Hi, all. I realise the baseball blogs have been left fallow for some time. I've been working on other projects and haven't been near here since last year. However, I got word that Bill Weiss, the man who kept the league stats for the Western International League, has passed away this week.
Bill was an efficient and knowledgable historical statistician. Until stats became corporatised, Bill was handling the Pacific Coast League stats and when I was covering the PCL team in Vancouver, we'd anxiously await Bill's league record book to see what new and obscure things we'd find. Rarely would he miss a new record.
Apparently, he still had bulging filing cabinets of official box scores and so on from the many leagues that used his services. I hope those records aren't chucked away and find a home with some baseball historical group.
This was on the SABR mailing list about Bill, so I'll pass it on.
*SABR Salutes Bill Weiss *
William J. Weiss was born June 2, *1925, *in Chicago. He inherited his
love of baseball from his father, who took the five-year-old to his first
game at Wrigley Field in 1930. The precocious youngster began reading *The
Sporting News *when he was six and collecting baseball books when he was
eight. He was fascinated by baseball stats and wanted to become a
statistician. He graduated from Hyde Park High in 1942, along, with future
SABR member George Hilton. Bill attended Central YMCA College in Chicago
for a year and one- half and was a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy for
three years. From 1941-47 he helped run an amateur team, the South Shore
Cobras. He was not a player, but served as official scorer, statistician,
business manager, booking agent, and occasional field manager. They won a
division championship in the Chicago Metro Senior League in 1946. Bob
Hemple, another future SABR member, was their top hitter.
Bill landed his first job in pro ball in 1948 and the man who hired him was
Howard Green, now chairman of the Dallas-Fort Worth SABR Chapter. Howard
was then half-owner and GM of the Abilene Blue Sox in the Class C West
Texas-New Mexico League and president of the Class *D *Longhorn League. Bill
was hired as Longhorn League statistician and box office manager at Blue Sox
Stadium. After the 1948 season, he headed West where lie was hired to do
the averages for the California and Far West Leagues and to work for Jerry
Donovan, President of both Leagues, in San Francisco. At the end of the
1949 season, the statistician for the Pacific Coast League retired and Bill
was retained by PCL President Clarence Rowland to do their stats. He set up
shop in San Mateo in 1950 and has been there ever since.
As the years passed he added other leagues as clients: Sunset in 1950,
Pioneer and Arizona-Texas in 1952; Longhorn in 1953, Western International
and West Texas-New Mexico in 1954, Northwest in 1955 and Western in 1956. He
was statistician for other circuits as well, including the American
>From 1949 to 1987 Bill prepared, first for leagues, then for Major League
organizations, sketch books which contained biographical information and
career records for all players in the league or organization. They
eventually reached a total of 200 books. Following the 1988 season, the old
Rowe News Bureau was purchased by Peter Shipman and his associates and they
bought Bill’s business. He has been associated with Howe
SportsdataInternational ever since.
Since 1971 Bill has written during the season a weekly newsletter for the
California League. He also has been the League’s corporate secretary for
the last 20 years. He prepares the annual record books for the California,
Northwest, and Pioneer Leagues. As the PCL’s official historian, he assists
in the preparation of their record book. Since 1989, he has written the
“Baseball Anecdotes” column which appears regularly in *Baseball America. *For
the past seven years he has sold the “Program Notes” service to ball clubs.
One of his greatest pleasures was being president of the Peninsula Winter
League in the San Francisco area 1959-84. The league was organized by a
group of major league scouts and financed by several major league clubs. The
players were young organization members and free agents still in school. They
sent numerous players to the majors, including Joe Morgan and Willie
Stargell. Three PWL players are still in the majors: Ken Caminiti, Tom
Candiotti, and Mark Parent.
