Tapestry of the Times
Bilko is back. Steve Bilko, that is. The Sergeant of Swat. Boom Boom. Angel Atlas. Stout Steve the Slugging Seraph.
In the newly published book, The Bilko Athletic Clubs, Stout Steve is larger than life just as he was in 1956 when it was suggested that Mickey Mantle and Bilko run for president and vice president in that year’s U.S. presidential election. “A vote against Mantle and Bilko is a vote against home, mother and bottled beer,” one Los Angeles columnist wrote.
Mantle had a banner year with the New York Yankees to win a rare Triple Crown while Bilko was doing the same for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), the highest of all the minor leagues. Bilko paced the PCL in eight categories: home runs (55), batting average (.360), runs batted in (164), hits (215), runs scored (163), walks (104), total bases (410) and slugging percentage (.683).
“Steve Bilko was my first baseball hero when he won the PCL Triple Crown in ’56,” says Harry Turtledove, a Hugo Award winning author who was seven years old at the time. “It’s funny: I remember that he did that. I know Mickey Mantle won the American League Triple Crown the same year, but I don’t remember it.”
To Bobby Grich, a seven-year-old in Long Beach, California, who would grow up to be a star second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and California Angels, Bilko was “Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams all rolled into one.”
With Bilko as King Kong, the Angels piled up 107 wins to finish 16 games ahead of their closest competitor. They belted 202 home runs, two shy of the league record; posted a team batting average of .297; and scored 1,000 runs in 168 games or nearly six runs a game. Six players belted twenty or more home runs and had batting averages of .300 or higher. Four players batted in 100 or more runs. Six players, including the entire infield, were named to Look magazine’s PCL all-star team for 1956. Bilko hit one tape-measure home run after another to earn Minor League Player of the Year honors and inspire the team’s nickname, “The Bilko Athletic Club.”
The amazing season of the ’56 Angels unfolds through the personal stories of the players. Author Gaylon H. White uses comments by dozens of other players, umpires and fans and quotes from newspapers to provide insight and context, creating a tapestry of the times.
“The Bilko Athletic Club lovingly re-captures an era where the Pacific Coast League was the big leagues in L.A.,” says Ron Shelton, award-winning director and screenwriter of Bull Durham and Tin Cup.
“This is a wonderful book,” Turtledove notes.
The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:
- Rowman & Littlefield
- Sales Spider
- Tower books
- Powell’s Books
- Rakuten.com Shopping
- BetterWorld Books
- The Book Depository
For Baseball Fans Down Under:
For Fans in the UK:
For Fans in Taiwan: