Thursday, October 19, 2017
Masone, a natural, had 'a very good run'
This is the fifth in a six-part Sunday series that showcases Bridgeport's outstanding athletes from the city's past. This week, the 1970s: Tony Masone, who dominated the North End Little League, became a star in baseball and football at Central High School, earned all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors while at Clemson and played in the Cincinnati Reds minor league organization.
 BRIDGEPORT — The first newspaper clipping, folded and weathered from age, dating to the spring of 1970, shows a smiling seventh-grader holding a plaque after winning the state Frisbee toss at Seaside Park. A second clipping, this one from 1972, shows the same smiling face, holding another trophy for winning the state Frisbee toss. A third clipping, dated 1973, shows the same smiling face, this time with just the slight wisp of a mustache, holding another plaque for winning ... that's right, the state Frisbee toss. For some reason, there were no clippings regarding the Frisbee toss from 1971, but it's a safe bet that Tony Masone won that year, too. His friends from those days will tell you that Masone was a man among boys. In Little League, pitchers would intentionally try to walk him in almost every at-bat, and he would simply reach across the plate and hit the ball. Most times, the ball went over the fence. He became the starting quarterback at Central as a sophomore. He was a starting pitcher and the starting shortstop on the baseball team for three years. He went to Clemson and played football and baseball. He punted in the Gator Bowl and also played in the College World Series. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and spent a couple of seasons playing professionally before hanging up the glove and spikes and saying hello to the business world. He was one of Bridgeport's finest.
 "It was a good run, a very good run," Masone said, speaking from his California office outside of Sacramento, where he is regional information technology manager for Save Mart. "I have a lot of fond memories." So do a lot of people. "I remember him from hanging around the Blackham (School) fields and the North End Little League and watching him," said Joe Federici, who works for Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Norwalk and was two years behind Masone at Central. "They would try to intentionally walk the kid because anything near the plate was going to go out (for a home run). And he would reach across the plate and still hit home runs. He was just head and shoulders above everyone else on the field." That year, according to Masone, he hit .923 in Little League. That's right, .923. "I made three outs the whole year," he said. "I went 36 for 39 and I think 10 of those hits were home runs. I even batted left-handed sometimes to entice them to pitch to me." Bridgeport days From the Little League to the Frisbee toss to today — he now carries a 6.6 golf handicap — Masone was great at everything he did, and his exploits were talked about across the city. "Tony was the name that you always heard about ... and he lived up to everything you heard," said his friend and freshman baseball battery mate, Michael Astolfi, the Internet technology manager at Golf Digest in Wilton. "I had heard all the stories and when I did meet him when we played freshman football (at Central) together, he was everything you heard about. He was big and strong and fast and he just had that look about him. He had that pro look about him. "We played freshman baseball together. I was the catcher and he was the pitcher and he was scary to catch. You had to catch him with full equipment on because he threw the ball so hard and the ball moved so much." As a sophomore, Masone had what he called "his breakout year." He was Central's starting quarterback and also went 10-1 as a pitcher for the Hilltoppers baseball team, earning all-MBIAC honors and being named to the New York Daily News tri-state All-Star team that was honored at Yankee Stadium. Most of the football season, however, was interrupted by a knee injury suffered in the season opener against Bunnell. "I got hit in the knee while punting and I came to the sidelines and pulled up my kneepad, looked at my knee and said, 'That doesn't look good.' It was all bruised and swollen. I had surgery to remove cartilage and was able to come back and play in the Thanksgiving game (against Harding)." The Presidents, with their Mr. Everything, Tony Elliott, won that game, but the following year, 1975, Masone stole the show. Central finished 8-2 and snapped a six-game Harding win streak over the Hilltoppers as Masone threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in a 26-12 win. "That was quite the game for us. It was a huge game for us," Masone said. "We paid a lot of attention to Tony Elliott (who played defensive end and tight end and eventually played in the NFL). I think I might have completed three passes in that game and all three were for touchdowns. We ran the football very well that day and our defense really stood out that game. It had been a long time since we'd beaten Harding." Prior to his junior baseball season, Masone injured his right elbow. He still played (the doctors decided to do rehab and let the elbow heal), throwing left-handed, while playing right field.
As a senior, the arm was strong again and Masone went 10-2 on the mound and batted close to .400. One day, after a game against Bullard-Havens, Clemson baseball coach Bill Wilhelm walked up to Masone and asked if he wanted to play baseball for the Tigers. Masone agreed. But only if he could also play football for Clemson. "I actually went to Clemson on a football scholarship," Masone said. "It was an eye-opening experience. I was just 17 when I enrolled down there and got my first taste of Division I-A football during three-a-day practices. I got my butt kicked but I stuck it out." Tiger tales He was a third-string quarterback, playing behind Steve Fuller (who would later be drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs) and playing alongside Dwight Clark. He did punt five times during the 1977 season, including once in the Gator Bowl, a 34-3 loss to Pittsburgh. As much as Masone liked football, baseball appeared to be his calling. During his sophomore season, he would complete spring drills with the football team, change into his uniform and go practice with the baseball team. The Clemson football coach told Masone he could play football, but that if he had a chance to start on the baseball team, he should take that opportunity. So Masone did.
In three seasons with the Tigers, Masone played in 112 games, batting .330 (137 for 415) with 22 home runs and 114 RBIs. In 1978, he led Clemson in at-bats (186), hits (61), doubles (18), triples (4), RBIs (49), slugging percentage (.597) and total bases (111). In 1979, he led the team again in at-bats (214), hits (74), home runs (13), RBIs (61) and total bases (129). He was twice named to the all-Atlantic Region team, the all-Atlantic Coast team (1979), and in 1978, he was Clemson's MVP, winning the Mitchell Award. The Tigers won ACC titles in 1978 and 1979. "My roommate on the road then was (former New York Mets player) Tim Teufel," Masone said. "We went to the College World Series in 1977 and played against Arizona State, who had Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks, Temple and Cal-State Fullerton. I've played in a college bowl game and a college World Series. I'm very proud of that." Business decision Masone was taken in the 10th round of the 1979 draft by the Cincinnati Reds and played rookie ball for Billings (Mont.) in the Pioneer League before moving up to Class A Eugene (Oregon). In 1980, he played for Class A Cedar Rapids (Iowa), hitting 10 home runs with 58 RBIs and 12 stolen bases, but batting just .225. Suddenly, the business side of baseball reared its sometimes ugly head. "At that point, the Reds were deciding that they had more money invested in some outfielders that were just a bit younger and higher draft choices, so I just fell into that whole numbers thing, where they didn't have enough roster spots," Masone said. "It was all a business decision for them. That was a bad time. I wish it had lasted a bit longer."
Masone was invited to try out with for the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox but never signed. "I started working," he said. Today, Masone — who will turn 49 on Sept. 16 — lives in Granite Bay, east of Sacramento, with his wife of 18 years, Kim. And his passion for sports still burns. Especially for golf. "I should have taken up golf sooner," he said. "I've only been playing for 20 years. I love it. I'm a 6.6 handicap. Every now and then I go down to Pebble Beach and play. That's one of the nicest places in the world." From freshman baseball battery mates, Masone and Astolfi are now good friends. And relatives. Masone's two older brothers are married to Astolfi's sisters, and when Masone comes back to Connecticut to visit, the two always play golf. And share old stories. "He was the All-American kid. If you wanted a son, he was the guy. He was like Mr. Perfect," Astolfi said. "He was just one of those people, anything he wanted to do, he could. He never lifted weights but he had that natural strength. He was one of those people that got all the gifts when he was born." Added Federici: "He was just one of those kids that was 'The Man,' you know? Just a great player. Everyone knew him ... that's why we'd go watch him. You wanted to see what he'd do, if he'd hit one out. When he'd come up, the (other) games would stop."
