For the past 58 years, the Robert “Tick” Cloherty – Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame has honored and inducted over 735 incredible men and women who have made a lasting impact in Pennsylvania through extraordinary athletic achievement and contributions. Whether these activities have been achieved on or off the field, we honor them here.

Art J. Rooney Sr

Year Inducted:1976

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Art is the owner and President of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He Is considered one of the pioneers of professional football. Art was an outstanding athlete; playing football at Indiana and Duquesne University, minor league baseball player as owner-manager at Wheeling West Virginia. He was also considered an excellent boxer.

Paul Birch

Year Inducted:1976

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Paul was a standout at Homestead High School and an All-American at Duquesne University. His team lost four games in four years. Captain of World famed New York Celtics for five years. Player and coach of the Youngstown, Ohio Bears and Pittsburgh Ironmen of the old N.B.A. Player and coach of the Ft. Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons of the N.B.A. where he was rated one of the league’s all-time greats. He coached two P.I.A.A. Class “A” high school champions Homestead in 1939 and General Braddock in 1973. When he retired, his teams had won over 400 games.

Jimmy Russell

Year Inducted:1976

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Jim was born in Fayette City, Pennsylvania, on October 1, 1918 the son of James Walch “Dock” Russell, born in Finleyville, PA and Lillian Johnson of Herminie. His father was of Irish-Welsh descent and his mother of Swedish origin. Jim was the first of four children in the family and included Carl, Ruth (Moravek) and Jack. Jim grew up in dire times as his father attempted to eke out a living working in the coal mines. Many of the jobs “Dock” Russell garnered in the mines had baseball teams of which he became a great acquisition. The elder Russell was a standout infielder and slugger. “Dock” was a star in his own right as a member of Hen Wilson’s powerful Fayette City independent teams of the old Mon River League in the late teens and early twenties. He once hit a ball which carried 400 feet on the fly and then rolled 250 feet. He also played a great game of football. “Dock” had a face shaped much like actor Spencer Tracy. His disposition was crusty. “Dock” Russell got his nickname by wearing a fur cap left at his home by a medical doctor, after a visit. Fur military style caps were popular with doctors in the early part of the twentieth century.

“Dock” Russell was rough on his son Jim as he grew up. The youngster played ball in alleyways with rocks as balls and tree limbs as bats. Young Jim was a rambunctious lad who ran himself down health wise and twice contracted rheumatic fever. Because Jim developed rheumatic heart disease, his baseball career and life would both be cut short. His aortic valve was damaged, but initially his heart compensated for the valve, and it didn’t bother him.

Jim entered Fayette City public schools on September 2, 1924. An average student, Jim didn’t finish high school. Instead he worked in the steel mills and coal mines to help his family financially. All the while, he maintained a devotion to playing baseball. An aunt on his father’s side, Margaret Scott, kept a watchful eye on the budding future major leaguer. Whenever he needed a tongue lashing to keep his mind focused, Aunt Margaret was up to the task. Years later Jim gave much credit for his success as an athlete to his aunt. She saw in him many of the talents that would later popularize him as an outstanding ball player: aggressive base running, great fielding abilities, speed, and power at the plate. For a time he lived in Brooklyn, New York, with his aunt.

Russell began his climb to the Major Leagues in professional baseball in 1937. There were many teams along the way until he was finally brought up to the “show” with the Pittsburgh Pirates in September of 1942. Those teams along the way included the McKeesport Little Pirates in 1937. In 1938 he played for Butler of the Penn State Association and Beaver Falls. In 1939 Russell moved to Mayfield of the Mid Atlantic League also known as the Kitty League. In 1940 Russell continued through the Minor Leagues with stops at Youngstown and Springfield, Illinois of the Three-I League consisting of teams in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa sometimes called the Corn Belt League. St. Joseph of the Michigan State League was Russell’s next stop. Russell went to the Southeastern League and Sally League in 1941 playing for Meridian and Memphis. He was promoted to Toronto of the International League the following year. At Toronto he batted .295 and with this performance at the plate, the Pirates chose to purchase his contract at the end of the 1942 season.

