Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WIL 1939 Season Opens

It’s going to be some time before I get to the pre-war Western International League game-by-game page, so below you’ll find the opening day highlights. I’ll add a Hal Straight sidebar soon; Hal was a lefthanded pitcher in Bob Brown’s senior league in the, I think, late ’20s before his stellar newspaper career.

Some 1939 WIL background: Brown took over the Maple Leafs franchise from the Jones family (at the request of the league, said Bob), moved it to Athletic Park, and named it the Capilanos. The Vancouver Archives has some fine public domain photos from the 1939 season, including this one on the right. You can really see the unbelievable slope of the field. I think that’s the old Granville Bridge in the background (someone reading, I’m sure, can confirm that). If I had a 1939 programme, I might be able to tell you (please avoid going into a circa 1939 radio routine now) who’s on first, but Wayne McCue played 103 games for the Caps there that season.

This one gives you an idea of the short right field distance. Note the large, tacky owl on the Owl Drugs sign.

Since the ’39 season ended more than a few days ago, it’s not spoiling anything to tell you Wenatchee won the championship, seven games ahead of Tacoma. Bill Skelley of the Chiefs won the batting title, hitting .366, Morrie Abbott of the Tigers smashed 37 homers, while Yakima’s Hub Kittle was the only 20-game winner.

Knowledgable major league fans will notice a couple of familiar names in the story below. Yes, that is Floyd "Almost Tossed a No-Hitter" Bevens, in his second year with Wenatchee (he finally made the Yankees in 1944). And Vancouver’s Rigney is none other than Bill Rigney, who ended up in a Bellingham uniform before the season was out, long before his fine playing career with the New York Giants and his managing tenure around the majors.

The last 1939 photo below is of Bob Brown (the Archives caption simply calls him "man". And they’re supposed to be keepers of history! Tsk). He’s in the office that was destroyed by the 1945 Athletic Park fire. The Archives has a number of other well-preserved baseball shots; my favourite is the Vancouver Beavers carrying the Northwestern League pennant with one of the old beehive burners along False Creek benignly and continously spewing their blackish product of progress into a dismay spring sky.

W.I. League Ready for Big Ball Opening.
- - -
Brown Cuts Team Down; Plays Wenatchee Tomorrow
[Vancouver Sun, Saturday, April 22, 1939]
SEATTLE, April 22—The hustling, popular Western International Baseball League opens its third season tomorrow and president F.H. Knickerbocker expects the year to be the league’s best so far.
Two of the six clubs have new owners and different names. The increased player limit—16—is new. The opening week has been changed around to give fans in all cities a quick look at every team in the league, and to top it off, there’s even a new umpire to differ with—Cecil Morgan, formerly of the Arizona-Texas League.
One of the “new clubs” is Spokane, named Indians instead of Hawks, tied up with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League and owners of Twin Falls of the new Pioneer League.
Spokane finished in next to last place last year, but new owner William P. Ulrich looks for a different story this season. He is counting on two ex-Seattle players, McCormack and Serventi.
Vancouver is the other new club, with its name changed from Maple Leafs to Capilanos and veteran baseball man Bob Brown now the owner. Despite its independence of big league teams, Vancouver’s outlook is promising.
Tacoma Tigers, who won the first pennant but finished in last place last year, have vowed to make a strong showing this season.
Yakima’s Pippins, who won in the regular playing season last year only to lose the flag to Bellingham’s Chinooks in the play-offs, have virtually the same pennant-contending team on hand.
The Wenatchee Chiefs, connected with the New York Yankees, have a hustling team of youngsters who are expected to go far.
Bellingham is tied up with Hollywood of the Coast League.
The opening schedule finds Bellingham at Spokane, Tacoma at Yakima and Vancouver at Wenatchee. On Monday, Bellingham jumps to Yakima, Tacoma goes to Wenatchee and Vancouver to Spokane.
April 25 and 26, Bellingham will be at Wenatchee, Tacoma at Spokane and Vancouver at Yakima. On April 27, the line-up will be Wenatchee at Bellingham, Spokane at Tacoma and Yakima at Vancouver. April 29, Wenatchee will be at Tacoma, Yakima at Bellingham and Spokane at Vancouver. The 30th will find Yakima at Wenatchee and Vancouver at Tacoma.
May 2-5 will find the teams settling down for their first full-week stands: Bellingham and Spokane, Wenatchee at Yakima and Tacoma at Vancouver.
Merle Pedegani was released from the Capilano roster yesterday when Frank Volpi reported for catching duty. Pedegani was playing the outfield in practise games while Ralph Samhammer was behind the plate. But Volpi arrived from Oakland and was given the catching duties, moving Samhammer to the outfield and displacing Pedegani.
Pedegani has been released outright to the Class D Boise Club of the Pioneer league.
Don Osborne, leading Vancouver pitcher last year, has been given the starting assignment for the opening game in Wenatchee Sunday.

