RCBL Hall of Fame Class of 2013
Special thanks to Lauren Jefferson (HOF Class of 2017) for researching, writing, and producing player biographies.
Norman “Ozzie” Armentrout played and managed in the Rockingham County Baseball League, but he is best known as an umpire. This he did for 40 years, and for 20 of those years, he was the league’s first Chief Umpire, in charge of hiring, handling complaints, and scheduling games.
Ozzie played for Keezletown while he was in high school and after his military service in the late ‘40s. By most accounts, he was a ballplayer of modest ability. He once said, “I always had a good throwing arm, but I couldn’t field much, and I couldn’t hit.”
In 1956, Ozzie joined his cousin, Buckshot Harrison, at Grottoes, which won pennants and series championships in ’56 and ’57. In 1958, Ozzie took over as manager. And that year, Grottoes won its third consecutive series.
Ozzie’s umpiring began in 1960. Former players and managers share a universal respect for the umpires of this era, who received little pay and were often in the middle of heated rivalries.
Two stories tell a little about how Ozzie handled the usual competitive tensions as an umpire. Catcher Steve Lough remembers one batter not going quietly after a called third strike. Ozzie started to walk away as the man berated him. Then he turned around and came back. “Let me tell you something,” he said, waving his finger in the man’s face. “It might have been a ball last night, it might be a ball tomorrow, but tonight it’s a strike.’”
Bridgewater catcher Brent Miller would sometimes question a call, only to have Ozzie reach over his shoulder to show him his counter. “Well, this says it’s a ball,” Ozzie would say pleasantly.
Ozzie was honored with an RCBL Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984. He continued umpiring for 15 more years, when a series of heart attacks, all suffered while on the baseball or softball diamond, ended his umpiring days.
Widely recognized as one of the most talented all-around athletes to play in the RCBL, Tom Bocock was a pitcher, utility fielder and feared clean-up hitter during the league’s aluminum bat era. He played 11 seasons with the Bridgewater Reds, contributing to 10 pennants and eight consecutive series wins.
Tom came to the RCBL after record-setting high school and collegiate careers, and three seasons in the minor leagues. Though County League offered a respite from high-pressure baseball, Tom continued to play at an elite level. He is one of the most decorated athletes in league history, earning a total of four post-season honors: Most Valuable Pitcher in 1985, Co-MVP in 1986, and MVP again in 1988 and ‘89. And he is one of only three players to earn both the Most Valuable Pitcher award and the Most Valuable Player award.
Tom is also honored for his mentorship of young athletes and adults. He retired from the RCBL in 1995 to coach his sons in Little League, and on various All-Star teams. Countless young local ballplayers benefited from his expertise. Many of these players continued successful careers at Turner Ashby High School, in college, and in professional baseball. Most importantly, athletes and fellow coaches that he worked with and inspired continue to enjoy baseball today as players and managers in the County League.
Over a lifetime of involvement in Shenandoah Valley baseball, Roscoe Burgess has earned comparisons to several renowned major league ballplayers, from Jackie Robinson to Roy Campanella to Ernie Banks. For anyone who knew him, these are fitting tributes. Roscoe spent more than 20 years in the RCBL as a player, umpire, and manager. In each role, he worked to create opportunities for other African-Americans to play the sport he loved. His contributions to baseball in this community reach beyond the field and the league itself.
Roscoe loved baseball even as a small child. When he was old enough, he played on several all-black baseball teams. He was also a special fan of Briery Branch and its player/manager, Gil Cook. This friendship eventually led to games between the Branch and Burgess’s teams in the late 40s and early 50s. At Cook’s invitation, Roscoe started playing for Briery Branch, possibly as early as 1956. He was the first African-American to play in the league, and his participation enabled others to shortly follow. A catcher, he was known for his entertaining chatter, his enthusiasm, and his hitting ability. Many who saw him play when he was in his prime thought he had big league potential; and he was indeed at one time offered a spot on a Negro Leagues team roster.
During the 1960s, Roscoe umpired in the RCBL, while committing himself to formalizing and standardizing the all-black Shenandoah Valley League he had played in since he was a teenager. At one time, as many as 19 teams played in Sunday doubleheaders up and down the Valley. He was the league’s first commissioner, as well as a player/manager on the Harrisonburg Athletic Club team, more commonly known as the A.C.s. Beginning in 1965, he approached RCBL officials and petitioned to add the A.C.’s into the league. This finally happened in 1969. The A.C.’s roster included several family members, sons Ron and Roscoe, Jr. his cousin Don and his brothers Al and Woody Johnson. In 1977, Burgess was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The A.C.s played in the RCBL until 1981.
Roscoe Burgess lost his battle with cancer a few weeks before the 2013 Hall of Fame banquet.
Harry Harlow played for one team during his seven-year career in the RCBL—and both player and team came to be known for fierce competitiveness and dominating talent. From 1965 to 1971, Harry and the Harriston Braves won seven straight regular season pennants and captured three championships. A left-hander with great control and velocity, Harry also had good off-speed and breaking pitches.
Most people don’t know that Harry never played Little League or high school baseball. In fact, he learned how to pitch in the Army playing two seasons on a post team in Europe. Back in Waynesboro, he played in the Augusta County League. During a game against the RCBL All-Stars, he was scouted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and eventually played two season of minor league ball in the Carolinas League.
In 1965, he joined Harriston for their inaugural RCBL season, and quickly became the go-to pitcher on a team everyone wanted to beat. A first baseman when not pitching, he boasted a career average over .300 and was selected to the All-Star team at least three times.
Career stats are not available, but one season will give an idea of his success: in 1966, he had 175 strikeouts in 145 innings, throwing seven shutouts and two one-hitters. He had multiple outings in which he struck out 20 and 21 batters. On the mound, Harry was unflappable and business-like. His greatest rival was Linville’s Sparky Simmons. Their duels drew huge crowds, and helped popularize County League baseball in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Fred Hill was involved with the County League for more than 25 years as a player and a manager. Between 1971 and 1994, he played 21 seasons, all but two of those with Clover Hill.
A left-handed pitcher and outfielder, he helped Clover Hill to three regular season pennants, as well as 11 series playoff appearances, and five series wins. Among the five RCBL pitchers to have struck out 21 batters in a game, Fred actually performed this feat several times. He consistently held a batting average above .400 and was a perennial All-Star selection.
As a player, Fred was known for his work ethic, his athleticism, his “hustle,” and an irrepressible spirit that motivated his teammates to their best effort. His former opponents and teammates also say Fred was also the rare player who could balance competitiveness with good sportsmanship.
Fred was recognized with an exceptional combination of post-season honors. He is one of three players to collect both MVP and Pitcher of the Year awards, and he is the only player to win both awards in the same year, which he did in 1977. He was also co-MVP in 1983.
Known as a student of the game, Fred was also a Valley League and collegiate umpire for more than 25 years. Taking on a manager’s role with the Bucks was a natural move after his playing days ended in 1994. He was highly-respected by both his players and peers, and earned Manager of the Year honors after that first season. His recruiting efforts laid the groundwork for the Bucks’ domination in years to come. In 1997, he led his young team to their first series win in 10 years. After the 1998 season, Fred stepped down, though he remained active on the Bucks’ board of directors for several years.
A.C. Jenkins has been a mainstay of the RCBL in eastern Rockingham County for decades. He first played in County League after graduating from Weyers Cave high school in 1951 and spent most of his 13 playing seasons at Grottoes, with short stints at Briery Branch and Clover Hill. A consistent All-Star selection, A.C. was a utility player, earning recognition as a pitcher and infielder.
He gravitated toward a leadership role while assisting Ozzie Armentrout at Grottoes. The team won two pennants and three consecutive championship series in the late 1950s. Later, he contributed to the formation of three teams: Elkton, Luray, and Shenandoah.
