First, the Massachusetts Babe Ruth Hall of Fame came calling for Jim Smerczynski a year ago. Now, the Peabody resident has been chosen for the New England Babe Ruth Hall of Fame.
The ceremony was held recently at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Marlborough, with “Smuz” one of only three people inducted.
The 76-year-old Smerczynski began his career in Peabody Babe Ruth back in 1973, and over the years became one of the most successful coaches around. His baseball teams won league, state and regional championships too numerous to count.
“It was a very nice honor,” said Smerczynski, who has spent almost 40 years volunteering to coach and administer youth sports. “It was very nice that Mark Matanes (the Massachusetts State Commissioner) made the presentation, because I’ve known him for years and he’s a great guy.”
Smerczynski was honored along with Norm Messier, the current New England commissioner who hails from Vermont, as well as a gentleman from Connecticut. All three were given huge plaques to commemorate the event.
Smerczynski, who didn’t find out about the honor until two days prior to the event, made sure to thank his wife, Barbara, a terrific athlete in her own right.
“Years ago, when our sons Mike or Tom (both of whom were outstanding pitchers) needed to throw, she’d put on a catcher’s mitt. The boys threw in the 90s and Mike was too wild for me, but she would catch for him,” Smerczynski said.
During the event, Matanes spoke about the time back in the 1970s when an African-American family moved to West Peabody and one of their sons signed up for Babe Ruth. The only coach interested in drafting him was Smerczynski, who welcomed young Artie Collins to his Rotary team — the most successful in the city. At the time, there were 12 Babe Ruth teams for players ages 13 to 15 in the city, with six in West Peabody and six more downtown. Things were highly competitive, with around 120 boys trying out for 48 spots.
Matanes spoke about how Smerczysnki not only recruited the boy for his team, but established a lifelong relationship with the family, who eventually produced a son who became a sports announcer for NECN. That TV sports personality is Chris Collins, who later played for Smerczynski and Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett on Murphy’s Whips.
“It only made sense to me at the time,” Smerczynski said. “Collins was a half-decent ballplayer, and it seemed like the logical thing to do. His father (the late Arthur Sr.) played ball for the Boston entry in the Negro Pro Baseball League after going to Boston College on a track scholarship.”
In addition, Smerczynski founded Lou Gehrig Baseball so no youngster who wanted to keep playing after Little League would be left out. He also did the scheduling for both leagues.
In 1978, Smerczynski was asked to coach the Peabody West Senior Babe Ruth team, and once again the victories far outnumbered the losses.
Matanes described him as a “coach’s coach,” somebody who not only knew the game, but cared deeply about all his players. What they did off the field was just as important as their feats on the diamond, and he helped many of them get into college.
Former Babe Ruth state commissioner Dan Lynch asked Smerczynski to help recruit more teams in eastern Massachusetts, and he worked tirelessly at the job. He went on to coach Murphy’s Whips in the North Shore Baseball League and also the Swampscott Sox.
Former Peabody Mayor Peter Torigian appointed Smerczynski to the city’s Park Commission.
One of the things Smerczynski enjoys most these days is watching his grandchildren play sports. Sean Smerczynski is a three-year starter at linebacker for the 8-1 St. John’s Prep football team.