The historic Plumb House is now home to the Clearwater Bombers’ memorabilia.
CLEARWATER – Although they played their last game more than a decade ago, the Clearwater Bombers still have a loyal following of fans. In fact, a newly formed group, the Clearwater Bombers World Class Fastpitch Legacy Committee, is having a “Bomber Blast” on Thursday, Oct. 25 to honor the 10-time national men’s fast-pitch softball champions, and the public is invited to attend.
The Bombers were formed in 1940, according to Jack Gibson, who later became the team’s announcer. But things didn’t really heat up until 1945, when most of the players were servicemen returning from World War II.
At first, the team was sponsored by the Blackburn Brothers’ Lumber Yard and called the Blackburn Bombers. It played at Green Field, a neighborhood baseball diamond where the Philadelphia Phillies trained before Jack Russell Stadium was built in 1955. The bleachers, which accommodated 300 to 400 spectators, were so rundown that fans had to be careful not to sit on a protruding nail.
“We were all kind of homegrown,” Clifford “Junie” Tromby, who joined the team after finishing his military service in 1945 and managed it in 1979, recalled in a 2008 interview with Tampa Bay Newspapers. “It was really a local bunch that came up through the City League and got together. All-star teams were picked from the City League and that’s how the Bombers got started.”
Most of the players were graduates of Clearwater High School or nearby schools such as Tarpon Springs High. One notable exception was John Hunter, a southpaw pitcher from Nashville, Tenn., who joined the team in 1950 and led it to its first national championship in Austin, Texas, that year.
“The Bombers won 10 national titles and finished second eight other times,” according to a Legacy Committee press release. “They won over 4,000 games, placed 24 members in the National Softball Hall of Fame, and appeared in 45 national tournaments. All of those were more than any other team. The team traveled throughout the United States and Canada, and also visited Cuba and Puerto Rico. They brought teams from dozens of other cities to Clearwater for games and helped bring the men’s national tournament to Clearwater ten times from 1955 to 1997. The club also helped bring the women’s national (tournament) to town twice. An over-45 team, made up of former players, hosted and won its tournament in 1996.”
A couple of Bombers were good enough to go into professional baseball. Bobby Forbes, who played right field and first base, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and outfielder Ray Mink played minor-league baseball in Birmingham, Ala. But for most of the Bombers, softball was merely a hobby.
The Bombers’ best-known player, pitcher Herb Dudley, died in 2007 at the age of 87. A devout Baptist who wouldn’t tolerate language stronger than “darn” or “heck” in the locker room, Dudley is estimated to have won 1,000 games and pitched 100 no-hitters in his 50-year fast-pitch career. A teacher and coach at Clearwater High School for 30 years, he was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, and the Amateur Softball Association awards the Herb Dudley Outstanding Pitching Award to the best pitcher in its annual national tournament.
The Clearwater Historical Society has a collection of Bombers memorabilia at its Plumb House Museum at1380 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. The historical society and the Legacy Committee are hoping to jointly open a Bombers museum, produce a film about the Bombers and work together on other projects.
The October 25 Bomber Blast will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Sunset Grill, 2328 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater. Admission is free, but attendees must pay for their own food and beverages.