Remembering New Haven’s Pop Smith Little League team that crashed the World Series 41 years ago

Group photo taken at Williamsport, Pa., in 1974 for the Walter (Pop) Smith Little League. First row (L-R) Glen McNeil, Anthony Pritchett, Maurice Culbreath, James Bryant, Frank Greene III, Greg Morrison. Back row (L-R) Coach Henry Davis, Fred Murphy (obscured), Lorenzo Vincent, David Crudup, Garland Patton, James (Junior) Hardin, Michael Pelletier, Kevin Britton, Larry Gary, Manager-Coach Curtis Hayes

New Haveners, now in their 50’s, who played in the Little League World Series 41 years ago this month, are still “kids at heart”

By Joel Alderman

With another Little League World Series currently taking place this month, several present and former New Haveners, now past 50 years of age, are feeling like kids again, reliving their times in Williamsport, Pa., where they represented the East region of the United States as 11, 12 and 13 year olds.

A plaque paying tribute to the 1974 team was dedicated last year.
A plaque paying tribute to the 1974 team was dedicated last year.

The excitement and pride generated by the city’s Walter “Pop” Smith League All-Star team that virtually came from out of nowhere to become one of only eight elite teams that qualified for the international event, seems to be rekindled every year about this time. It is when another group of youngsters chases the same dreams that these men had 41 years ago.

Although at least one player and the team’s coach are known not to have survived the passage of time, most of the others are reliving one of the best times of their not-forgotten youth.

In order to get to the Little League World Series, the New Haven team had to win the East regional, which was played at the Hy Turkin Complex in Staten Island, NY. The Pop Smiths won four straight over Red Land, Pa. (7-1), Newark Del. (9-7), Lindenhurst, N.Y. (5-4), and, in the championship game, Livingston, N.J. (3-2). Their games were not only well-covered in the New Haven papers, but even in the New York Daily News.

After winning the East title, and without returning home, the boys and coaches left directly for Williamsport, to be followed later by seven busloads of family and friends who made the five-hour trip from New Haven.

Lorenzo Vincent
Part of the photo of President Ford with the New Haven Little League team at the White House. Next to the President is Lorenzo Vincent (seated).

Lorenzo Vincent, team captain

Lorenzo Vincent was the captain and pitching star of the team, and today, instead of mowing down batters, he is mowing down hair in his well-appointed barber shop in Hamden. There he keeps a photo on hand of the team, taken at the White House, with President Gerald Ford. He is not at all reluctant to show it to his mostly younger patrons, who are surprised to learn of his baseball exploits.

When posing for the photo, taken the day after the series ended, he found himself next to the President. Lorenzo recently told me about a brief but unique conversation they had just before the picture was snapped. “The President said that he knew all about New Haven because he spent a lot of time here, since he went to Yale Law School and was an assistant football coach for Yale. He said he had a lot of good memories about the city.”

Game #1: August 20 1974

Wearing powder blue and red uniforms with the word “EAST” across the front, New Haven had the bad break of drawing the top seed and eventual champion, from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and was whipped 16-0.

But Lorenzo Vincent still proudly boasts that he got a double off hurler Lin Wen-Hsiung. It was the first Little League World Series hit given up by a Taiwanese pitcher after 21 consecutive hitless innings, going back to the previous year when the Far East champions threw three consecutive no-hitters.

In the same game, Larry Gray, whose cast for a broken wrist had been removed only a day before, received two walks and each time stole second base.

Teams from the Far East had been dominating the Series, and1974 was the final year that U.S. teams and those from other nations played in the same division.

Vincent weighed 139 pounds in Williamsport as a 12-year old. He recalls phoning his mother during the Series. “I told her we were having a good time, but I didn’t tell her about all the food I was eating there,” he recalled.

Coach-Manager, Curtis Hayes, taught valuable lessons

Before they played their first game, Curtis Hayes, who was the game manager and one of the coaches, made a profound statement to Bob Duffy, who was covering the team for the New Haven Register. “We stopped teaching baseball about a month ago. Then we concentrated on sportsmanship.”

Although badly beaten in the opener, they did not appear to be discouraged after the game. Instead they went about signing autographs. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Hayes, “Twelve year old kids giving autographs. They really made the most of everything.”

Game #2: Aug. 21, 1974

In their second game. the Pop Smith All Stars bounced back with a 13-9 decision over the team from Athens, Greece, representing Europe. They had trailed 9-4, after three innings of the six-inning game.

New Haven came up with nine runs in the fourth and fifth. Hitting star for the All-Stars was cleanup batter Fred Murphy, then 12, living at 451 Valley Street, and a pupil at Sheridan Middle School. He hit two home runs over the fence 200 feet away, and had five runs batted in. Vincent believes that Murphy now lives in Las Vegas.