Jim’s stint in Memphis was short lived. He resented being sent there and wanted a commensurate salary. The fans picked up on Russell’s displeasure, and his poor play in one game had the fans taunting him. When he made the catch in that game on the last out, Russell deliberately threw the ball with all his might into the bleachers. Jim was sent packing by management. Russell’s temper would hurt his image at times during his career, but his temper was the fire and motivation that helped him reach great feats as an athlete. During the off season, he would work for the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad. His minor league play was outstanding because of his base stealing exploits. He exemplified the popular thought of baseball minds that speed never goes into a slump. He averaged 40 stolen bases a season. He was tagged the “speed boy” along with “rangy boy” for he was long and lean physically.

Jim was a major league success from the start. A switch hitter, a right hand thrower, at 6 feet 1 inch and 180 pounds, he did his most damage when batting against right-handed hurlers. One of the fastest players in the game, he was a consistently successful base runner and run-getter, besides proving a powerful hitter, dependable fielder and strong thrower. Detroit baseball writer Joe Falls picked him as one of the greatest athletes of all time in 1982, reminiscing that, “He had it all, a great name and the ability to swing from either side of the plate. I imagined him to be the most handsome baseball player in the world.” A real “charmer,” Jim had charisma before the term was coined in the 1960s. When he walked into a room, he had presence.

Russell’s temper could be testy while in the major leagues. He could be goaded into the stands at the ball park if a fan went too far with his heckling, but he could be very gracious, as attested to by a letter written to Jim’s son, Stephen, some forty-nine years after the event. “At Ebbets Field, I was all of six and at the players exit following the game. As the players started to leave, the autograph hounds moved in. I was too shy and intimidated to move in with them. Your father came out, and there I was clutching my glove in one hand, my ball in the other. He asked if I wanted an autograph. I handed him the ball. He took the pen from another kid who ran over and asked me my name. He autographed the ball to me personally, ‘to Larry Smith.’ I was the happiest kid in the world. I was particularly excited because I could read the writing. Your father’s script was almost printed letters connected together. I wanted to tell you, your father was a very nice man who left his imprint on this kid.”

During his years as a Pirate, Jim won the 60-yard baseball dash staged for major league players in connection with the annual relay meet of Purdue University. Jim ran the distance in 6.9 seconds and will always be remembered as a speedster.

In 1944, he was approved as a WPIAL grid official and did football games in the Mon Valley in the off season.

Jim’s best year in the majors was 1944 when he led the Pirates in hitting with a .312 average and 181 total hits. Russell was the first player in Pirates’ history to pinch hit a grand slam homerun on August 20, 1944, when the Pirates played the Dodgers. In 1944 Jim’s 109 runs scored placed him third in the National League behind only Bill Nicholson (116) and Donora’s Stan Musial (112). His 14 triples in 1944 was the fourth best total in the National League. And, in 1944, he was only 16 hits shy of a tie with the league leaders (Phil Cavarretta and Musial). In addition, he was only 11 walks short of tying Musial that year for a third place berth in that department. In 1945, his 15 stolen bases gave him a fourth place finish for top pilferers in the National League. In those days the speed game was not as vibrant and vital as it later became. In fact, in 1945 the top thief was Red Schoendienst who only stole 26 bases - just 11 more than Russell.

In Jim’s final season with the Pirates in 1947, he played between a pair of slugger’s - rookie Ralph Kiner and veteran Hank Greenberg. “Neither one could move” remembered Russell, who stole a Southwestern League high 51 stolen bases when he hit .366 for Meridian and Memphis in 1941.

A story about Jim as a Pirate has become a favorite over the years. Bucky Walters was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in Crosley Field and Pirate Frankie Zak was on second base. Russell was at bat. Just as Walters started his delivery, Zak called time to the umpire to tie his shoe. Russell hit a homerun to right center field, but it was cancelled due to Zak’s time out. Pirate manager Frankie Frisch, a hard-nosed guy, was livid. Frisch told Zak later he would get him a pair of shoes with buttons. Russell batted again, but only singled. Zak’s career in the majors was short-lived.

Jim was always a favorite of Pirate manager Frisch. He boosted Russell’s speedboy’s stock even as a bunter. Frisch was ever a great lover of speed in players. When he first saw Russell beat out a bunt, he almost fell off the bench. Frisch exclaimed, “Why, that fellow Russell ought to bunt .300 in any league! He actually overtakes and beats the ball when he pulls a bunt down the line!”

