Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen has been counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports.
His summer series ends today, with a list of the top 10 families in Tucson sports history:
Joseph G. Hassey was a Detroit cab driver in the 1920s who moved to Tucson for the simplest reason: a doctor suggested his asthmatic condition could be helped by breathing desert air.
Joe is probably the least likely patriarch of one of the most — if not the most — prominent sports families in Tucson history.
Joe drove a produce truck from Tucson to Los Angeles twice a week before air conditioning and long before interstate highways. It didn’t drive him to drink, but by the mid 1930s he opened the Arizona Liquor Store near downtown, later moving it to an East Speedway location.
Over the next 75 years, the Hassey family produced three of the top baseball players in Tucson history, two softball stars, the state racquetball champion, an all-city basketball player, and a key member of a state championship football team.
Can any Tucson family top that? It’s unlikely.
Joe’s son, Bill Hassey, was a first-team All-State baseball player at Tucson High in 1944, 1945 and 1946, the state’s player of the year in 1944. He played one year at Arizona, hitting .353 in 1948, and then signed with the New York Yankees.
Bill’s son, Ron Hassey, was a driving force behind Tucson High’s 25-0 state championship team of 1972. He then led Arizona to the 1976 NCAA championship and set two records that still endure: 86 RBI in a season and 223 RBI in a career. He hit .421 in 1974 and would spend 13 years as a major-league catcher.
Bill’s younger son, Joe Hassey, won the Arizona state racquetball championship in 1987. He became general manager of the Tucson Toros a year later.
Ron’s son, Brad Hassey, became an all-state infielder at Salpointe Catholic. He was a first-team All-Pac-10 shortstop at Arizona in 2002, hitting .315, and played in 459 minor-league games.
Papa Joe’s daughter, JoAnn Hassey, married Mel Byrge, a key part to Tucson High’s undefeated 1965 state football championship team and one of Tucson’s top youth softball coaches. JoAnn and Mel’s family continued the athletic success: son Brad Byrge was a major factor as Salpointe Catholic built one of the state’s top basketball powers in the late 1990s; daughter Kristy Byrge became an all-state softball pitcher at Sabino and became a starter for the New Mexico Lobos; and daughter Stephanie Byrge similarly became an all-city pitcher at Sabino, accepting a scholarship to pitch at Creighton.
More? Papa Joe’s son Tom Hassey, an accomplished golfer, started a sports-talk program on 1400-AM, which still ranks among the best of its kind in Tucson history.
The competition as “best sports family’’ in Tucson history is fully unofficial and the ranking of one man — me. Any of the 10 in my rankings could be No. 1 or close to it. But I’ll go with the Hasseys. Here’s the top 10: