Bebe Garguilo … walk on ballplayer
From 1937 to 1951 the Gloversville-Johnstown Glovers were a professional baseball team that entertained local fans at the former Glovers Park.
The park sat at what is now the corner of Route 30A and Fifth Avenue in Gloversville (currently home to Runnings Outdoors/Hannaford Grocery/House of Pizza).
The Glovers played in the Class C Canadian-American League and held various affiliations with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1939), Albany Senators (1940-41) and the St. Louis Browns (1942, 1946-49).
At the start of the 1951 season, minor league baseball was struggling to compete with major league games now being shown on television.
As attendance for games waned, so did available players, who were now taking better paying jobs that were available during the post World War II industry boom.
Ahead of the season, Glovers’ management put out an advertisement in national sporting newspapers looking for experienced players.
Part of their selling strategy was to tout local employers that provided the prospect of defense industry jobs during the off season.
A few local players answered the call when Robert Sise and Bebe Garguilo showed up for their tryouts at the Riceville Diamond in Mayfield (now the site of RMF Motor Sports Garage between the Riceville Homestead and Sacandaga Scoops Restaurant).
Sise, an Amsterdam resident since age 13, had previously played professionally in 1948 as a third baseman with the Nyack Rocklands (Nyack) of the Class D North Atlantic League. He had spent the 1949 and 1950 seasons pitching in semi-pro leagues in the Amsterdam area, and made the 1951 Glovers team as a pitcher. He parlayed the pay he received from the Glovers that summer to start a law practice. He often joked that his $250 monthly salary as a Glover helped cover the costs of office rent, a secretary and telephone to get his first law office going that summer. That law office led to a 59-year law career in both the private and public sectors.
Another local player by the name of Frank “Bebe” Garguilo also answered the ad and showed up to the tryouts. Unlike Sise, Garguilo was just 18 years old and had no prior professional experience. In fact, he had only one season of high school baseball under his belt. Garguilo, a 1950 graduate of Gloversville High School, had focused on bowling in high school. In the spring of 1950, he decided to try out for the Gloversville Varsity team.
Assistant coach Jack Kobuskie noticed how hard he threw while watching him warm up in the gymnasium, and encouraged head coach Duke Miller to bring him onto the team. Garguilo made the team as a pitcher, and also played third base to utilize his live arm and his solid hitting. After graduating from high school, he played in local semi-pro leagues in Gloversville and Johnstown, where he focused on his newly found skill as a pitcher.
While he had no professional experience, Garguilo impressed the Glovers player/manager Al Barillari at the Glovers April 1951 tryouts and he brought him along for the team’s preseason games. A three inning start in an exhibition game in Canada against the St. Jean Braves (St. Jean Quebec) of the Provincial League, in which he gave up two-runs against a team full of seasoned professionals and future Major Leaguers’ solidified his spot on the Glovers opening day team.
The night before opening day, the Gloversville Kiwanis club members held a ‘Send-Off Dinner’ for the team that took place at the Gloversville YMCA. New York Yankee pitching legend Vernon “Lefty” Gomez was the guest speaker, and told humorous stories about his hall of fame career (inducted into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972). He also gave the aspiring Glovers players advice as they embarked on the 1951 season.
The Glovers opened the season against the Amsterdam Rugmakers at Mohawk Mills Park (now Shuttleworth Park) in Amsterdam. In the opening game, Amsterdam beat the Glovers by a score of 20-7 on a barrage of 18 hits. Veteran pitcher John Coakley started the game and was quickly followed by Al Barkus, who took the loss. With the game already out of hand, five more Glovers’ pitchers were used, including Garguilo, who got his first professional appearance in front of 1,878 fans.
The start of the season was a very cold one and many games were postponed. Garguilo would be used as a middle reliever, helping to stop the bleeding in run away games that the Glovers lost. While he was never charged with a loss, Garguilo and outfielder Lou Salreno were optioned later that spring to the Griffin Pimientos (Griffin, Ga.) of the Class D Georgia-Alabama League for more seasoning.
This marked the beginning of manager Barillari’s revolving door of pitchers that saw him use 26 different players at the position throughout the season. In the previous five seasons, the Glovers never used more than 10. Salreno reported to Griffin and appeared in 103 games for the Pimientos that season.
Garguilo did not take the assignment, and instead chose to stay in Upstate New York to work and continued to pitch in local semi-professional leagues.
Mid-summer, he was invited to pitch for the Herkimer Generals of the Mohawk Valley League. He went 3-0 and did not walk a batter or give up a run in 30 consecutive innings. His spectacular summer landed him a late season workout with the Schenectady Blue Jays. The Blue Jays were a Philadelphia Phillies minor league affiliate that competed in the Canadian-American League.
