Saturday, August 30, 2008

Clancy and Jim in the Hall of Fame

54 years have passed since Bill Brenner wanted lead-footed Dick Greco out of the Capilanos’ outfield, and since John Ducey last ran a pro ball club. 54 years since jealous and self-indulgent club owners killed the Western International League to get rid of some unwanted kids in their baseball tree fort. Yet after all this time, the dear old WIL was still remembered as nine of us became the initial inductees of the Vancouver Canadians Hall of Fame media section.

There’s some irony in that the Canadians are in the Northwest League—formed, partly, because Vancouver was one of those unwanted kids (by the Americans) in that WIL tree fort 54 years ago.

Jim Robson, the Voice of the Vancouver Mounties, was one of the inductees, and talked about his first game at the old Athletic Park. He came over from North Vancouver by ferry and streetcar. The Capilanos were taking on the Bremerton Bluejackets and Jim recalled the game went 12 innings. He talked about the short distance to the right field screen and how the field had huge bumps in it because it had been constructed on reclaimed land using sawdust from the Giroday Sawmill at the bottom of the hill along False Creek. Jim was something like 11 at the time.

But the real WIL connection was in the form of 87-year-old Clancy Loranger, who covered the Capilanos from their revival at the end of the war through their demise, and then became the Dean of Pacific Coast League Writers (years ago, he was given a lifetime pass to all P.C.L. games), covering the Mounties’ move from Oakland in 1956 to their departure in 1969, and then advising Harry Ornest (a) not to try to bring P.C.L. ball back to Vancouver because (b) he’d lose everything; (a) Harry did, and (b) Harry didn’t. Clancy hung around the ball yard for a couple of seasons of the P.C.L. Canadians after before finally retiring.

What a treat it was to have him at the ceremony and to talk to him again. (Clancy is right of centre in the tan jacket)

Clancy asked if any of the stuff I’ve compiled on the WIL will be put into a book; Jim Robson has apparently been sending some of it to him. Alas, I doubt it will happen. Clancy then brought up the 1947 Capilanos championship and how they were stuck in a Yakima hotel waiting for word whether Vancouver had won. Clancy remembered two things about the hotel—that they had old-fashioned bathtubs “on stilts” (apparently, they were the old kind with legs on them) and that they served the best breakfast in the WIL.

He seemed pleased I had found some stories he had written for the long-dead Vancouver News-Herald (at the time of the championship in question, he had been promoted to sports editor), and those written for the same paper by the late Keith Matthews, with whom Clancy said he spent many a spring training.

And, no, he hasn’t slowed down too much with age, though his voice shakes a bit. He stayed for a couple of innings of Vancouver’s win and upon viewing a Greco-like crush of a fastball for extra bases, Clancy remarked “The fences used to be farther out.” He was right. They were brought in a bit more last year (and were farther still in the days of the Caps and Mounties).

I thought I had posted Clancy’s contemporary stories about championship day on the 1947 site. I hadn’t so I’ve done so now. But to save you some time hunting them down, you will find them below. The first two were written on either side of a picture of Bob Brown. A third, by an anonymous staff writer—Dan Ekman perhaps—is included as well. This is about the best tribute I can pay to a fine writer and columnist, and a fine gentleman. I’m humbled to even be considered to be in the same Hall as people of the calibre and character of Clancy Loranger and Jim Robson because I’m not in their league.

Oh, by an odd coincidence, the Barney Potts mentioned below was later (and very briefly) the morning man at CKWX. He replaced an individual who went full-time into sports. A fellow named Jim Robson.

Rainmaker Is Hero As Capilanos Clinch 1947 Willy Loop Pennant
Hectic Last Days Were Apt Climax To confusing But Amusing Season
News-Herald Sports Editor
[September 8, 1947]

YAKIMA.—And so, kiddies, our heroes drove off the big, bad Indians and lifted the mortgage on the W.I.L. pennant. The fingernail-biting finish of the race was a fitting climax to a season which had the so-called experts running around in circles, and the casual fan somewhat confused by it all. The latter, picking up his paper one day, would find the Caps in the midst of a robust rally that threatened to pitch them into first place any day. A week of so later the Brownies would be floundering in the second division, and having trouble with teams like Wenatchee.
The Vancouverites made two false starts in pursuit of the bunting before they finally did get settled down to the serious business of winning more than the next club.
After dropping the first four games of the season, Brenner and Co., getting fine pitching and some surprising hitting from rookies like Buddy Hjelmaa and Len Tran, set out on a nine-game victory streak that put ‘em right up there with the leaders.
Then their pitching collapsed and after breaking even for the early part of May, they ran into their Bremerton nemesis. The Bluejackets took three in a row at Vancouver, then contributed five straight losses at the Navy Yard city to an eight-game Vancouver losing streak.
A couple of deals got them straightened out early in June. Lefty Carl Gunnarson was picked up from Salem in a trade for Hunk Anderson and Pete Jonas was signed (for half the ball park, ‘twas said). That got the hurling corps in shape again, and our boys were away once more; they won 18 of the next 27 games.
Then the Caps went to Bremerton again—and lost seven straight. Victoria added two more losses, and the club hit the skids—but before the squad dropped completely out of the league bottom, a couple more deals were made—and these moves got the Brennermen on the victory road for keeps. Probably the smarted piece of business was the trade of Jimmy Estrada, who wasn’t doing us much good, for Bill Reese.
Bill Wright, who never did round into shape, was let go, and Reese took over at first base. Reese had long been known as a capable man at the gateway, but you have to watch him day by day to really appreciate him. Reese “made” the infield, and shortly thereafter another man arrived to do the same for the outfield, and to add a needed note of authority in the batting order.
He was Paul Carpenter, a ball player’s ball player,” without whose light-footed antics in left field and timely swatting in the cleanup spot, the Caps couldn’t have reached the top.
Wish new vigor at the dish, a superior defense, and brilliant pitching from Jim Hedgecock, Bob Snyder and Bob Hall, aided and abetted by Carl Gunnarson and, occasionally, Sandy Robertson and Ron Bryant, Vancouver started their final drive on July 25 with a double triumph in Salem.
From there in, not even Bremerton was safe, as the winning streak piled up. A five-game string was topped by a nine-tilt victory whirl, and the boys bettered even that one with 12 triumphs in a row. The record at one stage was 23 wins against four losses, and you don’t stay in the second division with that kind play.
It was a pleasant and profitable season for a lot of Capilano individuals, especially, of course, Bill Brenner, whose scalp was being called for both privately and publicly before the last big uprising.
Bill had a good year as a player, too, despite a bad knee injury, and his presence in the lineup almost nightly the last few weeks contributed no little to his team’s success.
And a number of fellows who had trouble getting started last year after stints in the armed forces, gents like Jim Hedgecock, Frank Mullens, Bob Snyder and Charley Mead hit their true strides this summer.
The happiest surprises of the season, of course, were the infield kids, Buddy Hjelmaa and Len Tran. Ticketed as spare infielders, the duo established themselves early as regulars and earned their spots all the way.
Of the others, Lee Mohr was inclined to be an individualist, but you can\t overlook his value as a lead-off man or his healthy batting average; and Bob Stumpf, though he hardly lived up to his billing as a big league prospect, made a competent understudy for Brenner.
All in all, it was an interesting, albeint nerve-wracking, season, and any time, you’re passing a rest home, why, drop in.

Spokes Lose Last Chance As Rain Kayoes Double Bill With Victoria
News-Herald Sports Editor
[September 8, 1947]

YAKIMA.—Vancouver Capilanos fought the battle in the Commercial Hotel lobby here Saturday night and emerged with the 1947 Western International League pennant.
Yakima, which has eight inches of rain yearly, came close to its quota Saturday, and washed out the Brownies’ scheduled game with this city’s Stars. And when the rainmaker, definitely on our side, did the same for the Spokane-Victoria doubleheader at the Bremerton-Salem game, the Caps backed into the Willy championship.
With the tension gone today, the Brownies went through the motions in their last two games in a carnival atmosphere that saw everybody, including Larry Manier, get into the act. Relief hurler Manier functioned at first base as the Caps won the first game, 9-5, and then bowed, 6-2 in the second. But nobody cared.
The championship, first for Vancouver since 1942, was actually their second in t[unreadable] years of play, for the WIL ceased operations during the period, 1943-45. It was the first, too, for Manager Bill Brenner, serving first full year as manager.
The 25-year-old backstop took over the club in the last month of the ’46 campaign, and had that time hitting the fastest pace in the league at the finish.
Saturday’s struggle, while it lasted, was the tougher on the winners than a game would have been. When they learned the contest here had been cancelled, they settled down (if you can pacing up and down settling down) to sweat it out.
Finally came word that the games in Victoria were off, and the boys breathed a little easier for even if the Caps had lost both Sunday games, they’d still have finished [unreadable] percentage points up on Spokane.
But Bremerton still had a mathematical chance of catching the Brownies, so the ads had to worry again. Finally, however, about 7 p.m., the message was flashed from Salem that their game had bowed to the weatherman, too. The Caps were in!
At least, they were in for a few hours. Then Bob Abel, president of the W.I.., wired General Manager Bob Brown of the Caps that Spokane had proposed coming to the Inland Empire Sunday with Victoria and playing the games there.
Brown, who, a few hours before, had predicted that Spokane might try something like that, was furious. It was against baseball law, he said—a game starts on a certain day, and finishes on a certain day, regardless—and Abel had no right to even suggest going along with Spokane’s idea. Ruby Robert dispatched a hot telegram to Abel to that effect.
But once again fate—dear fate—stepped in and made things easier for us. Reg Patterson, business manager of the Victoria Athletics, announced that he was unable to get plane reservations to Spokane—and that was that. The Caps were in—definitely.

Victory Rally To Greet Brenner’s Boys Tonight
[Vancouver News-Herald, Sept. 8, 1947]
Hold onto those long-distance cheers for the Capilanos, baseball fans, because you’re going to be able to deliver them in person. Yep, Bill Brenner and almost all of his pennant-winners will be back in town tonight, and you’re invited to get in on the royal welcome which awaits them.
At 7:45 tonight, the doors of the Veterans’ Memorial Centre, 636 Burrard, will be tossed open, and from that hour forward, the welkin will get a tremendous beating at the hands of the gathered horde.
A big program has been whipped up to greet our conquering heroes, most important item of which is the presentation of bonuses from the Capilano baseball club.
And the baseball writers are even now working up a few presentations of their own, the nature of which we can’t divulge until they happen. To make sure there won’t be a dull moment, Barney Potts, his orchestra and entertainers, will be on hand to further the fun.
General manager Bob Brown reported last night from Yakima that all but one or two of the pennant winners will return for the salute. And Bob forwarded an invitation to all you baseball fans to be on hand at 7:45 when Peard Sutherland opens the celebration.

P.S.: One of the reasons this site (and its accompanying pages in the tree to the right) exists because of another inductee. Pat Karl, these days, is the official scorer for the Canadians and we used to cover baseball and hockey together in the early ‘80s before he retired from radio. Pat used to spend his boyhood summers visiting his aunt in Victoria and going to WIL games at Royal Athletic Park. Pat’s aunt was a member of the Athletics Booster Club and Pat tells how she used to invite much-travelled WIL pitcher John Marshall over for dinner (after he had been traded from Victoria). I hoped that by posting stories about Victoria games and the rest of the W.I.L., it would bring back some pleasant memories for him.

No comments: