Monday, December 24, 2007

A Pair of Pippins

Andy Anthony sent me a note asking about the Yakima Pippins, his grandmother’s favourite team. He was looking for a logo that they had on their uniforms. Today, you’d see a cartoon apple swinging a worm-shaped bat or something like that, and find it on mugs, baby t-shirts, key chains, bobble-heads, whatever, in four different sets of colours. In those days, a jersey had a city name on the front and a number on the back. Home whites, road greys. That’s it. It was cheap. And marketing was far off in the future (bobbleheads can go with ear-splitting between-inning music on the list of things baseball would be better off without).

Here you see two photos of Pippins, which allows me a great opening to rave about Dave Eskenazi’s photo collection, whence these came. It’s absolutely astounding; at least the few pictures I’ve seen are. I don’t know how he found the photos he has, or how long he’s been assembling them. But I swear they encompass the life of baseball in the northwestern U.S. and B.C.’s Lower Mainland. The book Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, a beautiful historical look of some of that history, would have been a far lesser book without Dave’s wonderful pictures. The Vancouver snaps I’ve seen are not to be found locally in the library or city archival photo collections.

The photo above (I have shrunk the pix so they can fit on the page) is of Felix Penso, who spent the pre-war years in the WIL with Yakima and Vancouver and the post-war years kicking around Texas. To your right is Goldie Holt, who managed the Pippins to a second-place finish in 1940. The Pippins slipped to third in 1941 and Goldie was gone at the end of the season to the San Jose Owls of the California League. He’s probably best known to non-WIL baseball lovers as being picked to be a charter member of the Cubs’ ridiculed College of Coaches in 1961. And when the real Pacific Coast League was killed by major league transplantation in 1958, Goldie opened the season managing Brooklyn’s, er Los Angeles’, club in Spokane (I'd settle for any kind of PCL in Vancouver again, but that's another story).

I'm presuming the pictures were taken in Parker Field (the style of outfield billboard seems to have been popular; Sick’s Stadium had similar lattice connectors).

And, yes, it’s a bit late for Christmas now, but Rain Check is a wonderful gift for anyone who thinks there’s more to baseball’s past in this area than A-Rod.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On to 1952

The 1951 page is pretty well completed as it's going to be right now. I have a couple of additional stories on the new Capilano Stadium I have to add to the June 14 page and some other tidying up to do. It's not really a priority so I'm working on 1952.

I'm changing the content for the blogs. I was doing posts of old stories on the basis on a calendar year, as the pages are labelled in terms of years. But it just looks odd having half the off-season on one page and half the following year. So, I'm going to end the '51, '52 and '53 pages with the season finale stuff (including stats and all-star stuff), and then start all the other off-season stuff on the following year. It may be a bit confusing having 1951 content on the '52 page, but it just seems to work better this way. We'll see. I've had to convert other pages over eventually to do the same.

The post season stuff has been a pain to compile. For 1952, for example, I manually transcribed probably close to 103 pages worth of text (8 1/2 by 11, single space, times roman 12). That was just from two newspapers (with one exception). That doesn't include other news copy on line I haven't even searched for. So, there's plenty of reading.

The 1952 pre-season had four main stories:
Tacoma moved to Lewiston and talk of Alberta expansion remained little more than talk;
The league jumped from Class B to Class A;
Victoria came close to folding due to chronic undercapitalisation;
The league decided to make a pile of knee-jerk reactions, including a rule limiting the number of veterans in an effort to save money.

The last one caused something completely unexpected—massive integration. Vancouver's canny-but-miserly G.M. Bob Brown got around the "rookie" rule by signing experienced Negro League players; organised baseball considered them rookies. Others teams saw this and rushed to do the same thing. Of course, Brown had John Ritchey, and there were Larry Neal and a few other blacks in the WIL prior to this, but 1952 was the year more of them were given the chance to play.

Obviously, if baseball owners spend inordinant amounts of time getting around a rule, there can be only one conclusion—the rule will inevitably die. And that's what happened with the veteran rule after the 1952 season ended.

As I have access to one of the Victoria papers, you'll see a pretty complete story of the efforts to save one of the clubs that year. In fact, there's probably more pre-season information now that anyone would want to know about; and I haven't even added the stuff from the southeastern Washington State papers. Nor the Vancouver Sun or News Herald (the sidebars are unreadable in the latter due to photocopying after binding the papers).

I likely won't go in depth into the off-season like this after the 1953 off-season (and maybe the 1946 pre-season); it's taken almost two weeks, eight or more hours a day, transcribing in the library just to do post-1951 and post-1952 (not uploaded in its entirety). It's just too much typing. I'd rather spend my time posting game notes and sidebars from during the season.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Today's Cap Stadium Trivia

The P.A. announcer at the new Cap Stadium in 1951, according to Jack DeLong's column in the Vancouver Sun of July 18th that year, was Luke Moyls.

There's kind of a cool connection here. I was the P.A. announcer at the same stadium 30 years later. On top of that, Luke was sports editor for the Ubyssey in the mid 40s. That's when my dad attended UBC and was on the table tennis team. So Luke wrote about my father in his pages (January 27, 1945, for one).

OK, I thought it was cool, anyway.

He had graduated from UBC by the time he was doing the P.A. but what happened to him after that, I have no idea. In fact, the city directories of the late 40s and early 50s don't even mention a Luke Moyls, though they have three other Moyls listed as "student" and, later, as employees at UBC. So, he's a complete mystery.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Clancy Goes to Spring Training

When I started this blog, it wasn't my intention to examine Western International League spring training games. After all, it's spring training. The media makes the contests out to be vital and important—and then the season starts and all is forgotten. Spring training means meaningless games featuring players who don't cut it and are never heard from again. However, I've done spotty coverage of it in a couple of the year's blogs and will likely go back and do it for other years when I complete the scores.

I don't have 1946 spring on this blog, so I'm going to post some late spring stories and a column by Clancy Loranger. Baseball fans in Vancouver may know there is a Clancy Loranger Way that leads into Nat Bailey Stadium (I thought it was part of old Robsart Avenue). He's in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, so you can read his bio there.

Clancy was still watching hockey and baseball when I first started appearing in press boxes in 1979. Clancy had his own spot in the box at Nat Bailey (right side, first seat, next to the announce booth) and his own chair in the Molson Lounge at the Pacific Colesium. It wasn't really "his" but everyone respected Clancy and no one would sit in his chair, and Robo and Jim who ran the lounge made sure no rookie media types did (like Pat Karl of CJVB).

His columns in the Province were loved by all. One of his ways of getting into a topic was to write a thoroughly-invented conversation with his neighbour across the fence. But Clancy still did game stories when it came to his favourite sport, baseball. He had been an official scorer during the Vancouver Mounties days (leaving a Mountie pitcher with a one-hitter, though everyone else said it should have been ruled an error). He covered the Mounties, and the Capilanos before that. He had been Sports Editor at the Vancouver News-Herald, the puny also-ran paper in town, though at the time these pieces were written, Carl Robertson was Sports Editor. The News-Herald had some good writers, generally people who had been, or would end up at, the big dailies. Copies of the News-Herald were bound and placed in stacks at the Vancouver library. Unfortunately, when it was decided to photograph the papers and put them on microfilm, the dough-heads didn't unbind them, so one side of each page is in the gutter and unreadable. However, but for a few words, these stories are complete.

By the way, Clancy's still with us, but the stair-climb at Nat Bailey would fix that. So he hasn't been to a ball game in some years. I'm sure he's still with us in spirit up there, growling under his breath and puffing on his cigarellos.

P.S.: The Tacoma and Salem stories aren't Clancy's; they're wire service previews that were in his paper that I include for interest's sake. The News-Herald, being as inconsistent as it was, didn't publish them for all the teams in the league.

It Says Here
[Vancouver News Herald, April 23, 1946]
SUNNYSIDE, Wash.—Even Nick the Greek, the famous gambler who used to carry a million bucks in cash in his pocket, wouldn’t have done any better than break even here.
By now, you may have gathered from Carl “Bullpen” Robertson’s earlier observations from [Caps’ spring training] this isn’t exactly the wildest town in the world.
The principal amusement I have found to my sorrow, is watching the pinball machines in the lobby of the Planter’s Hotel. We have three of these robbers and two of them are out of service. That leaves one. It’s not out of order—it’s just hungry.
It says here they make it very simple for you to lose your dough.
All you have to do is put a nickel in the slot, then things start happening. The whole machine lights up brighter than Broadway at midnight, numbers flash off and on, two small boys come out of the innards and shoot off firecrackers, Kate Smith sings a few bars of the Star Spangled Banner, then bingo, you’re confronted with the number three.
At least it always seem to be the number three, for me.
Oh yes, I forgot to tell you—numbers two and seven are out of order, too. Anyway, you’ve got your number—three—and all you have to do is shoot the little round ball into the number three hole. Numbers one, four, five and six are as simple, but all you get from the machine is a cold stare if you sink these.
I think the OPA should be informed about that number four, because it has no ethics at all. Even when number three yells “I got it,” it calmly reaches over and grabs the ball.
But really, Ma, I was driven to playing this thing. The only other alternative is listening to the ball players talk and, well—I’ll give you an example of that.
The other night George Bogdonovich, the Vancouver kid who came down here with Bob Brown to see how the pros perform, thought he’d heckle Alex Palica a lot.
“What’s your nationality,” says he.
Well, this seemed like a waste of time to me, because Palica is quite dark, and with a name like Palica, he seemed almost a cinch to be an Italian, but “I’m a Slav,” said Palica, right quick as it he was sure of it.
“A Slav,” echoed George, who is a Slav from way back and resented Alex trying to cut in on his territory. “If you’re a Slav, I’m an Indian.”
“How,” said Alex. Then, “Sure, I’m a Slav. All the best ball players are Slavs. There’s Johnny Pesky, Andy Pakfo, George Metkovich, Alex Palica. It’s Palovich, really.”
“You a white Slav?” asked George, incredulously. “If you’re a white Slav, I’m Santa Claus.”
“I want a doll for Christmas,” answered Alex, “about five foot three, with blonde hair.”
“But I can tell by looking at you you’re just a black Slav. One of those Serbs who live up in the hills. But don’t worry, maybe you’ll live it down.”
At this point, Lou Janicek, Texas gift to the Capilanos, wandered within range. “Now, there’s another Slav,” said Palica.
“Man, I’m no Slav,” drawled the Texas Terror. “Mah folks were white people from Czechoslovakia.”
“Oh, yes,” said George. “That’s the country on the border with Germany.”
“What you mean, boy? Germany’s on the border of Czechoslovakia. Ah dropped in and saw mah folks when ah was over there helping show the Germans where their bordah was. They don’t let none of those Slavs in there.”
Jimmy Estrada shuffled in at this crucial moment and I thought sure we had Palica. Jimmy is a full-blooded Indian who comes from the Mission tribe that produced Chief Myers, the old New York Giant star.
But I saw that look in Palica’s eye. And that, kiddies, is how I became a gambler.

[Vancouver News Herald, April 23, 1946]

SUNNYSIDE, Wash.—Aside to Bob Brown, “What were you saying Bob about the Vancouver Capilanos fielding before you left for home Monday. Something like: “One thing I’m sure of, we’ll have a topnotch fielding club.”
Well Bob, you should have seen your boys against Bremerton Blue Jackets here Monday, or maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t.”
The Caps confined their trouble to one inning, the fourth, but they really made a job of it while they were at it, they did everything but bury the ball in the sand, and they couldn’t find any sand. When they were through Bremerton had eight runs, enough to win almost any ball game.
It just wasn’t enough, as Sylvester Johnson’s W.I.L. lads came back busting to pound Bremerton’s Bill Kostenbater for 13 hits and almost pull the game out of the fire, but the final tally was Bremerton 11, Vancouver 10, and the tying run died on third in the ninth.
That fourth inning was something which isn’t likely to happen too many times this summer. The Caps are, as vice president Brown said, a top notch fielding club. Al Kretchmar started it off by throwing to second on a double play, then Watts Guland [sic] tossed two wild ones and Catcher Ray Spurgeon neglected to tag a man coming home, thinking it was a force out. Veteran Frank Volpi wrapped it up for the Blues by rapping out a homer to right field with two on.
CUFF NOTES—Big Doug Ford was the victim of his mates misdemeanors up till then, he had done very nicely holding the opposition to one hit in three innings if he’d have allowed 100 runs after that, nobody would have blamed him, except maybe the scorekeeper.
Ron Bryant finished up for the Caps, who windup their Spring training schedule against Bremerton again today.
Sad Sam Gibson’s Blue Jackets have, besides old friends Frank Volpi and Walter Bliss, young Vern Hill playing shortstop. Vern was with Bellingham last year, you’ll recall . . . They also have perhaps the best second baseman in the league in veteran Al Wright, late of Oakland . . . Wright is really smooth . . . he also powered out three hits in four tries . . . Third sacker Watts Gulan led the Caps at bat making up for his two miscues with four hits in six tries, one a triple . . . Frank Mullens stayed with the hot pace maintained by his outfielding by banging in three runs with two safeties.
Ray Orteig is expected to join the Caps in Spokane . . . he’ll be out of the Coast Guard momentarily . . . He should give Vancouver the toughest corps of right handers in the loop, with Alex Palica, who looks very impressive . . . Ford who looks likewise . . . Bryant who won 15 and lost six in ’42, his last year, and Bob Snyder, who also went well against Tacoma last week.
It’s been discovered that Cleve Ramsey, the rookie hitting star, also plays the infield. He may get a spot at first base if big Frank Gosney, whose play has been in and out, fails to click.
Bremerton . . . . . 000 811 010—11 16 6
Vancouver . . . . . 200 210 212—10 13 4
Kostenbater, Curran (9) and Volpi; Ford, Bryant (5) and Spurgeon.

Capilanos Break Training Camp; Open Season In Spokane Friday
By CLANCY LORANGER, News Herald Sports Writer
[April 24, 1946]
SUNNYSIDE, Wash.—That long, loud sigh (maybe you heard it) emanating from the Vancouver bench following the Capilanos 3-1 loss to Bremerton Blue Jackets here Tuesday was a sigh of relief. The spring training grind was over.
For Manager Sylvester Johnson and some of his boys, who started working with the Seattle Rainiers in San Fernando, it wound up nine weeks of kink-chasing. That’s not a lot of weeks, but there’s not a kink in sight.
Today the lads pack up their crisp new uniforms, the white home jobs and the grey travelling set and pile into their special bus for Spokane, where they open the season Friday. They plan to get in a couple workouts under the lights before the umps yell “play ball” for the first time at Ferris Field.
Manager Johnson will herd 21 ball players, including himself (and his old Major League soup bone is feeling pretty good) to Spokane where Ray Orteig will probably join the club.
Syl is well satified with his crew. Tuesday’s loss was number four in ten starts here, but he’s not too concerned about wins and losses—yet.
He is somewhat concerned about one spot on the club, though. That’s first base, big Frank Gosney who is none too strong around the bag, hasn’t been hitting lately either, although he did get hold of a double yesterday. Down in San Fernando Syl says, Frank was knocking the cover off the ball, but he hasn’t even looked like a hitter as of late.
Johnson isn’t exactly unprotected if Gosney doesn’t come out of it. He’s got Jimmy Estrada, who has been playing well, and he also figures he could use Orteig, who is at home in the infield, at the initial sack.
But the ace-in-the-hole is one Bill Wright, who, you’ll remember covered the spot in 1941-42. Bill is supposed to be getting out of the service soon—and he’d look mighty good out there.
The rest of the club goes like this:
Catchers: Ray Spurgeon and Dick Zender. Young Carl Brannum was returned to Seattle Tuesday. A promising boy, he’ll be placed where he can get steady work.
Infield: Art Bonnell and Al Kretchmar at second and short are as good as any keystone corps in the league. Watts Gulan at third has been a little erratic afield the last couple days, but he should do. His antics will kill the folks, too.
Bill McCloskey and Estrada are both capable utility men. Orteig can also help out, and then here is Vancouver’s Andy Clovechuk waiting to break in.
Outfield: Four top notch performers in Earl Silverthorn, centre; Frank Mullens, right; and Cleve Ramsay or Sid Van Sindern in left. Jim Youngman and Reg. Clarkson are also available.
Pitchers: Six right handers, including Johnson and Orteig, topped by Alex Palica and Doug Ford. One of the latter two will start in Spokane Friday, with Palica the probable choice. Alex looked very good in three innings Tuesday, allowing just one blow. Bob Snyder, who also went well Tuesday and Ron Bryant, complete the right side staff.
The three left handers, Lou Janicek, Jim Hedgecock and Dick Conover have all run into a little grief here lately, but all three know what they’re doing on the hill. The pitching staff is the least of Johnson’s few player worried.
While we’re on pitching worries, we might mention that Gene Holt, who played a couple times for Norvans last summer, gave the Caps some uneasy moments yesterday. Southpaw Holt handcuffed the boys with two safeties the six innings he toiled on the Bremerton mound. That was the ball game Tuesday.
Bremerton . . . . 000 021 000—3 10 0
Vancouver . . . . 000 000 001—1 6 2
Holt (6), Medeghini and Paglia; Snyder (3), Hedgecock (6), Palica and Spurgeon, Zender.

Salem Will Have Good Pitching; First Sacker Is Club’s Standout
SALEM, Ore.—Leo “Frisco” Edwards, who used to see things from the umpire’s point of view, will be learning how the other half lives this year.
Frisco now is the manager of the Salem Senators of the Western International League, and will be calling his decisions from the bench and the coaching lines.
The Senators, a farm club for the Portland Coast Leaguers, appear to have a strong pitching staff, an outstanding first baseman, a weak keystone combination and a fair outfield. Their catching has weakened by the departure of Roy Younker, who didn’t like the salary terms.
Edwards will probably catch a 200-pound salmon, by name of Woody Salman, who will alternate with George “Red” Daniels behind the plate. Both have shown this spring, whenever weather conditions permitted practice. The Senators are somewhat behind in their training program because of dripping skies.
The mound staff includes one hometowner—Lee Fallin, tall gangling right-hander who has played with Portland. Another prospective ace is Steve Gerkin, who was with the Philadelphia Athletics before being traded to Portland. Then there’s Ed Kowalski, portsider with plenty of steam, who whiffed 14 in a recent 10-1 victory over Pogland University.
Two more southpaws are Carl Gunnarson and Jack Schafer of California. Paul Soderberg, Henry Newman, Clyde Janeway, Jimmy Foster, Andy Adams and John Nolan complete the mound hopefuls.
George Vico, a six-foot-three first baseman, is expected to be a standout. The only thing that kept him off Portland’s first sack was that the Beavers have Larry Barton. Vico hits well and is excellent defensively, with his “splits” on low throws drawing admiring oh’s and ah’s.
Al Pristo and Henry Bartholomi [sic] are competing for second base, and Ray Malgradi and Sam Tosti seek the shortstop berth. Jim White appears to have third base cinched. There’s suspicion the club may be weak down the middle but it’s a bit too early to verify this.
Dick Wenner, a Fresno State product, Bob Cavinett of the University of Oregon and the Portland Beavers; Frank Lucchesi from Portland, Ralph Arnott of San Francisco and Duane Crawford complete the outfield. Crawford will also do relief work at first base.
A squad of 18 to 20 players will leave for Yakima April 25 to open the season the following day.

Angels Aid Tiger Crew
TACOMA, April 24—Tacoma’s Western International League Tigers will have excellent catching, an infield which figures to be as good as any in the circuit, and an entirely adequate outfield—but Manager Luther “Red” Harvel doesn’t like to dwell on his pitching prospects.
Fortunately, assistance in the elbowing department has been promised by the Los Angeles club of the Pacific Coast League.
Right-handers Warren Martin, Richey Colombo, Gene Clough and Jack Jimmink and southpaws Cy Greenlaw and Kenny Dupuis are the club’s pitchers now but at least one or two of that sextet will be replaced before the gong rings April 26.
Martin, a one-time Chicago farmhand who saw service in the Texas, East Texas and Three-Eye Leagues and Colombo, a 17-year-old Boston youngster reportedly handed a good sized bonus to sign with the Chicago Cub organization, are flingers on option from Los Angeles.
Jimmink, formerly a Michigan State Leaguer, was signed as a free agent after getting a trial with the Angels. Greenlaw, a Boston Red Sox chattel until he drew his release a fortnight ago, twirled for Vancouver in the W-I before the war, and Clough and Dupuis are locals without previous professional experience.
Catchers are Dick Kemper on option from the Angels, and Earl Kuper, former Pioneer Leaguer signed as a free agent. Both are nifty receivers.
[remainder of story unavailable]

By CLANCY LORANGER, News-Herald Sports Writer
[April 25, 1950]
SPOKANE.—There’s nothing like a good bus ride to shake a ball club down. Pardon, make that “up.”
Well, anyway, we all got here, with no bones broken. A few of us thin fellows were vibrating a bit, but otherwise the Vancouver Caps’ trip from Sunnyside, Wash., was uneventful.
Peppery Watts Gulan, the club’s unofficial court jester, kept things moving nicely by making cigarettes disappear, and everything was dandy until Jim Hedgecock, the left-handed ex-Marine, tried to lead the boys in song all the way from Walls (or is it Halls?) of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.
But another southpaw, Lou (Tex) Janicek, broke that up by suggesting we render “Deep in the Heart of Texas” or as a second choice, “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.”
By the time they got that ironed out, the eyes of Spokane were upon us, and with native son Jim Youngman serving as guide, harbor was safely reached.
After deciding that Spokane was a pretty nice town, the lads went out to look at Ferris Field, where they open their W.I.L. season against the Indians Friday night.
They had nothing but praise for the ball park, too. It is a nice park, with good lighting, an excellent infield, a comfortable mound, lots of fresh green grass, and some bright new signs on the fences. Sylvester Johnson’s crew put in a couple of hours under the lights, and they’re going back for another workout. Then they’ll sit tight and worry a bit until Friday night’s first ball.
The Spokane team, which is bossed by ex-Pittsburgh and Brooklyn shortstop Glenn Wright, isn’t worried a bit about the opening game. Tradition is on their side. Ever since they’ve been in the W.I. loop, they’ve won every other opener, and this is their year.
As for manager Johnson and his Caps, well, they kinda figure tradition is about due to take a beating.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Here's What's Happening

The library strike is over here, meaning the painfully-slow process can resume of going through reel upon reel of newspaper microfilm and fill in some blanks for the 1949-50-51 seasons that are on the various pages. (blanks meaning scores and linescores; stories are not available for some games in the newspapers I can access).
On top of that, you'll notice the results for 1953 games at the beginning of this blog start in mid-season, then jump to the beginning. It wasn't planned that way; the blog was actually going to be done differently until I changed my mind (not realising it would create a huge project in the process). So I'm setting up a 1953 page and once I weed through all the pre-season stuff, I'll move the 1953 posts from this page over there so everything's in chronological order.
As I work full-time for a living and am heavily involved in fraternal groups at night (and weekends), the process won't be a fast one. But there's lots of reading to do here now, anyway.

I have also changed my e-mail address you can click on to write. To make a long story short, my ISP doesn't have a recycle box for deleted web mail. And it marks all kinds of useful mail as spam. When I log out, it's gone forever. It turns out someone wrote me about Leon Mohr, the ex-Vancouver and Spokane infielder. However, I never got to read the mail; the ISP marked it as spam and killed it before the subject line dawned on me and I could open it. So, I have a gmail address where this won't happen. And, no, I don't know what happened to Lee. If anyone knows, let us all know by writing here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Highs and the Lows

There's something bittersweet about seeing the names of former major leaguers on the rosters of Western International League clubs over the years. It was great for fans in those pre-TV days; how else would they see anyone who had a major league uniform? Probably the most famous one was Bill Bevens, who will be forever known as the guy who came within an out of pitching a no-hitter in the World Series. His arm went bad and he eventually landed in his home town of Salem. Pitcher Joe Orrell was another. And Vancouver outfielder Charlie Mead was another. Their best days were behind them. But there was one whose best days were yet to come. Well, and some bad ones, too.

He was Steve Gerkin. He was the ace of the Lancaster Red Roses, which won the Class 'B' Inter-State League championship in 1943, ended up in the military, and then was signed by the Philadelphia A's. In 1945, Gerkin lost 12 games. He didn't win any, although he came close a few times. He was sent back to Lancaster in August and that ended his major league career. A deal was announced at the minor league meeting:

COLUMBUS, O., Dec. 5 —(AP)—The Philadelphia Phillies gave up Pitcher Steven Gerkin and Outfielder Mayo Smith to Portland of the Pacific Coast League for Pitcher Wendell Mosser.

But Portland assigned him to the farm in Salem in the spring and then he was released in July, only to be picked up hours later by the Tacoma Tigers.
However, it was evident he had talent. And he was on the move up:

Millers Sign Up Athletic Hurler
MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 15 [1947]—Bill Ryan, general manager of the Minneapolis American association baseball team said today the club had signed Steve Gerkin, a right hand pitcher formerly with the Philadelphia Athletics.
Gerkin, a free agent, was signed for an undisclosed bonus. Ryan said. Gerkin won 19 games and lost 16 for Salem, Ore., in the Western International league last season.
He pitched 20 games for the A's in 1945, finishing with a 3.42 earned run average before he went into the service.

A man solely assigned to relief pitching was a fairly new concept in those days; newspapers insisted on spelling the title "reliefer" for a good 20 years. That's what Steve became and he had a huge season:

Millers' Relief Star Chalks Up 75th Game
MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 21 — UP — Slim Steve Gerkin, whose heart is considerably stouter than his pitching arm, may never find himself in baseball's hall of fame, but it appeared today his relief twirling record may stand for many a year.
The 29-year-old right hander has appeared in 75 games for the Minneapolis club in the American Association, a mark no modern moundsman has even approached. Most of the reliefers, barely have hit the 60-game circle.
Gerkin, a lanky Baltimore product, spends his off-season as a garage mechanic. Sometimes he hurls only an inning or two, but his record of 10 victories and only two losses is tops on the faltering Miller mound staff. He has started only one game all year, but he has pitched 159 innings.
“I'll probably pitch in seven or eight more games,” he said. “Maybe more if we get in the playoffs.”
Gerkin's best ball is a sinker, but he also is well fortified with slow balls, curves and knucklers.
“I don't mind the pressure,” he said. “In fact I like it. It's sort of a challenge, and I always feel a lot better after I've met it.”

Gerkin Chosen Most Valuable In Association
COLUMBUS, Sept. 5—(INS)—Steve Gerkin, rubber-armed pitcher of the Minneapolis Millers, was proclaimed the American Association's most valuable player today by the league's baseball writers chapter.
Gerkin, who has shattered all records for number of pitcher-appearances in a season, pitched in his 82nd game of the season Wednesday.
The competition for this year's most valuable title was the keenest in years. Close behind the lanky ex - Philadelphia Athletic hurler wore Don Lang, Columbus third sacker, and Cliff Mapes, outfielder for the league leading Kansas City Blues.
Until Gerkin started working overtime in the association, Johnny Podgajny of the Boston Braves, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and other points held the record for greatest number of appearances. Podgajny appeared in 66 contests for the Orioles in 1945.
Gerkin, a skinny 30-year-old right - hander known as “The Sliver” — has a record of 10 victories and two defeats as a relief hurler.
He spent part of 1945 with the Athletics, then played with Salem and Tacoma of the Western International League. Last year, the Baltimore, Md. native appeared in 52 games for a new league record.
Other American Association stars who finished high in the balloting included Heinz Becker and Alvin Dark of Milwaukee, Mike Natisin and Ira Hutchinson of Columbus.
Ed Stewart of Kansas City, Phil Haugstad of St. Paul and Andy Gilbert of Minneapolis.

And he got in some Winter Ball in 1947 as well:

Noted Ball Player Here
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Gerkin and their three year old daughter, Judy, are visiting his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Miller of 824 Chester avenue, Eastport.
The Gerkin family flew up from Havana, Cuba, to attend the funeral services of Mrs. N.J. Miller. Mr. Gerkin is a professional baseball player and has been in Havana since Oct. 4. He played for Minneapolis, of the American Association during the season and set an all time high record by taking part in 83 games. He was voted the most valuable player in the American Association by sports writers and also won Sporting News Award for being the most valuable player.
He pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1945 and was in the Coast League in 1946.
Before he started playing professional ball he pitched for the Eastport team against Annapolis in the 1937 series.
The Gerkins will return to Havana by airplane.

[Evening Capital, Annapolis, Md., Dec. 4, 1947]

You'd think a major league team - even one as dismal as the Philadelphia A's - would sign the ace reliever. But they didn't. Instead, Steve kicked around in Triple-A in 1948...

COLUMBIS, O., June 24 - (INS)—Pitcher Steve Gerkin, who set an organized baseball record last year by appearing in 83 games for Minneapolis, has been sold outright by Columbus of the American Association to Rochester of the International League.

...and the following year was hurling for a semi-pro club, and did something really dumb.

Steals Cash From Police
ESTHERVILLE, July 27 (AP) — A former Minneapolis baseball pitcher was fined $100 in justice of peace court here Wednesday after he pled guilty to a charge of petty larceny.
Steve Gerkin, with the Minneapolis American Association team, admitted taking $19 from a metal cash box at police headquarters. The money was from parking meters.
Gerkin said he had stopped at police headquarters about 3 a.m. Wednesday to see Chief of Police Gene Morris, who manages the local baseball team for which Gerkin pitches. No one was in the office, so Gerkin said he called Morris and told him: “Say, there's no one here. I could walk away with a typewriter.”
Morris advised him to go home, but Gerkin said he found the cash box key and took $19 first.

It wasn't viewed as a big deal and the "string bean hurler of the Ewell Blackwell type" was back with the team the next season. However, like many minor leaguers, he kept his suitcase handy.