Bill has always felt close to the scouts, “the unsung heroes of the game,”
and has been secretary-treasurer of the Professional Baseball Scouts of
Northern California since the organization was founded in l 969. He also
served many years as the National Association’s representative on the
Scoring Rules Committee, along with such luminaries as Seymour Siwoff,
Jerome Holtzman, Jack Lang, and Red Foley.
He was one of the very early members of SABR, joining September 3, 1971 as
Member No. 34. After 25 years of attrition, he is now 15th in seniority. Bill
and his wife Faye have been married for 42 years. She has been his good
right hand (Bill is a southpaw) in the business, all these years. They have
no children but have enjoyed generations of black cocker spaniels.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Hi, all. I realise the baseball blogs have been left fallow for some time. I've been working on other projects and haven't been near here since last year. However, I got word that Bill Weiss, the man who kept the league stats for the Western International League, has passed away this week.
Posted by WIL fan at 5:59 a.m.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
It's great to see one of the Vancouver-area community newspapers do a feature piece on pitcher Ernie Kershaw who, as the article puts it, is one of the oldest former pro ball players around. He turned 100 this month.
You can read the story of the school-teaching pitcher HERE. He's a remarkable man. The photo is from the article on the North Shore Outlook.
70 years ago, Ernie joined the new Vancouver Capilanos and played in their first three years of existence, then came out of retirement at the end of the 1946 season.
Posted by WIL fan at 5:25 p.m.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
I've received a note from Kit Krieger of SABR (more importantly, former clubhouse boy for the PCL's Vancouver Mounties):
Rod McKay, a former pitcher with the WIL Vancouver Capilanos, passed away on August 26th at the age of 78. McKay signed with the NY Giants organization in 1948 and ended his career with the Capilanos in 1954. His father-in-law, Johnny Nestman, was one of the great amateur players in Vancouver baseball history and played third-base against Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other stars en route to Japan in 1934.
Click here for Rod's stats.
1952 is missing because SABR has him listed as Rod McKay for that year. Click here for that year.
Rod went to my dad's high school (King Edward in Vancouver) and was signed by the Giants at a try-out camp in 1949 at Olympia, Washington.
Posted by WIL fan at 1:16 p.m.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Ken McIntosh of SABR has been involved in a labour of love for some time .. working on a book about the home of the Vancouver Capilanos of the WIL.
Check it his well-designed blog HERE. Most of it involves the present-day Vancouver Canadians but he does talk about his book.
Oh, yes, there's another labour of love he's working on, like many others who delve into old Class 'C' leagues or teams which folded long ago but live on in the memories of those with greying hair who saw them play as a kid. Ken is tracking the story of the New Westminster Frasers of the Northwest League. They were an independent team for one season.
Readers of the WIL blogs will remember how an attempt was made at putting a WIL team in New Westminster, with the logic that a Vancouver-New Westminster-Victoria rivalry, similar to lacrosse and hockey, would result in huge attendance games. In hindsight, it would have been a bad idea. That kind of local rivalry was already becoming obsolete, as Vancouver was now considering itself a big league city, especially with the creation of the WIFU's B.C. Lions and the 1954 British Empire Games. The PCL arrived in 1956 to leave a small-town league in the dust (until 2000 anyway) and then the NHL arrived in 1970 to banish any thought the city was on a sporting par with New Westminster.
Anyway, here's Ken's blog about the Frasers. It's a shame they couldn't make a go of it, especially considering Vancouver was not in organised baseball at the time, but the '70s were kind of a lost decade for minor league ball and the Frasers were rife with financial problems.
Posted by WIL fan at 5:58 a.m.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Sorry, folks. It looks like I’m not going to be getting to work on the 1937-42 seasons this summer after all due to a few other things suddenly cropping up. I haven’t been to a ball game, either.
I got a phone call a week or so ago with the news that veteran WIL baseball broadcaster Bob Robertson wouldn’t be calling games in the Northwest League this season because Jo isn’t in the best of health. She hasn’t travelled with Bob the last couple of years, at least north of the border, and I do hope she gets better very soon.
