By Chris Felker
The Wycliffe Stiffs Stickball League’s tenth season is one for the books now, and “next year” finally came for one captain who’d never won a championship in nine tries.
It was always “wait ’til next year” for Al Chaikin, just like it was for the Brooklyn Dodgers for so many years until they finally won their one and only world championship in 1955.
Chaikin and his Bronx Bombers this season had borrowed Brooklyn’s ’55 war cry — “Next Year is Now!” — and indeed it was (although, ironically, the Dodgers had beaten their arch-rival New York Yankees — the original “Bronx Bombers” — for the 1955 championship). “Ten years, and he’s been a captain for nine years,” Wycliffe Stiffs Commissioner Marty Ross said about Chaikin, “and he went from down in fourth place and came back and won it.”
It’s the second year in a row that the fourth-place team has come back to triumph. In the championship game March 22 at Village Park, Chaikin led his Bombers to a 6-3 come-from-behind win against the regular season pennant-winning Boston Diehards.
Flags were at half-staff for the playoff games that week — the league had lost one of its longtime players and a Hall of Famer, Boston’s Paul Camandona, who died March 17. That was tough on his comrades, but it was still a great year, Ross said. “We had our best season in terms of no one getting hurt, everyone having a great time together, friendships being built, renewed and extended,” he said.
The 2011-12 season ended with that championship game, but the 79 league members, spouses, guests and friends of the league also gathered for the league’s annual awards luncheon and roast March 29 at the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club.
To cap it off, as a special treat, Ross brought in the official Brooklyn historian, Ron Schweiger, to regale the audience with his stories of yore.
Schweiger entertained the players and guests with a slide presentation and colorful anecdotes about the borough’s rich history and its storied baseball franchise that in 1957 moved to Los Angeles. He brought along a proclamation from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz honoring Ross for the 10th anniversary of the league.
The league’s oldest player, Norm Graff, served as master of ceremonies for the luncheon, presenting awards and recognizing the captains for the “roast” portion of the program.
Now that the season has concluded, Ross will sit down with Harry Klaff, director of operations, to prepare for the 2012-13 season by reviewing individual batting and pitching performances, ranking players, recruiting next year’s teams and captains, then conducting a draft to try to achieve another well-rounded league. Klaff is a sports statistic fanatic, which comes in handy. And as is the tradition, they’ll offer the captains the chance to name their own teams.
Last year’s champs, the Congressional Barons, had gotten off to a 1-7 start and capped off their turnaround by upsetting the two-time defending champion New York Egg Creams in the season’s final game last April.
The Congressional Barons were skippered by Arnie Westerman, who returned this year. Norman Negrin, 77, managed the Egg Creams and had won two titles in a row in only his second and third years playing, but then decided to retire as a captain.
So this year, there was no team named after the league’s signature beverage. “The chocolate egg cream drink is a longtime favorite,” Ross said, and the league’s homemade championship trophy is shaped like the egg cream beverage glass. The drink is a mixture of chocolate (Fox’s U-Bet fat free chocolate syrup only, thank you), milk and seltzer water.
During off-season, league members will take outings to Florida Panthers games and may have some social gatherings with guest speakers. But until next fall, they’ll have the memories of another great season to reflect on.
To learn more about the Wycliffe Stiffs Stickball League, e-mail Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.