The year was 1961 and America was changing.
A young Democrat from Massachusetts was in the first year of his presidency, the price of a gallon of milk was $1.05 and baseball fans from throughout the nation watched in awe as New York Yankees sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle took aim at breaking Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60.
And in the Monroe County town of Waterloo, Illinois, 25-year-old Vern Moehrs managed his first game in what would later become the Mon-Clair Baseball League
Fifty-eight years later, Moehrs is still calling the shots for the Waterloo Millers.
At age 84, Moehrs uses a cane to help get around and he doesn’t coach third base or hit infield fungos before the games, but he can still be heard barking at umpires from the dugout.
Baseball has been a big part Moehrs’ life and, by extension, to his wife Lucy, his daughter, Gina, and his son, Clay. That passion still burns.
“I love the game of baseball. It’s a wonderful sport,’’ Moehrs said. “This really didn’t have an affect on me until I would say last year and again this year, but I really miss coaching third base and hitting infield practice. I don’t feel like I’m in the game as much as I used to be.
“... I don’t think there is as much dedication as there used to be. Our league is a very young league right now and there is a lot of turnover. I used to know almost everybody on all the rosters. Now I don’t know hardly anybody. I guess I’m getting old.’’
Moehrs, who turns 85 in August, still knows how to win.
With his team now 10-4 and battling Belleville for the lead in the Illinois Division of the 10-team Mon-Clair League, Moehrs picked up win No. 2,000 of his career on June 9 when the Millers defeated the St. Louis Latinos 7-0.
Win No. 2,001 came later in the day as the Millers completed the doubleheader sweep with a 7-1 win.
“What people don’t realize is that along with the 2,001 wins are 524 losses,” Moehrs said with a smile. “That’s over 2,500 games, which is a lot of baseball. It’s been a lot of fun.’’
In addition to the 2,001 wins, Moehrs has guided Waterloo to 42 Division championships, 23 postseason tournament titles and 14 Valmeyer Midsummer Classic championship.
Waterloo also won gold medals in the Prairie State Games four times.
“We won 42 divisional championships, but we won 29 straight,’’ Moehrs said. “That was the amazing part. We had a lot of great players and great teams over the years. And memories ... unbelievable.’’
Of the 23 postseason championship teams, several stand out. But none was better than the 1998 team which finished 41-1. That team which featured Mon-Clair League greats former Southwestern Illinois College and River City Rascals manager Neil Fiala, brothers Jim and John Wahlig, Mike Wirth, Jeff Kaiser, John Baxmeyer and his son Clay Moehrs lost in the first game of the double elimination playoffs to Mon-Clair great Corey Blackwell.
“That was a great team with a great lineup,’’ Moehrs said. “Corey Blackwell beat us in the first game of the playoffs that year, but then we came back a day or two later and beat him in the championship game. He was such a great and tough competitor.
“The next season, he came over and pitched for us. He won 147 games in his Mon-Clair League career. John Adamson was a great pitcher for us and won 114 games and Brandon (Musso) won 103. People don’t realize this but Rick (Keefe) also was a heck of a pitcher. He won 76 games.’’
Moehrs was a little more hesitant when asked to name the great players who have worn the Waterloo uniform over the past six decades.
“Are you trying to get me in trouble? Guys will read this and they’ll be mad at me,’’ Moehrs said. “Going back to the early days we had Lon Fulte who played 22 years. He was a great player and nobody plays 22 years anymore. There were also players like John (Adamson).
“But in no order, I’m going to give you three names. Neil (Fiala), I know there were only a couple of points difference in the years he played for Sauget and the time he played for us. If he hit .376 for Sauget, he hit .378 or .379 with Waterloo. The Wahligs both had over 1,000 hits in the Mon-Clair League. Clay (Moehrs) had over 940 hits.’’
Moehrs also has fond memories of rivalries of the past in the Mon-Clair League. Sunday afternoon doubleheaders with Monroe County foe Valmeyer and the Granite City teams which included Daren DePew, John Moad, brothers Tim and Jamie Hogan and St. Louis University baseball coach Darin Hendrickson turned into baseball events which sometimes got heated .
Hendrickson spent several seasons as the ace of the Granite City pitching staff. But late in his career pitched one game for Moehrs as a member of the Waterloo team. Nineteen years later, Hendrickson’s son Reid, a former Edwardsville High School standout, was the winning pitcher a week ago when Moehrs picked up win No. 2,000.
“It was 19 years ago. Darin (Hendrickson) was on our roster all year. But he didn’t pitch until the championship game of the post-season tournament. I was out of pitchers and so I called and asked him to pitch. He pitched a one-hitter and we won the title,’’ Moehrs said. “Nineteen years later his son pitches the game where I win my 2,000th game as Waterloo manager.
“Talk about your irony.”