An inteview with softball legend Bill Plummer
Bill Plummer is a softball Hall of Famer who has had a life long involvement in all forms of softball as a player, director, umpire, sports writer, and ASA Commssioner.
Where do you call home?
I live in Oklahoma City. I have been here since 1979 when I moved to accept a full-time job with the ASA at the national office.
Tell us a little bit about your background in softball and your upbringing?
I grew up in Syracuse, N.Y. and was involved with the New York State ASA as a district commissioner. I also served as a commissioner as part of the Southern California ASA. I played softball starting at age 19 after having played baseball growing up. In high school, I was the varsity football manager, played JV basketball and varsity baseball. I originally started playing fast pitch then eventually starting playing slow pitch. I worked as a sports writer for the Syracuse HERALD-JOURNAL and managed our company team. We played charity games locally to raise monies for different organizations. When I was in college at Indiana University, I played fast pitch and had Carlton Fisk’s brother (shortstop) on the team. He originally was a catcher like his brother. I am one of six children, with five still living. My father passed away in 1982 and my mother passed in June of last year. She was 95-years-old and I dedicated the recent book to her.
Tell us about the books you have written about softball, your new book that just recently came out, and the new website you are writing for?
I have contributed to the following books: SOFTBALL’S LEFTY LEGEND, TY STOFFLET, (2004); THE WORTH BOOK OF SOFTBALL, 1994; ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD SPORTS, 1996 and 2005; THE IRRESTIBLE AMERICAN SOFTBALL BOOK, 1978; GREATEST ATHLETES OF THE 20TH CENTURY; THE COMPLETE BOOK OF SOFTBALL; THE LOONIES GUIDE TO PLAYING AND ENJOYING THE GAME, 1984; THE VOLO HALLS OF FAME GUIDE, 1995; THE ZOLLNER PISTONS STORY, 1995; THE JOY OF KEEPING SCORE, 1996; THE MASTERFUL ART OF PITCHING, 1996; THE HISTORY OF WOMEN’S FAST PITCH—THE PATH TO THE GOLD, 1998.
In addition to these books, I wrote the “THE GAME AMERICA PLAYS, ”which marked the 75th anniversary of the ASA in 2008. The new book is called “Best of the Best-Women’s Fast Pitch Softball.” I was one of the authors along with Dr. Steve Clarfield, Ph.D. I helped Steve with his 2004 book about fast pitch hurler Ty Stofflet. This year I am also writing softball for www.CollegeSportsMadness.com
What was your background as a player, manager, and director?
I was asked by the New York State commissioner, the late Joe Costine, if I would be the New York State ASA publicity director. I accepted and eventually became a district commissioner. I also served as a deputy state commissioner while I lived in Riverside, Calif. At the newspapers I worked for I always had a softball column on Sundays and also covered different events.
I eventually became a district commissioner and was heavily involved in the New York State ASA. I later moved to California and became a commissioner for the Southern California ASA. I did that for two years before moving back to New York where I got involved again in the New York State ASA and stayed there until I joined the ASA staff in May of 1979 and worked there until Dec. 31, 2009. I am still involved in softball, writing a column for LOWE’S CLASS Award winner, producing two newsletters for Texas and Tennessee, writing for CollegeSports Madness and working from time-to-time for the ASA and on occasion for the Associated Press covering the College World Series. I am the member of five Halls of Fame, including the National ASA as well as Oklahoma, Tidewater, New York State and Indiana.
Who were some of the most interesting people you have ever met in softball?
Unfortunately some of them are gone and have passed away. People like George (Doc)Linnehan, former manager of County Sports slow pitch team, Woody Bell of Bell Corp. Dave Neale of Steele’s Sports, Wayne Mayers, former Indiana ASA commissioner, Hank Bassett, who is still involved and is a quality person who cares about sport and knows it very well. Softball, as does any sport, has some good people.
Who were the best sponsor's in softball?
Again that would depend on the era. The ones mentioned were some of the really good ones at the national level. You have many sponsors who contribute to teams locally and players should appreciate them. In some cases, players have taken advantage of the sponsors and the sponsors have no one to blame but themselves because they all want to win and every year the player wants or asks for more money. Eventually the team folds. A classic case was the Decatur Pride fast pitch team. It was around for 20 years, then one day it was gone because the players wanted more and more. That happens and will continue to happen because the players aren't going to stop asking. You have sponsors now paying expenses for players at the lower levels of slow pitch.
For slow pitch: Howard’s, Steele’s, Ritch’s, Bell Corp, Campbell’s Carpets, Jerry’s Catering, Nelson’s Painting, Little Caesar’s, County Sports and Resmondo.
For men’s fast pitch: Briggs Beautware, Raybestos, Guanella Brothers, National Health Care Discount, Aurora Sealmasters, Clearwater Bombers.
For women’s fast pitch, Raybestos, Orange Lionettes, Phoenix Ramblers, Fresno Rockets.
Who had the best team in softball history?
