Luigi “Lou” Gustavo Pierotti
Born: June 7, 1920, rural community near Walsenburg, Colorado
Death: March 21, 2015 (Los Alamos, New Mexico)
High School: Huerfano County High School (Walsenburg, Colorado)
Louis “Lou” lived in New Mexico for 74 years. Throughout his life, Lou helped Northern New Mexico grow its sports footprint and provided support for charitable causes throughout the state. Lou excelled locally, statewide, and nationally in five sports – track, baseball, softball, military boxing, and golf. Lou also loved playing billiards and ping pong.
For 65 years of sporting competition and fifty-five active business and sporting years in New Mexico were the success and lasting honors Lou and team members received because of his creation of the Pierotti’s Clowns. The team was excellent, entertaining, and meant a great deal to the Los Alamos community during the post WW-II cold war period. The young city was growing, but still closed to the public. The Pierotti Clowns team provided an exceptional fast pitch softball experience, together with wholesome circus like clown entertainment for families in the community.
Lou grew up in a rural community near Walsenburg Colorado. He was an orphan at the age of six due to the early death of his Italian immigrant parents, Pietro Pierotti and Angelina Lami. He was the youngest of six children. His older siblings, three brothers and two sisters raised Lou.
Lou enlisted in the Army in 1942 and completed his basic training at Camp Cook, Lompoc, CA. He transferred to the Army Air Corps as a sergeant, first stationed at Lowry Air Base in Denver, CO, and then in Panama until his discharge as a staff sergeant at the end of World War II. In 1944, Lou married Lee Ruffini at the Lowry Air Base.
Lou and Lena Pierotti moved to White Rock New Mexico in 1951. Lou worked outside the closed city of Los Alamos as a butcher in a grocery store. In 1952, Lou and his wife Lena became the first owners of a business in Los Alamos, by betting on themselves, by obtaining a loan to start the Pierotti’s Soda Bar. The restaurant was successful and the home of the Pierotti Clowns. They sold the restaurant in 1965.
Lou moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lou and four partners opened Valley Bowl on North Fourth Street in 1965. Lou and Lena returned to Los Alamos and purchased another business in 1967. They created Pierotti’s Los Alamos Floral with wife Lee and Vera Gallagher as floral designers. The floral shop proved to be another successful business adventure for 18 years, until final retirement in 1985.
Lou and Lena lost their home and therefore Lou’s score books, scrap books, photos, and trophies destroyed completely in the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos. Thus, some of his accomplishments may still not be known.
• Outstanding athlete and starred as an exceptional high school third baseman. Between 1935 and 1938, baseball and football were the only high school sports in Walsenburg.
• Advanced his natural abilities playing baseball in high school, playing with men in the local Fast Pitch softball league and Military baseball during World War II.
• Offered professional baseball contracts while still in the military to play with the Balboa Brewers in Panama, and later with the St. Louis Browns and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Contracts in those days only paid $150 per month plus expenses; he turned all of them down in favor of returning to Walsenburg to raise his family.
• While in the service, played in the National Baseball Congress Summer Series held annually in Omaha, Nebraska
• Played for the local “Bomber” Baseball Team and for the most prominent two-time State Championship “S-Site softball team.” He quickly became the starting third baseman and player manager. He went on to participate in the World Championship series as a leader of the S-Site team that won their second New Mexico State Championship, and played in three other world championship games, as the third baseman for other New Mexico State champions. They played in the World tournaments from 1954 to1960. Lou played against softball stars, Harvey Sterkel and Joe Lynch at World Tournaments.
• Creator of the Pierotti Clowns, the only 5-man Softball Team in the World. After creating the Pierotti’s Clown team in 1953, he quickly became “The Clown Prince of Fast Pitch Softball”. Lou is most celebrated as the founder and star third baseman of the Pierotti’s Clowns 5-man softball team.
o The Clowns were the “Goodwill Ambassadors of Los Alamos” until they disbanded in 1977. Sponsored by the Los Alamos Kiwanis International, the Clowns raised over $200,000 for charity (more than $2,000,000 in today’s dollars) selling tickets for as little as twenty-five cents.
o Lou and the other players dressed in brightly colored uniforms and dabbed their faces with greasepaint for the games. Through baseball and as a drill sergeant, Lou was able to develop and utilize his “outside” voice which he used to project his communication of clown antics to softball crowds throughout the state and southwest, without a microphone. Lou played thousands of baseball and softball games over fifty some years and always came fortified with two packets of Sweitzers Licorice which he used to oil the pipes to allow him to chatter support for his pitcher for the entirety of the intensely played games, sometimes lasting 14 innings. With his clown team, it enabled him to loudly bark out signals, make loud comments to the umpire or the opposing hitter, and interact with fans as part of the Pierotti Clowns experience.
