UPSTATE N.Y. SPORTS LORE: Musillo to join Hall of Fame on Saturday

John 'Chick' Musillo is pictured at Yankee Stadium in New York in 1960. (Photo contributed by Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame)

From the 1920s through the 1960s, if you played football or baseball for the Gloversville High School program, you were under the guidance of Lawrence “Duke” Miller.

Miller not only put winning teams on the field for both sports, he also had a knack for producing professional baseball players.

In addition to Jack Sanford (1951) and Tom Foster (1953), he also helped produce a special player by the name of John “Chick” Musillo. Musillo was a four-sport standout at Gloversville for both Miller (football/baseball) and Jack Kobuskie (golf/basketball) where he was Coach K’s sharp-shooter.

During his senior year at Gloversville High School, Musillo was highly sought after by college programs throughout the Northeast for basketball and baseball.

This included Syracuse University, where he spent a weekend there being shown around campus by legendary coach Ben Schwartzwalder (featured in the Ernie Davis movie “The Express”). Upon graduating from high school in the spring of 1958, former Gloversville Glover (and Fulton County Sports Hall of Famer) John Coakley, who for many years was a scout for the Washington Senators, tried to sign Musillo to play professionally as a shortstop. However, Musillo’s parents would not allow it, urging the 17-year old to instead attend college. Musillo would ultimately attend Ithaca College in the fall of 1958 to play baseball.

ohn 'Chick' Musillo, left, is pictured talking with Cleveland Indians manager Joe Gordon and pitching coach Mel Harder (43) at Yankee Stadium with Elston Howard (32) Marv Throneberry (20) in the background. (Photo contributed by Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame)

Over the next few summers, he played for local semi-professional teams including the Gloversville Merchants, Johnstown Tryon A.C.’s, Fulton County Glovers, Amsterdam Collegians and the Amsterdam Rug Makers. During his first summer after college baseball, Musillo took up pitching and became a star both on the mound and at the plate on every team he played on. Games in which he pitched drew the attention of scouts from the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Braves, Kansas City Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.

In May of 1959, as a fundraiser to help finance the Amsterdam Collegians season, Baseball Hall of Fame Pitcher Satchel Paige and the Havana Cuban Stars came to Mohawk Mills Park (Shuttleworth Park) in Amsterdam to play an exhibition game against the Collegians. The Cuban Stars won the game 8-1, and Musillo went 3-for-4 and scored the Collegians only run with a home run. Also participating in that game were Fulton County players Babe Baldwin, Zeke Zilka and Bob Manno.

After his performance in this game, Musillo was invited to Yankee Stadium for a tryout by the Cleveland Indians who were in New York for a series against the New York Yankees. During the tryout, he took grounders at third base hit by Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. Gordon, the Cleveland Manager at the time, was a nine-time American League All-Star, five-time World Series Champion, and 1942 American League Most Valuable Player with the New York Yankees. When the Yankees took to the field for batting practice, Gordon brought Musillo to the sidelines to watch him throw.

According to Musillo, “it was a thrill just to be on the field at Yankee Stadium. And when I glanced over at the batting cage, I noticed that Mickey Mantle was leaning on the cage watching me throw as he waited his turn to bat.”

The 1960 summer season saw Musillo back in Amsterdam playing for the Rug Makers of the Schenectady Twilight League.

John 'Chick' Musillo's signing with the St. Louis Cardinals was the subject of a Bob Luey cartoon in the Aug. 13, 1960, edition of The Leader-Herald. (Photo contributed by Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame)

Midseason, he would be the both the starting and winning pitcher in the Twilight League All-Star Game. He would also pitch in another notable game that summer when he faced the New York Yankees Rookie Team. This team was sponsored by the New York Yankees to scout the New York City areas best prospects who had finished high school, but had not yet attended college or signed professionally. The team barnstormed around the New England States and Quebec playing amateur and semi-professional teams. While the Rug Makers lost the game 6-4, Musillo went the distance and struck out seven Yankees. These two performances upped his stock and he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals that August at the age of 19.

Musillo finished out the 1960 season with the Rug Makers and reported to Homestead, Fla., in the spring of 1961 for spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals. When spring training ended, the Cardinals sent him to the Billings Mustangs (Billings, Mont.) of the Class C Pioneer League. There, he appeared in 10 games, threw one complete game and compiled a record of 2-3. Midseason, he was transferred to the Johnson City Cardinals (Johnson City, Tenn.) of the Class D Appalachian League. He appeared in 22 more games, striking out 63 batters in 60 innings, and once again compiled a record of 2-3. That offseason, Musillo was offered a contract to play professional basketball for the Canadian Road Kings. The offer was for $350 per game, with a guarantee of 5-7 games per week. Not wanting to risk injury to his ankles, Musillo turned down the contract so he could focus on returning to baseball healthy the following spring.

During spring training going into the 1962 season, Musillo was with the Cardinals AAA team and his catcher was prospect Tim McCarver. McCarver would go on to play 21 seasons in the Major Leagues, and was a two-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champion (1964 & 1967 with the Cardinals), and a long-time Major League Baseball broadcaster (and Ford C. Frick Winner-Cooperstown HOF Broadcasters Wing). The 1962 regular season saw Musillo with the Brunswick Cardinals (Brunswick, GA) of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. He went 0-2 that season, appearing in 13 games and struck out 22 in 18 innings.

Musillo was released by the Cardinals after the 1962 season and went to spring training in 1963 with the Milwaukee Braves. His time with that organization was cut short when he was called to take a physical for the Vietnam War draft.

During that physical, doctors discovered that he had a heart murmur and he was not drafted. He instead returned to Gloversville and resumed playing with the Polish American Veterans (P.A.V.) in the Schenectady Twilight League. During his time with the P.A.V. team (1963 to 1966), they won four league championships and three New York State Semi-Pro state championships.

In 1963 he married Rose Cristiano, and they would raise three children; Gregory, Dean and Kristin. He would spend his post-baseball career working for Levor & Company, Coca-Cola and Pearl Leather until his retirement in 2009. Musillo would continue to stay active on the local sports scene through the 1970s playing softball, basketball and golf in local Fulton County leagues.

Musillo has been nominated for induction into the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame. His induction will take place on Saturday, Aug. 11 at Parkhurst Field in Gloversville. He will join Fulton County baseball pitching legends Tom Foster, Jack Sanford and Charlie Fredericks, who will also be inducted between innings of a Vintage Baseball Game taking place between the A., J. & G’s and the Mountain Athletic Club from Fleischmann’s, New York, using 1895 style baseball rules and era authentic equipment. The day’s events start at noon and admission is free.

Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com, email; mhauser@frontiernet.net or call 518-725-5565.

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