If you played big time softball during the 1980s, odds are you played the Takers at various times during your season and win or lose, you probably emerged from the game with a deep respect for the type of softball they played. Like the Stooges and Taggers and a dozen other teams that were competitive but not always championship teams, the Takers battled every team they played with a passionate intensity – despite their record or reputation.
Playing out of Oak Park, the Takers were named for an early sponsor, the P.M. Smith Funeral Home. They started playing as an eighth grade team coached by Frank Zepf of the Oak Park Park District. They won their league and then traveled to Riis Park and dominated a youth tournament there. They then moved to the Oak Park High School League, winning the championship three of four years. Once they graduated to the men’s league and established themselves as Oak Park’s dominant team, they flexed their muscles, gained confidence, and entered tournaments around the Chicago area. As the team evolved, they strengthened by picking up top players and a variety of different sponsors, including Rex Bradley, Louisville Sluggers, Jim Taylor, and the Home Town Distributors.
“In the early ‘80s we started playing major ball,” says Rich “Chubbs” Polfus, a founding member of the Takers. With their reputation as a team to be taken seriously firmly intact, they played everywhere during those exciting years of softball. While they lost most of the big games they played, they always played tough and occasionally scored a few upsets. Besides winning five Oak Park titles, Polfus and the Takers also won championships at Portage, Amundsen, Hamlin, Kosciuszko, and Clarendon Parks, beating such top teams as Fusion, the Aces, Rocks, the Scorpions, Jets, and the Fielders. In 1983 they won the Hamlin League title and playoffs. Around that time they also won the Forest Park “A” title with veteran pitcher Tomm Thompson.
While playing in the suburbs was great, the Takers were drawn to playing in Chicago by stories from veteran players Frank Lentine and Jim Giblin who told of the pride of the neighborhood game and defending your home field. Also, many of the top players were on different teams and the Takers wanted to compete against them. As a testimony to their competitiveness, they lost to the legendary Whips at least fifteen times and only beat them once but managed to score ten runs against them at least ten times. In a 1981 Forest Park game against powerhouse Otto’s, it took a late inning homerun by Hall of Famer Paul Brezinski to beat them. In 1983 they were banging homeruns over the fences at the World Series in Bridgeview, before they were moved to an open field to neutralize their power. They never got a chance to play for the championship, however, because rain shortened the tournament. Three years later they would place fifth, their best finish, in the USSSA National Tournament. In 1992 they won the USSSA 14 “title in Independence, Missouri.
The Takers ended their playing days with the assurance that they earned the respect of softball players because of the passion and skill they brought to the field during every inning they played.
The Takers: 1975 – 1990
Jim “Dog” Leahy