Rest of the best, 1970s There have been hundreds of outstanding athletes who grew up and had sparkling careers right here in Bridgeport, and in your dozens of letters and e-mails to me over the past couple of months, you've told me all about them. And while this list isn't close to being complete, it's just a sampling of some of the city's sports greats from the 1970s that you still remember today.
Frank Oleynick (Notre Dame of Bridgeport) — 1972. Basketball. Named all-state as senior. Played for Seattle University. Drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1975. Played two seasons under coach Bill Russell, averaging 5.0 points. A member of the 1974 United States World Championship team that won a bronze medal.
Walter Luckett (Kolbe) Basketball — 1972. Scored 2,691 points, still Connecticut and New England records. Averaged 31.1 points in high school career. As senior, averaged 39.5 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists. Played three seasons for Ohio University (making the cover of Sports Illustrated as a freshman in 1972), scoring 1,651 points. Drafted in the second round in 1975 by the Detroit Pistons. Arthritis in both knees ended his playing days.
John Bagley (Harding) — 1978. Basketball. Led the Presidents to two state titles. Played three seasons with Boston College, scoring 1,629 points and was named the Big East's Player of the Year as a sophomore. Drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers (1982), played with the Cavs, the New Jersey Nets and the Boston Celtics before retiring in 1993.
 Wes Matthews (Harding) — 1977. Basketball. Led Harding to the state title in 1976. Played three seasons for Wisconsin, scoring 1,251 points, 10th on the school's all-time list. Drafted in the first round by the Washington Bullets in 1980. Played nine seasons for Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Antonio and Los Angeles. Won two NBA championship rings.
Phil Nastu (Bassick) — 1973. Baseball, basketball. Played four seasons at University of Bridgeport. Signed as a free agent by the San Francisco Giants in 1977. Played with the Giants in parts of the 1978, 1979 and 1980 seasons. Went 2-4 with a 4.32 ERA , pitching 100 innings in 1979. Played slow-pitch softball for Avco and was inducted into the Connecticut Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame in 2005.
Tony Elliott (Harding) — 1976. Football. Four-year starter at defensive end. Two-time All-State, All-American as senior. Named Sunday Post (1976) Class L Defensive Player of the Year. Presidents went 9-1 in 1976 and defeated Fairfield Prep 28-10 for MBIAC title. Played two seasons for Pratt Junior College and two seasons for North Texas State. Drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1981 and played eight seasons as nose tackle.
Barry McLeod (Notre Dame of Bridgeport) — 1972. Basketball. Named all-state as senior. Averaged 25 points a game for Lancers. Played at Centenary, alongside Robert Parrish. Drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Bulls in 1976. Current boys basketball coach at Central High School.
Rich Semo (Central) — 1971. Basketball. Named Class LL all-state as junior and senior. Attended Florida State. Played freshman basketball, averaging 11.1 points in 16 games.
Mike McKay (Harding) — 1978. Basketball. Played in four straight state championship games for the Presidents, winning two. Attended UConn and helped the Huskies go to the postseason four times. Scored 1,633 points. Drafted by the Utah Jazz in 1982.
Reggie Horne (Central) — Basketball. Named all-state as senior in 1979-80.
John Garris (Bassick) — Basketball. 1978. Two-time high school all-state performer, 1977 and 1978. Attended Michigan for two seasons, transferred to Boston College. Averaged 19.7 points as a senior. Drafted by Cleveland in the second round in 1983. Played 33 games for the Cavaliers, averaging 4.0 points.
Jerry Lademan (Notre Dame of Bridgeport) — 1971. Basketball. Named all-state, Class L 1970-71.
Bucky Walden (Central) — 1975. Basketball. Named all-state, 1974-75.
Aldo Samuel (Harding) — 1975. Basketball. Named all-state, 1974-75.