Royals Ink 2 Pitchers for '52 S-M Campaign
Two more pitchers have been signed by the Rochester Royals for the 1952 Southern Minnesota league baseball campaign.
Contracts were returned by Dick Fischer, the hard-luck pitcher with the Royals last season, and Steve Gerkin, former star with the Minneapolis Millers a few years back.
Gerkin is a familiar name to most Minnesota baseball fans. The 36-year-old righthander was the sensation of the American Association with the Minneapolis Millers in 1947 as a relief specialist. He appeared in 83 games and had a 10-2 record that season.
He played with Columbus and with Rochester of the International league in 1948. With Rochester he posted a 4-4 record and had an earned run average of 3.35.
Last year, the former professional had a 15-6 record for Lake Dennison, Iowa.
Gerkin will probably be used exclusively as a relief pitcher, according to present plans of manager Clint Dahlberg.
[Austin Daily Herald, Austin, Minn., Jan. 30, 1952]

He was one of only four pitchers on the staff to start the season(one was not Fischer).

Steve had another crack at pro ball:

Gerkin Named ...
VETERAN STEVE GERKIN, a member of the Rochester pitching staff last season, has been named manager of the St. Petersburg, Fla., entry in the Class B Florida-Internationa1 Baseball League. Gerkin will leave Rochester Sunday. He says he plans to do some relief pitching “whenever my young pitchers get in trouble”.. Gerkin has played in this section of the country since leaving professional baseball. In 1947, with Minneapolis, Gerkin set a record by appearing in 88 games as a relief pitcher. . . St. Petersburg offers a challenge to the "thin, man". For the Florida city is considered as being a “manager's graveyard” with its rapid turnover of pilots. . . Gerkin is well along in years and once hurled in the major leagues for Connie Mack's then hapless Philadelphia Athletics. Last season he had an 0-1 record in the Southern Minny and was released shortly before the season ended. . .
[Evening Tribune, Albert Lea, Minn., February 27, 1953]

But we find him later that year as a relief pitcher for the Duluth Dukes in the Class 'C' Northern League. He finished the year back in semi-pro. The only references I can spot after that are to his fine season with Minneapolis and his less-than-fine career with Philadelphia.

Steve's grandson supplied the picture of the scorecard you see above.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vern Kohout

Names of ball players get butchered in newspapers all the time. I must admit, I carried on this tradition by misspelling the occasional name of a Vancouver Canadians player on the web site at work this past season. In going through 1949 stories, one of the most commonly misspelled named was that of Bremerton lefthander Vern Kohout. Apparently, newspaper writers were thinking of some conspiracies and that he was in ka-houts with someone.

He pitched in 1947 and 1948 with the Salt Lake Bees of the Pioneer League and started 1949 with the Visalia Cubs of the California League before moving up to Bremerton. The Bremerton club moved to Wenatchee in 1950 and Bob went along, but was during spring training, he ended up with Spokane. The Indians released him (his last game was July 6th) with a 2-3 record and was signed in mid-August by the Lamesa Lobos of the West Texas-New Mexico League (the team noted for firing its official scorer because it didn't like his calls) and pitched in the playoffs. Here's Vern and a teammate with one of those nose-cone Ford station wagons (Studebakers had the ultimate in nose cones).

It appears Vern wasn't the only Kohout playing pro ball. His brother Bob Kohout made his pro debut in 1941 for Big Spring in West Texas-New Mexico League after a fine season for San Francisco State College the year before (he was with Santa Barbara in the California League in 1942, Danville of the Three-I League in 1946 and Pueblo of the Western League in 1948).

And what did he do after baseball? Let the Salt Lake Tribune of Nov. 6, 1968 reveal all:

Sports Mirror by
John Mooney
Tribune Sports Editor
Disa and Data About People
On the Sports Scenes

Vern Kohout, a southpaw pitcher for the Bees in 1947-48, was a Salt Lake visitor last week.
Only now he's sporting a Ph.D. as program coordinator of vocational guidance for the Appalachia Educational Laboratory in Charleston, W. Va.
Vern spent four years “in Europe, trying to teach natives how to improve their conditions and he's lectured and studied all over the United States.
“It's quite a change from the days at Berks Field when I'd be standing on the mound, with the bases full, wondering how I could insure my future,” he added.
After kicking around baseball for two or three years after leaving the Bees, Vern decided to forget baseball and concentrate on his studies.

Vern is in the Tacoma-Pierce County Old Timers Baseball-Softball Hall of Fame with a pile of other WIL players, like Dick Greco, Gordy Brunswick, Cy Greenlaw, Morry Abbott, Ray Spurgeon and, well, the list is a long one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Edo Vanni

There's talk about naming the Northwest SABR Chapter after Edo Vanni, who died in May this year. When you think about it, that's probably about as good a name as any for it, though I'm partial to long-forgotten cross-border slugger Charlie Swain.

Most fans in these here parts who have heard of Edo will likely associate him with the Seattle Rainiers (the photo to the right is from 1946), but he spent time in a bunch of cities in the Western International League, including Vancouver and Victoria.

You know the story. Edo was a college football star who signed with the Rainiers in 1938. The signing had some controversy, as L.H. Gregory's story in The Sporting News of Feb. 24 that year reveals:

When the Seattle Rainiers reached into the freshman class at the University of Washington to sign young Edo Vanni, field goal kicking specialist and baseball outfielder, they stirred up a terrific outcry through the Pacific Northwest over "raiding" by professional leagues of varsity ball players, already quite a sore point with the colleges.
Vanni was signed, oddly enough, by Torchy Torrance, vice-president of the Rainiers, who formerly was assistant graduate manager at Washington, and the pressure from his old college chums became so hot that Torrance agreed to tear up the contract if Vanni said the word. The youngster, however, who had previously given an option on his services to Dutch Ruether, ex-Seattle manager, after first saying he would stick to college and football, later changed his mind and stood pat on his baseball contract.

TSN talks a bit more about Edo on July 14th.

Leading the talent parade [for the Rainiers] are two home-town youngsters, both of them only a year out of high school [mention is made of Freddie Hutchinson].
The other youngster who is earning the plaudits of the critics and fans is Edo Vanni, a speedy Italian boy who patrols right field and who swings from the left side. Vanni gave up a promising football career at the University of Washington this spring to make his bid in pro ball. During a spring training tussle, he suffered a torn muscle in his left thigh while trying to beat out a bunt. For nearly two months, he was on the shelf. Then on May 28, Jack Lelivelt pulled out Al Marchand and inserted Vanni. The former football drop-kick artist came through with three lusty base hits. The following night, he blasted three more, and after that he kept up a steady tattoo of blows to win a regular berth. A short, compact swing and an eagle batting eye are reasons for young Vanni's steady stickwork.

That's all I can find about him in TSN for that year. There was an interesting Canadian connection mentioned in an AP national sports column, dated August 22, 1938:

Edo Vanni, a sophomore back who learned the game playing Rugby up Vancouver way, is one of the biggest reasons they're tabbing Washington as the dark hoss of the coast conference.

Sounds to me he was still playing football.

I first saw Edo's name going through some Vancouver Mounties game stories. He was taking part in a cow-milking contest before the game at Cap Stadium. I couldn't figure out why they'd have a visiting coach do that, but it's obviously because Edo had a reputation. The Seattle P.I. mentioned in his obit:

He'd often pull a red handkerchief out of his back pocket and wave it in the outfield in ways to incite fans on the road and inspire home supporters.
He once wrestled a black bear before a game in Wenatchee to draw fans to the ballpark.
In Seattle, he got tossed before a game for bringing a friend's St. Bernard, supposedly the biggest "seeing-eye" dog he could find, to home plate while delivering the lineup card, a comment on the previous night's disagreements with the umpiring crew.
Faced with an empty ballpark for a doubleheader in Wenatchee, he instructed his players to start a huge brawl in the opener and, with word spreading fast because of the radio description of the slugfest, fans filled the place for the second game.
While managing the 1964 Rainiers ... Vanni caught Rainiers pitcher Jim Lonborg, another eventual Red Sox standout, breaking curfew. Lonborg's punishment was to run until he vomited under the manager's watchful eye and sarcastic tone.
"I see you had Chinese food last night," Vanni quipped while the pitcher was doubled over.
As Angels general manager, Vanni observed that his manager, Bob Lemon, the Hall of Fame pitcher, repeatedly smelled of alcohol when he came to the ballpark. Others might have looked the other way, considering the baseball pedigree involved. Vanni firmly told him to quit drinking before games or lose his job, and Lemon complied.

Why wouldn't you name a SABR chapter after a guy like that?

We Get Letters!

Let's face it. I wonder if anyone really reads all the stuff I put up here. After all, this blog is about a low minor league that's been dead since for 53 years. It's mostly linescores and a line or two on each game. Search engines don't seem to know about it. But I've gotten a few e-mails, which is really cool.

The latest one is from Angelo Venturelli, Jr. That's his dad on the right. His father pitched in Tacoma in 1948 then was called up to the San Diego Padres, where he spent some time. He had a stop with the Twin Falls Cowboys in the Pioneer League in 1942, from which the Padres bought his contract in 1943, then with the Modesto Reds of the California League in 1947. After his career ended, he went into the banking business in southern California.

Speaking of Modesto, John Holmquist wrote asking about the Sept. 22nd game that gave the Reds the 1954 California League championship versus the San José Red Sox. Now, Modesto wasn't in the WIL, but I did a little digging. It was a great game, the one baseball fans love to see (OK, the kind I'd like to see). It was scoreless until the top of the ninth and the Reds hadn't even put a runner past second base until Red outfielder Russ Derry, who had played for the Yankees, smashed a solo home run over the right field fence. Then came the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox had the bases loaded on a hit and two walks. Two were out. Up stepped Gary Killingsworth. He hit a slow roller to Jack Holmquist, who "while bent over and still running, threw to first for the final out" to give Modesto the Governor's Cup.
The heroic Holmquist in question was the late father of my correspondent.
Incidentally, Derry celebrated by rushing back to St. Louis where his daughter was showing her prize calf in the 4-H show at the fair. Now, that's old-time baseball! Could Barry Bonds say the same thing today?

