Photo by: Sparky Lyle
Written by: Adam McCully
The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region is home to rolling hills and valleys, beautiful forest landscapes, and a diverse and fascinating population of wildlife, but did you know that the region is also where some of the world’s most recognizable and noteworthy athletes were born and raised? Pennsylvania herself has produced more professional athletes than any other state in the country save for two (California and Texas) and many of those All-Stars were born right here in our very own backyard. You could say that it’s something in the water, or all the fresh air. Maybe it’s the wide open spaces that allow so many of our region’s youth to develop into exceptional athletes. More than likely it’s the above average educational systems and the athletic programs they provide. Those, in conjunction with some world class universities, allow our region to produce not only world famous athletes, but a large number of well-rounded and successful individuals that carry on this legacy generation after generation. Let’s take a look at some of the more recognizable faces in the wide world of sports that started their careers right here in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors.
Sparky Lyle: Born Albert Walter Lyle on July 22nd, 1944 in Dubois, PA and raised in the nearby town of Reynoldsville. Lyle spent sixteen years as a left handed relief pitcher in the MLB from 1967 to 1982. He started his professional career with the Boston Red Sox, where he spent five seasons before being traded to the New York Yankees. It was during his time with the Yankees that Lyle received the Cy Young Award. Despite this and several other noteworthy achievements – leading the league in saves for example – Lyle was traded to the Texas Rangers the following year, proving baseball to be one of the most ambiguous games in professional sports.
Lyle continued to move around the league after his trade to the Rangers. He ended his career with 873 strikeouts, 238 saves, a 2.88 ERA over the course of 898 games pitched, a Cy Young Award and three American League All-Star wins.
In addition to his pitching career, Lyle was also the General Manager of the Somerset Patriots, a minor league baseball team from Bridgewater, NJ as well as the co-author of The Bronx Zoo, which gave readers a behind the scenes look into the life of a Yankee during their 1977 World Series season.
Wilbur Good: Born on September 28th, 1885 in Punxsutawney PA. Good’s professional baseball career spanned the course of fourteen years. From 1905 to 1918, Good was an outfielder and force-to-be-reckoned-with at the plate for the New York Highlanders, the Cleveland Naps, the Chicago Cubs, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Doves.
Good played a total of 749 games, during which time he racked up 324 runs, 609 hits, 84 doubles, 44 triples, 9 home runs and 104 stolen bases. He also boasted a career batting average of .258 with 187 RBI.
Good spent over twenty years as a manager for several minor league teams before retiring in 1949. He passed away in 1963 and is buried in Brooksville, FL.
Mal Eason: Eason was born in Brookville, PA on March 13th, 1879. As a starting right-handed pitcher in the MLB, Eason had career win/loss record of 36-73, an ERA of 3.39, and tallied up 273 strikeouts. Eason moved around the league during his career, playing for such teams as the Chicago Orphans (1900-1902), the Boston Beaneaters (1902), the Detroit Tigers (1903), and the Brooklyn Superbas (1905-1906). In his last season with Brooklyn, Eason posted a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.
After his playing career Eason stuck with baseball, working as an umpire in the National League from 1910 to 1917.
Eason died in Douglas, AZ at the age of 91.
Joe Beimel: Hailing from St. Marys, Beimel played three years of college baseball (two at Allegany College of Maryland and one at Duquesne University) before being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1998 MLB draft. Beimel holds the distinct honor of being the only pitcher brought up to the major leagues out of Duquesne.
After three strong years in the minor leagues, Beimel made his big league debut with the Buccos against the Houston Astros, pitching five innings, allowing two runs, and recording the win.
Beimel played three years with the Pirates before being signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins. His time with the Twins was short lived however, and two years later he was picked up by the L.A. Dodgers, where he became a valuable member of their relief squad.
As a left-handed closer with a 2.96 ERA, Beimel was a highly sought after prospect in the MLB. He made his way to two more teams (the Washington Nationals and the Colorado Rockies) before coming back home to Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, injuries prevented Beimel from making any major league appearances with the Pirates. After a short stint in Texas, Beimel got picked up by the Seattle Mariners in 2015.
Beimel was recently inducted in the Duquesne University Hall of Fame, and he wears number 97 to represent the year his first child was born.
John Mizerock: Our next famous PA athlete comes to us from The Weather Capital of the World. Mizerock was born in Punxsutawney on December 8th, 1960. Right away it was clear that Mizerock was a natural. He had such an impressive career as a high school athlete playing for the Punxsutawney Chucks that he caught the attention of the Houston Astros, who drafted him right out of high school at the age of 18.
Mizerock’s work as a manager is where he really shined. Since ’93 Mizerock has worked as a minor league manager, coach, and interim manager for the Kansas City Royals. During that time he’s been awarded the Dick Howser trophy twice, given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the Kansas City ball club. He’s also been awarded the Midwest League Manager of the Year three times.
