Introduction

 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).bilko_litho10.indd

“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: 

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Leave A Comment

26 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. What a good looking guy. And, a smart, solid writer to boot! All my best wishes. I’m sure the book will be a smash hit! Yankees forever :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jay. You’ve interviewed several of the ’56 Angels players for the National Pastime article you did on the team so you have a particular insight and appreciation for this team. It was a great one.

  2. Even a Hollywood Stars fan like me acknowledges Bilko’s greatness. Growing up in LA, I knew all about Bilko and felt he was destined for home run titles once he got to the bigs.

    I couldn’t figure out what went wrong but I’m sure Gaylon’s new book will explain it all. Like the others who commented, I can’t wait to read it.

    1. If Bilko were playing today, Joe, he would be the talk of baseball. As it was, there was plenty of talk about Bilko. The problem was the level of expectations. When you’re 20 and being compared with baseball greats Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Johnny Mize, that’s a high bar to clear.

  3. Hello Gaylon,

    I would be most interested in reading anything about Carlos Bernier and those unforgettable games between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.
    Let me know when you’re in town again. Dinner is on me this time.

    Thanks,

    Nestor Bernier

    1. Thanks for your note, Nestor. Your father, Carlos, is prominently mentioned in the book. So are the Stars, the Angels’ bitter crosstown rivals.

  4. I expect the book to be a well-researched and engaging read about an era that has captured my deepest interest in baseball. Yes, I remember Steve Bilko!
    So much of Gaylon’s time and talent have been devoted to telling an important baseball story long overdue. I sense that the quality of his book will be well worth the wait.
    All the best with it!
    Myles Martel

  5. Gaylon,

    I’m sure there will be a snippet about the shoes that were worn at that time.
    Life is a story and you tell them well and deserve to have them published.

    Hope to see you soon.

    All the best,
    Hugh

    1. As a matter of fact, Hugh, the centerfielder for the ’56 Angels, Gale Wade, showed me the shoes he wore in his last game in pro ball in 1961. He was hit in the head by a Moe Drabowsky fastball and carried off the field, never to play again. You can read all about it in the book. The beanball, that is. Not the shoes.

  6. This is AWESOME! It’s so thrilling to see all your years of research and interviews come together to this book! I’m so proud of you and excited to read the book! :)

    1. Jim Bolger, another star on the ’56 Angels, played for the Padres in 1961, batting .313 in 125 games. Besides the Angels, Bilko played for only one other team in the Pacific Coast League – the Spokane Indians in 1959. He hit for a .305 average with 26 home runs and 98 RBI’s. Bilko had a lot of success against the Padres at Lane Field in San Diego. Next to Wrigley Field in L.A., it was his favorite park

    1. Thanks for sharing your blog on the Polish Falcons. I interviewed Rip Repulski, one of the Polish Falcons, for The Bilko Athletic Club. Of course, I interviewed Steve Bilko, spending an entire day with him at his home in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. Eddie Stanky lived up to his nickname of “The Brat” on matters pertaining to Bilko’s weight. If Steve was one pound over the weight limit Stanky set for him, he was fined. And, of course, Stanky was behind the trade of Bilko to the Cubs the next year. A lot of Cardinals stuff in the book.

  7. I grew up with the Angels, Stars and Seals. At that time in Los Angeles, this “WAS” baseball. Looking forward to the book

    1. Thanks for your note, Bob. While Steve Bilko & the ’56 Angels – The Bilko Athletic Club – is the focus of this book, there’s a lot of stuff about the Stars, Seals, Portland Beavers and other PCL teams and players. The best part is the players are telling their story, sharing anecdotes that have never been published before. The blog posts give you a good idea of what’s to come in the book.

  8. Gaylon has been working on this book for along time. It has now become reality. His passion and interest will make this book successful. Looking forward to reading the book.

    1. Thanks for your patience, Jerry, as it as been a long journey – longer than I expected. The payoff is a book well worth reading.

  9. My Dad had been working on this book since I was a baby. And, I am forty. I can remember him clacking away on his mechanical typewriter while listening to his tapes of interviews. Completing this book, finally, was like birthing a baby – a forty year old baby (Silly work obligations kept him from completing it).

    I know it must feel fantastic to get this out, Dad. Your blog posts are fun and good marketing. I hope you are planning a big launch party. BIG!

    1. If this book is as good as my six grandkids, then, I will be tickled pink. It has been a long haul, Erin, but you’ve been there to cheer me on and that makes the journey even more gratifying.