Monday, February 16, 2009

Volpi Makes the Trains Run on Time

Yes, I'm still here, but tied up with other commitments until June. So you won't see a lot of action on the WIL blogs. Sorry. But I've been meaning to post this.

In between the demise of the first Western International League in 1922 and its revival in 1937, there were extremely active semi-pro circuits in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver had its own; an "A" and a "B" league (and another one below that). Occasionally, the Vancouver teams would play exhibition matches against clubs from Bellingham.

Some of these players later ended up with the Vancouver clubs in the WIL. Ernie Kershaw is one (he is still with us). Another was catcher Frank Volpi.

Frank was property of the Oakland Oaks, and spent parts of three seasons with the PCL club in Emoryville. Jim Price, noted Spokane baseball historian, pointed out to me the Oaks had a deal with Bob Brown, the de-facto head of the Senior League in Vancouver, to send young players here for a bit of seasoning, there being no minor league in the northwest at the time. Dario Lodigiani was one; he won a batting championship. Volpi and Henry Martinez were sent to Vancouver in 1936 to play for Brown's Athletics.

In doing some research for Jim, I came across this piece in the Vancouver Sun of September 4, 1936. Evidently, the horrors of Fascism weren't known at the time. A few years later, I can't see Volpi—or too many other Italian-Americans—comparing themselves with pride to Benito Mussolini. But Volpi does it in this story.

Frank bounced around the WIL, including a stint back at Brown's Athletic Park in 1939, which was also the last year he would appear in the Coast League or any classification above 'B'. He died on February 9, 1997 in San Jose, the place of his birth in 1913.

As a side-note, the “Wilkie” referred to in the story is Aldon Wilkie, who spent a couple of years in the Senior League after arriving from Saskatchewan before going on to a major league career, and concluding his baseball life in the WIL.

Volpi Has His Say
* * *
Athletic Boss Tells Why
* * *
Team to Clean Up

Francis Volpi, Athletic manager, toyed with a large piece of hickory, took a last took at it and decided it was ready for the campaign against the very winnish Arrows.
“They think Arrows will beat us in the finals eh,” he chortled with a faint trace of an Italian accent. “That’s a laugh. This is a season for Italian generals ... look at Mussolini, they said he couldn’t beat the Ethiopians.”
Mr. Volpi wouldn’t be related to old Muss or wouldn’t think he had the same winning characteristics, would he?
“Well, we both give signals with a right hand, didn’t we? Of course Mussolini holds his hand out in the open and I gotta hide ‘em with my glove, but it’s just the same thing. And we are both Italian aren’t we and we both eat spaghetti.”
He knew of course that Arrows uncorked a barrage of exploding hits every game now and might blast a lot of holes in Athletics.
“Sure they have, but anybody can hit if you put the old apple where they like it. I been studying the blue prints. I’ll make those chuckers of ours throw the ball where Arrows can’t touch it. They all got a weakness and I figure I know ‘em all just like Mussolini knew how to climb into Ethiopia ... me and Muss.”
Now Hall and Miron, Clarke, too, are hitting the cover off the ball. They don’t seem to be short on anything.
“Yah! Well Hall can’t hit a change of pace if you tease him with a fast ball. Miron is all right if you don’t get ‘em too close to his chin and as for Clarke he can’t hit fast pitching. Just wait for those twisters.”
All right then, they won’t hit, but Athletics can’t win without any runs and Wilkie and Olsen have developed a strange habit of throwing ‘em by all batters lately.
“Nuts on those guys. The only way for us to keep from hitting is to put our hands in our pickets. Our power is all on the right side of the dish now we got Ross Edy. We’re liable to kill somebody out there. They’ll have to get bicycles for their outfielders.”
Arnold & Quigley got some good hitters but they didn’t need to put their digits in their jeens to go hitless.
“No wonder, they wouldn’t hustle. Boy, we’re full of spinach. We’ll eat those guys.”
Perhaps he could say right quick how many games it would take to beat Arrows in this final playoff. He could.
“Four straight. Pate has gotta get back to school and Martinez and I want to go back to Oakland Club. We’re in a hurry.”
And that’s that. Francis “Mussolini” Volpi has it all figured out. It’s a cinch.
It starts tonight at 8 o’clock, the first game of the final playoff ... Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Come ovah! Come ovah! The show starts right away.