In 2011, Mizerock moved to the Philadelphia Phillies organization to work as one of their hitting coaches.
Devin Mesoraco: Another baseball player hailing from Punxsutawney, Mesoraco was born on June 19th, 1988 in Dubois and raised in Punxsutawney. Mesoraco excelled as a high school athlete, shattering the Punxsutawney High School baseball records for walks, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, and stolen bases. In 2007 he was named the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, and in that same year he helped the Punxsutawney Chucks win the PIAA Class AAA State Championship.
Mesoraco was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds with the 15th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft. He spent the next several years impressing his coaches and working his way up from the minors to the big leagues. In 2011 he was added to the 40-man roster for the Reds.
He continued to prove himself a valuable asset to the Reds in 2014, hitting a .294 with 25 home runs and 80 RBI, as well as earning himself a spot in the 2014 MLB All-Star Game.
Currently, Mesoraco is still with the Cincinnati Reds, although a surgical procedure to his left hip forced him to sit out a large portion of the 2015 season. Fans from Cincinnati and Punxsutawney both eagerly await his return to the field.
Pete Vuckovich: A product of Clarion University, Vuckovich was known as perhaps one of the most intimidating pitchers of his time thanks to his 6’4” frame, bizarre antics on the field, and his infamous “Fu-Manchu” mustache.
Vuckovich was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1975, but saw minimal time on the mound. The following year he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the expansion draft and that’s when his career started to take shape. He had a 7-7 record, with eight saves during his first year with the Blue Jays. He also recorded the franchise’s first ever shutout and their first ever save, ironically against the White Sox.
Vuckovich’s career continued to improve over the years as he moved around the league. He won 39 games for the St. Louis Cardinals over three years before heading to Milwaukee where he led the American League in wins (14) and win/loss percentage .778. 1982 was perhaps his best year in the MLB. During that season, Vuckovich not only walked away with the Cy Young Award, but also helped his team take the American League Pennant.
After retirement, Vuckovich spent some time as a television announcer for the Brewers and even had a small but pivotal role in the film Major League as Clu Haywood, the Yankee slugger.
Chuck Daly: Born July 20th, 1930 in St. Marys, PA and raised in Kane. Daly attended Kane High school and later, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1952. After serving two years in the military, Daly began his coaching career with humble beginnings, starting out as the Punxsutawney Area High School basketball coach in 1955. With 111 wins and 70 losses over the course of eight seasons at Punxsutawney, Daly moved on to the college level, becoming the assistant coach at Duke University.
During his time with the Blue Devils, Daly helped the team advance to the Final Four in both 1964 and 1966. Daly continued his upward progression in 1969, becoming the head coach at Boston College and improving the schools record from 11-13 to 15-11 over the course of two years. After this, Daly headed back to PA to man the helm at the University of Pennsylvania, where he spent six seasons and helped the team achieve an overall record of 125-38.
Daly made his NBA debut in 1978 as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. Much as he had at the college level, Daly quickly proved his worth and moved into the head coach position, first for the Cleveland Cavaliers and later for the Detroit Pistons. Under Daly’s leadership, the Pistons won two consecutive NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.
At what could be considered the pinnacle of his career, Daly was named the head coach of the U.S. Olympic Dream Team that came home with the Gold Medal in the ’92 Summer Olympic Games.
Daly had two more stints as a head coach – one for the New Jersey Nets, the other for the Orlando Magic – before closing the book on a long and illustrious career. In 2009, Daly was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and he died later that year at the age of 78.
John Calipari: Born in Moon Township, PA, Calipari played his college ball at Clarion University where he led the team in assists and free throw percentage. Directly after playing at Clarion, Calipari began his coaching career as an assistant to Ted Owens and Larry Brown at the University of Kansas. Shortly after that he moved on to Pitt, where he was the assistant coach for three years before becoming the head coach at the University of Massachusetts.
After eight years with the University of Massachusetts, Calipari left college ball behind and headed to the NBA, where he started out as the VP of basketball operations for the New Jersey Nets. Afterwards, Calipari spent some time as the assistant coach for the
Philadelphia 76ers before returning to his college basketball roots at the University of Memphis, and eventually becoming the head coach at the University of Kentucky.
Under Calipari’s leadership, the Wildcats have seen one NCAA National Championship, four NCAA regional championships, three SEC regular season championships, and three SEC tournament championships. Calipari continues to coach the Kentucky Wildcats as one of the highest paid head coaches in the NCAA.
