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

Saturday, July 7, 2007

1947 Stats Done

The year-end WIL stats for 1947 are now on the 1947 page. My scanner wouldn't read them, so they were typed manually. I typed them in an html format, but then the blog decided it wasn't going to recognise my html writing and they had to be partially re-formatted. I hope you can read them.

I didn't include stats for total bases or sac hits because I didn't think I had enough margin room, but in re-formatting, it seems I could have added the sac stats.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Evergreen League?

It seems when the Western International League was going to be revived in 1937, that wasn't the name that was originally planned.

Minors Sound Properity Note

...we already have on file an application for the Northwestern (Class C) League to be composed of Spokane, Yakima, Tacoma, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho. These are four well established cities, and before the opening of the season we expect to have two more to make this at least a six-club circuit.
- The Sporting News, Dec. 10, 1936 (relaying a comment from an official of the Natl. Assn.)

Pro Ball for Con Jones Park
Six Club Circuit Planned to be Known As Evergreen League
[Vancouver Sun, December 19, 1936]
Vancouver is to be included in the new professional baseball circuit to be known as the Evergreen Tree League with Con Jones park the headquarters for the local league.
Teams from Spokane, Tacoma, Yakima, Bellingham, Aberdeen or Olympia from the state of Washington and Lewiston in Idaho are interested in the new league. A six team circuit is planned.
Shirley D. Parker of Yakima is the president and the league will carry a class “C” rating.
The league has joined the National Association and word was received here today that the entry of the Evergreen League has been accepted.
T.B. Jones is president of the local club and Noel Jones is the secretary. According to local officials, who have attended several organization meetings of the new circuit, it is planned to play night ball at the local park.
The Jones boys have been working on the scheme for some time and are enthusiastic over the prospect of some high class ball for the Vancouver fans.

Pro Ball for Jones Park
Vancouver Team in New Northwest Loop
[Vancouver Province, December 19, 1936]
After a lapse of more than a dozen years, professional baseball is due to return to Vancouver next summer. Organization of a league and its acceptance as a class C circuit was announced today by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues at Durham, North Carolina. Simultaneously it was learned in Vancouver that a franchise would be operated her by Con Jones, Ltd. with Noel Jones as manager.
Noel stated that a strong team would be imported. Outstanding local players will be given a chance to make a place.
Sixty games are to be played at Jones Park in the East End with the schedule to open here in early May. Besides Vancouver, cities to be definitely represented include Spokane, Yakima and Tacoma in Washington and Lewiston in Idaho. A sixth franchise is held by P.B. Mitchell in Seattle and may be operated in Bellingham, Aberdeen or Olympia.
Bob Brown of Athletic Park Ltd. last held the professional franchise here in a league which included Edmonton, Calgary, Tacoma and Vancouver. At that time travelling expenses proved so heavy the league folded up.
YAKIMA, Wash.—Teams in the new Evergreen Baseball League, announced today at Durham, N.C., will play ball six nights a week, Royal (Hunky) Shaw, veteran big leaguer, said today in explaining the setup of the league.
“The league will play only night ball with 120 games on the schedule,” Shaw said. “Each club will carry fourteen players and a playing manager. No two teams will play each other more than three games in a row, and there will be six games a week, Monday out.”
Shirley D. Parker of Yakima is league president.

However, the Evergreen League never operated under that name:

Roger Peck, Tacoma Banker, Head New Class C Loop;
All Entries Backed by Wealthy Sportsmen
TACOMA, Wash.—With its organization complete, the Western International League, a Class C circuit, will open the 1937 season on April 27, Tacoma playing at Vancouver, B.C., at Lewiston, Ida., and Wenatchee at Spokane. The western opening of the circuit will take place one week later. Vancouver, with no Sunday ball, will open on Monday, May 3, against Yakima. Spokane will be at Tacoma and Lewiston at Wenatchee in other inaugurals scheduled for Tuesday, May 4.
The league was definitely organized when Wenatchee was accepted for the sixth franchise. Walla Walla also had a bid for a place in the league, after five clubs had posted forfeit checks earlier in the week.
Roger W. Peck, vice-president of the National Bank of Tacoma, and one-time business manager of the Tacoma club of the old Pacific International League, was elected president, following the resignation of Shirley D. Parker of Yakima, who was chosen when the circuit was organized as the Evergreen League two months ago. Hunky Shaw, Yakima franchise holder, is vice-president, and Nelson R. Hong, sports editor of the Tacoma News-Tribune, secretary.
The league plans a schedule of 120 games, closing on Labor Day. Present plans call for split-week series in each city in alternate weeks. The league player limit will be 15, including manager. The total population of the six cities in the circuit is 574,000.
The Western International League will offer this section its first Organized Ball in 15 years, or since the demise of the Pacific International League.
Sponsors Are Men of Wealth.
One of the factors that indicates success for the Western International is the financial stability of the sponsors. Each unit has wealthy sportsmen behind it.
As an indication of the optimism that prevails, reservation has already been made for the Bellingham territory. Bellingham was slated for membership this year, but the city had to be dropped becausde of the inability to get a lease on the city-owned ball park. The league has been assured a lease fo 1938. Aberdeen, Wash., is also expected to be ready next year, pointing the way for an eight-club league.
Work will begin here next week on the improvement of Athletic Park, which was used by professional leagues years ago. A lighting system will be installed and improvements made on the stand and field. Yakima interests plan to construct a new park at a cost of $45,000. Spokane will install lights in a modern, city/owned park. Vancouver has one of the finest parks in the Northwest, representing an investment of $70,000. It is owned by the franchise holders in the Canadian city. The Wenatchee city council has appropriated fund to light the park in the Apple City, while plans have already been made for the installation of lights in the new Lewiston park.
Joe F. Carr, promotion director of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, has notified President Peck that he will visit the Northwest and meet with league directors about March 15. Carr's visit is expected to give the new league considerable impetus in its promotional plans.
Franchise holders are T.H. Jones and Noel Jones, Vancouver; Hunky Shaw, Yakima; Shirley D. Parker and Hadyn H. Walker, Spokane; Albert Kurbitz, Lewiston; Tacoma Baseball Club, Joe Lanser president and Peter Mitchell, secretary, and Nevison and McClay, Wenatchee.
The league has opened headquarters at 412 Washington Building, Tacoma.
- The Sporting News, Feb. 25, 1937

Yakima's O.B. Club Girds for Fight with Independents.
YAKIMA, Wash.—Yakima's rival baseball forces, embattled and slightly embittered, have cleared their decks for what looks to be a fight to the finish, with Organized Ball in one corner, and independent ball in the other. As a result, the fans hardly know whether to warm up to the new Western International League or try to keep allegiance with the semi-pros.
It has been 15 years since the city had Organized Ball and most of today's fans remember only hazily the halcyon days of Bob Connally, Paul Strand and Tealey Raymond. Those were the days of the Pacific International League. With the departure of the Organized Game, independent ball had a revival and has steadily grown in popularity.
In 1935 and 1936, with George Burns, former Detroit and Cleveland first sacker, holding the reigns after his resignation from the Seattle Indians, interest reached the heights here. Last year, the independent Yakima Indians drew more than 90,000 paid admissions at 75 exhibitions and Northwest Semi-Pro League games and the city was described by the Kansas City Monarchs and House of Davids as one of the hottest independent baseball centers they had ever seen. The fans had their favorites on the independent team, so just now this inland Washington apple center of 25,000 is torn between two forces.
Royal (Hunky) Shaw, formerly with the Pittsburgh Pirates and long identified with the diamond pastime here has Yakima's franchise in the Western International and Shirley Parker, wealthy sportsman, backing the club, has started construction of a new lighted park, as the Independent Indians have the lease on the city's only other lighted diamond.
Burns will continue to manage the Indians, but Shaw has not announced his manager.
The Yakima O.B. club and the directors of the league's five other cities—Spokane, Tacoma and Wenatchee in Washington, Vancouver, B.C., and Lewiston, Ida.—are pushing their plans for a gala opening the night of April 27.

- The Sporting News, March 18, 1937