Who were the Twilight League best?
It was only fitting that on a perfect afternoon for baseball, the subject of the very best local baseball players would come up.
Such was the case this past Saturday afternoon in Stanton when the Wolverine and Portage Lake oldtimers matched up in their annual rivalry.
It was right around 70 degrees, the sky was crystal blue and the light wind blowing kept the bugs at bay.
In other words, the kind of day that has made Copper Country summers famous.
So it was just a matter of time before the question was asked: “Who’s the best (Twilight League) player you ever saw?”
The impromptu – and I emphasize that word – panel on hand consisted of three people who played in the league in three different eras, the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and early 1980s.
The older former player brought up the names of Wes Kangas of Stanton, Art Koski of Tapiola, Carl “Scuppy” Backstrom of Wolverine and Bud Patrick of Copper City.
The 1960s “representative” ticked off the names of Merv Klemett of Bancroft, Dennis Ketola of Tapiola, Dave Cima of Wolverine and Floyd Wakeham of Stanton.
The younger panel member singled out Rick Miller of Superior National Bank, Dennis Sten of Stanton, Tom Borsum of Partanen’s Bar and Dave Heinonen of Wolverine.
But only one name was the choice of all three panelists, and that was Leo Durocher of Stanton.
That’s not to say that a strong case couldn’t be made for the other names. They were all exceptional players.
Patrick, for instance, was good enough to play two minor league seasons in the New York Giants farm system. He hit as many homers as anyone in Twilight League history, and they were often towering, majestic-looking ones.
The late Rick Miller was one of the most versatile athletes ever produced locally. He could play a sharp game of shortstop one game, then take the mound the next one and be very effective. He was also a natural leader who helped put together one of the great dynasties in the league.
Borsum fulfilled the same role for Dollar Bay teams for three decades as Partanen’s Bar and Quincy’s Bar squads put together an amazing string of league titles. Borsum’s sharp pitching and timely hitting often keyed those successes.
But the late Durocher had the whole package. He led the league in hitting six times and averaged better than .410 in 25-plus seasons. He led by example from his shortstop position.
He was also a clutch pitcher who was at his best in the really big games. Take a 1966 game versus Air Force when the Wildcats needed a victory to solidify a playoff spot. All Leo did in that game was hurl a two-hitter and account for the game’s only run with a long homer.
A memorial tournament is held in his name every summer, and Daron (son) and Dax (grandson), have helped Stanton stay near the top of the league in recent seasons. Hitting is just in the Durocher blood. Naming the best in any sport is always a dicey proposition and I’m positive the above trio omitted more than a few names.
But I believe they were right on … in their No. 1 choice.