Andy Hastings: Hailing from Brookville, PA, Hastings was born on January 24th, 1893. He began his football career at the Kiski Prep School in Saltsburg, PA, where he excelled as a halfback. Hastings was offered an athletic scholarship by the University of Pittsburgh and happily accepted. During his time at Pitt he was selected as a second team All-American in 1915 and a first team All-American in 1916. He helped Pitt achieve victory in the 1916 National Championship, and to this day he is listed as the 3rd all-time highest scoring player for Pitt, with an impressive 255 total points.
In 1920, Hastings was drafted by the Cleveland Tigers to play in the inaugural season of the NFL.
Jim Kelly: The one and only Jim Kelly was born on February 14th 1960 in East Brady, PA. Kelly was a superstar at East Brady High School, winning all-state honors after passing for 3,915 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Like many high school athletes in the North Western PA region, Kelly had big dreams of playing college ball at Penn State under the infamous Joe Paterno. Unfortunately for Kelly (and Penn State) this was not meant to be. Although Penn State offered Kelly an athletic scholarship, they insisted that he join the team as a linebacker. Kelly knew he was a quarterback, and he declined Penn State’s offer in order to man the offense at Miami University.
And man it he did.
When all was said and done, Kelly had put up some outstanding numbers for the Hurricanes. He ended his college career with 406 completions, 5,233 yards, and 32 touchdowns.
Before Kelly was drafted in 1983, his agent asked him if there was any place he’d rather not play. “Nowhere cold,” Kelly stated, so naturally he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Kelly dodged the winter weather for a time by signing with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. Kelly put up huge numbers while playing in the NFL’s rival league, but it was all too good to last and when the USFL closed its doors for good in 1986, Kelly made his way back to the Buffalo Bills.
Kelly’s effective use of the no-huddle offense, as well as his repertoire with fellow Hall-of-Famer Andre Reed helped him turn the Bills into one of the most formidable teams in the NFL. Kelly led his team to four Super Bowls over the course of his career, unfortunately never coming away with a victory.
Kelly retired after 11 seasons in the NFL. His combined numbers from both the NFL and the USFL equal out to over 45,000 passing yards and 320 touchdowns. In 2002, Kelly was inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame, capping off what could be considered one of the most impressive careers in professional sports.
Reggie Wells: Wells played his high school football in South Park, PA before heading to Clarion University. Wells stood out from the pack at Clarion University, starting all four years and earning two NCAA Division II All-America Honors. Wells was also a two-time All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Choice during his time at Clarion.
In 2003, Wells was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, and was part of the team that faced off against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. In 2010 Wells left Arizona for Philadelphia, and spent two years with Eagles before moving south again, this time to Carolina.
Wells made stops in Green Bay, Buffalo, and San Diego after his short stint with the Panthers. He is currently an unsigned free agent.
Track and Field
Amy Rudolph: Born in Ridgway on September 18th, 1973, Amy Rudolph is a retired middle and long distance runner. Rudolph represented The United States in two consecutive Olympic Games. In the ’96 Summer Games in Atlanta she finished 10th in the 5000 Meter with a time of 15:19.77 and she finished 21st in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia during the same event with a time of 15:28.91.
In addition to her two Olympic appearances, Rudolph also appeared in four World Championships and she set an American National Record in ’96 for her time in the 5000 Meter.
In addition to her astounding professional career, Rudolph also won eight state championships during her time at Kane Area High School.
Kurt Angle: Angle is one of the many famous athletes that got their start at Clarion University. Born in Mt. Lebanon, PA on December 9th, 1968, Angle started wrestling at the age of seven. Angle took to the sport immediately and continued to dominate his opponents throughout his junior high and high school career. In 1987 he proved himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the country when he won the Pennsylvania State Wrestling Championship.
Angle continued his wrestling career at Clarion University, where he was a two-time NCAA I Champion and a three time NCAA Division I All-American.
After college Angle continued to wrestle. He trained for the ’96 Summer Olympic Games at the now infamous Pennsylvania Foxcatcher Club, the same club that was the basis for the Oscar nominated film Foxcatcher. Despite the tragedy that occurred at his training center, Angle still managed to win the Gold in the Heavyweight Division that summer.
In 1998, Angle entered the world of professional wrestling, signing an eight-year contract with the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). Angle’s experience and natural showmanship quickly escalated him to one of the most prominent names in professional wrestling, competing in championship matches against such wrestlers as The Rock, Triple H, and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Angle retired from professional wrestling in 2008 and is currently pursuing a career in film. He’s appeared in such Hollywood blockbusters as The Last Witch Hunter and Pain and Gain.
Jack Dorval: Born in Emporium, PA in 1904, Jack Dorval was known as the “Pennsylvania Timber Wolf” due to his size and ferocity in the ring.
A relative no-name at his start, Dorval surprised boxing fans everywhere when he stood toe-to-toe in the ring with professional boxers like Otto Von Porat, Pierre Charles, and Ernie Schaaf.
Dorval passed away in a tragic plane crash on Aug. 2nd , 1936.