The shortstop and pitcher were best friends and they stared hard at each other knowing that one last out separated them from accomplishing arguably the biggest upset in Cleveland softball history. If successful they and their teammates would become the authors of “The Game,” one of the few positive monikers designated to Cleveland sport before 2016, Le Bron, “The Block,” and “The Shot.” There was still that one out to get.
Smart, small, cunning and always winners in their lesser Jewish Community Center softball league, Sol’s Boys, yes the sponsor was a local bookie, annually entered the city tournament in Cleveland. It was an open competition and that meant some teams were absolutely awful while others were Cleveland’s giants. This was not Sol’s Boys first trip to the city tournament. Previously, they might win a game or two but rarely went very far. But 1970 was the year of “The Game.”
Tee shirts emblazoned with the bookie’s name and jeans was the uniform the team wore. Although Sol’s Boys won over 95% of their league games, they were neither rated in the city nor seeded in the tournament. For the most part, they played smart relying on some speed, good hitting albeit little long ball threat, and tactics – various players were students of the game. The team’s star was a fleet left fielder named Ray Racila. When he hit ground balls to the left side it was usually a single. On balls to the outfield he almost always ended up on second base. In addition, he controlled the land in both left and left center on defense. The two other exceptional players were the keystone combo of Marc Walter and Joel Cohn. They were both solid defenders up the middle and Cohn might have been the teams leading hitter while Walter was the only player with great power. They were both also very smart. Filling out the outfield were Larry Kanner in left center, Bob Snyder in right center, and Arthur Wohlfeiler in right. Snyder and Wohlfeiler had played with the group since the teams’ inception and while Kanner joined later, he might have been the craftiest, smartest player. He was not fleet but made up for it with his anticipation on defense and his ability to hit behind the runner for a high batting average with great run production. In some ways he controlled games both in the field and at the plate. Ronnie Pollack who played third base had power and was very solid both in the field and at bat. Various people took turns at first (this could have been an issue in “The Game” if not for a mensch on the opposing team). The battery consisted of catcher Bruce Bogart and pitcher Alan Wieder. Bogart was very tough defensively and it was almost impossible for a base runner to get by him at the plate – he was an exceptional catcher. On one occasion he led the league in batting average with total hits equaling total bases. A feat that was unheard of in the sport. Wieder, the author of this article and also the team’s manager, fielded the mound well, was an average hitter, and never stopped chiding certain teammates, the opposition, and mostly the umpires. Put all of this together and Sol’s Boys played hard always winning their league. But, in realistic moments they did not have championship expectations when it came to the city tournament.
The city tournament consisted of 128 teams and as already stated Sol’s Boys was unseeded. It is also important to note that the top ten teams in the city had never heard of the bookie sponsored club. The first two games were easily won, which meant for the first time they were playing amidst the final 32 teams. Unfortunately, Angelo’s Pizza, the number one team in the city, were the opponents. As had often been the case throughout the season and the tournament, Sol’s Boys scuffled to field a first baseman. On this particular night the answer was a very good player named Paul Brooker. The catch was that Brooker was not on the roster – his name that night was Ricky Fein
Ironically, details of Sol’s Boys offensive performance defy recollection. Angelo’s had three of the best players in the city – Donnie Smith, Barry Johnson, and Shelly Hoffman. Shelly was arguably the most formidable all-around player in Cleveland. Johnson was a great power hitter and Smith was the greatest power hitter. For some reason, however, in various non-tournament games around Cleveland, Smith could not hit Wieder. Barry Johnson, in contrast, murdered the Sol’s Boys pitcher. In addition, the game was not played at Angelo’s home field, the wonderful shallow-dimensioned Morgana Park. Instead, the venue was Kirtland Field, with unreachable fences that negated both Johnson and Smith’s skills.
The game was a low scoring affair, which in and of itself, was totally unexpected by the giants. Playing in the expansive park, the minnows came with tactics. The heart of Angelo’s line-up, batters three, four, and five were Johnson, Smith, and Hoffman in that particular order. Similar to his previous encounters with Wieder, Barry Johnson began his quest for the sweet-sixteen with an extra-base hit into the left center alley. It was that hit that convinced Sol’s Boys that there was no need for a second baseman or right fielder when Johnson or Smith came to bat. Like a ballet the defense all shifted toward left field daring the power hitters to try for the left field fence that was clearly out of reach. The shift and the inability to score runs greatly unnerved management and players on the favored side. Trash talking began and while the underdogs might have still awaited the expected explosion from the giants, their pitcher, for one, took great satisfaction in giving mouth right back to the stars.
Smith followed Johnson to the plate for his first at bat but the shift was on and almost dutifully, the batter hit a towering pop-up between Walter and the newly placed Cohn. Smith would do that three or four times during the game with the shortstop and second baseman taking turns making the play as the city’s premier power hitter went hitless. Smith’s last three outs, however, were proceeded by an unprecedented tactic that brought even more ire from Angelo’s towards Sol’s Boys and their pitcher. The idea, however, came from catcher Bruce Bogart. He asserted that there was no reason to pitch to Johnson since he was almost a guaranteed extra base hit whenever he stepped to the plate while Smith was an automatic out.
On this particular night the strategy was perfect. While anger crossed the field the reality was that the champions had lost their composure. Angelo’s left fielder struck out swinging, unheard of in softball, and Hoffman, who had a good night hitting, took a called third strike with two outs, men on base, and the need for an extra base hit. When Hoffman questioned the call, the umpire retorted, “This isn’t Morgana.”
The minnows were in the champs’ heads and Wieder and Walter’s extended looks were no longer concerned with an explosion. Yes, there was wonder, but more so the look was let’s get this done. Then there was out number three and the scoreboard read, Minnows 5 Giants 4 and Sol’s Boys, not the Number 1 team, was moving to the Round of Sixteen.
 One of Angelo’s star players, Shelly Hoffman, knew Sol’s Boys players and could have exposed Brooker in which case the game would have been forfeited to his team. He chose to remain silent.
 Sol’s Boys would lose the next game to a good Lachs’ Bar team, 8-7. They were, however, ranked 16th in the city, the first and only time a JCC team was ranked. And to this day, Wieder, who was coaching third, bemoans holding Kanner at third on a play that might have changed the outcome of the game.