Word of his workout with the Schenectady club got back to the Phillies and they invited him to spring training in March of 1952. He reported to their minor league camp in Laurinburg, N.C.
After a solid spring, he was told by the Phillies organization that they planned to offer him a minor league deal. However, due to his size (5’9″ and 160lbs) and how hard he threw, they did not feel his arm would last at the Major League level.
According to Garguilo, “I sensed my arm was starting to go dead from overexertion. So instead of taking a minor league assignment, I went home to work and continued to play on local semi-pro teams.”
In November 1952, Garguilo enlisted in the United States Air Force. Upon completing basic training, he attended the aircraft and engine school at Sheppard Air Base in Texas.
After graduating as an airman, Garguilo asked to be stationed somewhere in the Northeast. He was assigned to the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in Newfoundland Nova Scotia Canada. Upon arriving at Harmon, word was already out that he had pitched professionally and there was a buzz about starting a baseball team centered-around him as their pitcher.
However, there was no baseball field at the base. So Garguilo and a group of airmen built a field, and formed a team. They competed against other Air Force bases from across Canada and the United States, who traveled to Nova Scotia to challenge them.
The team was successful and qualified for the Air Force Championships in 1955 at Scott Air Force Base in Scott Field Illinois. In September of 1955, Garguilo was transferred to Laredo Air Force Base in Laredo, Texas, where he finished out his service as an airplane mechanic. He was once again called upon to play on their baseball team, but he had developed a sore arm during the 1955 season and decided to take a break from baseball. In April of 1956, Airman 2/c Garguilo was selected by the 3641st Flight Line Maintenance Squadron as their crew chief of the month.
After being honorably discharged from military service in 1956, he came back to Gloversville and began working in the local leather industry. He worked his way up through the ranks; starting as a laborer, then foreman, then superintendent. In addition, during the early 1970’s he purchased and ran the Quigley’s Tavern in Gloversville.
In 1976 he sold Quigley’s Tavern and took over Pro Leather in Johnstown. He sold Pro Leather in 1979, and then started Androme Leather in Gloversville the following year. Today, Androme Leather is a manufacturer that tans, colors and finishes leather. The majority of the leather they produce is ‘glove leather’ that is used by all four branches of the United States military.
Garguilo continued to play on local semi-pro baseball teams for the next several years, eventually transitioning over to fast pitch softball, when he and a group of volunteers helped create the Meco Ballpark in the early 1960’s. He also remained competitive in local bowling and golf leagues. He won many local amateur golf tournaments and his bowling career earned him induction into the Fulton County Bowling Hall of Fame in 2002. He was also very involved in Harness Horse Racing for over 40 years, in which he owned and bred approximately 25 horses that raced on every harness track in New York State. Horses he owned won three Shire Stakes.
Garguilo also remained active at the local youth and amateur sports level through the 1980’s, as both a planner and organizer. As a member of the Gloversville Common Council, he was very active on the Gloversville Recreation Committee.
During his tenure, the committee was successful in making improvements to Littauer Field (lights & creating a multi-use sports facility; football/flag football/softball/ice skating), and Darling Field (lights and soccer fields). As a member of the Gloversville Football Alumni Club he also had a part in raising funds to put up lights on Husky Field.
In 1983, Bebe was the driving force in attempting to bring professional baseball back to Gloversville. He attended numerous meetings with Pittsburgh Pirates management to create a working agreement to bring their New York-Pennsylvania League (Short-Season A) team to Gloversville. The games were to be played at Darling Field and a minor league facility was to be built at the Kingsborough Avenue property. While much of the community was behind the effort, a few vocal residents who resided near Darling Field and the Sacred Heart Church were against the endeavor due to traffic concerns. The initiative was eventually denied by the Gloversville Common Council in a 6-6 vote, and the Pirates instead situated the team in Watertown New York.
Today at the age of 87, Bebe is retired and resides in Gloversville with his wife Audrey. Androme Leather is one of the few leather manufacturers still operating in the area and is now run by his son Christopher. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing and still avidly follows the sport of horse racing.
Garguilo has been nominated for induction into the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame. Induction will take place May 31, as part of the Annual Vintage Baseball Game to be played at Parkhurst Field in Gloversville. Also being inducted that day will be former professional baseball players Joe Kobuskie, Frank Ricco, Don Shoblom, Randy Marshall and the Undefeated 1951 Gloversville High School Baseball Team. The event will be open to the public. For more information about the inductions and Vintage Game, visit www.parkhurstfield.org .
A special ‘thank you’ to Chris Garguilo, Mike Ponticello, Joey Caruso, Gene Satterlee, Robert Smullen, Sharon Poling and the staff at the Gloversville and Johnstown libraries for their research assistance in writing this story.
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 organizations website at www.fchof.com, email; firstname.lastname@example.org or call 518-725-5565.