When the Chelsea Youth Baseball League, more widely known as the Pony League, was at its height of popularity from the late 1960s through the 1980s, when large crowds made their way to Merritt and Voke Parks for nightly games, James “Bear” Burke was one of the true coaching legends.
Mr. Burke, a Chelsea baseball coaching force and former employee of the Chelsea DPW, died on Jan. 24, 2018. He was 75.
The managers in the Pony League were giants in the eyes of their players. Pony League was huge in those days and you had to tryout and be selected in a player draft.
You begin with manager Larry Notkin, whose eye for talent was second to none and whose Red Sox, Cubs, and Royals teams were always a title contender. Al Palladino was the knowledgeable and nervous manager of the Twins (and then the Yankees), perpetually dispensing words of baseball wisdom to his players.
Paul Casino, clerk to the Chelsea City Council, was so popular and respected as the manager of the Angels. He was elected easily to the Chelsea School Committee and Board of Aldermen and served this city well. Casino coached some of the league’s all-time greats including Bobby Spinney, Paul Spracklin, and Eric Shuman.
Richie Pezzuto was the highly energetic manager of the Astros, taking Dennis “Hawk” Murray as the No. 1 pick in one of the drafts and building a powerhouse.
George Triant managed the Orioles, who with a lineup of Mike Lush, Jerry Dion, Bobby Ham, Larry Skara, Wayne Morris, Paul Halas, and other big-time players, became the only team in league history to go undefeated.
Steve Socha took over the Red Sox and had all-time Little League All-Star southpaw Paul Wheeler, a terrific hockey and baseball player, on his roster.
And then there was Jimmy “Bear” Burke, the beloved manager of the Pirates who exuded his enthusiasm for the game of baseball every time he stepped on the field. The “Bear,” as he was affectionately known, knew his baseball well. His in-game exchanges with the other managers, especially Notkin, were of a competitive nature. All the managers were friendly rivals trying hard and devoting countless hours of practice time to their teams with the hope of claiming the coveted playoff championship.
Al Palladino remembers tangling with “Bear” as an opposing coach and then having him as his assistant coach. He has fond memories of his longtime friend.
“I feel so bad that Bear has passed away,” said Palladino. “He was such a good guy. He had a kind heart. I coached against him when he had the Pirates and he came back and coached with me when I had Paul Nowicki on my team.”
Palladino recalled a humorous interaction that the Bear had with another local sports legend, the late Arnold Goodman, during a league meeting. “They were on opposites of an issue but the Bear stood up and said, ‘I make a motion because Arnie Goodman says so,’ “and everyone in the room just broke out in laughter because Jimmy and Arnie had finally agreed to agree on the matter.”
Bucky Cole, one of the Pony League’s greatest ballplayers, was a member of Bear’s Pirates team in the mid-1960s. Cole joined the Pirates after a sensational career in the Chelsea Little League where he was that era’s Mike Lush.
“I was a proud member of his Pirates team and we played Larry Notkin’s Red Sox team in the finals and we lost to them,” recalled Cole. “The Bear put his heart and soul in to coaching. He really loved coaching. He and Larry were good friends but they were always rivals to the final game. It was like the Yankees and the Red Sox going at it. He was a great guy.”
Cole said he also worked with James “Bear” Burke in the Chelsea Park Department.
“What’s interesting is that my son, Tommy, also had the Bear as a coach when he was 16 years old,” said Cole. “That’s how long he coached.”
And that’s how long the Bear was a positive influence on Chelsea youths – for a lifetime.
The city of Chelsea has lost another widely revered personality in its sports history.
To mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, students at the Berkowitz and Kelly Schools held an awareness day recently and dressed all in pink. In addition, students lined up in a pink ribbon formation outside the Mary C. Burke Complex to mark the occasion – as seen here from a bird’s eye perspective.
Neighbors in the Mill Hill area have come out strongly against a 60-unit affordable housing rental building proposed by TND on the site of the French Club, and they will hold a community meeting at the Burke Complex on Monday.
The community meeting is in response to a major upheaval by the neighborhood that started at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting last Tuesday night, June 9. Several neighbors showed up at the meeting to voice displeasure with the project, which was announced in the paper on April 9.
The frustrations continued at Monday night’s City Council meeting when two neighbors appeared and spoke during the Public Speaking portion of the meeting – both in opposition to the TND proposal.
That has led to a petition drive that includes neighbors as well as parents who use the former Spencer Avenue extension as a drop off location for the Burke School Complex. That portion of the street was discontinued in early May by the City Council without complaint and reverted to TND, which owns property on both sides of the extension. TND owns the French Club and the parking lot.
The community meeting will take place on Monday, June 22, at 6:30 p.m. just prior to the Planning Board meeting on the project that will take place in City Hall on Tuesday, June 23.
Neighbors said they planned to attend both.
Councillor Matt Frank, who has voiced preliminary support for the project, said he would attend and felt it was important to hear what neighbors are thinking.
“Obviously, there are a lot of resident in the neighborhood with a lot of concerns,” he said. “My philosophy is if there are concerns, people need to be able to discuss them. My hope is the project can be put back so residents can have this meeting and discuss the concerns…This could also be an opportunity to discuss pick up and drop off and general traffic flow around the school during key times of the day. Nevertheless, it has been great to see the engagement because many of those who had concerns are folks I’ve never heard from before.”