Russell saw the color barrier in baseball broken during his playing tenure. In reference to the taunts made toward the first black player in the Big Leagues Jackie Robinson on his first visit to Forbes Field in 1947, Russell remarked that the comments of his fellow teammates made him “sick.” Russell also admitted that Pirate manager Billy Herman ordered his pitchers to knock Robinson down.

In 1948 Russell played for the Boston Braves. He had been traded for Danny Murtaugh who went on to Pirate fame as their skipper. Having a terrific year leading the team to first place and leading in homers and RBIs in August, Jim came down with bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve brought on by the rheumatic fever he had as a child. The illness cost him the rest of the season and a chance to play in the World Series. Jim recovered with massive doses of penicillin as his wonder drug. He played for the Braves in 1949 but his heart problem began to take its toll with Jim only batting .231. He was traded to the Dodgers as his career waned.

Russell’s greatest games came with the Braves in 1948 and the Dodgers in 1950, when he became the first major leaguer in history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game more than once. Later, Mickey Mantle would do it 10 times. The game in 1948 was on June 7th in Chicago where Russell hit a home run batting right-handed off lefthander Bob McCall. Hitting left-handed against reliever Ralph Hammer, Russell hit another home run. He also doubled from both sides of the plate to drive in six runs in a 9-5 Brave victory and tie a National League record with four extra base hits in one game. It was Russell’s biggest thrill as a big leaguer. At Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in 1950 Russell again connected for a pair of home runs from both sides of the plate becoming the first player to do so twice in his career. Russell’s victims were the St. Louis Cardinals, lefty Harry “the Cat” Brecheen, and righty George Munger. In Brooklyn at this time the Dodger fans christened him with a nickname for his home run prowess, calling him “Sock.” In 1952, he appeared as a Dodger in the first Topps baseball set. Jim played the outfield for his entire career, with the exception of 11 games played at first base.

Russell spent two campaigns with the Dodgers, pinch hitting in the 1951 club which lost the National League pennant to the New York Giants on the final day on Bobby Thompson’s dramatic home run. While with the Dodgers, Russell played with Brooklyn’s top farm club, the Montreal Royals, shuffling back and forth from the majors to the minors. In Montreal Jim met his future wife Theresa Mary Coreau of Arnprior, Ontario, who was a model in Quebec. They married on Halloween 1951 and had three children Stephen, James and Janet. In 1952 and 1953, Mr. Russell returned to the minor leagues and played for the Portland Beavers.

After retiring from playing professional baseball, Russell scouted nine years for both the Dodgers from 1954-60 and the Washington Senators from 1961-63. At the same time, he owned a beer distributing company in his native town of Fayette City. Russell Brothers Beer Distributing eventually sold out to another local distributor John Yetsconish in the early 1960s. As a scout, Jim signed California High School graduate Don “Ducky” LeJohn who had a brief stint in the majors with the Dodgers. Russell was elected to the Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame in its second class in 1952.

In 1964, Russell took a chance at a political future. Placing his name before the Rostraver Township School Board, Russell was unanimously selected by the sitting board to fill the unexpired term of Thomas Patterson. His hope was to exercise the position as a springboard for a run for tax collector. This was not necessary because Jim landed a salesman position with Smith-Corona typewriters and office machines representing the Pittsburgh area. Russell spent twenty years with the company, moving to the Tampa, Florida SCM division in early 1978. Russell was a lifelong Democrat, molded as a young man in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. He connected with those less fortunate. Russell would run for the Belle Vernon Area School Board in the merger formed by Rostraver and Bellmar three times. In 1967 and 1971 he was overwhelmingly elected. He lost his school board seat in the 1977 election.

In the 1970s, Jim Russell brought American Legion baseball back to Fayette City and the Mon Valley area. Jim Kriek, a sports columnist for the Uniontown Herald-Standard remembered, “the battle of baseline strategies when Jim was managing the Fayette City American Legion teams, and Herman Welsh and Buzz Barnhart had the Connellsville teams. I always looked forward to their games, just to watch those old baseball heads try to out think each other. I can’t recall one time I can ever say the crowd went home disappointed.”

