By Bob Hilliard 

(January 12, 1988, Manchester Union Leader)

NOTE: The foìlowing tribute was written by longtime Sunday
News sports editor Bob Hilliard on the eve of Leo
Cloutier's 40th annual Manchester baseball dinner in 1988 .An insightful
and touching tribute from a longtime former colleague. It is reprinted here.

Some Critics suggest that he has been the best salesman
baseball has ever had with all due respect to Bill Veeck.

The fact remains that Leo E. Cloutier, a former sports editor of The Union Leader and Sunday News, and still a columnist for these papers, has spent a good deal of adult life aiding and supporting the National Pastime, by keeping
it alive and growing during the cold winter months with his enter-
taining Baseball Dinner promotions, and by his colorful narratives
on the stars of the game, most of whom are on a first name basis with him.

This writer learned that fact one summer's day at Fenway
Park when Earl Weaver, then the manager of the Baltimore Orioles,
approached and wished to know when “that ... guy Cloutier
is gonna invite me to that ...Dinner," accompanied by some,
exciting language.

The writer worked out of that impasse by suggesting that it
was probably already done, that Leo had been heard “mention-
ing your name, and that must have been it.

A ruffled Weaver strode back to the dugout, probably pleased that he had made hìs point, and he had, at least with the writer.

At any rate, Leo did invite him, and Earl came to the dinner,
and had simply a marvelous time, as most of them do.

THE DINNERS have, in fact, kept the spirits up,
hopes high, in this baseball country, letting the fans know that spring training is just aroünd the corner, and that the Red Sox. were surely comlng up to a good season.
Baseball owes Leo ever so much for his unbridled enthusiasm, and, too, for a staunch professionàl touch in directing the dinners each year, thou'gh there’are always pr'oblems that nettle.
The.dinner calls attention to baseball, the sport that most
Americans love.

On the eve of the upcoming extravaganza this Wednesday:
evening, which will be the 40th annual, we asked Leo which dinner in the long list stands out most clearly.

“It is hard to tell. They have all been great shows,” he said. “Maybe the one with Roberto Clemente, where he made that touching speech, right from the heart; maybe the Ty Cobb and Stan Musial. They were all wonderful.”

THERE WERE OTHERS. The many times, for instance,
when Casey Stengel was the man of the hour, and sat up talking with the fans until about 6 a.m., when, Leo, trying to suppress yawns, suggested that Casey might like to get a bit of shut eye, before he started making his rounds about the city at 8 a.m.

Then there were the princely visits of Sparky Anderson,
as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, then as skipper of the Detroit Tigers, his present position. Sparky, and the late Milton Richmond of the United Press International, had a harrowìng experience when a strong wind caught their jetliner as İt was preparing to land and sentit crosswise to the runway. “About that time," said Sparky later, "I was busy saying my prayers, but the pilot was
unable to land, and went to Worcester instead.” It gave Leo mad memories for a long time.

THIS YEAR'S celebrities are all former stars, headed by Ted Williams. Honored with Ted will be Bobby Feller, the great speed-baller of the Cleveland Indians; Harmon Killebrew, the home run hitting ace of the Minnesota Twins; Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, the winningest-ever lefthander in major league ball; Ernie Banks, the fabulous Chicago Cubs star, and Bobby Doerr, sparkplug of the Boston Red Sox teams in the Williams' era.

Leo, thusly, keeps the show going. One threat has been the soaring salaries of the ballplayers, and many of them snort at a paltry
$4,000 or $5,000 appearance fee as peanuts. In this case, Leo has smartly turned to some of the old stars and managers to keep baseball very much the winter topic here in New England, and the fans do hail from every point of the area, and many of them from outside New England,

“This year,” says Leo, “air fare alone will
cost me $8,000. That's exclusive of the players' fees.”

The program for this year's 40th is very special. It contains 18 pages of pictures of pre- vious dinners, and a stunning cover by artist Chris Cloutier, Leo's son, his 10th for his Dad's dinners.

After the dinner, at the State Armory, guests will move on to festivities at the swank Center of New Hampshire, where the evening events will conclude, “sometime in the wee hours,” as Leo says.
The question was asked if this might be
Leo's swan song, being the 4Oth and all. “Oh, no,” he answered. “I plan to be around the next year and maybe for a few years after that.”
What about the big year, Leo, the year 2000? “Well, I plan one for that year, too. I have some great names for that one. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Roberto Clemente. Red Rolfe. And Guy Lombardo for the National Anthem. If he won't come, I’ll get the S alvation Army,” Leo laughed.
His thousands of fans hope that it won't be
like that at all, that Leo is on earth to conduct it, not in the emerald realm of heaven, but right here at the State Armory.

LEO HAS GIVEN the sport of baseball
much of his life, and the game is indebted to him. He has bequeathed much to the fans, as well: the eternal hope of every new year, that there is really something worth sticking around for, and the fun that comes just from talking baseball again. There have been some 80,000 at the dinners, and approximately 317 players, including most of the celebrated stars, past and present.

It all started in St. Barnabus Episcopal
Church in Berlin, in 1939, picked up again in Manchester in 1949, as a Union Leader production, with Red Rolfe, Birdie Tebbetts and Bob Savage as the honored guests, and has continued to the present, weathering staggering costs and other difficulties while still remaining the largest, most exciting, most discussed, baseball dinner in țhe country.
The writer salutes you, Leo.



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