By Jean DePlacido
---- — One right-hander stood a menacing 6-foot-7 and weighed 230 pounds, staring down at high school hitters from the pitching rubber and blowing fastballs by them seemingly at will.
The other right-hander wasn’t as tall and didn’t weigh as much, but was just as overpowering and unhittable. Like his predecessor from the next town over, he made it look easy.
Two of Massachusetts’ best-ever high school baseball pitchers, both of whom went on to be selected in the first round of their respective Major League Baseball draft classes. Jeff Juden, who led Salem High to a Division 2 state title in 1989, was chosen 12th overall by the Houston Astros; Jeff Allison came out of Peabody High in 2003 as the 16th overall selection in the draft, going to the Florida Marlins.
But what would happen, hypothetically, if their two teams ever played and the two mound aces faced off against each other?
Well, it almost certainly would have been a low scoring game. And as the the coaches of those two teams would be the first to tell you, their star pitchers were most certainly not one-man shows.
“The team concept was fantastic. Jeff got all the honors, but that was an outstanding team,” said Ed Nizwantowski, who guided Peabody in 2003. “What sticks out in my mind is our pitching; Jeff’s ERA was 0.00; (Anthony) Palmieri’s was 0.31 and (Ian) Parkinson’s was 0.49 ... and we had (Ryan) Moorer for spot starts and relief. We were blessed with arms.
“I don’t rate teams, but that group was was fantastic. It was a very enjoyable time in my life.”
Legendary Salem High head coach Al Giardi echoed similar sentiments about his Witches, where Juden was the brightest of a star-studded collection of players.
“We had a lot of great players, not just Jeff,” said coach Giardi. “There were a lot of smart kids, both academically and athletically. A lot of them went on to play college baseball.”
Salem’s talent included lefty Doug Canney, who went 7-1 that season while hitting .338; he wound up playing professionally in the California Angels’ minor league system. Doug Chouinard was the team’s No. 3 pitcher, while junior Mike Giardi, the coach’s son, played shortstop and was one of the batting leaders. (Giardi also played minor league ball). Dave Angeramo, who became an All-Ivy League player at Dartmouth and is now a Salem High principal, was also on the club.
Juden was one of 11 seniors on the 1989 Salem High baseball team, which won 23 of its 26 games. Remarkably, they gave up only 29 runs all season while scoring 172.
Now 42 years old and living in Florida, Juden made it to the majors, pitching mainly as a reliever for eight teams in nine seasons and finishing with a 27-32 career mark and 4.81 ERA. Allison never reached the bigs; substance abuse problems derailed his career. He is now 28 years old, has been clean and sober for more than six years and gives talks to high schoolers about the dangers of drugs while working as the lead pitching instructor for Show Baseball.
Striking fear into batters
Allison still remembers seeing Juden pitch when he was only four years old, never dreaming that one day baseball fans would speak his name in the same breath.
“He was unreal and I remember thinking I wanted to pitch like him one day,” said Allison.
“My senior year was something you don’t have too often; I realize that now. I went into the season with the idea of just doing well because there was so much hype building. I really tried to break each hitter down and throw strikes. I always had speed on my fastball, a good breaking ball and movement on my changeup. I worked hard all the time and had trust in the other eight guys on the field, but I liked taking the ball, taking the reins. I gave them a reason to trust in me.”
The same could be said of Juden.
In three seasons at Salem High (1987-89), Juden started 34 games and completed all 34, striking out 488 batters in 254 innings (just under two whiffs per inning) with a career earned run average of 0.44. He went a combined 30-4, with all four losses by a single run. In those three seasons he allowed only 16 runs, leading the Witches to Northeastern Conference titles in both his junior and senior years.
He threw his only no hitter as a senior in a 6-0 victory over Wakefield in the Division 2 North tournament at Fraser Field in Lynn, striking out 17. Big No. 14 struck fear in the hearts of batters both with his size and a 94 mph fastball.
“Juden struck fear in to every kid he faced,” said his coach. “Jeff went to (St. John’s Prep as a freshman) because hockey was his first love, but we were very glad he came back. That ‘89 team was hands down the best I ever coached in my 22 years. A lot has to go your way to win a state championship, (and) right from the start we felt we had a chance to do a lot of good things.
“I talked to a lot of pro scouts who had been around 30-40 years and they told me they had never seen anybody like Juden; even veteran guys who followed Tommy Glavine and Jeff Reardon (two Massachusetts kids who went on to dominant big league careers) were in awe of him. A kid like Jeff is hard to even comprehend; besides that great fastball, he threw the curve between 80-85. In high school he didn’t even need a changeup; that came later along with a good slider.”
Rhythm dictated his dominance
Fourteen years later in Peabody, another Jeff came along who was just as overpowering. Allison dominated hitters in the Greater Boston League; the 6-foot-2 hurler went 9-0 as a senior with two no-hitters, to go along with a perfect 0.00 earned run average. He struck out 142 and walked just eight in 66 2/3 innings that season.
“The way Jeff pitched, it was kind of boring standing in the outfield,” said left fielder/pitcher Anthony Palmieri, a childhood friend who was Allison’s catcher from Little League until high school, when Bryan Garrity took over behind the plate. “There was nobody you would rather have on the mound than Jeff.”
Allison’s trips to the mound in ‘03 could fill a highlight reel. He allowed one hit and struck out 15 while walking only one in a 4-0 victory over Malden in early May with 30 major league scouts on hand. He threw only 98 pitches in that game; 75 were strikes. The radar gun clocked his fastball between 91-93 mph while his breaking ball was in the low 80s.
“He’s definitely the best pitcher we’ve seen,” Malden coch Kevin Carpenito told Salem News reporter Matt Jenkins after the game. “I just tell the kids to have some fun and don’t take it so hard, because he’s probably going to be pitching for the Red Sox next year.”
His first no-hitter of the season came against Cambridge on the road, 2-0, and he rang up 20 K’s (whiffing the first 17 he faced) in a 10-1 victory over Somerville, when his fastball registered 98 on the radar guns on one strikeout. Allison did it all that night, driving in six runs with a single, triple, and homer, too.
“When I get finished talking with you I’m going to call Sports Illustrated,” said Peabody head coach Ed Nizwantowski to reporters after the game. “In 34 years I’ve never seen a performance so dominating.”
Looking back on that game, Allison -- Baseball America’s National Player of the Year and a USA Today First Team All-American -- remembers looking behind him at one point and wondering if his defense would be ready to field a ball if it came their way. “I knew I was striking out a lot (of guys), but didn’t realize it was 20,” he said. “I got in a rhythm and let the rhythm and flow of each game take me through.”
‘Such a great competitor’
Peabody only lost once inthe regular season (1-0 to Arlington) and was the No. 1 seed in the Division 1 North playoffs. Even when Allison wasn’t pitching the Tanners were 11-1 with Palmieri, Parkinson or Moorer pitching. Palmieri went on to star at Salem State while Parkinson had an outstanding college career pitching at Endicott. Moorer was drafted by the Cubs in the 13th round the following year, when he was Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year. (Instead, he pitched at the University of Maryland and wound up being drafted again, this time by Seattle in the 12th round).
Allison’s finest performance of the season wasn’t a dominant performance on the mound. Instead, it came on a Friday night in the Division 1 North semifinals, a contest in which he gave up nine hits to St. John’s Prep (he’d allowed eight all season prior) and their own future No. 1 draft pick, Peabody native Matt Antonelli. He limited the loaded Eagles to one unearned run, though, and was ,moved to the outfield trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning.
After Peabody scored twice in the eighth inning -- including a controversial steal of home by Allison to put his team ahead -- he returned to the mound in the ninth to close the Prep out, finishing his night with 156 pitches thrown.
“I left everything I had between the white lines,” said Allison. “That was the last start of my high school career, and I had lost to the Prep twice before. It wasn’t going to happen again.”
“It was great fun to be part of the atmosphere surrounding our team because of Allison,” added Chris Judd, a pitcher/infielder on that Tanners’ team. “I was coaching third base when he took off on the steal of home. He was such a great competitor.”
Clutch hitting and defense key for Witches
Juden was the name everyone knew on the 1989 Salem team, but the talent around him was plentiful. Canney, a three-sport star, went 7-1 on the mound and also hit .338 with 24 RBI. Chouinard went 5-1 on the hill with a homer, 13 RBI and three game-winning hits.
“Juden and Canney pitched complete game after complete game toward the end of the season,” said Mike Giardi,who was named Ivy League Player of the Year at Harvard and played four years in the pros. “We won the state title on Father’s Day, which was very emotional. My Dad had some very talented teams, but you had to win 14 of 20 games to qualify for the tournament.
“We had a good group of kids that played different roles than they were used to and never complained. Even though there weren’t a lot of balls hit to the infielders when Juden was on the mound, you had to be on top of your game because we had a lot of very tough games and typically saw the other team’s best pitcher. You couldn’t fall asleep with all the strikeouts and let one get by you.”
Catcher Steve Sadoski, who went on to have a fine career at Harvard, was a rock behind the plate for the Witches, throwing seven runners out trying to steal and allowing only seven passed balls. He was a switch hitter who led off and scored 23 runs. Juden (who played 1B when he wasn’t pitching) had two homers and 19 RBI, while Mike Giardi, the No. 3 hitter, batted .341 with 17 RBI and five game-winning hits.
Junior third baseman/left fielder Eric Sholds led the team in homers (4) and RBI (27) while batting .324 out of the cleanup spot. Sophomore Jared Howard served as the DH for 18 games, hitting for second baseman Andrew Viglas. And center fielder Bobby Ward, who knocked in 14 runs and had three game-winning hits before playing at Colby, is perhaps best remembered for his outstanding defensive play in running two balls down in the eighth inning of the state championship game against Drury at Holy Cross, a 4-1 Salem victory.
“I thought they were both gone, but he was able to make two great catches,” said Al Giardi. “Ward and right fielder Zach Zegarowski didn’t make any errors all year. In the Eastern Mass final against Middleboro, Zach made a great catch down the right field line with the bases loaded. We were only up 2-0 at the time, but wound up winning, 8-0.”
So who wins out in this battle of baseball titans? We’ll never know the real answer.
But the view from this corner is a slight edge to Salem.