Monthly Archives: August 2014

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 Steve Bilko and the 1956 Los Angeles Angels. They met again June 17 during the 2014 World Cup to discuss baseball in L.A. beyond Stout Steve and the slugging Seraphs.

Mays hits 3 homers One of the highlights of their latest conversation is White’s recounting of two exhibition games at L.A.’s Wrigley Field in late March 1955 between the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians. The teams met in the 1954 World Series, the Giants sweeping the heavily-favored Indians four straight. The rematch at Wrigley Field turned out to be a replay of the fall classic, the Giants winning both games behind the heroics of Willie Mays and James “Dusty” Rhodes. Mays slammed three straight homers to pace New York’s 4-2 win in the opener and, then, teamed with Rhodes to beat the Indians 7-3 in the second game played before an overflow crowd of 24,434. Rhodes belted a pinch-hit homer and Mays made a spectacular catch in centerfield just as they did in the World Series.

“Several thousand lined the outfield wall and hundreds stood at the back of the stands,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “An estimated 2,000 failed to get inside at all.”

Giants whip TribeThe games attracted a combined 42,327 fans, proving L.A. was ripe for major-league baseball. 

Times columnist Ned Cronin used the near-record turnout to castigate baseball commissioner Ford Frick for issuing a gag order to major league team owners on moving a franchise to L.A. “If a major league owner doesn’t know enough to give a gold mine a wide berth, he still has you, Mr. Frick, to keep him out of nervous disorders.”

It would be another three years before the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to L.A. and six years until the American League expanded from eight to 10 teams, adding the Angels, a merry band of misfits rounded up by cowboy actor and singer Gene Autry. “One of the worst clubs ever assembled,” Jimmy Cannon, the dean of media critics, declared after seeing the Angels play. “They are in these uniforms because they proved their inefficiency.”

'57_p40
The 1957 Los Angeles Angels yearbook featured this story on Wrigley Field.

White points out in the interview that the Angels won six of nine games over the mighty New York Yankees at Wrigley Field in 1961. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were outslugged by the Angels’ diminutive Albie Pearson. The 5-foot-5, 140-pound Pearson belted three homers while the M&M boys managed only two apiece. “You don’t need much muscle in this park,” Little Albie said. “Anyone can hit one over the fence here, even me.”

The Bronx Bombers were duds in L.A., hitting a mere 13 home runs in nine games at the bandbox that New York sportswriters had ridiculed for years. Mantle batted a measly .206 average (7-for-34).

Wrigley Field_00055797
This 1954 artist rendition envisioned L.A.’s Wrigley Field as baseball’s most modern park with seating for 55,000 people. (Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

White touches all the bases in the interview – from an artist’s rendition of a refurbished Wrigley Field to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Dodgers’ first home in L.A. where left-handed hitting Wally Moon launched “moon shots” over the “Chinese Wall,” the nickname for a 40-foot high net erected in left field, a ridiculously short 251 feet from home plate.

 

A video of the 30-minute show can be seen on YouTube by clicking on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VIiJEeQWj4

***********************************

The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:

For Baseball Fans Down Under:

For Fans in the UK:

For Fans in Taiwan:

 

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 in the big leagues. “He was a good pitcher on a bad team,” columnist Vince Staten writes in the Kingsport Times-News.

Click on image to open/read full size
Click on image to open/read full size

The long-time Kingsport, Tennessee, resident had the misfortune of pitching for dismal Chicago Cub teams from 1955-59 and the underachieving Boston Red Sox of 1960-61. “That team was full of cliques,” Hillman says.

In 1962 he started with the Cincinnati Redlegs, appearing in two games, and finished by pitching in 13 games for the New York Mets. “The Mets went on to lose 120 games that season, still a record,” Staten notes.

Dave Hillman and Lori Bold discussed their Virginia roots at a recent Bilko Athletic Club book signing. Dave was born in Dungannon and Lori in nearby Gate City.
Dave Hillman and Lori Bold discussed their Virginia roots at a recent Bilko Athletic Club book signing. Dave was born in Dungannon and Lori in nearby Gate City.

Henry Aaron, a future Hall of Famer, tagged Hillman for three of his 755 home runs but Dave had the number of another superstar, Willie Mays: “He was a first ball guess hitter. I would just throw the first pitch under his chin. Never had any trouble with him.”

Hillman was at his best in 1959, posting an 8-11 record and 3.58 ERA, completing four games and pitching seven or more innings in nine others. He tossed a two-hit shutout against the Pirates; struck out eleven in seven innings of relief to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers; and in the next-to-last game of the season stopped the Dodgers in their bid to wrap up the National League pennant. The Dodgers were one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves with two to play. A win over the Cubs and Hillman clinched a tie.

Dave Hillman was Mr. Automatic for the ’56 Angels, winning 21 games.
Dave Hillman was Mr. Automatic for the ’56 Angels, winning 21 games.

“I went out there, honey, and I’ll never forget the control that I had,” Dave recalls in The Bilko Athletic Club, a book about the 1956 Angels. “I could thread a damn needle with that ball. I was just sitting back and sh-o-o-o-m-m-m…throwing that thing in there.”