Bob is a genuine guy. He’s what you hear on the radio. Some may dismiss his “Be a sport always” tag line as old-fashioned and corny, but he's sincere every time he says it.
Fortunately, the Seattle Times did a little story on him, which I transcribe below. You can link to it HERE. The only thing Bob didn’t talk about is how he came to call the Wenatchee Chiefs games and why it was, through circumstances beyond his control, he didn’t get a major league play-by-play job in Seattle which, frankly, was rightly his.
Voices of the Game
Bob Robertson is a link to bygone era of broadcasters
Robertson, 80, has much more on his resume than 42 years with the Washington State Cougars.
By Percy Allen
Seattle Times staff reporter
Almost everyone is gone now — except Bob Robertson.
He is the enduring voice of a bygone generation of Northwest radio and television sports broadcasting giants. Most of his peers — Ted Bell, Pat Hayes, Rod Belcher, Clay Huntington, Bill O'Mara, Bill Schonely, Ray McMackin, Pete Gross, Wayne Cody, Keith Jackson and Leo Lassen — have died or retired.
Mariners voice Dave Niehaus also remains. And in many ways, Niehaus and Robertson are kindred spirits.
Robertson, whose carrot-colored hair has turned gray and thin now, took a much different path to his Hall of Fame, however. He's an icon to generations of sports fans, even though he spent most of his career outside the major markets.
You see his name and think: "That's the Cougars guy with the funny sign off who has been at Wazzu forever."
But there's so much more to the Washington State play-by-play man than his 42-year career with the Cougars.
To know him, you need to know he temporarily stopped broadcasting this summer — the first time in 61 years — to take care of his ill wife, Joanne.
You need to hear the story about the blind boy who would sit by his side during Clover Park High School boys basketball games and made him aware that his radio audience was also sightless.
You need to know he was the last man in radio to do re-creations — where written reports were phoned in to a studio and he would call Tacoma Tigers minor-league baseball games with sound effects and his imagination.
You need to know he worked part-time jobs as a referee for the first Sonics exhibition game in Seattle; an official for Fife High School football games when Jim Lambright was the coach; and a general manager of the Seattle Rangers, a minor-league football team in the 1960s.
You need to know he nearly became the voice of the Mariners, and in many ways he is a real-life Crash Davis, the character from "Bull Durham" who pines for one last shot at the big leagues.
And you need to know that he turned 80 in March. And he's in better shape than you are because he swims frequently, drinks a glass of Cabernet at dinner and eats a reasonably healthy diet. And he has three years left on his WSU contract.
And he has no intentions of retiring any time soon.
There are six decades of broadcast history to recap, so get comfortable.
Bellingham, circa 1948, is as good a place to start as any. Robertson spent much of his childhood in Canada, where his father, a professional baseball player with the Seattle Indians, was in the Canadian Air Force during World War II. Robertson graduated from Blaine High School and spent two years at Western Washington University before signing a contract to play center field for the Portland Beavers.
Before playing a game, he quit baseball and accepted the play-by-play job with the Wenatchee Chiefs, a minor-league baseball team.
"I don't think too much about it anymore, but for years I wondered if I made the right decision," Robertson said. "After I turned 30, I knew baseball was over for me."
Next stop is South Bend, Ind., 1955, where Notre Dame hired Robertson to anchor its fledgling school-run television station. Although he spent less than a year covering the Fighting Irish, it's one of the highlights of his career.
Next stop is Pullman, 1964, where Robertson began broadcasting football games for Washington State. It was a match made in Cougars heaven.
Next stop is Seattle, 1969, where Robertson began calling Huskies games for three years because his radio station, KVI, bought the broadcast rights to the crossstate rival.
The final stop is Pullman again, 1972, where Robertson returned to WSU. In addition to calling football games, he did play-by-play for men's basketball until 1994, when he was replaced by Bud Nameck.
Former WSU coach Kelvin Sampson supposedly wanted an announcer who lived near Pullman. Robertson has resided in the Tacoma area since 1950. Years later, Sampson phoned Robertson and told him he had nothing to do with his firing.
"It's not important now," said Robertson, who received the Chris Schenkel Award from the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004. "I'm just happy to still be working."
Between Bellingham and Pullman, Robertson has covered just about every sport — professional and amateur — in Washington and Oregon.
He's done it all, from table tennis to hydroplanes — roller derby, the Seattle and Tacoma Rainiers, boxing, rodeo, high schools, Seattle Totems hockey, Sounders and Portland Timbers soccer, professional wrestling, Seattle University men's basketball and Pacific Lutheran University men's and women's basketball.
He never broadcast a Seahawks game and never had any interest in calling NBA games, declining two NFL and two NBA jobs in the 1960s and early '70s.
But if there's any regret, it's a missed chance to call major-league baseball.
Robertson recites lines from "Bull Durham" when he talks about his three-game stint in 1992 as Mariners broadcaster.
"Yeah, I was in the show," Crash Davis said. "I was in the show for 21 days once — the 21 greatest days of my life."
Robertson was a finalist in 1977 when the expansion Mariners chose Niehaus as their play-by-play voice. For years, Robertson believed he might be considered for an analyst position with the team, but he never got the chance.
"I had my cup of coffee in the bigs," he said, laughing. "I had a great time. I'd still go [to the major leagues] right now if they asked, but at my age, they're not going to ask."
But Robertson doesn't want anybody to feel sorry for him.
While Joanne is recovering, he's preparing for his 43rd season with the Cougars in the fall and a return next year as the voice of the minor-league Spokane Indians, his summer job since 1999.
Robertson's recent sabbatical from the radio booth has made him eager to get behind the microphone again, calling games like he has for 61 years and ending each broadcast with his signature goodbye: "Always be a good sport, be a good sport all ways."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com
Posted by WIL fan at 5:27 a.m.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
One of the great mysteries of the Western International League has been solved.
For many years, I’ve been hearing about K Chorlton. “K was his first name, just the letter K,” stated the Dean of Official Scorers, Pat Karl, who saw him play for several seasons at Capilano Stadium.
Due to other activities that keep me occupied through the end of June, the blog has been sitting idle. But I should pass on word of the passing, albeit two months ago, of Mr. Chorlton.
You’ve seen reported on this blog K was a star in high school ball in Seattle, and ended up spending much of his professional career trodding the 99 from the outfield at Cap Stadium to the one in the identical Sick Stadium in the Emerald City. In fact, he refused to report to the Rainiers in 1954 because he was getting paid more money to play Class A ball.
That fine writer and researcher, and B.C. ball fan, Tom Hawthorn, managed to convince Toronto’s National Newspaper, the Globe and Mail, to publish his obit of a long-forgotten Vancouver outfielder. As the Globe story is no longer on the newspaper’s web site, allow me to pass it on. It features Tom’s usual thorough research and answers the question of how K became K.
Run-in nixed chance at the big leagues
Fast-running player for the Seattle Rainiers argued with manager Rogers Hornsby
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 1, 2009
VICTORIA -- The ballplayer showed a steady bat and good, if occasionally suspect, fielding, as well as terrific speed in the field and on the basepaths. But what many fans first noticed was his first name, K, which K Chorlton insisted be spelled without a period.
The 11th letter is not a big kahuna in the alphabet, though it does serve as shorthand for kilometres, or kindergarten, or the element potassium, or a unit of 1,024 bytes. In baseball, K signifies a strikeout, which makes it an excellent nickname for a pitcher.
K Chorlton was an outfielder.
Outfielders do not care to strike out. As it turns out, the moniker carried with it no baseball meaning.
