A friend sent Lary Sorensen a link to a recent Tribune-Democrat article about former major league manager Buck Showalter’s induction into the AAABA Hall of Fame on Aug. 3.
The story rekindled positive memories of a MVP performance and championship run Sorensen fronted with the Detroit Little Caesars franchise in 1975. It also reminded the former 11-season major league pitcher how much the tournament has meant to players such as Showalter and him.
Currently a member of the Wake Forest University football and baseball broadcast teams, Sorensen thought back to his meeting Showalter, then in his first year as manager of the New York Yankees. Sorensen was with ESPN in 1992.
“I go into New York in Buck’s first year. I said, ‘Buck, Hi, I’m Lary Sorensen with ESPN,’ ” Sorensen said during a telephone interview earlier during AAABA Tournament week.
“Buck said, ‘Lary Sorensen, you were the MVP in the 1975 Johnstown, Pennsylvania, baseball tournament. You were 3-0. You had a 1.17 ERA.’ He knew my numbers 17 years after. He remembered my name and he knew what my record and ERA was, and it flipped me out.”
The AAABA Tournament has made a similar impression on thousands of young ballplayers throughout 75 years of games played in Johnstown and the surrounding region.
During a rain-filled 1975 tournament Sorensen earned Most Valuable Player after winning three games and posting the aforementioned low ERA.
Detroit fell behind Showalter’s Birmingham Roy Buckner Chevrolet team 6-0 early in the title game. The right-handed Sorensen entered in relief in the eighth inning of a game Detroit went on to win 13-10. He struck out two batters in 1 1/3 innings.
During a 4-0 win over Ann Arbor, Sorensen tossed a two-hitter at Point Stadium as Little Caesars advanced to the title game. He had 13 strikeouts in the game.
“That’s kind of where I had made my reputation as an amateur,” Sorensen said. “I got very, very lucky. I played on four national championship teams four years in a row. It started when I was 16.
“You go into those short series. I had a rubber arm and I could pitch a lot. I always threw strikes. You could use me multiple times in a real short series.
“I actually got picked up for that tourney. I wasn’t on their roster the entire year.”
Sorensen pitched in the majors from 1977 to 1988 with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. He won 18 games with the Brewers and was an American League All-Star in 1978.
Sorensen has been a broadcaster with ESPN, the Detroit Tigers and Wake Forest University. He has bounced back from well-documented substance abuse problems that had hindered his career – and life – for many years.
Through his work at Wake Forest, Sorensen has forged a strong relationship with Demon Deacons baseball coach Tom Walter, a Johnstown native and AAABA Hall of Famer.
“Tom Walter and I talk all the time,” Sorensen said.
The AAABA Tournament has a way of forging long-lasting bonds and memories.
“It was a great tournament,” Sorensen said. “I remember Mr. Ilitch (Little Caesars founder Mike Ilitch) sitting on my parents bed at the hotel as we celebrated that night in 1975. It was the best way to end the summer.
“Mr. Ilitch and Mr. (Mike) Adray actually kept amateur baseball and amateur sports going for a long, long time pretty much by themselves,” Sorensen added. “Mr. Ilitch just loved baseball so much. I was the Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster for four years when he owned the team. You’d sit next to him. His suite was right next to our broadcast position. We’d go back and relive those times all the time.”