John Salmon, ANEFO football official and long-time college football official, was honored recently in a local newspaper. The story was titled, “Malden Musings: Revisiting John Salmon” by Peter Levine. The articled is as follows:
“Holy cow! A panel of five “experts” recently gathered to determine the Top 25 athletes to ever wear the maroon and gold of Boston College. Let’s first put this into perspective. Boston College has a long and storied history of athletics and athletes. Basketball greats like Dana Barros, Terry Driscoll and Troy Bell. Football greats like Doug Flutie and Matt Ryan. All told, thousands participated with about 400 elected to the Boston College Athletic Hall of Fame. So, who gets picked as one of the Top 25? The one and only Johnny Salmon!
Here’s what they had to say about Johnny: “In the conversation as the greatest all-around athlete ever to play at BC, Salmon graduated as the football team’s all-time leader in interceptions, had a .350 career batting average while helping lead the baseball team to a College World Series appearance, and even skated for a time for the hockey team. Salmon eventually became a college football official, working major games such as the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl.”
Let’s dig a little dipper into the legend of Johnny Salmon. When knowledgeable sports-minded Maldonians sit around and discuss Malden athletes from the past, most of the time the conversation starts with Johnny Salmon, arguably the finest all-around Malden athlete from the past 70-plus years.
Whether it was his football or hockey exploits, his baseball prowess or later as a legendary softball player, the stories are many and pretty extraordinary. Here’s a very brief overview of Johnny Salmon’s Boston College (Class of 1969) career:
Three-year starter at defensive safety, establishing a BC career interception record with 17 in 29 games. His interception return yardage of 209 was also an Eagle football record. As the center fielder for the Eagle baseball team, he posted a .350 career batting average and was a key factor in Boston College’s appearance in the 1966 College World Series. Inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.Create Account
Like a lot of youngsters growing up in the city in the 1960s into the ’70s, I had heard the name Johnny Salmon and the many stories, but never got a chance to see him play until his softball days. I did play hoops with him at the old YMCA and had the pleasure of playing on the Devir Park hoop team in the Malden Men’s Recreation Department Basketball League back in 1981.
Keep in mind that hoops wasn’t John’s strong suit but he was still one of the better players in a very talented league of hoopsters. We were stacked that year with talent. Rod “Puggy” Forbes (drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1969), Billy Greeley (played at UMass Amherst with Julius “Dr. J” Erving in the late 1960s), Steve and Dave Johnson from Melrose (Malden Catholic basketball standouts), myself, Greg Phaneuf, Rick (“Husband of Janice”) Raymond, and Jerry Lynch, who a lot of people consider one of the better hoopsters to come out of the Green Street area.
We made the finals that year. We came up against a very tough Henry’s Restaurant & Lounge team. They were also stacked with talent, all the best players from Medford at the time (Stan Fiumara, Steve Krasker, Tommy Ryser, Jerry Martin) — they were loaded.
We eventually lost to Henry’s in three games at the Forestdale School Gym, but Salmon single-handily won game two with one of those games for the ages.
Johnny shot 8 for 9 from the field and hit three free throws for a total of 19 points and played some of the best hard-nosed defense that I ever saw, holding Medford’s high scorer Stan Fiumara to 10 points in the Devir Park 62-60 win. An amazing performance by an amazing man.
A wonderful “Big Bad John” story was recently told to me and it is my pleasure to share it with Malden. Robert DiGiovanni is a longtime Edgeworth guy who I became friends with through the miracle that we call Facebook. Rob played baseball with this local legend back in the early 1960s. Here is Rob’s story:
“One afternoon in early spring (1963) the Malden High pitchers and catchers were in the new gym. That day coach yelled out, ‘Hey Diege, warm up Salmon.’ The rookie sophomore he was referring to was John Salmon. In those days freshman ninth-graders still spent their freshman year in the junior high system of the city and your first year at Malden High would be as a 10th grader, your sophomore year.
“I began warming up the tall, lean ‘lefty; and the kid was pretty good, and could throw a lot of different pitchers — fastballs, curves, change-ups. He was even showing off a little with some kind of screwball he was working on. I was not that impressed, but I had to give the young sophomore his just due, because he threw pretty hard for his slender body type and he had so many different pitches and angles.
“I heard a lot about John Salmon at the junior high level but thought to myself, ‘He is pretty good, but the other Greater Boston League teams we played against would probably hit him hard.’ But he was still a young kid, who was going to get stronger without doubt, and he was considered a phenom player by many managers and coaches in 1963.
“That afternoon, while warming up a good 20 minutes or so, I noticed from the corner of my eye head coach Charlie McGeogh was walking around giving instructions to some of the other players and it wasn’t too long before he sauntered over to our side of the gym. He was looking at Salmon throwing to the mitt, for a couple of minutes, and with that sly little Charlie McGeogh smirk on his face, he started to walk away. I thought, ‘I wonder why he didn’t say anything to us?’ Just then he yelled out, ‘Hey Salmon, stop being a wise guy and save that lefty crap when you’re showing off to your girlfriend. Start throwing righty for crying out loud!’
“‘Holy crap,’ I thought. I knew I could hit pretty good, left and righty, although we were never allowed to try switch hitting in those days, but I never saw anyone ever be able to throw with his offhand (lefty for Salmon) the way John Salmon did that day. He really blew my mind.
“I knew then by the end of practice and on the way home that John Salmon was going to be one, a very exceptional athlete and baseball player and maybe, just maybe, he was a true blue ‘phenom!’ Of course, as his career unfolded in the following years, he certainly proved he was all that. He could throw righty, lefty, and righty some more, but John Salmon was without doubt, one of Malden High’s greatest athletes of all time. Football, hockey, baseball — he could do it all.”
As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing, sir”: I decided recently that I will not wait to tell somebody how much they are appreciated, how much they have meant to me. And in this case, also Malden. Well here ya go, Bob “The Original Knight for Life” Rotondi. I know I write of you often but considering you’ve made an impact in Malden for over 65 years, well, a few lines in the paper don’t really seem enough. In 2005, Bob was honored on his (then) 50 years of service to Malden and the youth of this area. That was 16 years ago and Bob is still with us, still contributing and he ain’t going nowhere soon. At the 46th Annual Babe Ruth Banquet at the Irish American Club, Bob was given so many awards he had to rent a U-Haul to get them home (said in my best Rodney Dangerfield voice). It is said that Bob has over 500 wins under his belt as coach in Malden since the mid-1950s (and I bet he remembers each and every one). Then-President George Bush sent greetings from the White House and congratulations were also received from every big shot in town! U.S. Rep. (now Sen.) Eddie Markey even found time out of his busy schedule to send a salute along. Check out what then-Ward 5 Councilor Johnny Furlong (who played for Bob) had to say: “You have influenced hundreds of players and their families and no one will ever forget how important you have been in so many lives. If any of the kids in this room or any kid in the future needs a role model, he’s (Rotondi) sitting right there.” Could not have said it better Furgie. Hope to see ya soon, Bob.”
Postscript: Thank you, City of Malden Human Resource Director and Son of Edgeworth Anthony Chiccuarelli for keeping me in the Johnny Salmon loop.
Peter Levine is a longtime Malden resident and contributor to The Observer-Advocate. He can be reached at PeteL39@aol.com for comments, compliments, complaints or criticisms