Chiefs Find Capilano Chuckers Osborne and Malman Easy Picking
- - -
Vancouver Only Get Four Blows; High Wind Spoils Opening; Ross Edy Looks Good, Hal O’Banion Works Smart Game for Wenatchee.
- - -
Vancouver Sun Sports Editor
[April 24, 1939]

WENATCHEE.—They are calling Vancouver Capilanos the “Mystery Team” around the Western International belt and as far as last night was concerned in their opening game you can make that a murder mystery.
There was a howling wind, the eerie atmosphere, and the villainous laughs of the Wenatchee Chiefs as they murdered two Vancouver pitchers with 12 smashing blows—righthander Don Osborne and lefthander [Joe] Malman. The wind spoiled the opening here, only 1500 turning out.
Vancouver started out on top, scoring two runs in the second inning. At that time ace Don Osborne was going well, his curve ball breaking as sharp as the Cariboo road (we’re in the mood for roads at present) and his fast ball hopping on a following wind. Then suddenly Osborne was fresh out of curve balls and the Chiefs had a basehit pow-wow.
Osborne alibi’d after the game that the wind spoiled his curve, to which Johnny Kerr didn’t pay much notice, as Bevens of Wenatchee only allowed four hits and he had the same wind. That’s one thing the eager townfolk here can’t fix for their beloved ball team ... I’m sure they can’t.
Bill Bevens, however, wasn’t the most accurate pitcher and got off his course seven times on the stormy baseball sea, that many men getting free dockage at first base.
Incidentally, Hal O’Banion, former of Vancouver Athletics, caught for the Chiefs and looked very good. His throwing arm has improved, he has a quick shift and works his pitcher very smartly.
Wenatchee tied the ball game in the third, scoring a deuce, then Vancouver went out in front in the fourth inning, Ross Edy scoring a run, driven in by Frank Volpi, another Vancouver Athletic catcher.
Then the Chiefs came right back with three runs, added a single in the next inning—the sixth—and got two more in the seventh. Rigney, who got two of Vancouver’s hits, didn’t have any dust on those gold-rimmed spectacles he wears, and hit a homer to complete Vancouver’s scoring. He got another hit earlier.
Skelley and Bonnetti hit home runs for the Chiefs.
Ross Edy looked like he’s been playing pro ball all his life. He went away back into the north winds and caused the apple blossoms to blow into the wide open Wenatchee mouths as he pulled down a tough fly.
Paul McGinnes was in uniform, but the Seattle-owned slicker didn’t play. Johnny Kerr was on second instead ... in fact, now they have McGinnes they do not know what to do with him, which is a lot of ball players to have hanging around doing nothing.
Frank Volpi is just twice the catcher he used to be in Vancouver. And he’s a hitter, too ... Wenatchee has a team of giants and look very, very formidable ... McCue and Stewart, his siege guns, failed to fire, but Bob claims that won’t happen very often ... Cailtaux, third baseman, looked like the neatest defensive player on the club ... accurate flipper ... covers plenty of ground, charges the ball...
Today, Vancouver moves to Spokane, but not with this writer. I give up ... Thursday they will be in Vancouver to open up so I suppose it is raining up there.
Vancouver ..... 020 020 100—5 4 1
Wenatchee .... 002 031 20x—8 12 0
Osborne, Malman (7) and Volpi; Bevens and O’Banion.

