By John Sherman
When Crystal resident Larry Gallagher accepted the position of Riverview Amateur Baseball League commissioner a year ago, he stepped into uncharted territory.
Gallagher’s baseball career had spanned almost 70 years at that point – from his time as a player in the Columbia Heights youth leagues, and later his playing days at Columbia Heights, Augsburg College and the state amateur ranks to almost 60 years as an umpire. In addition to catching for Dick’s Place in amateur baseball, he was the field manager of the team.
Gallagher is still umpiring, but he has scaled back on his schedule somewhat in order to devote more time to his job as Riverview League commissioner.
“I am still discovering what the job is,” he said in an interview last week. “This is different from coaching or umpiring. You’re dealing with different personalities and situations.”
There are rulings to be made, and sometimes they’re not easy.
Earlier this summer, Gallagher gave one of the Riverview players a three-game suspension for testing the code of conduct. He had to rule one of the Riverview teams ineligible for the playoffs because the proper paperwork had not been filed.
“I don’t plan on making this a lifetime position,” said Gallagher. “When I started in baseball years ago, all I aspired to be was a player. When I could no longer play, I began to do more umpiring.”
Gallagher has done thousands of games over the years, with many championship games in high school, college, amateur and American Legion baseball.
A sportswriter once introduced Gallagher as the umpire who knew 27 ways a pitcher can balk.
“Twenty-eight,” said Gallagher. “I just found another one last week.”
In working with the Riverview League teams, Gallagher has developed great respect for the coaches and manager who help the league thrive.
Of the eight franchises, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park are the cornerstones. Minnetonka has won 13 state Class A titles and St. Louis Park has won two. The other franchises are Bloomington, Edina, Hamel, Hit Dawg Academy from Chaska, Hopkins and the Northwest Orioles from Osseo.
“It’s an immense job just to put a team on the field,” Gallagher observed. “You need to have about $10,000 a year. Just like a lot of other areas of life – if you have the money, you can do it.”
Hamel, one of the storied franchises in Minnesota town team baseball, has been around since 1926, but this is the first year the Hawks have played in the Riverview League.
Hamel manager Tim Flemming said the Hawks moved from Class B baseball to Class A to improve their player-recruitment options.
“Tim is a veteran influence on their program,” said Gallagher. “They’re pretty young this year, but they have given some of the other teams good games, and they finished 3-11 in the league.”
As expected, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park dominated Riverview League play this year, each finishing with a 12-2 record. St. Louis Park was awarded the No. 1 Riverview seed for the State Class A Tournament based on its two wins over Minnetonka in head-to-head matchups.
“Minnetonka and St. Louis Park are easy to work with,” said Gallagher. “They’ve been doing this for a long time, and they’ve had a lot of success.”
Minnetonka manager Kevin Hoy said that having Gallagher as Riverview commissioner is good for every team in the league.
“Larry is a baseball guy who has been in the game for a long time,” said Hoy. “He’s a class guy, a Hall-of-Famer. Larry is by the book, and that’s what we want from someone who’s in charge of the league.”
Minnetonka joined the Riverview League in 1975, and St. Louis Park has been in the league since 1989. Those two franchises, along with Bloomington and Edina, have been the constants for four decades. Other teams have come and gone, including New Hope, Richfield, Brooklyn Park and Atomic, a second St. Louis Park ball club.
Looking to the future of the Riverview League, Gallagher wants to maintain at least eight franchises. He indicated Hit Dawg Academy might not continue next season, so he might need another team to fill the void.
The thought of Larry Gallagher ever retiring from baseball is hard to digest, but he said there may come a day when he’ll hang up his umpire’s mask for the last time. What then?
“What I’d like to do is watch ball games along the Eastern Seaboard one year, and then watch ball games for a year in the Midwest,” he said. “Finally, I’d spend a summer watching games on the West Coast.”
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