David Crudup, the catcher, had a two-run homer, a single, walk and two putouts at the plate on runners attempting to score.

Maurice Culbreath, who was 12, lived at 29 Goffe Street, and now works at Yale-New Haven Hospital, saved the day by coming in to pitch in the fourth, and holding the opposition hitless the rest of the way.

“I knew if we stopped making errors we could catch them,” Culbreath told Bob Duffy after the win.

Game #3: August 21, 1974

In keeping with the true spirit of the Little League Baseball program, Manager-Coach Hayes started four youngsters who had not yet seen any action in Williamsport. Although the Pop Smiths lost to Jackson, Tenn., the U.S. South representative, that consolation game provided an opportunity for Michael Pelletier and Anthony Pritchett, both outfielders, James (Junior) Harden at first base, and Gregory Morrison at second to have the experience of competing at the highest level.

“I wanted to give them all a chance, said Hayes. “I wanted them all to be able to say that they started in the World Series.”

Tragedy struck one of those four 10 years later, when Pritchett was accidentally killed in 1984 by an assailant who was gunning for someone else, according to Vincent.

Information still needed about Michael Pelletier, the “lost” player

Michael Pelletier, the only member of the team who was not an African-American, also played football and participated in the Midget Football Jamboree in the Yale Bowl the following year. But he and his family long ago moved away from the area, and efforts to find out anything about him have so far been unsuccessful.

If anyone has any information about Michael Pelletier, please let us know, so we can include it in a revision of this article.

Greg Morrison was just 11 when he played in the Little League World Series and was New Haven's "team baby."
Greg Morrison was just 11 when he played in the Little League World Series and was New Haven’s “team baby.”

Greg Morrison, the team “baby,” lives in Hamden

Gregory Morrison, just 11 years of age, was the team “baby.” His home was at 50 Elizabeth Street, where his mother, Mary, who just retired as a teacher’s assistant at the Hooker School, still lives. I have known her since the 1980s, but never realized, until doing this story, that her son was a member of New Haven’s famous Little League team.

“I was one of many proud parents who went to Williamsport,” Mary told me. “It was one of the happiest and proudest times of my life. To see how well the kids were being treated and see them making friends and having fun with others their age from America and other countries was wonderful. And we were all so excited when they had a welcome home rally on the New Haven Green.”

The Pop Smith All Stars lost that final game 14-3, but still, with a 1-2 record, finished as “sixth best” in the World of Little League baseball.

Greg Morrison still looks comfortable holding a baseball. (Photo by Joel Alderman)
Greg Morrison still looks comfortable holding a baseball. (Photo by Joel Alderman)

It was a great accomplishment for a group of inner city kids, who came out of the local program and made a mark in New Haven sports history.

Curtis Hayes and the late Henry Davis, the men behind the boys

Manager-coach Curtis Hayes moved to Charlotte, N.C., still stays in touch with his New Haven friends, and even keeps a local cell phone number. He played baseball and soccer at Hillhouse High School, graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1972, and became a New Haven firefighter.

Henry Davis, the head coach, died in December 2013. He taught the players the basics of baseball and helped develop their skills. “He had a tremendous knowledge of the game,” Hayes told me by phone, “and passed a lot of that on to the players.” Before he died, Davis was a lineman for the old Southern New England Telephone Company (SNETCO).

A photo of New Haven's "Pop Smith" Little League team at the White House alongside President Gerald Ford in 1974. (1st row (L-R): Norwood (James) Bryant, Anthony Pritchett, Maurice Culbreath, Greg Morrison, Frank Greene; 2nd row: Larry Gary (partially hidden), David Crudup (partially hidden), Kevin Britton, Glen McNeil, President Gerald Ford; 3rd row: James Hardin, Michael Pelletier, Lorenzo Vincent (captain), Fred Murphy, Garland Patton, Henry Davis (coach), Curtis Hayes (ass't. coach - manager).
A photo of New Haven’s “Pop Smith” Little League team at the White House alongside President Gerald Ford in 1974. (1st row (L-R): Norwood (James) Bryant, Anthony Pritchett, Maurice Culbreath, Greg Morrison, Frank Greene; 2nd row: Larry Gary (partially hidden), David Crudup (partially hidden), Kevin Britton, Glen McNeil, President Gerald Ford; 3rd row: James Hardin, Michael Pelletier, Lorenzo Vincent (captain), Fred Murphy, Garland Patton, Henry Davis (coach), Curtis Hayes (ass’t. coach – manager).

