On a bright summer day, August 23, 1962, Nassau County Executive Eugene Nickerson stepped out onto the steps of the County Executive Building in Mineola before a cheering crowd of baseball players and onlookers and displayed a proclamation that declared Aug. 25 as “West Hempstead Little League Day.”
It’s been 50 years since West Hempstead won the Senior Division Little League World Series championship in Williamsport, PA. It marked the first time that any baseball team from Long Island had won a national championship of that kind.
But that 1962 championship did not occur in a vacuum, nor did it come by chance.
West Hempstead’s Little League accomplishments can be traced back to a group of dedicated parents who, in the mid-1950s, went down to a boggy marsh along Nassau Boulevard and cleared out and built with their own hands a “Field of Dreams” that would come to be known as Echo Park. (“Echo” acquired its name as an acronym of the four teams that used to play there – Eagles, Cardinals, Hawks and Owls).
It was that spirit of volunteerism, coupled with a local proclivity for America’s favorite pastime, that laid the groundwork for West Hempstead’s championship run a few years later.
The national Little League World Series tournament began in 1947 for participants 12 years old and under. In 1961, a Senior League Division was added for ages 13-15, where regulation size dimensions were used instead of the shorter field utilized in traditional Little League. It was in the second year of this tournament’s existence that the team from West Hempstead achieved the pinnacle of baseball excellence.
The road to the World Series Championship in 1962 involved a total of eight nail-biting, single-elimination games: two games on Long Island to qualify for the NY State tournament, followed by two games in Cornwall-on-Hudson for the State title. After that came two games at the Eastern Regional finals in Bethlehem, PA and finally two games at the World Series venue in Williamsport.
At the helm of the WH Little League seniors team was a hardened, 40 year-old army vet named Joe Sarcona who had settled in West Hempstead after the war with his young family and started a trucking business in Queens with his brother Jack.
Sarcona knew a little something about perseverance and staying focused. By the time his 34-month-long tour in the North African theatre during WWII was over, he came back home with shrapnel in his body and a purple heart to show for it.
Those qualities evidently rubbed off on Sarcona’s players in the State semifinal game when WH dug a 6-0 hole for themselves in the first inning against Bronxwood.
They came back to win that game 19-6.
"They never let down,” Sarcona was later quoted as saying.
Without question, because of the back-to-back game schedule layout of the tournament and its one-and-done format, any modicum of success in the Little League championship required a tandem of stellar starting pitchers. West Hempstead had such a double threat in their arsenal with their two right-handed 15-year-old hurlers, 5'10" Seymour Moscowitz and six-foot Steve Krines.
Moscowitz was selected to the West Hempstead team after having won the Pitcher of the League award during the regular season. Krines had won the league batting and home run titles. Together with three or four of the other standouts from each regular season team, they formed the squad that eventually led West Hempstead to the Promised Land.
After their victories in New York State regional play, WH earned a berth in the Eastern Region semifinals, where they faced Jersey City West Side on Saturday, Aug. 11. They won, 5-1, behind the stellar pitching of Moscowitz, who held the Jersey team to two hits. The next day, Moscowitz’s performance was matched by Krines’ own two-hitter, as the WH club bested Upper Merion, PA, 2-0.
Then, it was on to the World Series in Williamsport the following weekend.
On August 18, in the final game against La Habra, CA, Krines, now 65 and living in Huntington, credited his team’s success to their cohesiveness and willingness to do whatever it took to win.
“I’ll give you an example. It was hot and humid that day,” Krines recounted. “Our team only carried two catchers, John McWilliams, who was a big, heavy kid, and me. But I was pitching that day so that meant John had to stay behind the plate for the whole game. So between innings we grabbed bags of ice and iced down John to make sure he stayed cool throughout the game”.
That day, Krines delivered on both sides of the plate, not only pitching a two-run, six hit complete game, but also delivering three hits of his own.
West Hempstead ended up scoring four early runs and cruised to an 8-2 victory and the National title. However, by far the most thrilling moment of the entire tournament came the day before in the semifinals, against New London, OH.
Down 2-1 with two outs in the final inning, West Hempstead had their backs against the wall. Moscowitz, who was poised to become the tough-luck losing pitcher despite yielding only two unearned runs, had just grounded out to short for the second out.
Krines, who got the game-winning hit, recalled the moment; “The next three batters, Joe Moran, Mike Favia, and I, looked at each other and said, ‘We’re all gonna get hits now.' And that’s just what we did.”
As it turned out, Favia singled and then stole second. Moran then tripled to left field to tie the score. Krines then came to the plate and promptly scorched a line drive to left field to win it.
“It was that kind of team. We all pulled for each other.”
In the ensuing days, the championship team came home to Long Island and was showered with celebrations and accolades.
“The community treated us really well,” Krines remembered. “We had a nice parade, except rather than going down Broadway, we went down Nassau Boulevard”.
Following the parade, the championship team was treated to a rally in Mineola hosted by the County Executive. Then it was on to the popular local eating venue Maison Pepi, where the team’s sponsor, the WH Rotary Club, held a special dinner for the players.
Two weeks later, the team was invited to meet the fledgling NY Metropolitans at the old Polo Grounds during the Mets' inaugural season. By that time in the season, the 1962 Mets were well on their way to setting a record in futility by becoming the first and only team in the modern era to lose 120 games. (The NY Times reporter who covered the game snidely described the meeting as an even exchange: the Mets told the Little Leaguers about life in the Big Leagues and the WH team told the Mets what it’s like to win a championship).
Krines went on to become a standout in baseball and basketball at Chaminade High School, and then at Villanova University, where, in 1967, he won the NCAA batting crown with a .507 batting average. The following year he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and averaged over .300 in a three-year Minor League career that was felled short by an injury.
Sarcona passed away in 2008 at age 87, leaving behind an indelible mark on the appreciative teens who he helped attain baseball immortality, and a lasting legacy on a community that was brought out into the National spotlight on a glorious day, 50 years ago.
Line score from the Championship Game: