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Ed West

When Perry Morrison received the call that he was going into the Billings American Legion Hall of Fame, he didn't believe it at first.

"It was on April 1 and I got a call. I didn't know who it was and I didn't check caller ID to see that it was from Billings," Morrison said. "I thought it was an April Fool's joke. Then she (Cindy Deutscher) started talking about some names and I knew it had to be real."

Morrison will be inducted Friday night at the second Hall of Fame Dinner and Auction at the Holiday Inn Grand Motel. Les Rohr, the late Joe Pirtz, Sr., the late Bill Osborne and the 1950 and 1951 teams will also be inducted.

"I got emotional," Morrison said when he received the call. "I'll probably get emotional there. I'm the first Scarlet to go in and knowing the quality of people who were before and after me, it's a great honor."

Morrison was on the mound when the Scarlets won their first state championship in 1976. After playing in junior college, he was drafted by the Angels and spent five years in professional baseball. He got as a high as Class AAA with Salt Lake City, but a bum arm ended his career in 1982.

"I threw too many sliders," Morrison said. "They wanted me to have Tommy John surgery on my elbow, but I said no. I had problems the last two years. I was taking 20 aspirin a day, which was probably stupid."

One of his pro highlights came as a rookie with Idaho Falls when he pitched against the Mustangs at Cobb Field.

"It was nice to come back," Morrison recalled. "I couldn't believe how many people were there. There were people down the foul lines."

Morrison joined the Legion program before it was officially split into the Royals and the Scarlets. He first met legendary coach Ed Bayne as a 14-year-old and remembers Bayne telling him, "If I'm yelling at you, you're all right."

When the program went to two teams, Morrison joined the Scarlets, where he remembers the contributions of Pirtz, who died in 1991, and Scarlets coach Dennis Maggert.

"The program nurtured me," said Morrison, who now lives in Beloit, Wis., and works for the Allied Automotive Group, a car-hauling business. "I don't think I would have gone anywhere without Joe Pirtz. Ed and Dennis were firm, Joe was more laid back. He had a quiet way of telling you what you should do."

Morrison said he talked to Maggert and "he told me how proud he was of me. It's because of the Legion program that I got as far as I did."

Rohr had similar feelings about his induction.

"It's quite an honor to be selected with the group of people who are there," said Rohr a flame-throwing lefthander from 1962-64. "I've got a lot of good memories. I wouldn't be here if it was wasn't for Ed Bayne and Joe Pirtz."

Rohr went on to play in the major leagues with the New York Mets.

Long before Morrison and Rohr appeared on the scene, the foundation of the program was laid by the 1950 and '51 teams. Osborne, who passed away last summer, was the head coach and Bayne was his assistant before taking over in 1952.

Starting with those teams, Billings embarked on a period of domination of Montana Legion baseball. From 1950-71, Billings won 20 state championships and appeared in the Legion World Series four times, finishing second in 1960.

"We started it and it's kind of fun to look back on," said Jack Streeter, a catcher on the 1950 team. "Winning the state championship was our big goal and we finally did that. Miles City was always our nemesis and we won it in Miles City. We went to Yakima, Wash., for the regional and we lost two games and won two. The '51 team went a little farther."

The 1951 club rolled to the state championship and then won the regional at Yakima. In those years, the Legion World Series had just four teams so the regional winners had to play in a sectional tournament.

Billings lost to Omaha, Neb., 4-3 and Los Angeles 6-0 in the sectional. Los Angeles went on to win the national title.

"We had a great team," said Maury Colberg, Jr., of the '51 club. "Early in the season we went to Minnesota and played St. Paul and Duluth. We played Fargo, which was rated as one of the top teams, and we beat them."

That Fargo team happened to have Roger Maris, who went on major league fame by breaking Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961.

Mike Gesuale, who played on both teams, remembers that "what stands out is the discipline and organization that Bill Osborne brought to the program. I remember Ed Bayne was a pepperpot and Les Smith and Joe Pirtz did a good job. There are a lot of good memories. The '51 team proved by winning that regional that Montana teams could compete against out-of-state teams."

Gesuale is proud of the success the program has had over the years.

"The kids had a lot of respect for Bill. Ed did a great job when he took over and when the Scarlets came along, Dennis Maggert did a great job."

- - - Dave McNally's number will be retired at the banquet. The former Legion and Baltimore Orioles star, who passed away in December, will also have a street sign named in his honor. The approach to Cobb Field off of 9th Ave. North will be named Dave McNally Drive.

Legion general manager Bob Sandler said a ceremony for the unveiling of the sign will be May 23 following the Scarlets-Royals game.

Houston Astros scout Doug Deutsch will be the guest speaker at the banquet. Tickets are available at $40 per person. Contact Cindy Deutscher at 248-2973 for reservations.

(Ed West can be reached at 657-1325 or by e-mail at ewest@billingsgazette.com)

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