A relative of Morry Abbott fired off a short note. Abbott swatted 37 homers for Tacoma in 1939 and spent the next couple of seasons there. I haven't done any pre-war stuff on the WIL so I really don't know much about him, other than Bremerton's Bill Barisoff broke his record in 1946. And his middle initial is "H."

But the best part, so far, is getting a brief e-letter from former Victoria lefthander Jim Propst, who had several good seasons for the Athletics and Tyees. Jim is 80 now and, if the internet is correct, a former steelworker and antique and stamp collector.

Feel free, dear readers, to click on "comments" to leave a note on the site re. the WIL, especially if you're a former player or related to one. Nancy Shapley left a squib about her dad, Carl. I'd even be happy to hear from anyone who went to a WIL game that stuck in their memory.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Doc Younker

I mentioned a couple of months ago about former Vancouver Mounties trainer Doc Younker, a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, who attended the SABR meeting in Vancouver. Little did I realise he had been a Western International League umpire. Or a grocery guy.

Here's a piece on him from the Tri-City Herald, May 20, 1952, by sports editor Don Becker.

Harold Younker who gave up calling out grocery lists to sing out on balls and strikes may not know how lucky he is to break into the umpiring business in Class A league. The former Pasco groceryman really got a big break when League President Bob Abel plucked him to work the WIL circuit. Most umpires, like ball players, have to come up the hard way by starting out in the low minors and then proving their ability.
Younker got his big chance when George Behringer quit. Right, now he will be on probation for perhaps a month or so until he has proved his ability. That will depend on the reports from the umpires working with him and to some extent what the club managers have to say, providing Abel asks them.
It's quite a process this getting to be an umpire. The most single important thing about umpiring, at least in our opinion, is a thick skin. They have to take some pretty rough treatment from managers and players when a disagreement arises and you can't just thumb them out of the game. At least not in this class of baseball where a team only carries 17 players. Boot out a couple of key players and you might just as well hand the other team the ball game. Consequently the umps, must of necessity, allow a much wider latitude than they would, say in the Coast or Major Leagues.
Younker's case history is a good example of how umpires happen and is probably applicable to most in the business. First of all it was his hobby. . .he liked calling games. So after beating ground a few semi-pro games he decided to take a few lessons and attended the school in Portland operated by “Doc” Regele, a former WIL umpire. But Younker found that wasn't enough so this past winter he enrolled in Bill McGowan's two-month course at Daytona Beach, Fla. And here's how that looked.
“There were about 130 of us I guess,” said Younker, “who were taking the course. The first in the morning we had calisthenics, then breakfast. After the morning meal we'd take a long workout practicing calling balls and strikes, safes and outs. For that we'd form up in a long line, then one at a time go forward beatable and call “safe,” “out” or whatever it was. And when you made the call you had to be in the proper position with your legs well spread and the gesture well-defined. The rest of the morning we'd choose up teams and take turns in calling the game.”
If you noticed Younker working behind the plate Saturday night or Sunday it was quite apparent that even not knowing who McGowan was, that he was from the American League. Younker was calling the game directly over the catcher's head as contrasted with the National League style in which the umpire calls the pitches from inside the catcher, that is he looks over the shoulder of the catcher nearest the batter.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More on Gus Hallbourg

The last survivor of the Spokane Indians bus crash in 1946 who died last week was signed to a pro contract in February 1939. He was in the West Texas-New Mexico League and started with Lubbock but ended up with Pampa against Lubbock in the playoffs.
Here's a contemporary sports column about him.

[The Lowell Sun, Lowell, Massachusetts, March 17, 1939]
OUT OF A CLEAR SKY BEAMS A NEW SUBURBAN star, for whom two major league clubs ran a merry race this winter with a contract as the prize.
The whole story can be told, now that Darwin Hallbourg of East Pepperell is finally and officially listed with the Chicago White Sox rookie camp at Longview, Texas.
Two years ago, rangy, strong-armed, right-handed Hallbourg was tossing 'em up for the North Chelmsford American Legion team, and then he pitched for the St. Joseph's church team of Pepperell in the Catholic Junior league. When that circuit failed to reorganize, Hallbourg applied his trusty arm to the fortunes of a crack semi-pro team in Nashua, N. H. He never hurled in Lowell, but he's the pride of Pepperell and the joy of the suburban towns, who always claim to have baseball talent as plentiful and able as Lowell proper.
The story of Hallbourg has its dramatic points. Six weeks ago, one of the scouts of the New York Yankees "got ahold" of this writer and sought the kind of information that scouts are wont to seek. For the present, the scout's identity must be held in confidence. It doesn't matter particularly anyway, but the contacts were opened for the Yankee ambassador in Pepperell by the writer, and he proceeded to the town. In no time at all, he was talking with an older relative of the prospect.
"Your boy plays quite a lot of baseball, doesn't he?" politely inquired the Yankee talent hunter.
"Oh my, yes," was the reply. "Darwin just yesterday signed an agreement to play for Chicago of the American league. Isn't that grand?"
"Swell," mumbled the scout, as he reached for his hat.
If Hallbourg had known that the Yankees were after him, it's a cinch this would be another story.
Of Hallbourg's prospects, Sec. John P. McEnaney of the Middlesex County league is more than mildly optimistic.
"He has everything," said Mac. "He's young, has a sweet variety of shoots and is big, strong and heady."
Where Hallbourg's stuff was first discerned by Chicago and New York scouts is unknown. The Yankee scout refused to impart that enticing piece of information. But down in Longview, Texas, there's a kid who was chucking for North Chelmsford's little Legion Junior team a few years ago and he is good enough to have created a contract race between two of the best operated teams in major league baseball.

Spokane's Last Survivor

No doubt you've heard about the passing of former Spokane Indian Gus Hallbourg. Here are some news stories dealing with his death, including a fine piece by SABR's Jim Price, who was radio's voice of the Indians when I met him in 1979.
You can read contemporary stories about the bus crash on this site. Click on the label 'bus crash' at the end of this post.

Pitcher from ill-fated 1946 Spokane Indians team dies
The Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash., Oct. 17 — Darwin "Gus" Hallbourg, a survivor of a fatal bus crash that devastated the 1946 Spokane Indians baseball team, died Saturday of a heart attack at a California care center, according to his brother Don. He was 87.
Nine of the Western International League team's 15 players died when their Bremerton-bound bus tumbled off the Snoqualmie Pass highway and burst into flames on June 24, 1946.
Hallbourg, who played professionally for six years as a pitcher and outfielder, crawled through a window frame. After helping others to safety, he was treated for burns on his arms and hands. He returned to action later in the season.
In 1940, his second season, the right-hander won 21 games for Pampa, Texas, of the West Texas-New Mexico League. After being sold to San Diego, Hallbourg won 15 games for Anaheim of the California League in 1941 and appeared in four games for the Padres.
After service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Hallbourg played for Spokane, finishing with a 7-6 record. He played two more seasons with Lancaster of the Inter-State League.
He settled in Manteca, Calif., and was employed for 32 years by Pacific Telephone Co.
Hallbourg is survived by Roberta, his wife of 61 years; a brother; two sisters; three sons and a daughter. There are five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Survivor of ill-fated bus crash dies at 87
Staff reports of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin [Oct. 18]
The last survivor of what is considered to be the worst accident in American professional sports passed away Saturday.
Darwin "Gus" Hallbourg, a longtime Manteca resident, died of a heart attack at the age of 87. He was set to turn 88 on Halloween.
Hallbourg was stricken with pneumonia after suffering a stroke in September.
Hallbourg was a part of a tragic bus crash June 24, 1946 while he and his Spokane Indians minor league baseball team, of the Western International League, were traveling across Washington state to Bremerton.
The bus tumbled off the Snoqualmie Pass highway and was engulfed in flames.
Nine of the 15 players, including player-manager Mel Cole, died as a result. Hallbourg helped get his surviving teammates to safety and was later treated for burns on his arms and hands.
"I was able to get out of there without serious injuries, and I've been lucky to live a wonderful life," Hallbourg once told the Spokesman Review. "I am one of the great lucky guys alive."
Hallbourg was a Minor League pitcher and outfielder for six years and served four years in World War II with the U.S. Navy.
After his final two professional seasons with Lancaster of the Inner-State League, he settled in Manteca and went on to work for Pacific Telephone Company for 32 years.
Hallbourg was a member of Spring Creek Golf Club in Ripon and was considered an excellent amateur golfer.
He is survived by Roberta, his wife of 61 years; two sisters and a brother; three sons and a daughter; five grand children and one great grandchild.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review

Darwin F. (Gus) Hallbourg
Darwin F. (Gus) Hallbourg, 87, died Saturday, Oct. 13, in Hughson, after a long, happy life. He was born on Oct. 31, 1919 in Huntington, Mass.
Gus grew up in Pepperill, Mass. where he lived until high school graduation in 1939. He played professional baseball from 1939 until 1948, with time out to serve as a Chief Boatswain's Mate in the Navy during World War II. During this time he married Roberta Harney on Jan. 5, 1946 in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1948 they moved to Stockton, where he began a 33 year career with Pacific Telephone. He moved to Manteca with his family in 1959 where he lived until his death at 87 years old. He enjoyed many happy years playing golf and was well known for his beautiful tomato garden.
Gus is survived by and will so be missed by his wife of 61 years, Roberta; brother, Donald Hallbourg and wife Jean of Stockton; sisters, Alice Duce of Middletown, Rhode Island, and Shirley Jones of Oakville, Ontario, Canada; daughter, Marsha Beever and husband Dan of Atwater; sons, Robert Hallbourg and wife Flora, and Peter Hallbourg of Manteca, Mark Hallbourg of Auburn; grandchildren, Dan and Crystal Beever, Tony and Jessica Hallbourg, Laura Beever, Matthew and Melissa Hallbourg, Kendall Hallbourg; and great-grandchildren, Janessa and Isaac Hallbourg.
Please join the family in a celebration of Gus's life at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club, (1580 Spring Creek Dr., Ripon, CA 95366), on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Community Hospice, Inc., 2201 Euclid Ave., Hughson, CA 95326.
Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin - Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007

Last survivor of bus crash dies at 87
Heart attack claims Hallbourg

Jim Price
Spokane Spokesman-Review, October 16, 2007

The passage of time has concluded the living history of the ill-fated 1946 Spokane Indians baseball team.
Former pitcher Darwin "Gus" Hallbourg died of a heart attack Saturday night in a care center near Modesto, Calif. Hallbourg, 87, developed pneumonia after a minor stroke in late September. A resident of nearby Manteca, he was the last survivor of the worst accident in American professional sports history.
On June 24, 1946, a bus carrying the Spokane Indians across the state to Bremerton, tumbled off the Snoqualmie Pass highway and plunged into the canyon, where it exploded in flames. Nine of the Western International League team's 15 players died as a result.
Hallbourg escaped by squirming through a window frame. After helping other survivors reach safety, he was treated for burns on his arms and hands. He returned to action later in the season, playing in the outfield when he wasn't pitching.
Moments before the accident, Hallbourg turned to star pitcher Bob Kinnaman, who shared his love of fishing, and said "Wouldn't this be one helluva place to go over the edge?"
Hallbourg had begun the trip sharing a seat with third baseman Jack Lohrke. However, Lohrke, Spokane's best major-league prospect, left his teammates after dinner in Ellensburg, where he learned he had been recalled by the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League.
A native of Huntington, Mass., Hallbourg played professionally for six seasons, half before his four years of World War II service with the U.S. Navy.
In 1940, his second season, the gregarious right-hander won 21 games for Pampa (Texas) of the West Texas-New Mexico League. After being sold to San Diego, Hallbourg won 15 games for Anaheim of the California League in 1941 and appeared in four late- season games for the Padres.
Spokane was his first stop following the war. He finished with a 7-6 record. After two seasons with Lancaster of the Inter-State League, he accepted a full-time job in Central California with Pacific Telephone Company. He settled in Manteca and retired from the phone company 32 years later.
Hallbourg was admired for his cheerful outlook.
In a 1986 interview, Spokane teammate Milt Cadinha remembered him as "a very, very, very nice person." Monday, Hallbourg's brother, Don, a Stockton, Calif., resident, agreed. "He always had a nice attitude. Nothing ever bothered him too much."
Indeed, last June, asked about his health, Hallbourg chirped, "I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."
More than once, he told The Spokesman-Review how fortunate he felt to have been spared in the bus wreck.
"I was able to get out of there without serious injuries, and I've been lucky to live a wonderful life," he said. "I am one of the great lucky guys alive."
For years, Hallbourg was among the Modesto area's best amateur golfers, and he was an avid gardener who raised tomatoes. He and wife Roberta had been married 61 years. The 1946 baseball season in Spokane served as their honeymoon.
Hallbourg would have turned 88 on the last day of this month.
His remains will be cremated, according to family members. In lieu of services, there will be a family gathering later this month. In addition to his wife and brother, he is survived by two sisters, three sons and a daughter. There are five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hey, Now, What's That Sound?

Here's a piece from Jim Coleman's column (reprinted in the Lethbridge Herald) of May 17, 1951. It deals with rabid rooters and starts with Hilda Chester in Brooklyn. Then, it mentions the Western International League.

Take the case of Joe North, a veteran baseball devotee in Victoria, B.C. A couple of years ago, Joseph sued the Victoria Baseball Club because the management refused to admit him to the game. The management contended that North's vocal manifestations of approval and disapproval disturbed other spectators in the grandstand. Specifically, Joseph was charged with uttering a hideous sound described as “The Bronx Cheer.”
The case was tried before a dignified jurist of the British Supreme Court, who, puzzled by the nature of the evidence, requested Mr. North to give a demonstration of his art. Beaming proudly, Mr. North arose In the witness box, took a deep breath, pursed his lips and obliged with the grand-daddy of all Bronx Cheers.
His Lordship reeled backward in his chair. Visibly shaken, he adjourned the court and fled to his chambers, looking back fearfully at Mr. North who was taking bows from the witness box. Mr. North's suit was dismissed when His Lordship had regained his composure.
• • • •
The evidence revealed that Mr. North had another little pecularity. He took large quantities of home-made sandwiches to each game. He would pass through the stands pressing these sandwiches.
One of the witnesses who testified against him was a waiter from the Empress Hotel. Witness contended that North's offers of sandwichs were annoying and offensive.
“Did you ever accept one of these sandwiches?” counsel asked.
“Certainly not,” sniffed the witness. “I work at the Empress and I eat only the very best food.”
Personally, we find it hard to understand why Mr. North was discriminated against for distributing home-made sandwiches unless, of course, he was cutting into the profits of the concessionaires who sell, the frankfurters and coffee. We remember a prominent Vancouver gentleman who arrived at all baseball games, carrying a large wicker picnic-basket packed with sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. Perhaps they have barred him, too.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Save on Transportation

This incident likely took place in 1939. Bellingham packed up for Salem for 1940. As usual, "manager" means "business manager" as opposed to "field manager."

Speaking of baseball did you know that at one time a team hitch-hiked in order to keep up with the schedule? That's right. It happened when Bellingham was in the WIL circuit. The club had suffered heavy financial reverses and finally were left without even a manager. Al Lichtner, now sports editor of the Salem Statesman, was appointed as manager, and the club not only used their thumb to get to Spokane for a series, but also used the same method to swing across the state to Tacoma.
-Tri-City Herald, Monday, February 5, 1951

Monday, September 3, 2007

Amby Moran

Umpires don't tend to be popular. But Amby Moran was. He had called balls and strikes and outs in the PCL then worked in the shipyards in Bremerton during the war before resuming his umpiring career in the WIL in 1946. That's all I knew about him until stumbling on this column by the late Jim Coleman in the Lethbridge Herald of November 21, 1950.

Jim was always a great writer, and here he is about Amby Moran. It doesn't deal with Amby's time in the Western International League, but you'll like the story.

This is about "The Remarkable Reformation of Ambrose Jason Moran, The Man-Who-Scored-A-Goal-While-Skating-Backwards." We ran into this story in Vancouver last week and we offer it in the spirit of humility because we think that it provides a strong object-lesson for any young athlete who wanders from the Primrose Path.
Young gaffers of today probably don't remember Ambrose Jason Moran, but he was one of the fabulous figures of the Torrid Twenties. He was the locomotive fireman from Winnipeg who played hockey for Brandon, Regina, Vancouver, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, Tulsa and way-stations.
He was one of the best all-round athletes ever developed in Winnipeg, In the space of two years, he played on six championship teams—in lacrosse, hockey and baseball. There is no telling how far he might have gone if a fellow-railwayman hadn't given him his first drink of gin at the age of 19. There are competent western sports critics who will tell you that Amby Moran could have been elected to Hockey's Hall of Fame, on the strength of his playing-ability—if he hadn't been an unregenerative screwball.
You've heard the old legend of how Cyclone Taylor is reputed to have scored a goal while skating backwards. Taylor has never confirmed that story. The fact remains that Amby Moran did score a goal while skating backwards.
Despite the fact that he weighed 250 pounds, Moran was a speedy and skillful skater. When he was checled by the opposing defence, he had a trick of pirouetting like a ballet dancer. One night, he was playing for Regina Capitals against Calgary Tigers in the old Western Canada League. He was hit by Red Dutton and Herb Gardiner of the Calgary defence.
Amby pirouetted, retained possession of the pick, skated backwards all the way from the blue line and blasted the pust past Bill Binnie in the Calgary goal.
* * *
However, we're writing this piece with Moran's blessing because he hopes that others may profit from his mistakes. To be brutally frank about it, Amby was a lush. Looking back on it, he believes he was the unchallenged, catch-as-catch-can champion of Canadian professional sport.
The other day, in Vancouver, we asked Amby if ever there was an occasion when he was on the wagon.
"Sure," said Mr. Moran affably, "I was on the wagon every time they had me locked up in the can."
Mr. Moran's visits to these houses of correction were the direct result of the chemical reaction of alcohol on an Irish temperament. Moran never deliberately hurt an opponent in the course of a game but, when he got his nose into the grog, in extra-curricular activities, his actions were somewhat unpredictable.

* * *
Moran owes all his misfortunes to his affection for alcohol. He was one of the outstanding athletes of his era but he was tossed aside reluctantly by sports promoters who couldn't keep him on a straight line. He blew his jobs and he blew his chances with the unreasoning nonchalance of the alcoholic.
Today, Amby should have been one of baseball's top umpires, holding a job in the National League.
The National League sent a scout to report on Moran, who had been recommended highly by Big League players who barn-stormed in Canada. The scout caught up with Moran who was umpiring a Labor Day double-header in Winnipeg. It was one of those "synthetic" double-headers with a single game in the morning and another in the afternoon.
After the first game, the scout wired National League headquarters: "Hire this man at once. He's outstanding."
During the luncheon interval, Amby dipped into a jar of jungle-juice. The crowd appreciated the umpire's antics during the second game but, reluctantly, the scout telegraphed National League and told them to forget about Moran.
* * *
It was only his remarkable constitution which kept him going. He skidded and skidded and then, one night 26 months ago, he reached the end of the road.
He was sitting alone in a little hotel room in North Vancouver. He tried to read the newspaper and his eyes couldn't focus on the type. The perspiration ran down him in streams. The walls were closing in on him and there was no one on whom he could call for help.
It was at that precise moment that two strangers walked into his room. One an impulse, they had driven 10 miles through a blinding rain-storm to see him. They were Alcoholics Anonymous.
Analyzing it now, we believe that those were the first two real friends that Amby Moran ever had in his life.
He hasn't had a drink since that day. Now, at 55, he looks so wonderfully clear-eyed and happy that his old friends wouldn't recognize him. In our Vancouver hotel room the other day, he told us the story simply and sincerely and he told us that he's devoting the remainder of his life to helping other men and women.
We were mobed genuinely, when we heard him say: "We don't want to add years to their life—we want to add life to their years."
Well, if ever an old athlete needs help, he should remember the name of Ambrose Jason Moran.

Amby Moran died in North Vancouver on April 4, 1958, age 61.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

1950 Done (Mostly)

If results of the 1950 Western International League season are what you're after, they're all on the 1950 page. There are scores for all of them, linescores for all but a handful and at least a one-line story from various sources on most of them. Despite conflicting newspaper numbers and my poor math skills, I think I have accurate standings after most game-nights.

Unfortunately, the CUPE strike in Vancouver that has shut down the library and its newspaper archives is still on, otherwise I could flesh out some of the stories and add the missing linescores. I especially wanted to check the Vancouver News-Herald for Clancy Loranger's (I'm presuming it was his) front page story on rumours of Tri-City moving, as well as the flap regarding the Vancouver official scorer (the current Vancouver official scorer, Pat Karl, is guessing it was the late Eric Whitehead), and more on the proposal to move the Salem club to New Westminster.

If you're waiting for the 1951, 1952 and 1954 seasons (and the pre-war years of 1937-1942), you will be waiting for awhile. Now that September is here, I am involved with a number of organisations which will take up about all my spare time until next summer and thus I will be unable to carry on with the game-by-game roundup. And I still can't finish 1949 until the strike ends and I check the archives to confirm six weeks worth of linescores.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Vancouver SABR Meeting

Once a year, a pleasant afternoon is spent in Vancouver when the local/regional members of SABR get rounded up by Max Weder for a little get-together. This year was no exception and Max did a fine job in setting up the meeting in the empty-but-noisy concession area at Nat Bailey Stadium (now, if the old Press Room were still around.....).
I had a chance to speak far too briefly with Bill Whyte, who pitched for the Vancouver Capilanos in the Western International League. Bill's retired in Nanaimo now. He doesn't look old enough for someone who was in baseball 55-plus years ago. The chat was coincidental as I'm now posting the July 1950 WIL games (see the 1950 page) and have reached the point where Bill started appearing for the Capilanos.
He's a local guy who was signed by Bob Brown off the sandlots. Bob sent him to Calgary to play semi-pro in 1949 (if I recall, it was four-team league; the Purity 99s and another club in Calgary and two in Edmonton). He led the league. The following year, Bill says Victoria was shy of players so he and another were loaned to the Athletics, then he ended up in El Centro in the Class C Sunset League before being called up in mid-season to the Caps.
Bill stayed around the team for a couple of more years and has the distinction of winning the last game played in Athletic Park. "They rolled up the infield," he says, "and the next day, we were playing on it here [Cap Stadium, now Nat Bailey]."
I wish I had a chance to make some notes and then speak with him longer. The stories about the games and the players are usually more interesting than the games themselves.
Bill's picture you see above is from 1951. It's been purloined off the web and I'm guessing it's from Max's collection.
Incidentally, I mentioned how I saw Bud Beasley's name in a linescore with his. "He was quite a character," Bill said. Indeed he was. Here's a link to Bud's obit. He's probably the only WIL player to have a school named after him (it's in Sparks, Nevada).

The best part about the meeting perhaps was the appearance of the former trainer for the 1954 Capilanos and PCL's Vancouver Mounties during their years as an Orioles farm club. Doc Younker told the story about what happened after Brooks Robinson ripped his arm on the dugout at Cap Stadium in 1959. It was more like he impaled it. Doc explained that ambulance response times were worse in the '50s than they are today, so he ended up taking Brooks to Vancouver General, and then caught hell from Mounties General Manager Cedric Tallis for it. But, in doing so, Brooks was able to get medical attention and then, as we all know, go on to a Hall of Fame career for the Orioles.

Bud Kerr showed me a ball signed by members of the 1953 Caps. Apparently, some widow found it in her late husband's garage workshop on the North Shore, called former C's souvenier man Torchy Pechet, who immediately called Bud.

Canadians co-owner Jake Kerr made an appearance. What a great thing to have local ownership show that kind of interest. Andy Kerr, the GM-who-has-some-other-title, spoke about his jaunts around the minor leagues, starting with the Oklahoma City 89ers. It sounds like he was there when the Rangers would seemingly sign almost any six-year free agent over the age of 32 (pitches, especially) and ship them to OKC. A lot of veteran PCL players used to end up there back then.

He reminded us the park isn't up to AAA standards. We can always hope that day comes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Congrats to Bud Kerr

He never played in the Western International League, but he's been supporting Vancouver baseball since those days. He's Bud Kerr, who has received more space in one edition of the Vancouver Courier than the dailies will give to local baseball in a month. Click HERE for it.

A loud "Hear! Hear!" comes from this blogger about a baseball museum. One of the selling points about dear old Nat Bailey Stadium is "the past," but precious little about it is visible anywhere there, unless you want to count the coats of paint like rings on oak tree. What a great idea to allow baseball fans of all ages to view Bud's collection and learn about our city's baseball history. Decades ago, Bob Brown was the first to be inducted into the Vancouver Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall's resurrection is long overdue and should have a home in Bud's museum.

Now that the club will put this excellent idea in place, the next thing they should do something about is the atrocious state of the field at Nat Bailey. It used to be the best in the PCL. Now, it's a divot-laden, boggy embarrassment to A-ball. Cement has more give than the infield some nights. It's pretty bad when the umpire demands last-minute work be done on it, like we saw on Thursday night.

While we're mini-ranting, here's a question raising from the Courier story: where on earth did anyone get the idea that professional baseball in Vancouver "is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary"? The first pro game was 1905. That was 103 seasons ago. If you take out the various gaps when Vancouver didn't have pro ball, it still doesn't work out to 100. Whoever came up with "100 year" canard sure didn't get the idea from Bud Kerr. He knows his history. Other people obviously don't. Maybe when we get a baseball museum, stupid misconceptions like this will become history themselves.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Don Ferrarese

Today, not an awful lot of players get called up to the PCL from the Northwest League. How different things were in the 40s and 50s. The Western International League was, in part, a feeder for PCL clubs and you'll read stories of guys going from, say, the Vancouver Capilanos to the Seattle Rainiers (and vice versa). So, when Vancouver joined the PCL in 1956, Mounties fans (and it's remarkable there were any after that dreadful season) would see former WIL players dotting various Coast League rosters.

One of these was Don Ferrarese, who appeared in a Wenatchee Chiefs uniform in 1950. He was 9 and 12 with an ERA of 5.21 that year, giving up 123 runs (107 earned) on 121 hits and 209 walks. He struck out 154 and tossed 18 wild pitches that year (the 16 March 1951 newspaper photo to the left is when he went to spring training with Oakland). Ferrarase also pitched for the Vancouver Mounties, as he was sent down from the Baltimore Orioles on May 16, 1957 (the baseball card you see to the right and above is from that year). He won his first start for the Mounties ten days later against the Rainiers, and reeled off three straight victories, then five straight losses, then eight straight wins to finish the season. Don had a remarkable string of four straight four-hitters and even beat Tommy Lasorda who was with a Los Angeles team that wasn't the Dodgers on August 28th. He struck out 15 in his final start for Vancouver on September 14 and finished with an ERA under 3.00 (why aren't minor league career stats before 1978 available on-line anyways?)

I write this because I occasionally stumble upon what former WIL players are doing now. Don had a charity web site with a broken URL, but THIS will give you an idea of what it's about. It's great to see someone helping others.

And HERE is an interesting article about his career in the Texas League and what happened after he left Vancouver.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Bob Robertson - Part 3

Instead of me rewriting the story, go HERE to go to the 1950 blog and read how Bob started his radio career. It's interesting, but a little less than candid. Sounds like the play-by-play guy got liquored up or didn't show up or both. That wouldn't be a surprise, considering the sports media back then. It's a lot different than today's sterile, corporate radio (or newspaper) world. The industry doesn't have real characters any more. And they wouldn't be allowed to smoke cigars in the press box anyway. I'll have to ask Bob about it when he comes back to Vancouver next season.

Vancouver's main library is still behind CUPE pickets. I can't put August and September up on the 1949 blog until then. However, I'm getting some pre-season work done on 1950 which you can click on and read.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bob Robertson, Part Two

More on Bob in a moment - but first:

Yes, it's having an effect on the blog. Some of the stories, linescores, standings and other material I've been putting up has come only due to library research and the libraries are behind pickets indefinitely. So that's why things are on hold. Sorry. I have a skeleton of the rest of the 1949 season in draft form awaiting scores and other material to flesh it out for posting.

1950 will be a bit easier. Tri-Cities entered the league and the local paper for that year is on-line. As well, another Washington State paper available on-line stepped up its coverage in 1950, though the camera which took pictures of the pages was not focused properly (it wasn't in 1949; why that was never corrected, I'll never know) so not all the stories or linescores are intelligible. However, once summer ends, I won't be posting due to other things going on in life so things will stagnate here indefinitely.

The first reference I can find to one in the WIL is at the end of the 1949 season when Art Pennington was sent to Salem from Portland.

Looking for something else, I found a reference to Bob doing WIL play-by-play, though he apparently did it to the United Press on something other than the game. Here's the story from 1950:

Umpire Mobbed by 1,000 Irate Fans, Feud With Manager Thompson Cause
WENATCHEE, Wash., May 23, (UP)—Approximately 1,000 irate baseball fans rioted and mobbed a base umpire Sunday night at the conclusion of a Western International League doubleheader.
The fans, irked at what they believed the fulfillment of a public threat by the umpire to "get" Wenatchee manager Tommy Thompson, were finally dispersed by police after they pummeled base ump J. "Doc" Regele as he made his way to the umpires' dressing room.
Before the start of the series between Wenatchee and Tri City here Friday, Regele had said he was out to "get" Thompson. He ejected the manager during the course of tonight's game.
In the final innings, Regele made numerous calls which gave Tri City a decided edge, radio broadcaster Bob Robertson reported.
With the score tied 6-all in the ninth, Dick Faber of Tri City hit a blooper to second baseman Buddy Hjelmaa. Hjelmaa fielded the ball on the first bounce and tagged Artie Wilson as the runner went by, Robertson said.
Regele called Wilson safe, and two Tri City runs were scored.
Hjelmaa vociferously protested the decision, and was thrown out of the game as pop bottles rained around the umpire.

As the contest ended, with Tri City winning 8-7, the fans poured out of the stands, throwing pop bottles, seat cushions and rolled-up newspapers. They swarmed around Regele, and he had to fight his way through the throng to reach the safety of the dressing room, Robertson said.

