn't totally in the game!
Very few reach the status of The One and Only. Larry Gallagher did. And that is special.
From Little Leaguer to Columbia Heights High School. From Augsburg College to Amateur Ball. The love and respect for the game and and the people that played it filled Larry Gallagher's 82 years.
Over five thousand kids play Legion baseball in Minnesota. Jack Spanier was one of those. He grew up in a family that values education as well as sports. While most kids specialize in one sport, Jack played three - football, basketball and baseball at Roccori High School in Cold Spring Minnesota, a town of about 4,000 in the St. Cloud area of central Minnesota.
Quarterback in Football. Point guard in basketball. Shortstop in baseball. Max Preps has some stats and videos if you want to take a look - MaxPreps. Three sports and team captain in all three. That will keep a guy busy, right? As Jack moved through his junior year in high school, a growing uncertainty developed that confronts many young people - What comes next? Where to go to college? Most colleges allow students to play one sport while almost none allow a student to play three sports. What sport to play?
Jack Spanier only played high school baseball and Legion baseball. He did not play travel baseball beyond the eighth grade. Year round baseball most certainly would have conflicted with his other passions - football and basketball. Jack did attend one PBR showcase as a sophomore. Yet more and more baseball was becoming his number one sport as he thought about the next level and next life chapter. But no once seemed to know. No college coaches had discovered Jack. No one was recruiting him with even a letter or phone call.
Enter Legion Baseball and the new post season showcase tournament called the Prospects All-Star Showcase. The concept of the Prospects program was to bring kids from across the entire state to play in a tournament. Players are nominated by Legion coaches. The system does not guarantee that every player who could be or who should be featured in the All-Star Showcase gets nominated or selected.
In Jack's case, a coach from another program asked - Hey. do you have the kid from Cold Spring? The Spanier kid? I think his dad is a baseball coach. One thing led to another. Jack's father Greg was tracked down at his job. Conversation took place. And Jack Spanier decided to play in the 2022 Prospects All-Star Showcase tournament.
Mark 'Lunch' McKenzie of Concordia University in St. Paul was Jack's all-star team coach. Lunch immediately saw the athleticism describing Jack as "a quiet leader that oozed leadership abilities. I was not surprised to learn he was the high school quarterback." It was a pleasure to get to know him thoise last few days of the summer.
Rob Fornasiere, also one of our All-Star coaches, saw the talent from the other side of the field. You may know Coach Fornasiere as the assistant head coach for the University of Minnesota - retired of course. Rob met with the family Spanier and did some workouts with Jack. Suddenly major college interest developed. This spring Jack Spanier committed to attend the University of Minnesota to be cme a Golden Gopher. Rob Fornasiere has big expectations for Jack believing that he could well become the Gophers future short stop.
Wow. Unknown to Division 1. Its not an everyday story. But it shows what a phone call can do. And it makes us proud to put on the Prospects All-Star Showcase that gives kids a chance to meet other kids and to play in front of knowledgeable coaches, too.