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After 61 years, softball isn't old hat to Taylor, 75


Frank Taylor retire from softball? Not on your life. Or his.

"People tell me if I got out of the game, I'd get old," he said.

Taylor is 75, back in Baltimore after a 16-year absence and spending his 61st consecutive year in softball as manager of the Bill Tucker Physical Therapy Associates team that plays in a Patterson Park league and in tournaments along the East Coast.

For three decades, starting when he was stationed with the Army at Edgewood Arsenal in 1946, Taylor pitched for and then managed teams in this area. He became a legend, first for his dazzling pitching, then as the molder of winning teams and the scourge of umpires.

He had come out of St. Louis as one of the nation's best pitchers. In 1935 he pitched in his first national tournament, at Soldier Field in Chicago, where they staged three games simultaneously.

When he arrived in Maryland, a newspaper ad caught his eye. A softball team, Leon Levi's, was looking for a pitcher.

In his first game, he struck out 18 of 21 batters. In his next, the second game of the doubleheader that day, he fanned 19 of 21. The legend was spawned.

Thirty years later, when Taylor retired from his job as a highway inspector with Baltimore City, he headed for retirement in Monticello, Ark., where his son Andy was attending college.

Taylor thought he would busy himself in the back yard. But no sooner had he and his wife Pauline moved in then the phone rang. Could he help coach a softball team in Pine Bluff, 50 miles away?

Decatur, Ill., was next, where, in his 50th year in softball, he won a national championship. Then it was Fox Hill, Va., Charles City, Va., and back to Pine Bluff for four straight Amateur Softball Association Southwest Regional titles.

At last year's nationals, Leo Mills, a friend and fellow manager from his Baltimore days, asked Taylor if he would return here "to put a team together." Tucker's is the result of that conversation.

So here Taylor is, smartly dressed in uniform No. 13 ("my high school football number") and directing Tucker's at Utz Twardowicz Field.

Andy, once the batboy for his father's teams, is now the burly 34-year-old pitcher. The shortstop is Jim Brackin, 43, who hoped to play for Taylor in 1976, only to have him "retire."

"Frank is colorful, but there are misconceptions about him," NTC Brackin said. "People think he puts pressure on players, but that's not true. I'm very relaxed. In fact, he takes pressure off players by mixing it up with the umpires so we don't have to."

Once, when he was in his mid-50s, and in a rage, Taylor struck an umpire and was suspended by Baltimore softball authorities. The suspension was to be for one year, but after Taylor appealed, it was reduced to a few weeks, giving him ample time to ready his team for its annual rampage through the Central Atlantic Regional Tournament.

Now, Taylor is doing the same with Tucker's, which has a 19-10 record and "is improving all the time."

The Central Atlantic event is Aug. 1-2 in Elkton, and Taylor intends to be there. Then there are the Amateur Softball Association championships in Bloomington, Ind., and an International Softball Congress tournament in Salt Lake City.

"If all goes well," Taylor said, "we'll be around until late September."

Then he just might stay around Baltimore another month . . . to recruit for next year.

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