Pop bottles. It was a kindler, gentler time.

Just as a side note, Buddy had been with the Capilanos in 1948 but he and Bob Stumpf were sent to the Great Falls Selectrics in the Pioneer League the next year. The two teams had a working arrangement with the Seattle Rainiers that really shouldn't be a surprise. Great Falls had been known for years as the Electrics, but became the Selectrics in 1949, named after a beer manufactured by—Emil Sick. Sick sold the brewery later that year. In addition, former Seattle outfielder Dick Gyselman managed (and I think had part ownership in) Great Falls in 1948.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bob Robertson, WIL Broadcaster

To me, Bob Robertson's the guy I saw do the sports on Channel 11 out of Tacoma when I was, well, a little younger than I am now. Today, he's the play-by-play voice of the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League.

When doing some research on the WIL, I stumbled across the following column that I've transcribed HERE:

Bob had mentioned once upon a time he was in school in the Lower Mainland in his boyhood years, had played outfield and signed a pro contract lo those many years ago and I wondered if he was the young man mentioned in the column. Pat Karl, the long-time official scorer and former P.A. announcer at Nat Bailey Stadium, and I were talking about this, so when Bob arrived in town for the Vancouver-Spokane series, he asked Bob about it. And Bob confirmed it was him.

We chatted about it during the rain delay yesterday. He had been told about, but had never seen, the article. He had been shopping his services around and Bob Brown was one of the people he hit up. It turns out the Portland Beavers signed him to a Salem Senators contract but he decided not to play after all so they put him on something like the voluntarily retired list.

Bob eventually played semi-pro all over the Pacific Northwest, but got into broadcasting in 1949, doing the Wenatchee Chiefs games on KHQ. "They got so short of players, they wanted me to come down from the broadcast booth and go into a game. But my rights were still held by Portland. They called and asked if they would give a waiver to let me play. The club was told they could trade for me, but they didn't have anyone to trade, so that ended my pro comeback."

Bob asked if Keith Matthews was still alive because "he mentioned an apology." I have no idea if Keith's still around. He may be; after all, Clancy Loranger was on the WIL beat back then (for the News Herald that year) is still with us, no doubt puffing on those thin cigarellos of his. For that matter, I understand former Caps broadcaster Hal Rodd is, too. So, Keith, if you're reading, please send Bob an apology. After all, he is a Hall of Famer. And Bob and his wife Jo are some of the most genuine people you can meet.

His skills as a play-by-play announcer are a marvel to many aspiring broadcasters; Rob Fai, the current Canadians radio man, remarked about Bob's broadcasts the other day. Bob's style is really basic. He doesn't yell into the mike. He doesn't use a phoney Ronnie Radio voice (why in God's name do others?). He doesn't engage in Dave Niehaus hyperbole (where a routine ground ball is made to sound like the most amazing play in baseball history). He simply describes what's going on in a conversational way and makes sure he is prepared to go on the air with relevant things to say about the players, the game, the batting/fielding situations, the park, whatever. In that way, he's very much like Jim Robson who, as we all should know, was the play-by-play voice of the PCL's Vancouver Mounties when I was, well, yes, younger than I am now. And Jim's the best play-by-play guy this city will ever have.

The Spokane Indians are quite fortunate to have him. Bob suddenly discovered he wasn't going to be back doing the Tacoma Rainiers games in one of those atypical radio management bonehead decisions that happens to everyone if you're in the business long enough. He called the next closest club, the Everett Aquasox, who had re-signed their current guy but suggested he call Bobby Brett in Spokane, who had been looking for someone. And that's how Bob landed in the Northwest League.

You may wonder why Bob, with all his baseball play-by-play experience, never ended up doing the Seattle Mariners on radio. Because I think he should have. But he'll have to tell you that story.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Emmett Ashford - W.I.L. Trailblazer

I haven't discovered yet who was the first black player in the Western International League as I plow through the game stories of the late 40s. Catcher John Ritchie was the first for the Capilanos in 1950; he was the first in the PCL with the San Diego Padres in 1948. But Vancouver baseball rooters of a certain vintage remember umpire Emmett Ashford doing some of the Mounties' PCL games in the late 50s. He appeared at Cap Stadium in Vancouver before that, as these wire stories attest:

Negro Ump Set In Western Int. Loop
VANCOUVER, B. C. — The only Negro umpire in organized baseball has been hired by the Class A Western International league, President Bob Brown announced today.
He is Emmett Ashford, 37, for the last two years an umpire in the Class C Arizona Texas League and currently an arbiter in the California winter league.

- Saturday, February 7, 1953

By Ed Orman
Yesterday was a swell day for the opening of the baseball season in the Fresno-State College Park.
The weatherman provided mild, sunshiny weather after a few blustery days the past week. The Tokio Giants from Japan and the Valley All Stars did their part, too, by supplying about 1,500 fans with a snappy exhibition of baseball for such an early date.
But it remained for the plate umpire to steal the show and if you were among the absentees from the sun splashed college ball orchard you missed the most amusing, entertaining as well as efficient job of ball and strike calling ever performed in the FSC park.
And it was by the first and only Negro arbiter in organized baseball—Emmett Ashford of Los Angeles.
Ashford came to Fresno, donned the umpiring gear and made his way to the plate unannounced. But it was not long before all of the fans were asking “Who is that fellow back of the plate; he sure is colorful; he knows his business?”
With his bellowing, booming,voice and emphatic arm gesticulations, and dramatic whisking of the broom as he manicured home plate, Ashford made a tremendous hit with the customers.
Got Standing Ovation
“But he's no fly by nighter as an umpire,” Les Powers, the public relations man for the touring Giants said. “I hired the fellow for the tailend of the 1951 season to umpire in the Southwest International League of which I was president.” He immediately caught the fancy of the fans with his colorful work. Why, one night in El Paso where Ashford's race ordinarily is not in good standing, the fans gave him a standing ovation at the end of the game.
“Every town in my league was clamoring for his services. He was just like money in the bank. He umpired in the Sunset League last season and was sent to the Western International League this year. I know the Pacific Coast League made a mistake by overlooking him.
“My prediction is, given the breaks, Ashford will be in the major leagues in five years. He's a high class fellow and a fine ball and strike man.”
Ashford, 34 years of age, is a native of Los Angeles and attended elementary, high school and college there. He was graduated from Jefferson High School where he competed in football and baseball, and later was graduated from Chapman College. Ashford planned a career in ministry, but didn't go through with it.
Basketball Ump, Too
He worked for about 15 years as a postal clerk in the Los Angeles Post Office and umpired semipro baseball games on weekends, and also umpired basketball games, including some Pacific Coast Conference contests in Los Angeles. Ashford was called back to the national semipro baseball tournament in Wichita, Kan., for a couple of hitches.
“When I ran short of umpires in my league in 1951, I called Ashford's wife to see if I could induce him to help me out,” Powers recalled. “She contacted Emmett and urged him to join me, which he did. He gives his wife credit for whatever successes he attains in life.”
The current umpiring chores constitute Spring conditioning for Ashford. He will work all of the Giants' games, many against PCL and major league clubs in California, and all back of the plate, Powers said.
Fans, can get a peek at him this afternoon in Visalia and again in Fresno tomorrow afternoon and we can assure you you won't be disappointed.

- Fresno Bee, Sunday, February 22, 1953

First Colored Umpire

Emmett Ashford, one-time athletic star af Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, will serve as one of the Pacific Coast League's umpires during the 1954 season. Ashford is the first colored umpire ever to call halls, strikes and plays in organized baseball.
Back in 1946 Ashford was lying on a cot at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, when news spouted over the radio that Jackie Robinson had been signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the first colored player in organized baseball. Right then and there Emmett Ashford promised he would become the first of his race, too, in his line. He would become the first Negro umpire in baseball history with an eye on the Coast league and then the majors.
Les Powers signed Ashford for the Southwest International League back in 1951. Last year he worked in the Western International circuit.
His beefs have been few in his organized baseball career.
Last season he called “one” too fast in a game between Victoria and Vancouver. He turned to the stands and made a public admission that he had “kicked one.”
The fans gave him a terrific ovation and they later held a night for him. This chap must be a colorful umpire. Fans, players and managers of the Western International swear by him.
This winter Ashford is working Pacific Coast Conference basketball games. Writers on the coast say baseball's first Negro umpire is just as handy with the whistle.
-Ogden Standard-Examiner, Thursday, December 17, 1953

Negro Umpire Earns Respect
TORONTO (CP) — Emmett Ashford looked like anything but a world beater when two Canadians decided to make him the first Negro umpire in professional baseball 14 years ago.
But he set all the precedents on his way to the major leagues and now, at 49, Ashford is still “breaking barriers all over the place.”
Dianne R. Cox of Victoria recalls the day she first saw Ashford in December, 1952 at the annual meeting of the Western International Baseball League in Phoenix, Ariz.
“He was looking for a job,” Miss Cox said in an interview Monday night.
“He was certainly a scruffy character — practically threadbare.”
Miss Cox, currently visiting Toronto, was in Phoenix when Ashford arrived, attending the baseball meeting with her father, the late Arthur H. Cox, president of Victoria Tyees of the WIBL.
The Victoria club manager, Cec Garriott, recommended Ashford to Cox, who persuaded Bob Brown of Vancouver, owner of the Vancouver franchise and president of the league, to hire the umpire.
“He had been umpiring for a C-class league in the U.S.,” Miss Cox recalls. “But we've always considered that the Western International League was the first to hire a Negro umpire into professional ranks.”
Ashford was also in Toronto Monday night to appear on a television program.
Thirteen years from the time of his meeting with Cox and Brown, he finally reached the majors as the first Negro umpire last season.
Ashford says he's a good umpire, although not incapable of making mistakes.
However, he contends he has gained the respect of the clubs and their players through hard work.
“I think I was ready for the majors five years earlier. I just got stubborn and decided to wait it out until I got the call.”
Ashford's umpiring style is noisy and flamboyant but no one has tried to change it in the majors. American League president Joe Cronin told him to work his own way.
“I've always made it a rule to call a man out so he knows it and so does everybody else,” Ashford said.
- Wednesday, December 14, 1966