Dave had a 12-0 cushion going into the sixth when the Dodgers scored twice, bringing Cubs manager Bob Scheffing to the mound. “What’s wrong, Dave?”

“It ain’t nothing. For five innings, they took the first pitch. Now they’re starting to hit it. I’ve got to go to work.”

Dave blanked the Dodgers the rest of the way, scattering nine hits and striking out seven for a 12-2 Cubs win. “That’s the easiest game I’ve had all year,” Dave said after the game. “All the way through my idea was to make them hit the breaking pitches. I used fastballs and slip pitches mostly in the early part of the game and switched to curveballs later.”

***********************************

The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:

For Baseball Fans Down Under:

For Fans in the UK:

For Fans in Taiwan:

 

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.

Author Gaylon White was 17 when he interviewed Dean Chance for this story.
Author Gaylon White was 17 when he interviewed Dean Chance for this story.

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 “wheels” in April 1963, taking me to the Los Angeles Angels spring training camp at Palm Springs, California so I could interview a promising young pitcher named Dean Chance for my hometown newspaper, the El Monte Herald. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower showed up the same day we did, Ronn getting close enough with his Instamatic camera for a wonderful shot of Ike’s famous smile.

Chance went on to win 13 games for the Angels in 1963 and 20 more in 1964 to earn the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the majors.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower at spring training game in Palm Springs, California, in April 1963. (Photo by Ronn Robinson)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower at spring training game in Palm Springs, California, in April 1963. (Photo by Ronn Robinson

 

 

My friendship with Ronn has its roots in the early 1950s when our fathers took us to Pacific Coast League baseball games between the Angels and Hollywood Stars. I was an Angel fan – just like my older brother, Don, and father, Rev. Hooper W. White. Ronn and his father, Rev. Eugene Robinson, rooted for the Stars. En route to a Stars-Angels game at Gilmore Field in Hollywood, Dad asked Gene: “How can you be a Christian and pull against the Angels?”

The Angels-Stars rivalry is history but, fortunately, the friendship between the two families continues.  Ronn’s daughter, Rochelle, chronicles this and more in a wonderful story on The Bilko Athletic Club, for the website, LaLaScoop. Check it out:

http://lalascoop.com/2014/06/30/the-bilko-athletic-club-by-gaylon-h-white-brings-a-rich-history-of-la-to-life-through-baseball/

:  Ronn Robinson and his daughter, Rochelle, shown here on a family vacation in Italy. (Photo courtesy of Ronn Robinson)
Ronn Robinson and his daughter, Rochelle, shown here on a family vacation in Italy. (Photo courtesy of Ronn Robinson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***********************************

The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:

For Baseball Fans Down Under:

For Fans in the UK:

For Fans in Taiwan:

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: How do you know to ask for a book you don’t know exists? The sorry state of the newspaper industry has made book review editors and seasoned reporters nearly extinct.  Sportswriters left in the press box tweet better than they write. “I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see,” the Doobie Brothers lamented, expressing the view of authors not fortunate enough to be named John as in Grisham or le Carré.

White is using his broadcast journalism training to take The Bilko Athletic Club story to the streets
White, right, is taking The Bilko Athletic Club story to the streets, applying what he learned in college from long-time friend, Hank Inman.

The challenges for a book targeting a specific market segment are even greater. The Bilko Athletic Club, for example, is geared toward seniors and baby boomers that are most likely to enjoy reading about the golden era of baseball in the 1950s. Much of this audience doesn’t use the Internet and couldn’t care less about Facebook or Twitter. “Take the message to my brother,” the Doobie Brothers sang, “You will find them everywhere.” This means takin’ it to the streets via sports talk radio shows that are plentiful and popular around the country.

From Jacksonville, Florida, to Berkeley, California and places in between like Pontiac, Illinois and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the story of Steve Bilko and the 1956 Los Angeles Angels has been told on 20 radio and TV shows to date.

The latest to feature The Bilko Athletic Club are Coach John Kentera on San Diego’s Mighty 1090 (XERPS-AM), the flagship station for the San Diego Padres; the Nick Brown Show, a sports talk program on an ESPN station in Ruston, Louisiana; Jay Caldwell on WJON-AM in St. Cloud, Minnesota; and Dan Keating on KMAV-FM in Mayville, North Dakota.  To listen to the interviews, click on the following links:

The Nick Brown Show – Interview with Gaylon White

Coach John Kentera on San Diego’s Mighty 1090 (XERPS-AM)- Interview with Gaylon White:

Jay Caldwell on WJON AM 1240 – Interview with Gaylon White

Dan Keating on KMAV-FM in Mayville, North Dakota-Interview with Gaylon White – Part 1

Dan Keating on KMAV-FM in Mayville, North Dakota-Interview with Gaylon White – Part 2

***********************************

The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:

For Baseball Fans Down Under:

For Fans in the UK:

For Fans in Taiwan: