Lee’s great but he ain’t no Zack

Written by Bob on October 31st, 2009


Photos of 1995 ISC World Tournament.
By BOB OTTO / Writer & Photographer

YUCAIPA, CA – The Philadelphia Phillies Cliff Lee is a great baseball pitcher. And the number he did on the Yankees in the opening game of the World Series is remarkable: A complete game, six hits allowed along with 10 strikeouts in Philadelphia’s, 6-1, win.

But Lee ain’t no Darren Zack.

But before we get to Zack, let me continue with Lee. A quote referring to Lee in this morning’s sports section of the Riverside Press Enterprise caught my attention.

Yankee’s manager, Joe Girardi, was quoted as saying:

“The good thing is that he (Lee) can’t pitch every day.”

When I read that, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Lucky for Girardi he doesn’t manage a men’s fastpitch softball team at the International Softball Congress (ISC) World Tournament level.

Because if Girardi did, his team would get a steady diet of “Lee” – game-after-game. For as we fastpitch folks know, in our sport their ain’t no such thing as three or four days rest for our pitchers.

And the Yankees would not want a steady diet of Darren Zack. Especially, if we could roll the clock back to the 1995 ISC World Tournament held in Sioux City, Iowa.

I photographed the 48-team double elimination tournament. And I was privileged to see perhaps the greatest exhibition of pitching that has ever happened on our planet. A pitching feat that I don’t think will ever be duplicated.

The 6-foot-5, 270 pound, right-handed, Zack, hurled the Toronto Gators of Ontario, Canada to the World Tournament championship.

The fashion in which he did it is mind-boggling. And not the stuff of mere mortals.

Try and wrap your mind around these numbers: Zack finished with a 10-0 record; struck out 150 batters in 73 2/3 innings. In which … (drum roll please) he did not allow a single run in 69 2/3 consecutive innings. Let me repeat: 69 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the world’s greatest fastpitch softball hitters.

And here’s another remarkable fact: The Gators lost their first game of the tournament and had to battle back from the depths of the losers bracket to win the championship.

“After dropping their first game, not only did the Gators have to play 10 more games to win the title, they could not afford even one more slip-up or they would have been eliminated,” said fastpitch umpire, Joel Balberman of Branford, Ontario, who has umpired many of Zack’s games over the years.

“When you put Zack’s performance into that perspective, with the pressure that went along with having no margin for error, his feat becomes all-the-more amazing. His performance will never be duplicated,” added Balberman.

When I tell baseball folks about the Gators and Zack’s amazing accomplishment and his astounding pitching statistics – all of which are all-time ISC World Tournament records – I get looks as if I’m the world’s greatest story teller of extremely tall tales.

Except for Jim Holden of Calimesa. Holden’s a baseball man who knows fastpitch. For a brief time, from 1972 to ’75, he played for the Santa Ana Icemen and Elsinore Holiday Olds competing against some of the best teams and pitchers in California.

One pitcher in particular came to Holden’s mind: Ed Klecker.

“I faced Ed Klecker and personally I think that good softball pitchers like him are harder to hit than major league baseball pitchers,”

said Holden who had to give up the fastpitch game when he embarked on a 23-year career as a major league baseball scout, and college baseball coach.

A brief background on Klecker. In 1973 the big right-hander pitched the Lakewood, Calif. Jets to the ISC World Tournament championship, and was inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame in 2006.

But I pressed Holden a little further. And I mentioned Girardi’s quote.

He said, “Every good team had a pitcher like Klecker (or Zack) who could dominate you and pitch every game.”

And the bigger the game, or the more important the tournament, that’s the pitcher the manager hands the ball to. Game-after-game. With no three or four days rest like in baseball.

Yes, Lee is a great baseball pitcher. But he ain’t no Zack.

(Darren Zack was recently inducted into the International Softball Federation Hall of Fame, and at the 2010 ISC World Tournament, he will be inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame.)

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