Running with “Rabbit”
by Cate Murway
If you’re looking for small-town charm that blends respect of heritage with modern sophistication, you’ll find much to love about historic Bristol on the Delaware. “Welcome Friend” is not just a meaningless sign here.
The sports teams have always brought the community together, a valued respite, with family entertainment that everyone could enjoy. You had to be very early or very lucky to get a good seat. Bristol was and is a great sports town, a place of fertile soil, traditional values, and simple pleasure, and an intensity of pride. Baseball was a main event.
The ballpark soil, the “game-used dirt”, is a piece of history and has felt the sports shoes and spikes for generations. For nearly a century, the Grundy Commons clock and before that, always the last ray of sunlight from the sky let the future star ballplayers know when it was time to leave the diamond to go home.
The recent Bristol Alumni Athletic Association seventh annual Softball Classic at the Mike Manto Little League Field in July enticed spectators and performers who were the most talented athletes ever, to return. “Welcome back friends”.
They have taken the memories and experiences of the school and the games with them.
These athletes were seriously great ball players but more importantly, they’re good people, still doing great things for the community.
Michael G. “Mike” Fitzpatrick, Republican nominee for the 8th Congressional District, “loves coming out to the softball classic every year. I don’t know what it is about Bristol but these guys are in great shape!”
Each game his “goal was to steal home”.
Once, in a tied 1-1 game [St. Ann vs. Kaiser Metal], the opposing team attempted to advance their runner to 2nd base. “Rabbit” caught the bunted ball on one bounce and beat the runner to the second plate.
From a newspaper article on the playoff games, “Palumbo was on base four times, twice on singles and twice via walks. Every time on, he stole everything except the pants of the Edgely players.”
In 1943, Tony was drafted into the 8th Air Force and served in England for 27 months.
“I was small and I’d climb up in the bomb bay and I’d load the machine guns and bombs into the B-17 and B-24 airplanes.”
PFC Palumbo was discharged October 23, 1945, his mother’s birthday. He returned to his home in Bristol and continued to “Play Ball!”
Reading old cherished, a bit tattered, yellowed newspaper clippings about the dedication of Rabbit and the Bristol St. Ann AA Suburban league provides a striking contrast to the news these days about major league baseball and steroids and the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.
With major league contracts, extravagant stadiums and prime-time television spots, it seems like baseball may have lost its small-town charm. Hey listen, heart is legal!
These passionate Bristol athletes became heroes by playing by the rules and striving for success: honestly and fairly. That was a different era but character, integrity and ethical conduct really do matter. It’s too bad that we don’t hold our public figures to the same ethical standards today.
Rabbit was quoted as saying, “It was clean fun. After the games we would go back to our clubs, hang out for a little bit and head on home.” But first, something to eat…
Junior Field and his dad made “the best hamburgers in town with a meat sauce”.
“He majored in hotdogs and hamburgers and his brother, “Genie” made the ice cream.”
Tony’s football athlete dad, Joseph Palumbo, Sr. was born in Providence RI. He performed the utility maintenance at Paterson Parchment Paper Company, ensuring all was in good order. Come summer, he ran the “scenics” on Burlington Island, the fastest and most popular rides that represented a special place in the history and development of the Roller Coaster. “Cookie” the “putt-putt” operator of the William E. Doran ferryboat never charged Rabbit the $.05 to round trip ride from Bristol to Burlington.
His mom, Nancy [Giamennia] was born in Italy and grew up in Flushing, LI.
Tony remembers, “She was a good cook. She made delicious calzone with eggs, cottage cheese and sausage. And pasta fazool, pasta cooked with beans.”
He laughed, “I liked that. Everybody liked that!”
Did he help her cook? He chuckled again. “No, I just ate it!”
He was the third of their 6 children. He had four brothers, the late Joseph, Jr., Nicholas, Frank and Louis. The youngest is his sister, Carmela Fields who lives in Trevose.
Rabbit grew up enjoying sports for almost a quarter of a century and the now nostalgic history was there growing with him! He and his wife, Anna Rita [Saccomandi] [She always calls him Anthony], reside in the Grundy Towers, built on Thomas L. Leedom Field where the “Saints” won many a championship.
Some games were played on the Landreth field, current location of Pennco Tech School on Otter Street. The flashy diminutive shortstop also cracked out hits on the Maple Beach diamond. He left no athletes stranded on the bags.
By 1947, he was the leadoff man in the St. Ann’s batting order and he usually “worked his way around the base paths by stealing bases and his ability to run from first to third on sacrifices”.
This “Saint” came running in!
The tenaciously performed games were amazing exhibitions filled with errorless playing, ferocious fielding, potent pitching and dazzling stops and the fans were delighted!
The Hibernians- St Ann’s series shattered all records for local leagues baseball crowds with close to 3,500 fans in attendance on Maple Beach. Owners of automobiles were requested not to park along the road in left and center fields, as these hits were fair balls.
