Everyone in the country associated with the national American Legion amateur baseball program has heard about the small, South Jersey town of Brooklawn, N.J. And the reason they’ve heard about it is because at some point they crossed paths with Joseph “Pop” Barth.
“Until ‘Pop’ started the Brooklawn American Legion (baseball program) I don’t know if anyone even knew what Brooklawn was,” Bob Barth, “Pop” Barth’s grandson, told Perfect Game Tuesday morning. “It’s a really tiny town, and Brooklawn Legion is the only reason a lot of people know that there is a Brooklawn, New Jersey. People from there will tell you that my grandfather and grandmother put Brooklawn on the map.”
Joseph “Pop” Barth founded the Brooklawn American Legion baseball program in 1952 and served as its field manager for 58 years. Mr. Barth passed away at his home Saturday night (March 1, 2014) at the age of 92 after suffering from a variety of physical ailments in recent years, according to the family. His wife of 66 years, Helen, died about six weeks earlier at the age of 91.
Mr. Barth created an American Legion program that became one of the best in all the land. Brooklawn American Legion teams have won 27 New Jersey state championships, three regional titles and three American Legion World Series titles, the most recent last August.
Bob Barth is the director of Tri-State Arsenal Baseball, an elite travel ball organization based in Voorhees, N.J.
“A lot of people don’t know a whole lot about him; they know him more as a baseball person than they do as a human being,” he said over the telephone on Tuesday. “I think what made him such a good baseball person is what kind of human being he was. He always gave with no expectation of return, and he gave because he loved baseball and loved seeing the kids advance themselves through baseball.”
Bob Barth emphasized that his grandfather – and his father, Joe Jr., and his uncle, Dennis, for that matter – came along in an era when there was no money to be made from their efforts in amateur baseball. Joseph “Pop” Barth was an accountant by trade; today, Joe Barth Jr. is a well respected instructor and the director at the Hit Doctor Baseball and Softball Academy in Voorhees, N.J.; Dennis Barth is the head baseball coach at Rutgers-Camden University. Bob Barth is also an integral player at Hit Doctor Baseball.
“One of the great baseball families in the entire country has lost a great leader,” Perfect Game founder and president Jerry Ford said. “However, Pop Barth will not be forgotten; he was a true legend. He deserves the highest praise anyone in baseball can achieve. He was great for the game.”
Bob Barth pointed out that all three of the elder Barths were “fantastic” basketball coaches, as well.
“Our whole foundation is built on the beliefs of my father,” Joe Barth Jr. told Perfect Game while helping coach the Tri-State Arsenal team at the Perfect Game Freshmen World Series in Fort Myers, Fla., in October. “He taught us that everything depends on loyalty, integrity and commitment. In modern day baseball there is no loyalty and very little integrity. Commitment alone doesn’t get it (done).”
Mr. Barth was widely respected by his American Legion players, fellow coaches and by everyone in the close-knit Brooklawn community. He demanded a summer-long commitment from his Brooklawn Legion players over a season that might include as many as 80 games if the team advanced to the American Legion World Series.
Bob Nanney, who played for the Brooklawn Legion team under Mr. Barth in the late 1950s, was quoted in 2011 as saying: “He used to sit us down before the season. He’d say, ‘If you have a girlfriend, get rid of her. If you have a car, get rid of it.’”
A viewing for family and friends will be held Thursday, March 6, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday, March 7 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Gardner Funeral Home, Runnemede. A funeral mass will be conducted at 11 a.m. on Friday at St. Mary’s RC Church, Glouster; entombment at New St. Mary’s Mausoleum, Bellmawr.
Friends and family are encouraged to wear their Brooklawn Baseball attire. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Joseph’s memory to: Brooklawn Legion Baseball, 503 Rt. 130, Brooklawn, N.J. 08030. Memories can be shared at www.gardenerfuneralhome.com.
There will be no shortage of baseball memories to be shared.
“It’s like the family heritage type thing – baseball is life in the Barth family,” Bob Barth said. “It was always a little bit more than that to him and it got passed on to my uncles and my dad. For me, personally, it’s always about trying to live up to my grandfather, my father and my uncle. They’re probably the three biggest influences in my life, and not only baseball but as a man.”