He started the Elkton Blue Sox in 1967, taking the name from the town’s former Valley League team. Elkton pulled in former Keezletown players, as well as Elkton residents who had been travelling to Grottoes. Because of scheduling conflicts with the home field, Elkton folded after three seasons. A.C. also managed Luray for its two-season appearance in 1973 and 1974. After helping to manage the Harrisonburg A.C.’s, he took over the new Shenandoah franchise in 1978. This was his longest and most successful role. He was named Manager of the Year in 1985, when Shenandoah recorded their best finish of 20-10, tying Clover Hill for second place during the regular season. Though Jenkins stepped down in 1987, he continued his involvement with Shenandoah through several subsequent managers.
Without the steadfast dedication of A.C. Jenkins, the RCBL would have been fielded fewer teams and been much less competitive. His induction honors his devotion to the sport of baseball and to the RCBL, and his willingness to share his time and talents to provide opportunities for players and fans alike.
Wayland “Wally” Long was recruited by Buck Bowman to play for Ottobine in 1946, when he was 15 years old. For nearly 20 years, he was an accomplished all-around player who represented Ottobine, and later Clover Hill, in many All-Star games. Wally was primarily a pitcher and a shortstop until 1952.
That year, he lost half of his index finger and all of his middle finger in an accident. His ring finger was also permanently bent. Wally was told by many that he would have to give up baseball, but he refused to believe this. He persevered through pain and doubt, retraining himself in hopes of returning to play. “I must have quit a dozen times that year,” he said, “and the next couple days, I was out there throwing again. I just couldn’t give it up because that was my life.”
He returned for the 1953 season and was still able to pitch for a few innings at a time. He became universally recognized as one of the best outfielders in the league. Team records show that Wally’s career average was over .300. He helped Ottobine and Clover Hill to three regular season pennants, four championship series wins, and four runner-up finishes.
Wally is remembered as the consummate sportsman, a gentleman on and off the field, and a well-liked and respected teammate. His induction also honors the family ties that have strengthened the County League for decades. His four brothers all played: Truman with Spring Creek, and Everette, Norman, and Galen for Ottobine. His sister Geneva married Harry Whitmore, a longtime Bridgewater player and manager who was inducted into last year’s Hall of Fame. Wally Long was inducted into the Hall with two other family members: his nephew, Wayne Whitmore, as well as a distant cousin, Fred Hill.
Steve Lough joins a small group of dedicated men who have contributed in every possible role to the Rockingham County Baseball League. Steve has spent 29 years involved in the league in some capacity, including more than eight years as various roles of league administration.
Steve played for 17 seasons, between 1971 and 2000, at Clover Hill. He also played one season each with Briery Branch, Harrisonburg, and Grottoes. An outfielder, catcher, and designated hitter, he was a starter at each position in several All-Star games. In 1974, he was co-Most Valuable Player, hitting 13 home runs and 42 RBIs with a .321 average in 40 games. Steve was known for his hitting abilities: he tallied 93 career homeruns (he will want it known that two were hit left-handed).
Nearly 30 years later, his son Aaron, also a Clover Hill Buck, earned MVP honors as well, making the Loughs the only father-son pair to win the award in league history.
Steve eased into leadership positions by being a player/manager and player/coach for five seasons, first with the Chics, then with the Bucks. He took over as Clover Hill’s manager in 2002, earning Manager of the Year honors that first season and the next as well, as the Bucks began their record consecutive pennant and series sweep. As a player and a manager, Lough’s teams won five pennants and seven series titles.
Jim Nichols played in the RCBL from 1961 to 1973, starting his career with Clover Hill and ending with Harriston. Among his career highlights are three league records. Jim is one of five RCBL pitchers to have recorded a no-hitter, and the only pitcher to have thrown two no-hitters.
He also holds what is believed to be a record for single-game strikeouts, fanning 22 in a July 1963, game against Towers. On at least two other occasions, he struck out 21 batters—a feat shared by only four other pitchers, all fellow Hall of Famers: Sparky Simmons, Harry Harlow, Fred Hill and Wayne Whitmore.
A multi-year All-Star selection, Jim played second when not pitching. With Jim, Clover Hill won both the pennant and the series in 1963, as well as the pennant in 1964.
