Back in the Day... An extra tribute to Tom's Candies
By Jeff Holt
Published May 13, 2021 in The Burg
An old baseball article of Joe Morrisey's in the Register Mail spurred some memories recently.
Morrisey's popular column was called On the Rebound and his topic that week was a dominant Babe Ruth team called Tom's Candies. Then, some of you saw this same team pictured in a recent edition of The Burg newspaper.
The Tom's Candies baseball team clearly dominated with 39-straight victories ... rewinding back to the 1976 season. It was the first Galesburg Babe Ruth team to go undefeated through an entire season, including the postseason, with a perfect record.
"We play all 17 players each game and praise them when they do well," said Wayne Dennis, in the article, who coached the team with Jim Sportsman. "We don't get on them much when they make an error but we get uptight about mental errors. We don't like them to commit the same mistake twice."
Dennis and Sportsman were the perfect compliment to one another as coaches of the team: Dennis did not excel as a player growing up but helped instill confidence in his players when they did well, giving them all a chance to play. Sportsman starred as a shortstop for three years on an American Legion baseball team in Brookfield, Mo.
One of the players on the team, Todd Phillips, did his best to go down memory lane and reflect back on his baseball days and what made that team so dominant.
"(It) was some of the best summers for most of us and it takes 45 years later to sometimes realize how special those days were in our past," said Phillips.
Phillips started out mentioning what it was like to play for his two coaches - Dennis and Sportsman.
"They wanted to win as bad as we did, but they wanted us to have fun," said Phillips. "We were allowed to have a great deal of entertainment at practice and after-game gatherings as long as we performed at game time. Wayne made us feel like this was his most important role. He treated us like we were his family."
Tom's Candies had some lopsided victories, with scores of 32-2 and 25-5. The pitching duties for Tom's Candies featured Mike Adams with a no-hitter and Dennis Schwab with a one-hitter. Adams and Scwhab - in the article from Morrisey - both had perfect 3-0 records.
"Both (Adams and Schwab) had wicked curveballs and some attitude," said Phillips. "I don’t recall them playing in high school, but great moxie / confidence in those years."
Phillips said he pitched for Tom's Candies, played second base and then played shortstop when Piggee pitched.
"We had a great deal of fun with each other," Phillips said. "Always laughing and talking smack. Several of us played together in high school baseball...(Casey) Piggee, (Robb) Long, (Andy) Holt, and (Phil) Goodman. It was truly the best of times played in the summer, carefree and we treated each other as equals."
Phillips went on to say, "Our winning ways made us the target for every game. Our opposing future high school teammates wanted nothing more than putting us in our place with a loss. Mark Sprague, Scott Mendez, Steve Schwab, Mike Holt, Mark Fields, and Duane Sevey gave us their best every game until we were defeated."
Not to be overlooked - according to Phillips - was the battles they had against Jeff Gomer.
Phillips said he left Galesburg 39 years ago to go to another factory owned by Maytag. He now lives in Marshall, Texas and runs a commercial fryer company.
But some of those memories - from that Tom's Candies team - is still bottled up in his memory bank.
"I suspect the opposing teams hated us and it carried over to our next game with them," said Phillips. "We had so much fun and were full of confidence."
Howerton and that curveball: One name you don't hear too much about is Bill Howerton who also pitched for Tom's Candies.
But Phillips still remembers Howerton throwing for Tom's Candies and - at the same time - a bit comical.
"His curve ball was unhittable and he was phenomenal during those years," said Phillips. "The only thing I recall him saying is 'I ain’t pitching.' I don’t recall when and why, but I’m sure we rode that horse once too often. He was a real quiet kid and a superb pitcher."
How good was that lineup for Tom's Candies?
They had Piggee, Holt and Phil Goodman all batting at close to .600.
"They were tremendous the next five to eight years," said Phillips. "Andy (Holt) was the best catcher after he played in college for a year that I had seen during the Connie Mack summer league when he was 19 years old. I was behind home plate as an umpire paying for college and he was transformed versus high school baseball.
"Casey Piggee was the best baseball player I ever played with. He hit for power, for average and was one of the best at shortstop - close to Scott Mendez. I always expected to see him in The Show (MLB). His laugh was contagious."
Phillips and Pickrel family: Todd was quick to credit his earlier days of growing up in Galesburg and playing baseball with David Pickrel's family.
"I shared some great memories with David Pickrel and his family," said Phillips. "His dad coached me in Little League to get me started on what it takes to be a good ball player. David and I played together for many years."
(You can reach Jeff Holt at email@example.com)