Giroux inspired many in his path

CALUMET — The late Bobby Giroux never let a physical handicap keep him from competing in sports.

The Calumet native was born without full arms (his hands were located near his elbows). But he managed to compete – and stand out – athletically.

“He (Giroux) was one of the very best fast-pitch pitchers we ever had around here,” noted longtime fast-pitch historian Gordy Schaaf of Hancock. “He had a delivery you could hardly believe, but he got people out.”

Giroux, a native of Calumet, also played tennis, basketball and hockey with the help of a special sling devised by his uncle, the late Jazzy Giroux.

Hancock’s John “Topper” Ricci faced Giroux often during his Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame career playing for South Range Bosch teams.

“He (Giroux) was a very effective pitcher,” Ricci said recently. “He had a terrific drop ball, and he used two or three speeds on it. He could be very, very tough if all of them were working.”

As good as he was in softball, Giroux’s abilities in tennis were even more impressive, according to northend historian Bob Erkkila.

“In addition to the shorter arms, he was missing the thumb on both hands,” Erkkila said. “You can only imagine the work and practice he had to put in to become good at a sport like tennis.”

Starting a very young age, Giroux first started playing tennis in grade school. He also coached the sport and compiled a great record at a Milwaukee area high school. But more on that later.

=But he’s remembered around here the most for his softball exploits.

Playing with Calumet area teams Liberty Loans, Carlings and Miller’s Lanes, he put together a fine record over three decades.

“He was really a very effective pitcher,” said Keith Mugford, who played on the same Miller’s squad with Giroux. “”When I got there, he was near the end of his career. But he was still good.”

Mugford’s late father, Jack, himself a U.P. Hall of Fame member, played on the same teams with Giroux for more than two decades.

“I know my Dad admired Bobby because he was such a competitor,” Keith Mugford said. “But he was also a very good person on top of that. I know it was a real honor for me to play behind him in center field.”

Despite his physical limitations, he fielded his position well and could surprise opponents at the plate as well.

“If the other team played in too much, he would hit it over their heads,” Erkkila recalled. “And he had good speed.”

The teams Giroux played on featured a number of outstanding players, including the Mugfords. But John Caserio, Johnny Whittaker, Ed Jenich, Butch Riotala, Don “Toto’ Fink, Carl “Scuppy” Backstrom and Okie O’Connell were also stellar performers.

Jimmy Rost, a righthander who hurled without benefit of a glove, formed the other half of a tough mound duo. Giroux was a lefty.

“Those Calumet teams were tough,” Ricci noted. “With Giroux and Rost, they could come at you from both sides.”

When his softball days ended, Giroux coached basketball at Laurium Sacred Heart High for a time. He often showed his players how accurately he could shoot free throws.

After moving to Milwaukee in the 1960s, he took a job as an instructor at the Jewish Community Center. He worked with handicapped and mentally challenged children in that capacity.

In addition to organizing Special Olympics teams in Milwaukee, he coached tennis at Wauwatosa High School for seven years. He led those squads to several WIAA regional championships and a state championship in 1974.

At the time of his death in 1983, Giroux was organizing a program to bring in professional athletes to coach and inspire his kids.

During his tenure in Milwaukee, he became good friends with a number of Milwaukee Braves players, including Hank Aaron, Del Crandall and Joe Adcock.

The big leaguers were so impressed with his ability to throw a ball that they signed him up at an umpiring clinic in Florida.

During his lifetime, he refereed basketball, hockey and softball.

Schaaf said Giroux’s contributions were many.

“I think the big thing about Bobby was his ability to serve as an inspiration to others. Not only on the playing field but off it.”