After the 1968 season, he moved to Waynesboro to continue his career in public schools administration. He pitched three seasons for Harriston, helping the team to regular season pennant-winning records of 19-5, 23-4 and 22-5. In 1970, the first year post-season honors began, he earned the Pitcher of the Year Award. That season, he was 12-1, with 133 strikeouts in 115 innings, allowing 63 hits, 28 runs and 19 walks. He also hit .331. When Harriston folded in 1971, Nichols also retired.
He continued to contribute to the sport by founding and managing the Augusta County Babe Ruth League, umpiring Valley League games, and leading initial efforts to improve Kate Collins Field, which is used by high school and Valley League teams. His contributions to the baseball community were recognized with an RCBL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.
Keith Spitzer began a lifetime association with the Rockingham County Baseball League as a teenaged rookie at Bridgewater. He begged manager Bud Kibler for a roster spot because he wanted to play, but also because this cute girl might come to watch. That girl, Karen, became his wife and they have been married 54 years.
At Bridgewater, Keith played outfield and first base, and was the team’s lead-off hitter for most of his 16-year career. He often led the team in walks. Once, preparing for his fourth at-bat after drawing three consecutive walks, he was astonished to see manager Pidge Rhodes give him the hit and run sign. With no one on base, Keith stepped out of the batter’s box and trotted down the line to see what was going on. “Swing the damn bat,” Pidge told him.
His career stats include 480 hits for a .332 batting average, with 31 home runs, 238 walks, and 271 RBIs. He was a 9-time All-Star honoree, hitting a career average of .428 for those appearances. A member of two championship teams, he remembers the 1962 season and the dramatic come-from-behind win with particular fondness.
Some of his teammates may know this story, but Keith loved baseball so much that he jeopardized a promising career in movie theater management to attend Bridgewater’s night games. Though his bosses in Maryland told him to give up baseball, Keith instead went to the theatre with his uniform on underneath his suit, started the movie and then slipped off to the ballfield, returning a few hours later—in his suit, of course— when the game was over.
Since returning to the Valley in 2008, Keith dedicated himself to the preservation of the league’s history and the promotion of its legacy, serving on the Hall of Fame Committee and becoming the first curator of the RCBL Hall of Fame Museum.
Few men have as deep and as abiding ties to our two local baseball leagues, the RCBL and the Valley League, as does Bob Wease. One former County League opponent said, “When you think of Bob Wease, you think of County League.” Many would say the same of his involvement with Valley League.
Bob first played for Linville in the County League as a 13-year-old and it was to this team that he returned after playing 10 seasons in the Valley League. For the next 24 years from 1970 to 1994, Bob played in the County League, with Linville, Twin County, and Grottoes. He was Manager of the Year in 1986 at Linville. He also started, managed, and played for the Harrisonburg Chics from 1987 to 1994.
As a player, Bob was known for his hitting ability, his love of competition and his respect for the game . As a manager, he developed a reputation for finding and recruiting talent, as well as fielding competitive teams that played to their collective strengths. In his career, his teams captured eight pennants, four series championships, and three runner-up finishes. Widely recognized as one of the all-time career hits leaders in the league, Bob concluded his career as a player/manager.
Since 1990, Bob has owned and managed the Harrisonburg Turks, and continues to be a stalwart benefactor of the RCBL.
Wayne Whitmore played for the Bridgewater Reds from 1956 to 1977, missing only one season when he was posted overseas in the Marine Corps. One of the league’s premier pitchers, Wayne had an intimidating fastball and a confounding off-speed pitch somewhere between a knuckle and a curve.
He also played second base and the outfield. He was feared at the plate, never hitting under .300 during his 20-season career, and on the base paths, a canny and aggressive runner. A perennial All-Star selection,he helped Bridgewater to a regular season pennant in 1958, a series win in 1962, and runner-up series finishes in 1960, 1964 and 1970.
In 1965, Wayne struck out a near-record 21 batters in a game against Grottoes. That year, he pitched in 95 1/3 innings over 19 games striking out 130 batters. His batting average was .325.
In 1971, the 31-year-old was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Throughout his career, he was a dedicated, tough competitor—the kind of teammate wanted on the field with the game on the line. He follows his father, former Bridgewater player and manager Harry Whitmore, into the RCBL Hall of Fame.