Neighbors told the Record that they were particularly bothered by a few things, but in particular the fact that the project would be rental apartments.
They said that the projects touts the ability to stabilize the neighborhood, but residents said their neighborhood is already stable and contains mostly homeowners. They said they would be more apt to support a project that contained ownership opportunities, even it if were low-income or moderate-income condominiums.
Another neighbor said that a small group was considering legal options and felt that the discontinuation of the streets was not noticed properly and might be illegal.
They also had qualms with the overlay district, known as the RPOD, passed in April for the area, a zoning change that allows for more dense development such as the TND proposal.
Another point of contention is that the Spencer Avenue extension is a major thoroughfare for the neighborhood in getting to Broadway. Residents of the area use the extension to go up Spencer and eventually connect with Broadway. Without the extension, that long-standing traffic pattern has been cut off, they said.
DCR workers (left to right) Eber Rivera, Jean Valentin and James Kane hoist a tree into its new home on Arbor Day last Friday, April 24. Several state and local officials – including state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew
Beaton – converged upon the Burke School Complex to continue the tree planting effort in Chelsea. As a state Pilot program started last year, Chelsea has added some 780 trees to the City with a goal of 3,000 over five years.
Pictured at the Memorial Day Parade are Parade Marshal
and World War II veteran Morris Seigal with two Girl Scouts
from the Chelsea troop.
Morris “Morrie” Seigal, a beloved educator and school principal who later served for 29 years on the Chelsea School Committee, died on Oct. 15 after a brief illness. He was 92.
Mr. Seigal lived in Chelsea for his entire life, graduating from Chelsea High School before going on to receive his undergraduate degree from Salem State and his graduate degree from Boston University. He was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, serving in the South Pacific. He and his wife, Marion, shared 66 years of marriage.
During his 36-year career in the Chelsea school system, Mr. Seigal was a teacher and assistant principal at the Williams School prior to concluding his career as the principal at the Mary C. Burke School.
“For all but three years of his life and his service in the Army and before his retirement, my father was either going to Chelsea schools, teaching, or being a member of the School Committee,” said his son, Jay Seigal, a lead teacher and basketball coach in the Chelsea school system.
“Mr. Seigal was a wonderful man,” said Councilor-at-Large Leo Robinson. “Mr. Seigal was one of my teachers at the Williams School. He was an outstanding educator and always had the best interests of his students in mind every day. I was honored that I had the opportunity to serve with him in Chelsea government for so many years.”
After retiring from his principal’s position at the Mary C. Burke School, Mr. Seigal was urged to run for School Committee by Burke School parents and school PTA president Rosemarie Carlisle, who would later serve with him on the committee.
Mr. Seigal won re-election to the committee numerous times, receiving substantial votes from the electorate. Mr. Seigal joined the late Andrew P. Quigley, a colleague on the Committee, and other colleagues like Rosemarie Carlisle and Lydia Walata in supporting the Chelsea School Committee’s decision to have Boston University manage the Chelsea school system.
“My father spent all his life serving the city – that’s what he knew and that’s what he enjoyed doing,” said Jay Seigal. “When he retired from the committee, he felt that it was time to bring some new people on board, let some younger people in the community make some decisions about the kids.”
An avid sports fan who enjoyed visits to Suffolk Downs with his brothers, Joe Seigal, and the late Bill Seigal, the distinguished sports editor of the Chelsea Record, Mr. Seigal was a regular spectator at Chelsea sports events. He would sit in the stands at the old Chelsea Armory on Spencer Avenue where he would watch his son, Jay, play for the Chelsea High Red Devils basketball team. Mr. Seigal continued to follow the academic, athletic and career accomplishments of his seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren up until the time of his death. Mr. Seigal’s three children, sons Jeffrey, a music teacher before becoming vice president of a company, and Jay, and a daughter, Maxine Ebb, said their father was loved and revered by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“My father was very proud of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Jay Seigal.
Mr. Seigal and his wife, Marion, would travel to Florida and host joyous gatherings where the family surrounded their beloved patriarch. He also enjoyed attending the Chelsea Reunions in Florida organized by Leona Grell.
Jay Seigal, who inherited his father’s warmth and likability, was asked why people from all walks of life – from Mr. Seigal’s colleagues at the old Chelsea Y.M.H.A. including fellow giants in this community like Paul “Choc” Glazer, Sumner Bloom, Nate Finklestein, Abe Garnick, Al Generazzo to his teaching and administrative colleagues, came to admire Mr. Seigal so much.
“My father was a man of integrity,” said Jay Seigal. “If he told you something that he was going to do, he would follow through and do it. He would never break a promise to anybody and I think people respected him for that. He always had the city and the kids in mind when he made his decisions.”
Jay Seigal said one of the unique things about his parents was that they never obtained their driver’s licenses.
“They never got their license. I think my father liked the idea of being in the city and being able to walk where he needed to get to since he was so involved with the city. He walked to Bellingham Square. He walked to City Hall. He walked everywhere.”
Mr. Seigal loved the city of Chelsea and its residents.
“My father lived a good life, He wasn’t extravagant in what he did. He liked to be at home and be with his family and liked to be in Chelsea. He never talked about leaving Chelsea to live somewhere else. Chelsea really meant something to him.”
Funeral services for Morris Seigal will be held today at Temple Emmanuel in Chelsea.