YAKIMA, April 23 [TSN]—Two big innings, in which they scored six of their runs, gave Tacoma a 7-2 victory over Yakima, 1938 league champions, in the season’s curtain-raiser, played before 3,500 fans. Pitcher Bob Cole, who went the route for the Tigers, handcuffed the Pippins with five hits. Tacoma unloosed a four-run barrage against Hurler Johnny Lewis in the third stanza, featured by a homer by Morrie Abbott with Harriman and Colbern aboard. Yakima tallied once in the last of the third, and there was no more scoring until the eighth, when the Bengals drove Lewis to cover with a two-run blast. The Pippins threatened in the seventh, when Jacobs and Fernandez singled in succession, but Cole forced Peterson to hit into a double play to snuff out the uprising.
Tacoma ...... 004 000 021—7 11 2
Yakima ....... 001 000 010—2 5 2
Cole and Clifford; Lewis and Lorenz.

SPOKANE, April 23 [TSN]—A pass to Ken Manning, followed by singles by Manager Bernie deViveiros and Al Marchi, after two were out in the ninth inning, gave Spokane a 10 to 9 decision over Bellingham, in the season’s inaugural, before 6,591 fans at Ferris Field. The game was a see-saw battle from start to finish, with each club collecting 14 safe hits. Trailing 6 to 5, going into the last half of the seventh inning, the Tribe went into the lead, when Outfielder Levi McCormack poled a 342-foot home run over the left field barrier, scoring Dwight Aden ahead of him. Bellingham tied the count with a run in the eighth, the result of two safeties and an error, but the Indians came back in the home half with a pair of runs on singles by Marchi, Windsor and Hornig and Byram’s walk. The Chinooks again evened the score in the first of the ninth on two bingles, a base on balls and a walk, producing two markers, with Spokane putting over the winning in the final half.
Bellingham ..... 100 001 412—9 16 2
Spokane ........ 001 400 221—10 16 1
McGahan, Olson (4), Shutte (9) and Rush, Lassell; Jonas, Windsor (7) and Clawitter.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Victoria's Royal Athletic Park

Here's a photo from the BC Provincial Archives collection of a game at Royal Athletic Park in 1946. And to look at those empty seats and realise this was one of the better drawing seasons, around 103,000 fans.

The Athletics drew about 148,000 in 1948, the best in their brief history. When the Tyees suddenly folded near the end of the 1954 season, the attendance number was a mere 28,000. The CJVI announcer is an inset. I have no idea who it might be; I don't believe Bill Stephenson had arrived there at that point.

Pat Karl, the official scorer at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, used to go to see the Athletics play when he was a kid and explains there was a dogleg in right field. I don't know if you can see it in the photo.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What's New For 1946 and 1947

Before getting to anything else, George Nicholas’ grandson sent a nice e-mail. When George wasn’t making suits, he was pitching, and for four seasons did it for the Vancouver Capilanos (62 wins). He also spent time with the Tacoma Tigers and in the PCL with San Diego. I mentioned to Jeffrey that this year, the fence along the barbeque area on the 1st base side at Nat Bailey (nĂ© Capilano) Stadium has highlights of the team’s history since 1951 when the stadium opened. Next to a large “1951” is a large blown up picture (it takes up the whole high fence) of a swarthy pitcher. It’s George Nicholas. I thought it was to commemorate George’s no-hitter for Vancouver—except he tossed that in 1950 in Athletic Park. So, I don’t know why they picked George. To be honest, I never did get a close look at the wall so I don’t know what the caption under his name says. There’s also a large photo of four of the players on the ’54 pennant winner in the last WIL season.

If Jeffrey sends any pictures I’ll put them up.

As for the site...

It’s September which means I’m tied up with fraternal groups. So work will be minimal here. Sorry.

I’ve added a few things. You’ll see columns from the three Vancouver papers on this page for 1946. On the 1947 site, I’ve added the WIL-related columns from the Vancouver Sun. Keith Matthews had been handed a Saturday baseball column when he came over from the News-Herald to cover the Caps. Alf Cottrell still wrote about the team on occasion. And Don Carlson, a former ball player (likely semi-pro), took over as sports editor and he contributed a piece. You’ll find stuff on umpires and the flap when Lee Mohr quite the club when Seattle stiffed him on a call-up. And, since I haven’t mentioned it before, 1954 is finished except for the year-end stats.

So, here’s what I’ll be working on over the next few months.
Finishing daily standings for 1946. [done]
Removing 1946 game material from here and placing it on the 1946 site.
Adding Ken McConnell’s 1947 columns on baseball from the Vancouver Province (there were maybe eight of them, including one answering the question “Where did infield prospect Lavis York get to?”). [done]
Formatting the 1953 and 1954 year-end batting and pitching stats and putting them up.
Stories and linescores on the start of the 1939 [done] and 1938 seasons.
A short note on (and cartoon of) the first WIL broadcaster in Vancouver.