In 1949, Mr. Chorlton turned professional with the Vancouver Capilanos. The team was managed by Bob Brown, a penny-pincher by nature and circumstance. An American who played football for Notre Dame, Mr. Brown had volunteered as a cavalryman for the Spanish-American War, listing cowpuncher as his occupation on the enlistment form.
At the time, the Capilanos played out of Athletic Park at Sixth and Hemlock, a wooden bandbox Mr. Brown built by his own hand in 1913. As he cleared a lot the size of a city block, he carried in his back pocket sticks of dynamite, which he used to remove stumps.
Mr. Chorlton’s career in Vancouver spanned the move to spanking-new Capilano Stadium midway through the 1951 season. (The old park was torn down to make way for a ramp at the south end of the Granville Street Bridge.)
With his speed, Mr. Chorlton often batted leadoff for Vancouver. He became a fan favourite.
“One of the prettiest local sights on a summer’s evening is that of Chorlton scudding around the basepaths out at the ballpark,” Eric Whitehead wrote in The Province. “Graceful as a young gazelle and about as speedy, Chorlton would rate a quick boost up the ladder if he could only develop the elusive knack of getting on the basepaths more often.”
Mr. Chorlton patrolled centre field for parts of four seasons with Vancouver. In 1950, he played for the Victoria Athletics, recording a sterling .333 average in 249 at-bats. He found Royal Athletic Park a comfortable home, knocking 10 doubles, six triples and four home runs.
K Chorlton first gained notice as a brilliant athlete at Roosevelt High in his Seattle birthplace. He led the basketball Roughriders to a state championship in his junior year of 1946 and the baseball team to a city title the same year.
He also played for the football team, but his father, a chiropractor, refused to allow him to take part in contact, so he handled punting duties. The kicking assignment didn't prevent him from scoring touchdowns on consecutive weeks, one following a bad snap, the other on a fake punt. When the Teddies track team challenged the baseball nine, he won both the 100- and 200-yard dashes.
In 2004, the Seattle Times named him the top Rider athlete of all time. He was inducted into the school's sports hall of fame the following year.
As a senior, Mr. Chorlton was selected to play in the second annual sandlot all-star game sponsored by Hearst newspapers at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, where he met the legendary Joe DiMaggio. The New York Yankees outfielder was recovering from a knee injury.
Mr. Chorlton recounted the meeting in a newspaper interview five years ago.
“I admire you so much,” the teenager told the star.
“I wish I had your legs,” Mr. DiMaggio replied.
One of the all-star coaches was Honus Wagner, while Babe Ruth was on hand as honorary chairman of the event. Mr. Chorlton's all-star team defeated a New York team 13-2. He hit a double, while teammate Bill (Moose) Skowron hit an inside-the-park homer. Mr. Skowron went on to enjoy a long career in the majors, mostly with the Yankees.
Mr. Chorlton was scouted by baseball’s Boston Braves, Detroit Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and Washington Senators. Instead, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder accepted a scholarship from the University of Washington, where he played baseball and basketball for the Huskies. He was later named to the university’s All-Century Team in baseball.
He signed with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League for $10,000 in 1949. The Rainiers assigned him to Vancouver.
The Coast League was a Triple-A circuit, one notch below the majors. The clubs paid competitive salaries and more than one athlete preferred to remain on the coast before the majors expanded westward.
The Rainiers called him up several times. His speed made him valuable, but he never managed to get enough hits. His fate was sealed one game when he dropped a routine fly ball. This so incensed the manager, Rogers Hornsby, a Baseball Hall of Famer not known for kindness, that he added to Mr. Chorlton’s embarrassment by yanking him from the field immediately after the play.
Mr. Chorlton did not take the insult well. He swore and argued with the manager in the dugout. Mr. Hornsby did not brook insubordination and he knew how to carry a grudge. Whatever long shot Mr. Chorlton had at winning a roster spot on a big-league club was lost.
(The deliberate humiliation of a young player angered Seattle newspaper columnist Emmett Watson, who lambasted the manager in the next day's paper. Afterward, he was asked if his story angered the misanthropic Mr. Hornsby. “I don’t really know,” Mr. Watson said. “He treats me so bad when he’s in a good mood, I couldn’t tell the difference.”)
Mr. Chorlton spent his final two seasons in Vancouver, where he endured a sore arm and suffered a broken ankle. He retired after the 1954 campaign, which was his best ever in pro ball. He hit .349 for the Capilanos, while smacking 16 homers. Both were career highs.
Mr. Chorlton became a salesman and later a sales executive for a company selling fuel additives. He remained active in the Washington Athletic Club, where his Rainiers jersey is on display to this day.
After the death of his wife, Diane, he discovered romance again with Gloria Ehrig, a former college classmate.
K’s was not the only odd name in the Chorlton family. His father, James, who had played baseball briefly with the Tacoma Tigers, married a woman named Ffolliott. They gave her name to their daughter, who, as Fluff LeCoque, worked as a dancer for Liberace’s show on the Las Vegas Strip in 1947.
As it turns out, K’s parents named him after a cousin, who was christened Kermit, a name he despised. A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Kermit began using a solo initial, a tag passed on to his young relative.
Over the years, newspapers referred to K as Jim Chorlton (mistaking him for his older brother) or Frank Chorlton. They always seemed to print the K with a period.
His given name was Byron, apt perhaps for a poet, less so for a ballplayer.
Byron Chorlton was born on Oct. 26, 1928, in Seattle. He died of pneumonia on March 17, 2009, in Bellevue, Wash. He was 80. He leaves four children, 10 grandchildren and a sister. He was predeceased by his wife, Diane, and by a brother, James.
Oh, how did he get the name ‘Byron’, you ask?
Hmm. We’re still working on that one.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The man who survived the most tragic event in the history of the Western International League has passed away this month. He survived through a freak situation that forever tagged him with the nickname “Lucky.”
Here are a couple of links to stories about the late Jack Lohrke. First, from The San Diego News Network and BetUs.com
There are a number of links on this web site to contemporary news reports of the horrible bus crash of 1946 which fate decreed Lohrke would avoid. One is here.
Since links are known to go dead, here is the first story by sports columnist Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton:
Hacksaw Hamilton: ‘Lucky’ learned life’s hard lessons
By Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton, SDNN
[May 7, 2009]
The best year of his life became the worst year of his life, and his life was never the same again.
Baseball history of years gone by has given us players with nicknames. “Pepper” Martin (Cardinals). Walter “Big Train” Johnson (Senators). “Vinegar Bend” Mizell (Pirates). And of course the Babe (Ruth), the Georgia Peach (Cobb), Sey Hey (Mays), Hammerin Hank (Aaron).
Jack Lohrke, a former San Diego Padre, had a nickname he never wanted, one that haunted him forever - “Lucky.”
They held a funeral service for him this week in San Jose after the longtime third baseman/outfielder passed away at the age of 85. But the memory of what he experienced, the year he starred in San Diego, had never gone away. Baseball is made up of so much history. In this case, it was sad history.
Jack Lohrke, on a fast track to the major leagues, was a slugging third baseman with the 1946 Padres in the high-powered Pacific Coast League. He spent half a season here and went on to a seven-year career as the starting third baseman with the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies.
His career stretched from 1942 to 1959, starting as an 18-year-old with the Padres prior to the war before getting to the Polo Grounds and Connie Mack Stadium. He went from riding buses to playing with the Giants in a World Series. His life experiences involved World War II combat and a baseball tragedy never forgotten.
The best statistical year of his life was the 1946 season that started in the lower minor leagues with Spokane in the Class B Western International League and ended with the PCL-Padres before his promotion to join the Giants. Lohrke hit .345 that mystical minor league season in Spokane. He hit .303 with eight homers with the Padres, called up by then-owner and baseball historian Bill Starr. Those were impressive stats. In that era, the Coast League was almost as good as the big leagues.
But his life was forever changed in a 15-minute span on the night of June 25, 1946. Lohrke was taken off the team bus by a Washington state highway officer. The Padres had called the owner of the Spokane Indians, telling him San Diego was purchasing Lohrke’s contract, and he was to report immediately. The call came hours after Lohrke had hit a 380-foot home run off a scoreboard clock.
The Indians were in the middle of a road trip. They had played a 16-inning game that day. They were headed from Salem, Oregon through the Cascades en route to their next stop on their trip. They stopped in Central Washington, near Ellensburg to have dinner that night. It was there the State Patrol got the message to Lohrke. He was to catch a ride to Spokane and then on to San Diego.
He got to his next destination. His teammates never did. He never forgot that night. The sports world wouldn’t let him either.
The Spokane Indians, a team made up of kids and grizzled World War II combat veterans, who all had hopes of playing in the big leagues, boarded that bus. Fifteen minutes later nine were dead, seven others injured. Lives snuffed out, careers shattered, families left without fathers, Indians players left without teammates. A clubhouse of empty lockers.
On a drizzly night, as the bus drove up winding roads in the mountains, a car came left of center. The bus swerved to avoid the car, hit the guardrail on the two-lane highway, and plunged 350 feet down an embankment, rolling over, catching fire. Bodies were ejected. Players were crushed. Flames engulfed one and all. It was the worst crash involving a sports team of that era.
Jack Lohrke’s roommate, San Diego native outfielder Freddy Martinez, was on the bus and perished. He had a team high .353 batting average and might have been the next player headed to the Padres to play in his hometown. Spokane’s bright young manager, 25-year old Mel Cole died. Their top pitcher, 22-game winner Bob Kinnaman, on loan from Casey Stengel’s Oakland Oaks, was killed too.
As word of the horrific tragedy spread, baseball reached out to put its arms around the franchise. Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey assigned players from his vast network of farm teams to help Spokane finish out the season. The Indians later became a vital farm team in the Dodgers Blue system. The entire league donated one day’s gate receipts to the families of Lohrke’s dead teammates, $118,000.
Eleven days later, with only two pitchers left from that staff, Spokane went back on the field and went 22-52 in a saddened season of meaningless games.
Days later Jack Lohrke made it to San Diego, but had the emotionally draining chore of driving two of his teammates widows with him here, before he joined the Padres. His best minor league season ever would be shrouded in the sadness of what happened to his friends and what could have happened to him.
Lohrke played well with the Padres, but did not do well off the field. Hounded by the nightmare of faces he remembered, he struggled. The media tagged him with the “Lucky” nickname.
He had seen a lot in life. In 1944, with the Army, he was part of the second tier that landed at Normandy. Soldiers on either side of him were hit by sniper fire, killed instantly. He survived. Lucky.
Months later, trapped in the forest in the Battle of the Bulge, under enormous fire by German artillery, his fox hole took a hit. Soldiers on both sides died. He did not. Lucky.
In 1945, awaiting exit orders from the Army, he was to fly from Fort Dix in New Jersey to California to be discharged. He was bumped from the flight by a higher officer. The plane crashed in Kansas en route, killing all twenty soldiers on board. Lucky.
And now this in 1946, on a mountain road in Central Washington. To honor his fallen friends, Lohrke wore a red warmup shirt beneath his Padres uniform for the rest of that 300-hitting season. It had been in the equipment bag he had taken from the bus as it pulled away that night. A month after the conclusion of that campaign, he was drafted by the New York Giants, becoming their starting third sacker.
I interviewed Jack Lohrke years ago while doing sports talk radio in Phoenix. I wish I had not. It was a hard interview. I felt uncomfortable asking him about that night, his Spokane teammates, and how he soldiered on. We talked about the 1951 Giants, and how he was in the on-deck circle when Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard Round the World” versus the Dodgers.
Jack Lohrke stopped doing interviews in 1995, after a book was written about the tragedy surrounding his life, wishing to be left alone with his memories and thoughts. The nickname had many connotations. Lucky to be alive. Not so lucky to have to remember what he lived through and what he experienced from 1944 to 1946. The Baseball Encyclopedia lists him with that name.
Nicknames were part of baseball lore then. Harry “The Cat” Breecheen, Harvey “The Kitten” Haddix, Joe “Ducky” Medwick. I thought of what his nickname meant, and how sad the real meaning of “Lucky” Jack Lohrke was.
And here is the other story by another fine writer.
The Legend of Jack "Lucky" Lohrke
by Ian James
[May 13, 2009]
Jack Lohrke passed away earlier this month, and that name probably means nothing to the average baseball fan. He was a mediocre major league infielder in the 1940s and 1950s with a lifetime batting average was .242, and he hit 22 home runs and drew 111 walks in 914 official at-bats. The legacy that Lohrke left and the tragic circumstances which he got his nickname “lucky”, is what made Lohrke a ledgend.
Lohrke died Wednesday at a San Jose, Calif., hospital two days after having a stroke at his home. Discovered as a teenager in the early 1940s on the semipro fields of Los Angeles , Lohrke spent seven seasons with the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies after serving in World War II.
But as the story goes, he’s lucky to have made it out of WWII. By the time he was 22, it is said that he escaped death at least six times. Fighting as a member of the 35th Infantry Division, he stormed the beach on D-Day in the invasion at Normandy and was involved in the Battle of the Bulge. On four occasions, solders on both sides of him were killed in combat, and Lucky emerged unscathed.
Lohrke was always quick to insist throughout his life that his brushes with death were no big deal, but history told another tale.
Upon his discharge from the Army in 1945, he was bumped from a military transport plane at the last minute to make room for someone more important. That plane crashed 45 minutes later, killing all on board.
It was truly a matter of fate that Lucky Lohrke was still alive, but this was just the beginning. In 1946 he was playing for the Spokane Indians of the Western International League. They had just played 16 innings against a team from Salem, Oregon, capping off a seven-game series and were on the road to Bremerton for the next series.
Jack Lohrke became "Lucky" Lohrke as a result of a phone message that was waiting for Indians manager Mel Cole when the team arrived at pit stop for dinner. It had been left by San Diego Padres owner Bill Starr instructing Lohrke to report to the AAA affiliate in San Diego as soon as possible.
The other players finished up their meal, said some goodbyes and boarded the bus bound for Bremerton. Lohrke, then 22, bummed a ride back to Spokane not knowing the catastrophe that he had avoided.
Jack Lohrke made it to San Diego; the bus bound for Bremerton did not make it to its destination. On a winding part of the highway, the bus lost control and catapulted the loaded vehicle over the edge of a 300-foot cliff, killing 9 men aboard including his two roommates.
Lohrke had stated that none of his close calls at war had the emotional impact of the bus crash that took eight of his teammates and the driver. The trip from Spokane to San Diego was made all the more difficult as he was accompanied by the young widows of two of his fallen friends.
Lohrke went on to a respectable seven-year major league career and lived a long and prosperous life. His baseball career was highlighted by a career high of 11 home runs as a Giant rookie in 1947. Two of those were history making as he hit the Giants' 182nd home run of the season, which tied the 1936 New York Yankees’ team record, and then hit the 183rd.
Lucky retired from baseball in 1958, and worked in security for the Lockheed Missile and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, Calif. In addition to Marie, whom he married in 1948, Lohrke is survived by six children; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
He mentioned in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1994 that he never thought much of his nickname, “I’ll tell you this: Nobody outside of baseball calls me Lucky Lohrke these days, the name is Jack. Jack Lohrke.”
We at the WIL Blog extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Lohrke’s family. He was a fine player for Spokane and, by all accounts, a fine human being.