The Boston Park League has been on the brink several times during its sometimes stormy 52-year existence, but John Kelliher is one guy who never has feared that it would go over the edge.
Kelliher, the dean of league managers, always has been the ultimate optimist, fully confident that there are enough people who cared and that somehow the league would stay alive. And, despite some squeakers, so far he has been right.
“The Park League means so much to so many people that I can’t believe they would ever let it go down the drain,” Kelliher said. “There are so many men successful in business and the professions, who remember and appreciate their own pleasant years in the league, that they will pitch in and help out.”
Kelliher himself obviously is of that ilk. Except for three years of service during World War II, he has been affiliated with the league for 40 years, as player, manager, general-manager – and helpful recruiter of talent for other teams as well as for Mass. Envelope, his own ballclub.
“I like to see every young fellow who wants to play ball be given a chance to do so, and I like to see a strong, well-balanced league,” Kelliher said. “So, I try to find room somewhere for anyone who approaches me.”
This practice is right in line with Kelliher’s lifelong dedication to sports. He is an ardent believer in the theory that sports participation helps keep young people out of trouble and in the right groove.
Over the years, Kelliher and kindred devotees have learned to take setbacks in stride. When the city, lacking funds, announced a few years ago it would no longer be able to pay for lights on the playing fields, Kelliher was quick to shrug and say, “Well, let’s start the games at 6 o’clock. We started games at 6 o’clock for years before we had lights and we managed all right.”
And, a season later, when some managers and sponsors suggested that it might be worthwhile for the teams themselves to pay for lights in order toallow more people to get to the games, Kelliher quickly went along. So, with the city providing the fields, the teams are paying the umpires, the cost of the lights and keeping the league going.
A tremendous boost that is helping keep the league operational this year is the result of the generosity of the Yawkey Foundation, which donated $7500 to the league and another $7500 to the Park’s junior leagues.
“We were struggling,” admitted the league’s executive secretary, Harvel Soolman. “There’s no question they bailed us out.”
“Now that we are doing more ourselves to run the league, we appreciate more fully how much we owe to Bob Cusick, the man who organized the league and kept it going,” Kelliher said. “There’s no question that Cusick was the glue that kept it together during hard times, and we are finding out about problems we didn’t know existed.”
Kelliher was All-Boston first baseman for Roxbury Memroial High (“I was a sub first baseman as a freshman the year Eddie Pellagrini captained the team.”) and good enough to be signed to a Red Sox contract. He played for awhile with the Sox farm team at Danville, Va., and later for Portland in the New England League.
His first affiliation with the Park League was as first baseman for Father Paul Galvin’s St. Paul’s (Dorchester) team. Kelliher later became player- manager of the team and led it to four league championships. His stint with St. Paul’s was interrupted by three years of Army service during World War II, and while in Europe he played first base for the 36th Infantry Division team.
After piloting St. Paul’s, he became manager, successively, of the Supreme Saints, the New Boston Club, the Herb Connolly Club and finally Mass. Envelope. And Mass. Envelope sits in first place with an 18-4-2 record with Mark McHugh as field manager and Kelliher as general manager.
By day, Kelliher is a schedule-maker for the MBTA, which he has been with for 31 years. Most nights you’ll find him at the ballpark or thinking about same.
Copyright © 1982 Boston Globe, all rights reserved. Written by Art Ballou.