Throughout his middle adult years Jim experienced chest pains, which at times were excruciating. On June 29, 1977 Dr. Ronald Pellegrini, at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, replaced his aortic valve with a pig’s valve. A most astounding fact, his heart was four times the size of a normal heart. An athlete’s heart is normally twice the size. The recovery became touch and go when Russell had a setback. His heart went into an irregular rhythm called atrial fibrillation. Jim’s wife Terry remembered it as “very frightening. It was touch and go. They had to restart his heart in the recovery room, open him up, and massage his heart to a normal rate.” Russell recovered by 1978 and moved to Florida. He frequently played golf as a ten-handicap golfer with former major leaguers Stan Musial and Al Lopez at Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater.

Russell experienced severe heart failure once again in early 1987. He needed mitral valve surgery which was performed on March 12, again at Mercy Hospital with Dr. Ronald Pellegrini. The surgery and recovery were difficult. His energy level increased slightly with the operation. Russell planned a hunting trip to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1987 and departed by plane from Tampa, Florida, the day before Thanksgiving on November 24. He died upon take off. The airplane made an emergency landing in Orlando, Florida. Jim was buried in his beloved Fayette City in Mt. Auburn cemetery.

Russell lived his seventy years with many highs and lows. He survived sub-acute bacterial infections three times and open-heart surgery twice. His major league career showed 1,035 games with 3,595 at bats and 959 hits including 67 home runs, 175 doubles, 51 triples, 554 runs scored, 428 RBIs, and a batting average of .267. He had 59 stolen bases. His fielding average was .981. His highest baseball salary was $16,000. He loved history, especially the Civil War period. He had many a drink and social discussions with his local Mon Valley friends. After baseball, he adored golf and played it frequently.Jim Russell’s testament is reflected in the manner his peers were drawn to him. One remembers a series of pictures of Dodger Roy Campanella leaning on Jim’s thigh in a Dodger team photo and slugger Hank Greenburg with his arm around Jim in an opening day line up picture for the Pirates in 1947. In Russell’s mementos one can see Joe DiMaggio’s Western Union telegram birthday message to Jim in 1949. Dick Williams, player and manager, remembered Jim as his mentor and guide when he was a rookie with the Dodgers. Russell was entertained in the home of singer Bing Crosby, a Pirate owner. He enjoyed the warmth and affection of Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner and Dodger manager Tom Lasorda who called Russell in his hospital room while he was managing a Pirates’ series in Pittsburgh. Chuck Tanner as a youngster idolized him. Russell was best man at Pirate Frank Gustine’s wedding. Maybe his peers recognized that flesh and blood people mattered more to him than the hoopla, hype, and garb of celebrityhood.

This biography was written as part of the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame Biographical Journal in 2002

Donald Black

Year Inducted:1976

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Buzzard Ivicek

Year Inducted:1976

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Jim Sr Borrasso

Year Inducted:1976

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Fred Jr Brand

Year Inducted:1976

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Scotty Klinger

Year Inducted:1976

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Ray Sickles

Year Inducted:1976

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Steven Stephanian

Year Inducted:1976

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Joey Cimino

Year Inducted:1976

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Anna Lindberg

Year Inducted:1976

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Russ Lindberg

Year Inducted:1976

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Jim Conklin

Year Inducted:1976

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Speedo Loughran

Year Inducted:1976

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Averell Ave Daniell

Year Inducted:1976

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Played tackle for Jock Sutherland at Pitt in 1935- 36 and captained Pitt to Rose Bowl victory on January 1, 1937. Consensus All-American in 1936. Starting tackle in the College All-Star Game and played for the
Green Bay Packers in 1937. Coached with Earl “Red” Blake at Dartmouth in 1938-40 and Army 1941-42. Lt. in U.S. Navy in 1942-45. Active in numerous civic service organizations: Curbstone Coaches Honoree in 1970; Allegheny County Sportsmen of the Year in 1971 and National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1975.

Speed Utterback

Year Inducted:1976

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Jim DiIorio

Year Inducted:1976

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Joe Ware

Year Inducted:1976

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Lou Fulton

Year Inducted:1976

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