o They played throughout New Mexico and the Southwest between 1953 and 1977, always raising money for charity. With Lou as the ringleader the team’s antics were legendary, from having the team field with trash can lids instead of gloves to Lou pulling all the fielders out of their positions into an impromptu dice game next to the pitcher’s mound, leaving only the pitcher, catcher and an eight-year-old first baseman to finish the inning.
o Despite the clowning, all games were played by the rules. The success of the five-man team was due in part to the world class athletic skills of the five players, the exceptional pitching of Bun Ryan, and the Clown antics and props Lou created. Lou hit while kneeling one time a game, and others began to perform the other outlandish skills of catching fly balls behind their back or bunting with a bat held behind their back just to name a few that were performed during the regulation softball game.
o Competing against nine-man teams for 25 years, the Clowns won 177 games and lost only 23. The Clowns never lost a game against any of the five professional teams they played, such as the Albuquerque Dukes, a Triple-A Farm Team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
o The three games with the Dukes featured the novelty of using two sets of bases, and two pitching rubbers. The bases were set at 45 feet for the Duke Baseball players who had to face “Bullet” Bun Ryan from the ASA softball pitching distance. The five clown softball players used 60-foot bases facing the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm club baseball pitchers, from the regulation baseball mound. The Softball fielders had to defend over two hundred feet to save an inside park home run and make a throw of over two hundred feet to complete the play
• Accomplished boxer while in the military, winning his weight class during inter divisional competition in 1943-1944.
• Won mile races in Divisional competition leading up to entry, participation, and winning a mile race in a worldwide allied military track and field contest in Canada. (1943)
• In bowling, Lou’s Pierotti’s Soda Bar teams was regularly winning the Merchants Bowling League championships during the 50ies and 60ies in Los Alamos.
o He was setting league scoring records for high scratch games, high scratch series scores, and received many other individual awards each year including for closing thirty straight frames in league play.
o While playing for the Merhege Brothers team in 1963 on the Tewa Lanes in an Espanola league. He hit ten strikes in a row, hung a seven pin in 11th, picked up the spare and was honored for the scratch single game score of 288. He was also honored that night with the annual Century Award, for a score that was 100 points over his consistent 185 average in league or tournament play.
o In April 1963 at the State tournament in Hobbs, Lou Captured third in class A doubles and first place in Class A singles, plus the Team event. His score for the three series (9 games) averaged over 200 each game for a total pin count of 1813. He also captured recognition for the Doubles team, total handicap scores of
o In the seventy’s, Lou sponsored the Pierotti’s Floral team continuing to maintain his average and hitting scratch series scores over 620 and 628. In 1972 his Pierotti’s Floral team qualified for the Albuquerque State Championship tournament where he and his doubles partner received recognition for finishing 24th with a handicap, series score of 1260.
• Lou was introduced to golf by friends at the age of forty. He soon played with top-flight players and city champions 20 years his junior. He relied on his coordination, forearm strength and hands to hit the ball down the middle, his approach shot onto the green and was as lethal with a nine iron as he was with a putter. Lou became an advocate for Northern New Mexico Senior Golf.
o Lou lost his first Los Alamos open Championship Flight tournament final to Dennis McCloskey, on the 19th hole of the three-day tournament to a college whiz kid that later became the Los Alamos Club Pro.
o Lou soon competed in all tournaments, in the Championship Flight, with a low handicap and won the Atomic City Invitational and the Los Alamos Men’s City Tournament before participating in “Men’s” Championship Flight Tournaments, held in Albuquerque, Farmington, and Santa Fe.
o After age 55 Lou won the Los Alamos Senior Championship Tournament 6 years in a row, setting the Los Alamos course record for seniors. Lou played senior tournaments as far north as Southern Colorado, Farmington, Raton, Taos, and Santa Fe and south to Ruidoso, Albuquerque, T or C and competed in State Tournaments each year.
o Lou’s crowning achievement in golf was winning two New Mexico State Senior Golf Tournament Championships in 1976 and 1977 and nationally with leading professionals of the seventy’s, including Lee Trevino, while competing in the US Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship tournaments held at Cherry Hills in Denver Colorado and in San Antonio Texas.
o Lou played Senior golf for an additional 25 years winning the Northern New Mexico Senior Men’s’ Golf Association Championship in 1990 at 70 years old carding the overall low Gross Score. That same year he Started the NNMSGA from Scratch in with Santa Fe Pro Ray Torrez, served as the Associations first President and later as the Communications Director, helping to provide New Mexico Sanctioned Tournaments for Northern New Mexicans that helped Albuquerque reduce overflow applicants for their open tournaments.
• Coached the S-Site State Championship team as a player coach to the world tournament and seasons beyond, while coaching the Pierotti clowns for 22 years.
• Coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball teams. In 1960 and 1961 took his Babe Ruth team to the New Mexico State Championship game. He coached the Los Alamos Post 90 American Legion team for three years.
• The Pierotti Clowns were featured in six national magazines, including the first issue of Sports Illustrated dated August 16, 1954.
• In 2009 Lou and the Pierotti’s Clowns were inducted into the New Mexico ASA Softball Hall of Fame in Las Cruces.
• The Pierotti Clowns were inducted into the New Mexico section of the ASA National Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
• Honored with first annual designation of “Living Treasure of Los Alamos” on September 26, 1999, by Los Alamos County. Lou and Bun Ryan were honored in the first year of the annual award, with three other Los Alamos citizens.
• The Los Alamos County Commissioned Susan K. Daily for the creation of a giant tile Mosaic Monument depicting the circus atmosphere created by the Pierotti Clowns team while playing Softball. The Mosaic, located on Central Ave. in front of the Public Library, captured the shape of the Jemez Mountain landscape behind the monument, and included a tile gathering area.
• Lou and Lena were honored by Los Alamos as Heroes of the Cold War. Photos of the couple’s successes are exhibited in the Los Alamos Historical Museum. Lou and Lee are one of a very few merchants honored in this way.
• The Pierotti Clowns were honored by the State Penitentiary, because of the many games they played at the Penitentiary and for creating an atmosphere of respect and acceptance that sprung from the enjoyment of the game and the show.
• The Pierotti Clowns were also honored to be the first team and community that hosted a sporting event, against the Rocks in Los Alamos, outside the prison walls. Members of the “Rocks” would present each clown with a drawing often in color showing how they remember them in their uniform from the previous year.
• Lou was honored by the NNMGA for his work to create, organize, and serve as President and communications director during his advocacy, by ordering a replica of his 1990 Championship Trophy from the Nambe foundry after it melted in the Cerro Grande fire.
• Lou was a productive member of Kiwanis International from 1952 through 2015.
• Lou was honored with the first Los Alamos lifetime Honorary Membership of Kiwanis International for his work providing hundreds of thousands of dollars for various Kiwanis charities. He was in Kiwanis since 1963.
At age 69 Lou organized and together with Santa Fe’s Ray Torres created the Northern New Mexico Seniors Golf Association. (1990)
• Served as President of the Northern New Mexico Seniors Golf Association. (1991-1993).
in 1990 Lou, then 69 years old, organized members of several clubs and started the over 55 Northern New Mexico Seniors Golf Association. The association would grow to over 375 golfers.
• Supported local charities and for funding needed for student activities and sporting events continued for 50 years such as bowling and little league teams, Lassie League teams, Babe Ruth teams and American Legion teams.
• Served as a board of director for the Los Alamos National Bank, the Los Alamos Community Bank, the Los Alamos Hospital Board, the Sombrillo Nursing Home and Aspin Ridge Assisted Living Center. (Different service times from 1960 through 2002)
• Two occasions when they owned the Soda Bar, they made and delivered sandwiches, soft drinks, and water for fire fighters working relentlessly stop raging forest fires in the Los Alamos area.
• Entertained hospitalized patients (in his clown uniform) at the Los Alamos Medical Center.
• Learned the auctioneer cadence after the war at cattle auctions and used his skill to conduct charitable money raising auctions for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. The floral shop made sure that the altar flowers that Lee designed were fresh for Sunday mass at the church for 19 years
• Spoke to grade school children for countless years at the request of teachers.
• Helped with announcing as a football color commentator. Darrell Burns invited him to join the radio station, located 230 feet from the Soda Bar, to read the morning sporting news for ½ hour following the breakfast rush.
• Dress in a complete Topper Football uniform with helmet and a mask to raise money for the Los Alamos High School. The students and adults would pay a small donation for the right to try to guess who the local celebrity was and try to win the grand prize.
• Brought Touchdown Tony Hill of NFL Dallas Cowboy fame to Los Alamos for a charity event in 1983.
• Donated his Pierotti’s Clowns memorabilia to the Los Alamos Historical Society for use as an exhibit in the Los Alamos Historical Museum
• Never missed an invite to throw out the first pitch on opening day of the little league season. At a Triple A Albuquerque Isotopes, he threw the first pitch at a game held in honor of the Pierotti’s Clowns.
• Family maintains the Lou and Lena Pierotti Kiwanis Scholarship fund to help deserving civic minded student-athletes. Individual Lou and Lena Pierotti Scholarships have been awarded annually since 2016.
Lou cared for his wife Lee until her death in 2014. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in June 2014. The two of them were partners in every aspect of their lives from working side by side to raising their five children, Michael of Las Vegas, NV; Marilee Pierotti Lau of San Francisco, CA; Lewis of Columbus, OH; David of Flagstaff, AZ; and Peter of Albuquerque, NM; seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.