White House to the New Haven Green

Soon after the runs, hits and errors had been put aside, the players were treated to a White House visit and a meeting with the President of the United States.

The national organization brought all eight teams to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Aug. 25, 1974, the day after the championship game. When New Haven was eliminated the previous Friday, it had the option of returning home immediately. But the players elected to stay to watch the finals and go on to the White House ceremony, along with the other seven teams.

The trip from Williamsport to the nation’s capitol was by way of four chartered buses, each taking two teams, one American and one foreign. As coincidence would have it, the Pop Smith youngsters were paired with their initial opponent and the series winner from Taiwan.

Curtis Hayes recalled that “the players had an amazing relationship with the Far East team, despite the language barrier. “It was great to see how well they got along. They used their own sign language to communicate.”

Recognition in D.C.

When they arrived in Washington they were all put up in a hotel, and the next day everybody went to the White House.

“This was a privilege not just for the championship team,” said Hayes. “Even before the first game we were told we were all being treated equally, no matter who won. The only difference was that one would get the winners’ trophy, but that all eight would be rewarded.”

Glen McNeil still has his Pop Smith souvenir cap. (Photo by Joel Alderman)
Glen McNeil still has his Pop Smith souvenir cap. (Photo by Joel Alderman)

Glen McNeil

Glen McNeil was 13 at the time. Two years ago he moved back to New Haven and is a Connecticut-licensed electrician. He also was a football player in the Yale Bowl Midget jamboree.

Back home, a heroes’ welcome

The next day, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 1974, the Pop Smith All Stars, having declined the bus ride that would take them back to New Haven, flew in to Tweed-New Haven Airport. A couple of local businessmen, including former Wilbur Cross High School basketball star, Glen Pollard, donated the air fare for the trip.

That was another unique experience. Nobody in the group, including the coaches, had ever been in a plane before. After landing, they were whisked to the New Haven Green for welcome home speeches and a show of appreciation.

Their busy day continued with a reception at the Dixwell Community House, followed by a luncheon at the former Harold’s Restaurant, which was on the corner of Crown and College Streets in downtown New Haven.

The entire Little League experience reflected the spirit and values of a simpler time, when fourteen New Haven youngsters filled their memory banks with the innocence and happiness that, for most of the survivors, still serves as an inspiration.

August will always be the time of year when these men, now in their 50’s, are annually reminded that they are still “kids at heart.”

Epilogue

The following is based on whatever information this writer’s research has uncovered, and is subject to any additions or corrections.

The players:

1) Kevin Britton, 12, pitcher; 71 Webster St; lives in North Carolina

2) Norward (James) Bryant, Jr; outfield; retired mason

3) David Crudup, 12, catcher; 83 South Genesee St; retired state correctional officer

4) Maurice Culbreath, 12, pitcher; 29 Goffe St; works at Yale-NH Hospital

5) Larry Gary, turned 13 during the week of the Series; 28 Northwest Dr; was attending Troup Middle School; retired teacher

6) Frank Greene, III; state maintenance worker in New Haven

7) James (Junior) Hardin, 12, first base; 265 Ashmun Street; played baseball at Wilbur Cross High School and recently in the Connecticut Men’s Senior League; maintenance worker at nursing home in Hamden

8) Glen McNeil, turned 13 during the week of the Series; played in the Yale Bowl Midget Football Jamboree in 1975; Navy veteran; lived out of state for several years but is now back in New Haven where he is a self-employed electrician

9) Greg Morrison,11, second base; 53 Elizabeth St., played baseball at Notre Dame and Wilbur Cross High Schools; lives in Hamden,; not presently working due to a medical disability

10) Fred Murphy, 12, first base; cleanup hitter; 5-foot-5, 115 pounds; 451 Valley St., attended
Sheridan Middle School; also played in the Yale Bowl Midget Football Jamboree where he was captain of his New Haven team; Navy veteran; lives in Las Vegas

11) Garland Patton, 12; 125 County St; pitcher, catcher; attending Troup Middle School; has his own general contracting business“

12) Michael Pelletier; 86 Pond St; also played in the Yale Bowl Midget Football Jamboree; had a sister, Eleanor; efforts to trace him have been unsuccessful

13) Anthony Pritchett, another who turned 13 during the week of the Series; outfield, 225 Ashmun Street, died tragically in 1984

14) Lorenzo Vincent, Jr., team captain; 12, pitcher/shortstop; 20 Pond Street; attending Saint Gabriel School (Milford); played minor league baseball; still lives in New Haven; owns and operates a barber shop in Hamden

The coaches:

Curtis Hayes, assistant coach-manager, lives in Charlotte, N.C.

Henry Davis, coach, died Dec. 24, 2013 at age 64.

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