Merle James "Punk" O'Rourke
Year Inducted: 1978
Merle was born on January 18, 1901 in Grand Marais, Michigan. His family moved to Smith Creek the year he was born and then in 1917 came to Port Huron where Merle attended Business College and played baseball.
Punk’s baseball career spanned a period of fifty years. Starting when he pitched as a young boy of ten years in Smith Creek on teams that today would be considered “Little League” and “Babe Ruth”. From 1917 through 1935 he pitched for many teams including, Higers, Tigers, Lexington, Mueller Brass, Detroit Edison, Carlisle-Edison, McVety, Merchants, Almont and the Grand Trunk. One of his best games was in 1926 when he pitched a 17 inning shut-out, striking out 24 batters as his Almont team defeated Romeo 1 to 0.
When Merle quit playing baseball he umpired for fifteen years, back in the days when a bad call could mean a free-for-all fight. Because of his ability to get along with the players, as well as his fairness as an official, he was assigned to Emmett, where they were known to have a very aggressive ball club.
When Punk and Fred Lamlein decided that Port Huron should participate in Little League Baseball, Merle gave his support and managed a Little League team for ten years. He taught his boys to be good players and good sportsmen. Every boy on the team played in every game regardless of their ability. Not one boy sat on the bench for an entire game. His McGill Coal team won the first Port Huron Little League Championship in 1952.
In addition to baseball, bowling also played a big part in his sports life. He started bowling in 1919 at the old Monarch Bowling Lanes and continued to bowl until 1976. At one time he carried a 195 season average. His high game was 278 and his best series mark was 678.
The Grand Trunk initiated the “Punk O’Rourke Trophy” – to be awarded each year to the best bowler at their annual “George Washington” tournament. Ron Barr, who had played on Punk’s Little League team, was the first bowler to receive the trophy.
Be it baseball, bowling or golf – Merle O’Rourke presents the true picture of a gentleman in sports. He played the game with the same honesty and fairness that he has played his role in life. All who know Merle admire him for the kind humanitarian he is. He has a very impressive “batting average” for 77 years of living – much of it spent in helping other people.