You would have to specify, slow pitch or fast pitch. Since your website caters to slow pitch I will answer the question this way. You can’t really say what team was the best. It might have been the best in a certain era or period of years. It would depend on the era of softball and because of the changes in equipment, rules and technology. Howard’s had some outstanding teams as did Steele’s, Ritch’s Superior, and the Resmondo teams in recent years. Before them, County Sports of Long Island was outstanding and was featured in Sports Illustrated. This was in the era of dead bats and balls.
What is your most memorable softball moment?
That is easy. Being the press chief for the 1996 Olympics when softball made its debut in the Olympics.
If you were in charge of all of softball for a day, what changes would you make?
Too many to mention, but the game, especially slow pitch, continues to decrease while the number of organizations continues to increase. Slow pitch has more than its share of problems and having all the different classifications doesn’t help. You don’t need that many classifications now because there aren’t as many slow pitch players playing, but it seems most everyone wants to drop down and play to win something. Is there that much difference between a Class D and Class E player? Players know where they should play but they aren’t being honest about it for sure. You might have 10 to 12 teams, but after you look at a team’s roster and see who is on the roster you have a good idea on which team is going to win. For example, the USA National Team was much better than the Canadian National Team last year and it showed in the finals. Slow pitch is a game of momentum and intensity, which you must maintain from inning one to the end, and the USA started fast and finished fast after it scored runs in bunches against Canada, which never recovered and ended up being run-ruled. I said earlier in the week it would be a run-rule game and was.
It is well known that you and Gordie "The Old Scout" Heagle grew up together and are life long friends. How is Gordie doing? Do you have any good stories about Gordie?
I haven’t heard how Gordie is doing. I know he has had some health issues. Gordie was involved in softball in Upstate New York for many years and was a good friend of Jerome Earnest (since passed away). Gordie got to know the players and the top level of slow pitch by traveling to the different tourneys with Jerome.
What is your favorite softball discipline and why? Fastpitch, Slowpitch, Modified?
I like it all when it is played well. Runaway games in slow pitch are boring to be sure and modified is a highly skilled game to play. I’ve been to a couple modified nationals and enjoyed them. Fast pitch, and especially women’s fast pitch, has really caught on, especially the college game. Men’s fast pitch is dying a slow death unfortunately.
You've been to tournaments around the world. What tournament was your favorite?
For slow pitch it was the Smoky Mountain Classic. I went to a special event in Pittsburgh in the 1970s that featured BYM playing Howard’s and County Sports. It was played at Three Rivers. That was an excellent event with some very good slow pitch played. Bert Smith, Stan Harvey and Jim Galloway were among the stars playing then.
For fast pitch it was the 1996 Olympics and the ISF World Championship in Japan in 1998. The ISF has had one slow pitch world tournament, but the competition was class A and won by the USA (Minneapolis Merchants).
What is your favorite softball complex?
Wherever quality softball is being played. Some of the complexes in Alabama are outstanding and in recent years more and more colleges are building quality softball complexes. I am just glad that more and more complexes are being built. The ASA Complex has come a long ways and I was there to watch it develop. I know there are plans to expand it and that is good for the College World Series, which should stay in Oklahoma City, the Mecca of softball.
Your play by play partner on ASA Hall of Fame Complex Field #4 has often called you the best color man in all of softball. Do you have any comments for Dan Pfeffer?
I appreciate what he said, but I have just been involved a long time (almost 50 years in the sport) and have been very involved and passionate about the sport, whether it’s slow pitch or fast pitch. Both are good disciplines and enjoyable to watch.
Does softball stand a chance at getting back in the Olympics?
I don’t think it will get back in. I hope I am wrong, but we will know the decision in the next couple of years, at least by 2013. If it doesn’t get back in, then the future of softball will change considerably. Just as softball boomed when the sport was in the Olympics, the same will happen because it won’t be in the Olympics. Having softball in the Olympics did many good things for the sport, the participants and the many people involved. Not getting back in will hurt the sport considerably and especially the foreign organizations or members of the ISF, which benefited from the sport being on the Olympic program. Softball should never have been taken out of the program in the first place, but that is a long story on why it was taken out.
What is the furthest ball you ever witnessed hit: by who, and where?
It was by Bruce Meade when we opened the Hall of Fame Stadium in 1987 and had an exhibition game between Bruce’s team and Steele’s. Bruce hit the ball over the trees in left field and it landed past the pitcher’s mound on the back diamond.
A man in your position and with your experience has seen it all and heard it all.
What are some of the funniest things you have seen?
We had a streaker at a tourney in the 1980s in California. Fortunately it was in California and the weather was good.
Who are some of the true knuckleheads in the sport?
No need for me to ID any knuckleheads. They know who they are, but some of the comments on your website don’t help, and especially when they get personal. It doesn’t hurt the overall image of slow pitch, but those people really don’t care anyway. They should be lucky they have a website for the sport, but they ruin it for the many people who care about the sport and the people involved.