Organized after World War II
Youth baseball on Guam developed as an organized sport after World War II and enjoyed several decades as the predominant youth sport on the island. Guam’s top youth baseball teams have represented Guam well in international competitions such as the Little League World Series and the Babe Ruth World Series.
Little League baseball was the first organized form of youth baseball on Guam, while Babe Ruth baseball developed as a second league soon after. The two leagues, while working toward many of the same goals, have also competed for youth baseball players over the years.
Today, many children on Guam still play youth baseball, although it has lost much of its popularity due to the rise in other youth sports such as soccer, football and basketball.
Although baseball was Guam’s most popular sport before World War II, no organized form of youth baseball seemed to have existed during this period. While there was an organized league for adult players, young players played in backyards and village lots, without official equipment. Baseball old-timers such as Gregorio Calvo and Tun Charlie M. Perez recall playing baseball with “lemon china” fruits, or using their bare hands to field balls, and a stick instead of a bat.
About a decade after World War II, however, baseball enthusiasts started organizing village youth baseball teams into a sort of informal village league. While Little League rules were followed, the village league was not officially chartered with the U.S. Little League organization.
Leagues were sponsored by various civic service or community groups. Frank Camacho of Agana Heights, who later became a long-time president of Central Little League on Guam, recalls playing for the Agana Heights Blues in those early days. He said there were ten teams in the 9-12-year-old league, and said the league was initially established by the Agana Heights Athletic Club, headed by Tun Pete Rosario and coach Tony Calvo.
In 1956, an older league was formed for 13-15-year-olds using “Pony League Baseball” rules, although again it wasn’t officially chartered.
In 1957, the Civic Improvement Council of Sinajana, headed by Judge Joaquin Manibusan, took over the administration of the league.
Camacho said the village teams were very popular within each village, and said many village residents would march to the ballgames in a sort of parade, and practically the entire village would watch every game.
Nicholas Francisco, former mayor of Mangilao, remembers playing for the Mangilao team sponsored by the Santa Teresita Church. The young players on the team had to go to Mass to receive communion before each game, or they weren’t allowed to play by Father Luis, who also took the players to Diary Queen for ice cream if they won.
Chartering of Little League
A tireless promoter of youth baseball was Ben Munoz, also known as “Major Ben” because of his 27 years on the Guam Police Department. He started as a coach of the Mangilao youth baseball team in 1959, and in the mid-1960s he pushed to have the youth baseball leagues officially chartered under the the Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa.
In 1967, after several years of pushing for the charter, officials in Pennsylvania approved the charter for Guam. The charter not only sanctioned the Guam league, but allowed its champions to compete with Little League teams from other areas.
Judge Manibusan became the first Guam Little League president and Major Ben Munoz became its first District Administrator. In the first year of the league, nearly 200 players were on the rosters of twelve teams.
Little League baseball grew rapidly after that, expanding into different age divisions and eventually into Northern, Central and Southern regions.
In 1972, Guam baseball history was made when the island hosted the first Far East Little League Baseball Tournament. Participants included Japan, Guam and Hong Kong. After that year, the Far East tournament became a showcase of baseball and goodwill for teams from Guam, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Later, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia joined the tournament.
Babe Ruth baseball
In 1968, just a year after Guam Little League became officially chartered, Guam Babe Ruth also became officially chartered for its 16-18-year-old division. James Ferrante was the first commissioner of the league, although Pete Rosario, Public Safety Commissioner, and Juan Garcia, Agana Heights mayor, were also instrumental in starting up the league.
Others who helped start Babe Ruth included Judge Joaquin Perez, Juan Rivera and Major Ben Munoz. Munoz, in fact, managed the first championship team and took the team to the World Series in New Jersey.
Reasons for the second league forming included an abundance of youth baseball players, the rising popularity of Babe Ruth Baseball in the mainland, and partially because of disagreements between administrators.
After chartering in 1968, Babe Ruth expanded to the 13-15 league, and later added the Bambino League (10-12 years), Rookie League (5-9 years) and the Prep League (13-year-olds only). In the late 1990s, the Bambino League changed its name to the Cal Ripken League after baseball star Cal Ripken Jr. donated millions of dollars to the organization.
Peak of popularity
While competing mainly with youth basketball for its players (and later with youth football), youth baseball grew rapidly in the number of players it attracted on Guam in the 1970s, and then reached its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Guam Little League popularity actually peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it had five different regions: Northern, Northeast, Central East, Central West and Southern. In addition, within each region there were three age divisions with 10 teams in each age division.
But Babe Ruth was also growing in popularity, and by the mid-1980s Babe Ruth actually surpassed the Guam Little League in numbers of participants. Both leagues, however, had a large number of young players in a large number of teams at the same time.
In the late 1990s, however, a rise in youth soccer participation began to pull potential players away from youth baseball and football. A recent youth basketball league has further drawn players away from youth baseball, so that the numbers of players are a mere fraction of what they were just fifteen years ago.
For further reading
Borja, Paul. Ben Munoz – A Guam Baseball Pioneer. Guam Amateur Baseball League booklet for the 1991 Mobil Games.
Borja, Paul. Charlie M. Perez – A Guam Baseball Pioneer. Guam Amateur Baseball League booklet for the 1991 Mobil Games.