Rabbit always competed with fierce vigor and he became a local hero by his amazing feats. The most valuable player award was presented to this team captain/star shortstop at DiPinto’s Café on Torresdale Avenue by H.M. Crooker, the Chamber’s VP. He was the only athlete to earn this Bristol Chamber of Commerce trophy twice.
Rabbit was the star shortstop for Fred Scully’s Trenton AA team as well. On June 3, 1953, little fleet-footed Palumbo clouted a homer, triple and two singles, executed a perfect steal for home, beat out a bunt and dashed around the bases. The Trenton Baseball Club beat the Camden Defiance team 13-6, under the lights at Hetzel Field in Ewing.
He led the Mercer County League in stolen bases. Run Rabbit, run!
Tony Palumbo earned the Billy Urbanski Trophy [named for the Braves/Bees 1931-1937 Shortstop and Third Baseman] as the top fielder, no errors, at the NJ Semi-Pro Baseball Tournament at Perth Amboy.
He was a “jack [Rabbit] of all trades” on the baseball and softball diamonds and he earned the “big one”. The versatile player was named the Lower Bucks County Softball Leagues’ Most Valuable Player in 1957. He had kept the St. Ann’s AA team together with his hustling play afield and was on several occasions used in a starting role as pitcher. Playing both short and third, he hit .296 for the Saints.
During his baseball career of 25 years, Rabbit built a fabulous reputation, playing with the best of the semi-pro teams. He was “hungry for victory”. He played to win and would fight every inch of the way. In more than one game, he would change umpires’ minds on decisions since he was well respected for knowing the rulebook cover-to-cover.
He could brazenly run from first to third on a bunt play and he was rated the fasted player in the Lower Bucks leagues.
Three of his trophies from his baseball tenure are the most prized: his 1942 Most Valuable Player trophy of the Bristol Suburban League, the MVP trophy he won again in 1946 after his stint with Uncle Sam, and his 1952 Trenton Crusaders best fielder award.
In 1947, the scrappy outfielder had the opportunity to work out for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Ebbetts Field when Leo Durocher managed them. At 5’3, they felt he was too small for the big leagues.
He is a giant legend of speed and cunning in LBC sports and he was one of the most exciting players in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Per the late sports writer and editor Dick Dougherty, “ He was the fastest and smartest athlete I ever knew. No one was quicker on the bases or sharper at bat or in the field.”
He was dubbed “Rabbit” but Dick thought they should have called him “General”.
“Tony Palumbo, a man to be admired.”
He was #88. His favorite position was shortstop in baseball and 3rd base for softball.
Can you imagine playing baseball during the hot and humid summertime in a wool uniform? They had wool suits until 1941. Then the team performed in their unique purple gabardine suits.
Although he was a terrific umpire, no more ball playing! He entered the alleys, learning to toss so explosively, he was1 pin shy of a perfect score at the Penndel Lanes. He owns a trophy for that and received a watch for the second 299 he rolled.
Joseph Paul “Joe” DiMaggio, the "Yankee Clipper" [1914-1999], the 3-time MVP winner and 13-time All-Star, was his all time favorite ball player.
“I was a Yankee fan. He was a good athlete and a good outfielder. He started in 1936.”
Rabbit still recalls his sports facts impeccably!
DiMaggio actually made his major league debut on May 3, 1936.
The fields beckon.
You are invited to come, bat a few balls, play a little catch or sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon and dream on the bleachers.
Clearly, there’s no place like home.
Recommend a “spotlight”. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014 4:00 am
Anthony 'Rabbits' C. Palumbo of Bristol Borough passed away Thursday, June 19, 2014, at Langhorne Gardens. He was 92.
Born and raised in Bristol Borough, he was a retired employee of Rohm & Haas in Bristol Borough.
Mr. Palumbo was a World War II Army veteran who served in Normandy, Rhineland, the Ardennes, and Central Europe.
In his younger days, he had an outstanding baseball career and played for St. Ann's Athletic Association and was honored with being selected as 'MVP' for Bucks County. He was also an outstanding bowler. He was preceded in death by his parents, Nancy and Joseph Palumbo; and brothers, Nicholas, Frank Sr., and Louis Palumbo, and Joseph Valenti.
He was a loving and caring husband, and will be greatly missed by his wife of 65 years, Anna Saccomandi; his sister, Carmella Fields; and sister-in-law, Mary Palumbo. He will also be missed by many loving nieces, nephews, and good friends.
Relatives and friends are invited to call 9 a.m., Thursday, at the Galzerano Funeral Home, 430 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA. Funeral services will begin 10 a.m. in the funeral home. Interment will follow in St. Mark Cemetery. Galzerano Funeral Home, Bristol
A very gentle man.....he will be missed.
Betsy Schmidt June 22 at 5:11pm
He put Bristol on the map as far as baseball goes!
Mary Gesualdi June 22 at 8:47pm
Rest in peace, Rabbits. You were one of the best athletes ever in Bristol and will be greatly missed. You were always a true gentleman. Thanks for all the pointers when we played softball together.
Donald Shirtcliffe June 23 at 9:18pm