Larry Lombardi, DCMSBL: How it all Began (Part three in a series)
By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Larry Lombardi is the architect of the DC MSBL, located in and around our nation’s capital. He lives in North Carolina, however, and relies heavily on his day-to-day partner in chief Jerry Klemm, who handles the on-site issues and assignments. For his efforts, Larry has been inducted into the 1997 MSBL National Hall of Fame and was the recipient of the MSBL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. Now going into their 34th year, the DC MSBL is one of our most storied leagues and Larry recalled for us how it all began.
“I will be 70 this year and have a background with a park and planning commission and have been organizing sports activities for years,” said Lombardi. “While I was on vacation in 1988, I saw the article Sports Illustrated published about Steve Sigler and the MSBL and I called Steve right away. I was playing softball at the time, like everyone else, but I knew that the DC area had nothing organized for adults to play baseball and with my background, I wanted to see what I could do to bring the real game to the area.
It was too late that year because it was already in summer so we spent that time advertising and promoting our new league and started in 1989 with amazingly eight teams right out of the chute. There was another guy who was initially involved but we had a parting of the ways. We had a couple of league meetings before the 1989 season and then we were off and running!
We ended up with four teams from Maryland and four from Virginia so we had two divisions, we were 30-over, and scheduled a 22-game season. It was a great start.”
The league started as the traditional Sunday afternoon event. They had their pick of fields since nobody was playing baseball. As I speak with people, I continually hear about the problems of finding fields to play on so Larry was one of the fortunate ones. The cozy Sunday afternoon league was soon in jeopardy as a victim of their own success.
“We doubled to 16 teams in 1990! There was a definite need to be filled and we created a lot of excitement in the area. I was the league commissioner and took care of everything, as usually happens in a start-up situation, but I enjoyed the success of the league and supplying the area with somewhere to play.
In 1993 we introduced the MABL division for the younger guys. We attracted eight more teams the first year! We were so popular in the area that at one point in the ’90s was almost had 95 teams with play in the 18+, 30+, and 40+ divisions with 32 teams in 18-over alone. We had to schedule games across seven different counties!”
In case you were curious how that all stacks up to the 2022 version of the league, the DC MSBL remains one of MSBL’s most successful leagues with 50 summer league teams and between 16 and 18 teams in their fall session.
“In 1993 I brought in Dr. Jerry Klemm to help me. Jerry is the unsung hero of our league. I am the admin guy who keeps us organized but Jerry has been the guy who checks fields, assigns umpires, listens to the concerns of the players and managers in real-time, gets up at the crack of dawn to make sure all fields are prepped, and ready to go and then makes sure the lights are all out after night games. He has been my rock and he doesn’t want to hear any praise or atta boys. He just quietly goes about making our league hum.”
Considering all of the events and games that have been played throughout the years, does anything jump out as truly special? One event did stick out to Larry.
“Major League Baseball was trying to expand in the 1990s and DC was one area they were considering. One of the managers in our league was good friends with one of the guys on the DC committee pushing RFK stadium for possible expansion.
That guy arranged to have a game going on at RFK Stadium while the big guys were making their pitch to MLB! The guys playing in front of the committee were from our league and the story made the front sports page with pictures of them on the field and a nice story. Johnny Holiday was a legendary sportscaster at the time and mentioned over the air during drive time that there was a group led by Larry Lombardi playing baseball at RFK stadium! It was a big boost to the league. Colorado and Florida got the franchises but DC finally got theirs, as you know. Maybe we helped!” (Listen HERE to the original radio broadcast)
Larry’s MSBL career also extended to a stint on the initial MSBL Board of Directors early on. He has made a lot of trips with Steve Sigler and the other members as a part of that board, as they researched ways to expand the adult baseball concept. He has also been a participant at the MSBL World Series in Arizona from 1989 through 2015, with a championship in 2000 with the DC Cobras in the 40+ Central division.
“I loved going to Arizona because I could simply play and not have to organize anything. The camaraderie and friendships created throughout the years down there are so special. I continue to get calls from people who are looking to catch on with a league or tournament team. I have enjoyed the vendors and the banquets throughout the years. I went to one Fall Classic in Florida, I think around 1992, and our league continues to send a lot of players and teams to Florida for the various tournaments.”
What are some of your fondest World Series memories?
“One year we played against a couple of ex-pros from Detroit and they had Ron LeFlore in the outfield. That was special. But one of the funniest things, which wasn’t so funny at the time, is when we had a pitcher who was struggling a little with the bases loaded so our coach went to visit him. There was another guy on the bench who was a pitcher so he ALSO went out to talk with him after the coach got back. Well, that’s two visits so the pitcher got removed! That was a hard one to live down.”
Who have been your biggest role models as your MSBL career took hold?
“Number one is Steve Sigler for having the vision and to actually see it play out. I wouldn’t be where I am today. His impact on a national level is amazing.
Roger Stanley was a tremendous influence. Roger recently passed away but was there at the beginning with us. He was a driving force in keeping our train on track.
Jim Beck helped create the Virginia division back in 1989 and I will forever be grateful.
I mentioned Jerry Klemm earlier. He’s number one with a bullet!”
“In closing, I’d like to say that MSBL is a reflection of life and what baseball is all about. It teaches you to be selfless. It supplies lessons of life that carry on into your day. You make a commitment, just like in life, and life’s lessons carry over. MSBL takes you back down to the basic level of human interaction and teaches you to get through life and look at everyone as a unique individual. We’re all human. The passion and the commitment continue to drive me in my current role. I hope some of the traits of my outlook rub off.”