Charles Garivaltis is No. 8 on the list of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century in Berkshire County
Charles Garivaltis, No. 8 on The Eagle's Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century list, has a lot of stories to tell.
"Ah, you're not making any mistakes, there," said Larry Bossidy, Garivaltis' friend of (gulp) 70 years. "I've followed sports all my life, and when you talk about a guy with speed, athletic ability and someone who was a a tremendous clutch player, you're talking about Chuck."
A quick caveat. Bossidy, of course, was also no slouch himself, and is in fact No. 40 on this all-time list.
Garivaltis was a 1953 graduate of Pittsfield High School, where he played football and baseball. Following his high school career, he matriculated to Colgate University, where he again played both sports. He was signed by the New York (soon to be San Francisco) Giants, and toiled in their farm system for several years.
But let's start at the beginning, with his high school career.
As a 7th and 8th grade athlete, Garivaltis tore up the city's Junior High Baseball League. Pomeroy (his junior high school), went unbeaten during those years.
Then it was on to Pittsfield High School. He tried out for the team one fine spring day in 1950, and earned the starting right fielder's job. Not bad.
"And remember this: PHS was the defending state champion," recalled Garivaltis. "They had a great program, with great players."
But Garivaltis, even then, was pretty great. He hit .429 to lead Northern Berkshire in batting.
"Yeah, I guess I was a little surprised," said Bossidy, also a freshman that year. "But he was a big kid, and he had a great swing. Real competitive kid. He just went out and did it."
"It was a huge, huge jump," Bossidy said with a laugh. "It's hard to convey the difference in the level of talent."
Perhaps, but Garivaltis was a dominant in high school as he was in junior high. He hit over .400 every year he played at PHS, with a high of .453 as a sophomore..
In football, Garivaltis was a halfback. He didn't start as a freshman, but he did as a sophomore, and started for the rest of his PHS career. The Generals were in that stretch during the 1950s, where they didn't lose too often. By his senior year, Garivaltis and PHS were dominant. Former Eagle sports editor Roger O'Gara deemed him "one of the greatest, if not the greatest, high school grid star in county history."
He was All-Berkshire in baseball and football his last three years in high school, All-Western Mass. his junior and senior year in both sports and an Honorable Mention All-American in football as a senior.
A lot of schools wanted him to don their uniforms, including Michigan State and most of the other eastern powers. He chose to attend Colgate, in part, because Art Fox Jr., son of his coach, was there. And because he wanted to see if he could play college football.
"In those days, you didn't worry about where you went," said Bossidy, who won a baseball scholarship to Colgate with Garivaltis. "At least not like now. It was a good Division I school."
"I wanted very badly to play college football," Garivaltis said. "And I wanted to play at the Division-I level."
He got offers to play professional baseball from the Phillies, Indians and Red Sox. Garivaltis pondered those offers, but chose college. He could always play baseball after graduation, he thought.
Division I was Big Time. And one of Colgate's regular rivals was Syracuse, with a fullback named Jim Brown.
"Our freshman team actually beat Jim Brown's freshman team," recalled Garivaltis. "But over the next three years, at the varsity level, Syracuse was very strong. They went to the Cotton Bowl my senior year."
Of Brown, Garivaltis said, "He was 6-2, 225 pounds. He was as fast as anyone on the field. And if you hit him, he would drive you back 10 yards. I have not seen anyone since, at any level, as good as Jim Brown."
The Red Raiders may have struggled against the Orangemen, but overall, in Garvaltis' three years, the team was 15-10-2 with two winning seasons out of three.
The Red Raiders were also a strong baseball program. Garivaltis started all three of his varsity seasons. In 1955, his sophomore year, Colgate went to the College World Series. There, they lost to eventual Series champion Wake Forest, 1-0. Colgate did beat perennial power USC 5-4 in the loser's bracket.
"Larry pitched that game," Garivaltis said . "He did a great job, but they won, 1-0, and went on to win the whole tournament."
"Tough loss," admitted Bossidy. "But we were competitive with every team we played."
Garivaltis, after graduation, eventually signed with the Giants, and was sent to Class A ball in Springfield.
Now, Class A in the 1950s is not Class A now. Class A was two rungs under the big club. Above class B, C, and D baseball. The air, one might say, was rarefied.
"I was glad to be in Springfield," he said. "It was just a hop away from Pittsfield and I enjoyed being so close."
His first day in the outfield, Garivaltis found himself playing left field. In center field was Felipe Alou.
"I remember watching him catch outfield flies," said Garivaltis. "And then throw the ball back to home plate. He was just so fluid and graceful. And I remember later scratching my head and thinking, 'What am i doing out here?'"
Garivaltis was a part-time player for the Springfield Giants for two years. He admits it. It was a struggle, on a club that had a lot of talent.
"It was a good experience," he said. "And I don't regret it. But if I had to do it all over again, I would have signed out of high school. I did not improve in my four years at Colgate. The weather is worse there than here in the Berkshires. I don't think I benefited."
So he returned to the Berkshires and started his life. He married, had kids and became a leader in the city.
"It's about giving back, and being a part of you community," he said.
"It's about being a part of your community. I've always thought that was important. Don't think it's that unusual."
Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-629-4621.
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