And since I’ve been linking to WIL pictures from several public libraries, here’s one from spring training 1954. It’s of Salem manager Hugh Luby with Al Lightner, sports editor of the Oregon Statesman. They’re in Napa, California. Luby had a fine career with both the Oakland Oaks and San Francisco Seals, and followed the well-worn trail blazed by many old PCL players to the Western International League. Despite calls by the sports editor of the Tri-City Herald to make him the first president of the Northwest League in 1955, he remained as manager (and sometime G.M.) of the Salem Senators for six seasons in both the WIL and NWL. He died in Eugene on 4th May 1986 at 72.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some WIL Fan Net Picks

Over 20 years ago, when I was researching every game played by the Pacific Coast League’s Vancouver Mounties and major events in baseball history in Vancouver, the only option I had was to sit in the main branch of the Vancouver Library and go through reels of newspaper microfilm and hand-write some notes. I still have those notes in a shoebox. Some day I may actually find time to do something with them.

Today, those microfilm reels are still there, though some are now scraped up and unreadable. One newspaper that I viewed in hard copy is now on reels and difficult to read thanks to the way the microfilm was shot.

However, today we also have the web and it’s amazing the places you can go to find things of interest to fans of the Western International League fans, and those of other minor baseball leagues of former times.

In an earlier post, I referred to digitised archival photos. But I want to tell you about a couple of other places:

SABR has a huge project, still underway, to create a minor league player database. Records of some of the bye-gone days are incomplete. But it’s an admirable thing to try to accomplish as the records simply haven’t been accessible to most of us. However, if you go HERE you can peer into the database. As I say, it’s still under construction. Eventually, ball fans will wonder how anyone got along without that information. I’m so appreciative to the people who are working on this.

Some of the information on this site and even some of the pictures come from a free on-line newspaper archive. THIS SITE IS DOWN AGAIN. I'LL POST THE URL AGAIN WHEN IT'S UP.

Finally, something I stumbled on today by accident is a great Project Retrosheet database. It has scans of The Sporting News’ minor league umpire index cards. You see Amby Moran’s to the right (I learned from this card that Amby lived about seven or so blocks from me; probably in a rooming house in those days). Click HERE for the alphabetical listings. This arcanity may not be as popular as the minor league player historical database but it certainly is useful to researchers and I’m glad someone took the time to do this.

I’m sure there are more nooks and crannies of the web with some more useful research gems for fans of old minor leagues, but those are just a few I thought you might like to know about.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tacoma 1937 Opener in Pictures

It’s always a treat running into Western International League photos on-line, especially now that some public libraries have had the common sense to digitise their image collections and put them out there for the world to see.

The Tacoma Public Library is no exception, and amongst its baseball pictures are a number of the Tacoma Tigers of the WIL. There are several of Opening Day, 1937. I’m going to link to two of them here and you can go HERE to search under baseball for more.

The caption reads the "Stadium in background is filled with capacity crowd of around 4,000 spectators." It also informs us Tacoma split the double header with Vancouuver, but lost the four game series 3-1. The park is at 1302 South Sprague. Oh, you can click on both of these to enlarge them.

The caption says "On May 2, 1937, Abner Bergersen, Tacoma commissioner of public works, presented a gold watch to Tacoma Tigers player-manager Eddie Taylor for hitting the first home run by a Tiger for the 1937 season. Besides managing the team, Taylor was also the teams regular 2nd baseman. After the presentation, the Tigers went on to split a double header against Vancouver in front of 4,000 cheering fans. They won the first game 3 to 1, but lost the second 10 to 5."

For those who aren’t aware, the Vancouver team was not the Capilanos until 1939. That’s when Bob Brown took over the franchise and managed it for Sick’s Capilano Brewery. From 1937 to 1939, the team was called the Maple Leafs and played in Con Jones Park (for many years known as Callister Park, across from the PNE on Renfrew). The Leafs had financial troubles; Brown’s Senior League amateur baseball apparently drew better than pro ball. I’m not sure how crazy I am about the Leafs’ uniform design. There’s no indication which Vancouver players are in the picture.

There’s another photo of Taylor leading off the game with a double.