A big hit on the diamond as well
Former baseball star Chuck Vozzella elected to Peabody Hall of Fame
East Bostonians know Chuck Vozzella well as a professional bowler and the owner of Central Park Lanes, the beloved family-run candlepin establishment on Saratoga Street.
But Vozzella, who made his first appearance on Channel 5’s “Winning Pins” as a teenager, was also a superb baseball player in Little League, CYO, Babe Ruth, high school, and American Legion competition.
His high school baseball career was, in a word – awesome. And as a result of his extraordinary baseball achievements and his contributions to the best team in school history, Vozzella has earned induction in to the Peabody High School Hall of Fame. He will be honored at a banquet in November.
There were some legendary Vozzellian accomplishments along the way to reaching the top in Tanner Land.
As a fireballing CYO southpaw, Vozzella twice struck out 19 batters in seven-inning games, including 13 batters in a row to close out a two-hitter.
But Vozzella was just getting started in establishing his credentials in his hometown of Peabody.
During his junior year at Peabody High, Vozzella played first base and was a teammate of John Tudor. He batted .380 and was named to the Essex County League All-Star Team.
“We had an awesome team and were 18-3 overall but we lost in the State Tournament,” recalled Vozzella during an interview at Central Park Lanes.
Vozzella’s senior year at PHS under coach Rick Sapienza was even better. The 6-foot-2-inch pitcher was 5-0 for a Peabody team that finished the regular season with a 16-0 record, the only team in school history to accomplish that feat.
Vozzella helped keep the team’s record perfect in the fifth game when he pitched two scoreless innings in a dramatic 5-4 win over St. John’s Prep in 14 innings.
Quoting the Salem News recap of the unforgettable 1973 season, “The bottom line was that nobody could hit Gary Linehan, Gus Sharry, or Chuck Vozzella.”
The Tanners blazed through their Essex County League schedule and won the championship. Peabody then continued its dominance with two victories in the State Tournament before facing Catholic Memorial and Ronnie Perry in the state semifinals. Peabody lost a heartbreaker to CM, 3-2, on a controversial home run that many through should have been ruled a ground-rule double because the ball went through the fence and not over it.
Vozzella had baseball scholarships from three colleges, including the University of New Haven, on the table, but decided to not pursue those opportunities to continue his stellar career.
“Looking back if I had to do it over again, I would have played college baseball,” said Vozzella. “John Tudor played baseball at North Shore Community for two years and then we went down south to Georgia Southern for two years and that’s when he got really noticed, scouted, and drafted by the Major Leagues.”
Vozzella’s bowling prowess became apparent very early in East Boston where he was regarded as a phenom. He competed several times on Jim Britt’s youth bowling show on television, winning six matches in a row and defeating a young Tom Olszta as a teenager.
“He [Olszta] got me back when I bowled him on the big show,” said Vozzella, who also appeared on the Candlepin Doubles show.
Vozzella and fellow Eastie bowler Joe Stella captured the Massachusetts state doubles championship in 1989. He was named “Rookie of the Year” on the men’s professional bowling tour.
“I think my bowling helped my pitching in baseball in terms of accuracy,” said Vozzella. “Pitching on the mound and throwing strikes and throwing at the head pin in bowling a lot alike.”
Vozzella’s son, Charlie, continued the family’s sports tradition and played baseball at Malden Catholic High School. He is currently attending Bridgewater State University. His daughter, Gina, played softball and volleyball at Saugus High and is currently a student at Bridgewater State. His older daughter, Erica, played softball and volleyball in high school and currently works as a flight attendant.
The Vozzella children and Chuck’s wife, Lisa, at the will be on hand when Chuck accepts the school’s highest individual honor – induction in to the Hall of Fame.
“I was shocked when my old friend, George Goulos, called me to tell me I was in [the Hall of Fame],” said Vozzella. “Another teammate, Gary Linehan, also called me to make sure I was on board. I’m a little nervous. I said to George, ‘How many people are going to be at the banquet?’ and he said, ‘350’ and I said, I can’t talk in front of 350 people.
But like the Hall of Fame person he is, Vozzella will likely deliver a heartfelt, outstanding speech.
“I’ll thank the committee, thank George for nominating me, and congratulate the other inductees especially my teammate, Tom Donovan, who was on my 1972 team. I’ll thank my coaches and my teammates like Dave Bettencourt, John Tudor, and Jon Blodgett, who are already in the Hall of Fame.”
Vozzella was asked what he will talk about in his in