The Post-Journal

Oscar “Swede” Larson Honored

There are other sports personalities in Jamestown who have lived a busy athletic life comparable to that of Oscar (Swede) Larson, but it remained for a supper like the Chautauqua County Umpires put on Monday night to emphasize the superlatives that were tossed at this likable guy.

Not many in the crowd of 50 umpires, guest speakers and sports minded individuals knew that the proud president of the association had a so-called long row to hoe when he arrived in Jamestown some 50 years ago from Sweden. His family settled on “English Hill” and Oscar promptly took up sports in which he readily became prominent.

And this true fact wasn’t brought out until the genial dean of umpires in the immediate locale stood up at the Norris Supper Club to receive a watch with the inscription, “Swede Larson, for services rendered in Chautauqua Umpires Association, 1954.”

Prior to receiving the time-piece from his fellow workers, Oscar’s eyes were saddened somewhat when the lights were dimmed as the one-tiered cake with candles, bearing the number 31—the years he has been calling balls and strikes in the Jamestown area, was put before him.

Oscar had considered retirement because of the stress and strain of the position of president of the association, but he quickly added: “I can’t do it now. I know we’ve got to stick together and make this an even better organization.”

Mayor Samuel Stroth was on hand as one of the many guest speakers, and he commented: “I would say Oscar has done a remarkable job down through the years. He’s a credit to the community. I hope we celebrate this same occasion thirty years from now.”

The tributes came in carloads. In the crowd of a half a hundred were many of Swede’s long time cohorts, namely John Taylor and Leo Peckinoski, president and board of director member of the Buffalo District Umpires Association; Ted Kofod, Harold VanBuren, Cliff Sharp, Walter Black, Pat Neubauer, Marty Leone, Morrie Mistretta, Ross Crucilla, Vin Ellis, Muny League managers Spike Nelson, Joe Nagle and Charlie Panebianco, all of whom learned a lot, or derived experience from the guest of honor.

When Oscar first delved into sports, it was football in the early 1900’s. The first team on which he played the gridiron sport was the “English Hill Juniors,” a neighborhood team composed of the toughest guys on the corners.

Shortly before World War I, Oscar performed in the backfield of the Macabees and Alco’s, not to mention the Myobs (Meaning: Mind Your Own Business). He was a swivel-hipped halfback. A teammate of such stars as Harry Carlson, now of Denver, Colorado; Leon Carlson, Jamestown; and the late “Dutch” Greenae.
Our man in mention served in the Navy during the first World War and was a member of a fine Great Lakes football team.

Oscar played in the Virginia Baseball League while in service and upon discharge, played briefly in the Eastern Shore, Blue Ridge and New York-Penn baseball leagues.

“I’d say one of the best teams I ever played with was the Chautauqua Institution squad. But there were a lot of good ballplayers on Bill Webb’s Jamestown Spiders back in ’24,” he said. Reminded that Swat Erickson and Hugh Bedient were members of the combine going on at that time, Swede said: “Naturally, Swat and Hugh were great and they had control and knew where the ball was going. Nate Dryer, local meatman, was good too, but you had to have springs to catch him.”

After Swede ended his pro career, he played with Frewsburg, Falconer and Salamanca in independent baseball circles, besides managing Malleable Iron in Muny Doubles “A” League.

One of the most memorable occasion in Oscar’s life came when he socked a bases loaded home run off Jeff Tesreau, famed spitball pitcher. As for the 1930’s, he remembers best the pitching of a youngster named Walter Brown from Bemus Point way, and a young slugger named Rudy Carlson.

“Why, that Rudy sure could slug that ball. At Allen Park he hit one of the longest balls I’ve ever seen. The same way down at Oriole Field. But the one that sticks out in my mind was the softball he hit at Celoron Park that landed in the lake in left field. Boy, what a wallop!”

Economical conditions were not good and umpires were scarce. Sometimes the rookie arbiter was forced to call as many as four games on a Sunday. In the fall, Oscar would be cavorting on the gridiron with the All-Jamestown team, a top-ranking club of the era.

In the meantime, Oscar had convinced a lovely miss into becoming his bride. The couple raised two sons, Larry and Bob. Oscar’s pride and joy are grandchildren Patricia, Sharon, Tim, Becky Ann, Steve and Ricky. “I could talk about those grandchildren of mine for hours,” he said. The majority of Oscar’s breadwinning days have been spent at Malleable Iron, where he has been shipping-room foreman for 20 out of 25 years.

Probably the best quote of the evening came when Cy Pfirman, former Minor League umpire and present vice-president of the ever-aggressive organization, said, “He’s amazing. He knows those rules to a T. On the ballfield, when you’re working with him, he’s never out of position. I don’t know what we’d do without him.”

Not all of the athletic ability was bundled up into one member of the family, but the world could use more guys of the Oscar Larson type, if 31 years of yeoman work is any indication.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.