A Sunday Drive with the Bilkos

(Third in a series based on Author Gaylon White’s recent visit to Nanticoke, PA) There was only one way in and out of the Honey Pot section of Nanticoke in 1976 when I visited Stephen Thomas Bilko, also known as Stout Steve the Slugging Seraph. Today, there are two roads. In Honey Pot, that’s progress. […]

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‘The Last Real American Sports Hero’

(Second of a series based on a recent visit to Nanticoke, PA, by Author Gaylon White) Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist Jim Murray called Steve Bilko “an authentic folk hero.” Ron Kalb, 12 years old in 1956 when Bilko was imitating Mickey Mantle on the West Coast, still considers him “the last real American sports hero.” […]

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Wow!

(First of a series based on author Gaylon White’s recent  visit to Nanticoke, PA) Stephen Thomas Bilko was a self-described “simple guy from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.” He didn’t say much. He didn’t have to because his bat spoke volumes – 148 home runs in three seasons (1955-57) with the Los Angeles Angels of the old Pacific […]

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Back to Nanticoke

Gerald Ford was president of the United States but not for long. Happy Days was the top-rated television show, a much-needed antidote for the misery index to follow under Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter. Author Gaylon White was 30 – the uniform number for broad-shouldered Steve Bilko in 1956-57 when he belted 111 home runs to […]

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Patience Pays

“Good things come to those to wait…and wait…and wait,” Ernie Banks once told Chicago Cub fans. Cub faithful are still waiting – 10 years since the Steve Bartman incident; 30 years since a ground ball trickled through Leon Durham’s legs in the finale of the 1984 National League Championship Series; 69 years since the Cubs […]

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Casey at Bat

It was the moment Casey Wise dreamed of as a kid – World Series, Yankee Stadium, his father in the stands to cheer him on. In fact, Casey could hear his father, Hugh, as he stepped into the batter’s box at Yankees Stadium to pinch-hit for the Milwaukee Braves in the third game of the […]

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A Tip of the Hat to Nicknames

Colorful nicknames in baseball are mostly a thing of the past so it’s a treat to see four players in the playoffs with nicknames that evoke memories of a time when monikers like Duke, Pee Wee and Country were household names.   Nobody is going to confuse Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler or Mike “Moose” Moustakas […]

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A Baseball Fan for the Ages

Willie Smith is a throwback to the past when baseball fans often were as entertaining as the players on the field. In most ballparks across America, we now get silly mascots prancing around and scoreboards with JumboTron television screens showing people mugging for video cameras while loud music numbs our eardrums. Both past and present […]

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Who Needs it Most?

The baseball playoffs are in full swing and the talking heads on ESPN and other prognosticators already have weighed in with their picks to win the league championships and the World Series. These so-called experts are basing their selections on relative strength of the teams, ignoring the fact that the best team doesn’t always win. […]

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Measuring a Leader

Baseball has statistics for almost everything except a player’s leadership ability. That’s something usually determined by the players themselves and the comments they make about each other. Bob Scheffing was the manager of the Los Angeles Angels in 1956 but second baseman Gene Mauch was “the cat’s meow on the field,” according to Eddie Haas, […]

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Speaking His Mind

When Gale “Windy” Wade spoke, people listened – or ran for cover. “Gale speaks his mind,” says Bob Speake, who played alongside Wade in the outfield with the Los Angeles Angels in 1956 and Chicago Cubs in 1955. “As hard-nosed and strong jawed as he was, I didn’t want to mouth off to him. I […]

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Birthday Boys

Dave Hillman and Jim Fanning were the 1956 Los Angeles Angels’ birthday boys, born September 14, 1927, and playing on the same teams on their way up to the big leagues. Today, they are 87, Hillman living in Kingsport, Tennessee, and Fanning in London, Ontario, Canada. Hillman, a pitcher, and Fanning, a catcher, were battery […]

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As the Worm Turns

Baseball has had its share of drinkers. Babe Ruth was as legendary for his beer drinking as he was for his home runs. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs denies that he once downed 64 beers on a cross-country flight but admits, “It was a few Miller Lites.” Unlike Ruth and Boggs, Steve Bilko isn’t enshrined […]

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Bingo to Bango to Bilko

One double play combination produced a legendary refrain, the other a clever phrase that’s now a trivia question. In the early 1900s, the defensive wizardry of Chicago Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance inspired the poem, Baseball’s Sad Lexicon, and the famous line, “Tinker to Evers to Chance”. […]

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Déjà vu All over Again

As Yogi Berra would say, “It was déjà vu all over again.” John Vorperian, host and executive producer of Beyond the Game, the popular White Plains, New York, Cable Television sports talk show, was quizzing Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic Club. The first time around March 13, 2014 the pair talked mostly about […]

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Angel Ace Finally Gets His Due

It took Darius Dutton “Dave” Hillman part of eight seasons in the majors to equal the number of wins he posted for the 1956 Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League – 21. But behind his career won-loss record of 21-37 is an earned run average of 3.87 for the 624 innings he pitched […]

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Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson!

From Jackie to Frank to Brooks, the Robinson name is etched in baseball’s history like no other.  But the Robinson that conjures up the fondest personal memories is boyhood friend, Ronn Robinson. A first-rate trumpet player and even better swimmer, Ronn rescued me from an ocean rip-tide when I was a teenager. He was my […]

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Takin’ It to the Streets

The Doobie Brothers had other things on their mind in 1976 when they recorded the hit song, Takin’ It to the Streets, but they pretty much described what’s needed these days to promote a new book. Financially-pinched publishers now send the media a review copy only when a book is requested. This begs the question: […]

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Thank you, Mr. Freese

George Freese, all-star third baseman for the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, died July 27, 2014, in Portland, Oregon. He was 87. George played in only 61 games in the majors, batting .257 with three homers, but his minor-league career spanned 17 seasons, six in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) where he played for the Angels, […]

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Talkin’ Baseball

The best part of writing a baseball book is talking about it with people who remember the golden era of the 1950s. L.A. Tarone of the Sports Hub 102.3 radio in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and Mike Schikman of WSVA-AM in Harrisonburg, Virginia, demonstrated their baseball knowledge in interviews with Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic […]

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A Name Made to Remember

  “The name, Bilko, was made to remember,” says John Schulian, a sports columnist turned television screenwriter. “Two syllables, punchy with a K.  It was made for headlines because it’s short. It goes all over the place.” The Bilko name was all over the country in 1955 because of Stout Steve, the Slugging Seraph, and […]

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Confessions of a Conscientious Man

Bruce Winkworth was browsing through the baseball books in a used book store near his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, when he saw a cover photo of what looked like Steve Bilko. “After moving my gaze several inches upwards, I saw the title: The Bilko Athletic Club. That was it for me. I had to […]

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The Legend of Steve Bilko

The legend of Steve Bilko was the topic of the KTLA-TV Morning News program interview with Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic Club. In 1956, Bilko was King Kong of the Pacific Coast League, Paul Bunyan of the Bushes, the Sergeant of Swat. Stout Steve was his name, smashing monster-sized home runs his game. […]

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The Name is Bilko

“Steve Bilko is a great, lummocking, broad-shouldered, wide-beamed broth of a boy,” Red Smith wrote in a nationally syndicated sports column titled, The Name is Bilko, published in March 1950. This was the renowned sports columnist’s first glimpse of Bilko. He’d heard about him two years earlier from Bob Hannegan, the president of the St. […]

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Broz, Bilko and Beer

Jim Brosnan wasn’t going to take the phone call until he found out it was about Steve Bilko. They played for the 1955 Los Angeles Angels, “Broz” winning 17 games and “Stout Steve” blasting 37 home runs. “He was the greatest right-hand hitter I saw in 1955,” Broz said. “He hit the ball so far […]

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The Other Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field in Chicago celebrates its 100th anniversary this year to great fanfare while the site of the original Wrigley Field in Los Angeles goes unnoticed by the people using the senior citizens center and recreational area that took its place after the storied ballpark was demolished in 1969. The L.A. Wrigley was called the […]

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Baseball and Life

The telephone line went dead seconds into the WBKV-AM Morning Show interview with Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic Club. At the end of the West Bend, Wisconsin, radio program, host Jesse Averill apologized for the technical problems. “No problem, that’s life,” White replied. Earlier in the interview Averill said: “To me, this book […]

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Bilko and Hurdle Linked by History

Steve Bilko, the star of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels and namesake for the book, The Bilko Athletic Club, will always be connected to Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, by the March 20, 1978 edition of Sports Illustrated. Hurdle was featured on SI’s cover in a Kansas City Royals uniform, a happy, […]

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Memories of Bilko

Almost everybody in the meeting room at the Huntington Beach, California, Public Library had fond memories of Steve Bilko when he played for the Los Angeles Angels in the old Pacific Coast League (PCL).  The occasion was the 29th annual PCL Historical Society and one of the topics for discussion was The Bilko Athletic Club, […]

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When Numbers Lie

When Steve Bilko was asked what he weighed during the 1955-57 seasons he was blasting home runs a la Babe Ruth for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), he politely answered, “Somewhere between 200 and 300 pounds.” It will always be a mystery how much Bilko weighed in 1957 when he […]

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A Weighty Matter

Standing 6-foot-1 and tipping the scales around 250 pounds, Steve Bilko would be just another wide-bodied player in baseball today. Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants is 5-11 and 240 pounds; Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers is 5-11, 275; Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler of the Kansas City Royals is 6-1, […]

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Another ‘Boys of Summer’

San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank calls The Bilko Athletic Club the “West Coast version of the Boys of Summer.” Boys of Summer is the baseball classic by Roger Kahn about the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. “We’ll happily endorse that endorsement,” Tom Hoffarth writes in the Los Angeles Daily News. The full story can […]

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Houston Sports Talk Features Bilko & Boys

Steve Bilko and his 1956 Los Angeles Angels teammates are featured in a Houston Sports Talk podcast with Robert Land and R.G. Seals interviewing Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic Club, a new Rowman and Littlefield book that’s receiving national media attention. Bilko was Babe Ruth to White, nine years old in 1955 when […]

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Let’s Play Two

It was the summer of 1969 and the 100-plus temperatures in Chicago were taking its toll on the Chicago Cubs, embroiled in a heated pennant race with the New York Mets. Ernie Banks looked around the clubhouse at his weary teammates and made his now famous declaration, “It’s a great day for a ball game. […]

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‘Pleasant Look Back’

The Bilko Athletic Club “is a pleasant look back at what a man and his excellent ball club could mean to a California community in the days when the Major League Baseball map extended only to St. Louis,” Bill Littlefield says on Only A Game, the nationally syndicated program he hosts weekly on National Public […]

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Extraordinary Book

“Thank you so much for putting together this extraordinary book,” Dr. Alvin Augustus Jones says to author Gaylon White in wrapping up their 16-minute conversation about White’s book, The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels. Dr. Alvin features “world leaders and thinkers” on his radio show, which is broadcast on […]

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Beyond the Game (and the ’56 Angels)

Fielding questions from a prosecutor is something you want to avoid. But if it’s John Vorperian, a prosecutor in White Plains, New York, and the subject is baseball, it’s a totally different story. Vorperian is host and executive producer of “Beyond the Game,” a sports talk show he has anchored on White Plains Cable Television […]

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Fun Times at the Ballpark

Bobby Bragan was talking about one of the many times he got thrown out of a game for a run-in with an umpire. “I said: ‘If you don’t mind, before I leave I’ve got a message for the pitcher.’ So I walked out to the mound.  He followed me to the mound. I said: ‘I […]

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Cartoonist’s Delight

Barrel-shaped and strong as an ox, Steve Bilko was right out of the comic strips. When Bilko broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals, he was tagged “Humphrey” after the mountainous blacksmith and sparring partner of boxer Joe Palooka in the popular comic strip of the 1940s and 1950s. After slugging 37 homers his first […]

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Remembering Uncle Bob

“Death steals everything except our stories,” Jim Harrison writes in the poem, Larson’s Holstein Bull. I’m reminded of this every time someone I know dies. On Sunday, March 23, my sister’s husband of 50 years, Robert Earl Keith, died. He was 72. Everybody in our family called him Uncle Bob because it fit him to […]

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Past Gives Meaning to the Present

Why should anybody care about a player, Steve Bilko, who has been dead since 1978 and a minor-league Los Angeles Angels team that played 58 years ago? Brothers Joe and Jack Hannah along with Joe’s son, Lon, make up the Sons of the San Joaquin, honored eight times as the best traditional singing group by […]

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It’s Bilko Time!

Long before Rambo, there was Bilko. The names sound alike. They suggest raw power and brute strength. And they conjure up images of action and heroism. Rambo, of course, was a fictional character. Bilko’s name was used in a popular ‘50s TV show and later in a movie, Sgt. Bilko, but Steve Bilko, the baseball […]

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‘Something Very, Very Special’

Tony Freitas was throwing a baseball for a living seven years before Bob Thorpe was born.  When they hooked up in Stockton, California, in 1953, the 45-year-old Freitas had more than 5,000 innings under his belt. The 18-year-old Thorpe was fresh out of San Diego High School and being touted as a future superstar. In […]

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The Slim Virginian

Dave Hillman was the ace of the Los Angeles Angels pitching staff in 1956 with 21 wins but so little was written about him that most people didn’t know his real name was Darius Dutton. Dave was a nickname given to Hillman by his boyhood hero, John S. Blackwell, in their hometown of Dungannon, tucked […]

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The Original Sunshine Boys

They were the “Sunshine Boys” long before there was a Broadway play and movie by the same name. By day, Bob Anderson and Dick Drott put a smile on the faces of Los Angeles Angels fans by mowing down batters like gunslingers in a Western movie. By night, they shared an efficiency apartment near Hollywood […]

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Like Father, Like Daughter

“I miss my daddy,” Faye Davis said as we stepped into her office at the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I miss my daddy.” Faye had just attended a Negro League Conference presentation on her father, Lorenzo “Piper” Davis. He played seven years in the Negro Leagues (1942-48), mostly for the Birmingham Black Barons. […]

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Raccoon River Revisited

Nobody has written a song about the Raccoon River that flows through downtown Des Moines, Iowa, but Bob Speake, left-fielder for the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, spins a good yarn about it. Speake played first base for the Des Moines Bruins of the A Western League in 1954. The Bruins were the Class A farm […]

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Fodge as in Fudge

The name is Gene Fodge. But Ernie Banks, widely known as Mr. Cub, called Gene “Fudgie” as in fudge.  The word “fudge” took on a whole new meaning in the movie classic, Christmas Story, when Ralphie said, “Oooh fuuudge!”  Of course, Ralphie didn’t say fudge; he said “THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of […]

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They Could Play Football, Too!

The stylish waffle-weave uniforms worn by the Los Angeles Angels in 1956 were inspired by the football jerseys of the 1955 UCLA Bruins.  This was fitting because the slugging Seraphs were once mashers on the gridiron with more speed and firepower than a lot of football teams.   One of the spring training stars was […]

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Life is a Knuckleball

Life is a knuckleball. I was two years old when I was stricken with polio and sent to a hospital with a bunch of other kids. Some never went home. I did and a few years later was playing catch and, inspired by Willie “The Knuck” Ramsdell, trying to throw a knuckleball.   Ramsdell pitched […]

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A Tribute to Mom

Mom turns 93 today. There are many nice things I could write about my mother but the biggest tribute is saluting her wisdom and vision for saving my baseball card collection after I left home for college. This may seem trivial to some but there are legions of boys who lost their treasured cards when […]

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Tale of the Ring

Raymond “Moe” Bauer and his son, Paul, were in Atlanta to see the Braves play the Montreal Expos, managed at the time by Gene Mauch. Moe called a batboy over to his seat near the dugout and handed him a ring. “Take this to Coach Mauch and ask him if he’ll see the person who […]

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Daring to Dream

We’re kids once and only for awhile So follow your dreams, and do it with style. The worst part about being a kid is growing up. Few of our childhood dreams make it past grade school. They often are pooh-poohed by parents and teachers and eventually abandoned to cope with the harsh realities of adult […]

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A Christmas Story

As a former catcher, manager Bob “Grump” Scheffing liked having a few grizzled veteran pitchers around to balance the inexperience of the kid phenoms on the 1956 Los Angeles Angels pitching staff.  Marino “Chick” Pieretti, a 35-year-old right hander with six years in the majors under his belt, was ideal for the job.  Pieretti won […]

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The Great, Good and the Ugly

The three autographed baseballs are a throwback to the past when baseball cards were five cents a pack and sports memorabilia was treasured for its sentimental value, not financial. They belonged to Raymond “Moe” Bauer, a left-handed relief pitcher for the 1955 and 1956 Los Angeles Angels and 1957 Portland Beavers. The baseballs are signed […]

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Forever Heroes

“Heroes, they come and go and leave us behind as if we’re supposed to know why,” the Eagles sing in Pretty Maids All in a Row.  “Why do we give up our hearts to the past? And why must we grow up so fast?” Truth is, we outgrow our heroes more than they leave us […]

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Of Bilko, Konerko and Wilhelm

“You know who reminds me of Steve Bilko?” Asking the question was Dean Chance, winner of 128 major-league games and the Cy Young Award in 1964 when he led the American League in wins (20), innings pitched (278 1/3) and earned run average (1.65), the latter still a record for the Angels franchise. Chance was […]

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A Season in Paradise

In late March 1956, Mary Bilko met Los Angeles Times sportswriter Jeane Hoffman at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field for an interview. It was Mrs. Bilko’s first visit to L.A. where her husband, Steve, was on his way to becoming a celebrity as big as any in nearby Hollywood. Steve was making a home run derby […]

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North to Alaska

Gale “Windy” Wade had been down this road before. He was the center-fielder for the Chicago Cubs to open the 1955 and 1956 seasons. Each time he ended up back in the minors with the Los Angeles Angels. The Cubs wanted to see him play the last two weeks of the ’56 season – sort of a […]

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Angel Annie, the Voice of Wrigley Field

Her real name was Roberta King but she was best known as “Angel Annie.” She had a shouting voice described as “somewhere between a police siren and a dynamite explosion,” earning her the nicknames of “The Voice of Wrigley Field,”  “The Human Siren” and “The Screech.” Over a 35-year period Angel Annie attended approximately 5,000 […]

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The House Bilko & Buzz Bombed

The two-story apartment house is still standing, now enclosed by a tall white wrought iron fence.  More wrought iron protects the front doors. The windows are unprotected except for two trees in the front yard. Good thing Steve Bilko and James “Buzz” Clarkson are no longer launching missiles from Wrigley Field across the street.   […]

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All Screwed Up

The Los Angeles Angels were a farm club of the Chicago Cubs but based on their performance in 1956, you could make a strong case that the Angels belonged in the big leagues and Cubs in the minors.  The Angels dominated the Pacific Coast League (PCL) – the highest of the minor leagues in the […]

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Sing One for the Cowboy Catcher

On opening day of the Los Angeles Angels’ 1956 season Joe Hannah caught both games of a day-night doubleheader and became the father of a baby boy – Lon.  The season concluded with Joe singing and strumming “Empty Saddles in the Oat Bin” as part of an impromptu show the Angels players staged for fans. […]

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The Ballpark That Got No Respect

It was the first ballpark to be named Wrigley Field but, if remembered at all, it’s usually as “the other Wrigley Field.” That’s fitting because the original Wrigley Field in Los Angeles was always overshadowed by the one in Chicago. The L.A. Wrigley was called the “finest baseball park in the universe” when it was opened […]

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Opposites Attract

The teammates were a study in black and white. Steve Bilko was a burly, beer-chugging big bopper; Bob Coats was a slender, milk-drinking singles slapper. Bilko looked like a middle linebacker, the bespectacled Coats a high school principal. The differences were even reflected in their nicknames: Stout Steve and Coatsie. According to one writer, Coats […]

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Bilko’s Bartender

Every pro baseball player today has an agent. Some even have lawyers and accountants. Stout Steve Bilko, the Los Angeles Angels’ slugging seraph from 1955 to 1957, was flying solo with one exception his first season in L.A. – he had his own bartender. In 1955, Bilko shared an efficiency apartment at the Wellington Hotel […]

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And Here Comes Bilko!

The four most electrifying words in Los Angeles in 1956 were, “And here comes Bilko!” The signature phrase of Bob Kelley, the voice of the Los Angeles Angels, was used to stir radio listeners when Steve Bilko came to bat with runners on base and a rally brewing. “And here comes Bilko!” Kelley screamed time […]

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The Shot Heard Over and Over Again

A decade has passed since New York City was darkened by the blackout of Thursday, August 14, 2003. Pino’s Restaurant, made famous by David Halberstram’s book, The Teammates, closed the following year. Bobby Murcer, the former New York Yankees centerfielder and a regular at Pino’s, died in 2008. All that’s left are memories of the […]

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Statuetting the ’56 Angels

There are no statues of Steve Bilko or any other members of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels but there are picture statuettes created by Jim Fanning, a backup catcher until he was sent to the lower minors six weeks into the season. “I gave away more than I sold,” Fanning said. “I didn’t make any money.” […]

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Bilko the Great

Elvis Presley had teenage girls swooning with his pelvic gyrations, Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis were the most popular movie stars in Hollywood according to a national survey and Rocky Marciano had just retired as the undefeated world heavyweight boxing champion. But in the summer of 1956, it was Steve Bilko dominating the headlines of […]

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Back to the Fifties

  The biggest change in baseball over the last half-century is the relationship between players and fans. There’s a growing economic divide made even greater by players’ security and privacy concerns. To bridge this gap, the Washington Nationals host an annual event, called NatsFest, so fans can meet current Nationals players as well as past […]

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