Ernest ‘’Irish” Oakes, affable and popular Norwood umpire these past twelve years in both semi-pro and schoolboy baseball circles, continues to find himself held in high regard by all those interested in the National pastime as he starts another season. His widespread popularity is due to his ability, and also to the likable nickname of ‘‘Irish” which has stuck with him since he wore a green tie during grade school days.
Oakes, no matter what the pressure was on the sidelines, called them where they were. For this the coaches hired him. It’s his record and colorful baseball experience behind the plate, once as a schoolboy champion and then a top-rated semi-pro catcher during the Golden Era, and his long tenure as an umpire since, speak for Oakes.
“In high school, I caught ace moundsmen like All-Stars Johnny Dixon and John Donovan who made great sports copy during their college days. For Norwood they won the ’27 State baseball championship for the late coach Bennie Murray,” Oakes recalled.
“1 played a lot of ball for the Bird Club when semi-pro baseball was something. Bird’s engaged teams like the House of David, the Philadelphia Colored Giants, The Boston Tigers, North Cambridge K.of C. and other great teams from miles around”
“I remember one game in particular and old timers should too. That’s the game in which Johnny Cox of Medfield beat the Philadelphia Colored Giants 1-0 for one of the few times this famous team was ever defeated.”
About schoolboy pitchers. Oakes said that Norwood’s Dick Bunker, who graduated last summer “should go a long way”.
“Bunker, with proper schooling and physical development, should be a very capable pitcher”, he continued. “He’s the best since Norwood had Charlie Bowles, brother to Dick, slanting them for the hilltop nine.”
“East Walpole’s Frank Milliken was another great pitcher. I’ve seen many good hoys perform but the big leagues call for an awful lot.”
Oakes has umpired in the Bay State League since ’42 and has worked the Hockamock League in which Canton, Mansfield, North Attleboro, Stoughton and others play. Oakes managed and played for the Bird A. A. when Fred Duncan, Billy Murphy, and “Bullet” White were powerhouses both at the bat and in the field.
The Norwood Red Sox and Walpole Town Team were other aggregations on which Ernest caught behind the plate. Norwood had a Police team in those days when Francis “Dinny” Riley was pitcher, with Valentino Balutis and many others. The late John Winskas was a catcher for the Norwood Police team who rated orchids for his performances.
Getting back to umpiring, Oakes was head official for semi-pro tournament held in East Walpole. A number of teams competed for the Eastern Massachusetts title.
“The best play I think I ever saw was made by Walpole’s Joe Morgan who short-stopped for Bob Graney’s team, and later became a Boston College standout.” said Irish, “it was against Wellesley High a few years ago. Morgan went very deep in the hole towards left field after a grounder. With a tremendous throw, he beat the runner by a whisker at first. Hal Goodnongh, Wellesley Coach and now Milwaukee Braves scout, termed Morgan’s play, the best he had seen in many years.”
This put-out may have been instrumental in Morgan’s getting a Braves offer since he did well with he then Boston Braves for whom he played prior to joining the military service.
Oakes, married and a family man, has seen and played a lot of baseball. His officiating over the years has left few, if any, wild dissenters. Today’s young ball players know of “Irish” through their older brothers or fathers who know Oakes as a reputable guy in blue, even though he wears an iron mask.
(All articles were originally published in the Norwood Messenger unless otherwise noted)
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