They seem more like candidates for the gridiron than the softball diamond, averaging 6 ft. 3 in. and 245 lbs. each. They are equally powerful, the most awesome group of hitters ever to play America's most popular participant team sport slow-pitch softball, a pastime with some 38 million players and more than 200,000 organized teams. The fabulous Steele's usually known as the Men of Steele, is a 14-man team based out of Grafton, Ohio, that may be the winningest roster ever assembled in the 100 year history of softball. After last weeks games in Lima, Ohio, Boise, and Logan Utah, the reigning U.S. Amateur Softball Association's (ASA) Super Division had compiled a 235-9 record six months into their 8 month season. That included an unprecedented 97 wins in a row..
Even more mind boggling than the teams won-loss record is it's ability to make softballs disappear over fences with amazing frequency. On a grueling schedule that usually involves playing two to four games a day or night, the Men of Steel have hit an all-time-high 4,472 homers---an average of 18.3 a game, or 3.1 for each inning of the team's usual five-inning contests, shortened from seven if they lead by more than 20 runs. Marvels Randy Adkins, pitcher for the Hamilton (Ohio) All-Stars: "If you pitch them high they muscle it out. If you pitch them low, they golf it out. I've never seen such a strong bunch of ballplayers."
The individual slugging stats of the Steelemen might leave any major league manager breathless. The teams main attraction is second baseman Mike Macenko, 31, who is averaging a homer for every 2.2 at bats. Back on June 30, the 6'ft 3'in, 260 lb lefty swinger broke the all-time season record of 503 homers set last year by his Steele's teammate, Third baseman Charles Wright. By last week Macenko has amassed 585 homers, along with 1093 RBI's, also a season record in one season. Earlier this year he hit nine homers in one game, and in another clubbed a shot that was tape-measured at 508 ft. With some 90 games still to go this year, he has a good chance to hit 756 homers in a single season. Macenko is not the only big bopper in the Steele's lineup. Outfielder Doug Roberson, 28 has 454 homers so far this season. Outfielder Scott Virkus, 27 has 437. Even shortstop Ron Parnell, 29 the lightweight on the team at 190 lbs. has 359.
The Men Of Steel were created in 1979 as living , hulking billboards fore Steele's Sports Company of Grafton, a $4.2 million softball- and - baseball - equipment manufacturer. All Steele's players are full time company employees, making up to $60,00 yearly; off-season they have company jobs in sales or shipping, hold hitting clinics and tour the sports equipment shows. Top stars like Macenko and pitcher Craig Elliott earn extra royalties from sales of their autographed-model Steele's aluminum bats and gloves. It will cost $550,000 to operate the Men this season, but says Steele's president Dennis Helmig, "the team is the cornerstone of our sales effort. The more we win, the more we sell.
This year the Men are traveling and winning more than usual. They will log 150,000 miles through 37 states and Canada, mostly by road, because the teams 230 game schedule has been expanded to 330 games. Reason: the Men Of Steele are the designated slow-pitch exhibition team of the ASA marketing the sport's centennial year. To honor that occasion, the Steeleman hope to bust even more fences than usual in September, when they seek their third straight ASA title, along with the championships of three other slow-pitch organizations, a grand slam never before accomplished. Says team manager Dave Neale: "I sure wouldn't bet against us."
Story By Lee Griggs/ Lima