Monthly Archives: September 2014

Measuring a Leader

Bob-Scheffing_edit
Bob Scheffing

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, a 20-year-old outfielder at the time. “He told everybody where to go, what to do.”

Mauch was player-manager for the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1953 before moving to L.A. in 1954. By 1956, he was well on his way to becoming known as the “Little General,” the nickname he earned managing 26 years in the big leagues. “His ambition was to become a major-league manager,” said Johnny Goryl, who played 12 games for the ’56 Angels. “Everybody knew that.”

“Mauch had a big impression on me as a kid,” Haas said. “Some of the things I didn’t understand until I got older. Once I played another four or five years and, especially when I started managing, I reflected back on some of the things that he just harped on. They were very helpful.”

Gene Mauch
Gene Mauch

Catcher Jim Fanning played with the Angels in 1955 and part of the 1956 season. “Gene knew everything. He had the greatest retentive memory of anybody I have ever been around – anybody. He never took a note. He never forgot anything.”

Roy Smalley, a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in the early 1950s and Mauch’s brother-in-law, once quipped he never heard Gene say he was a genius but he never heard him deny it either. “No, I wasn’t,” Mauch said of the genius thing, “but I knew how to play and so did the rest of them.”

Five players, including Mauch, managed in the majors. Catcher Elvin Tappe guided the Cubs’ misguided College of Coaches experiment in 1961-62; Goryl was a coach for the Minnesota Twins in 1980 when he succeeded Mauch as manager; Haas managed the Atlanta Braves in 1985; Fanning led the Montreal Expos in 1982 and parts of two other seasons.

Elvin Tappe
Elvin Tappe

Fanning established the scouting bureau that major league teams still use today and he was the Expos’ first general manager, hiring Mauch to manage the expansion team in 1969. “I had a lot of admiration for Gene. He was a great aid to Bob,” Fanning said, recalling their time together with Scheffing in L.A.

Dwight “Red” Adams, one of the ’56 Angels veteran pitchers, became a highly-respected pitching coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, credited by Hall of Fame pitchers Tommy John and Don Sutton for their success. Third baseman George Freese managed 12 seasons in the lower minors for the Cubs, San Diego Padres and the Dodgers.

Piper Davis
Piper Davis

 

Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, the only African-American on the team, was player-manager of the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948 when they won the Negro American League title with a 16-year-old named Willie Mays playing centerfield. “In so many ways Piper was the most important person in my early baseball years,” Mays wrote in his autobiography, Say Hey.

In addition to batting .316 as a super-sub and pinch-hitter, the 39-year-old Piper was a catalyst, spending much of his time in the bullpen warming up the team’s young pitchers and giving them the benefit of the wisdom he gained from playing in the Negro Leagues. “Piper knew his role and he played it well,” said outfielder Bob Speake.

“Bob was a handler of men, not ball players,” Speake explained. “Bob appreciated Gene’s baseball wisdom and leadership ability on the field. And he just let it go, let it develop so that Gene could help younger ball players and also be part of that winning tradition. Bob had the knack of sitting back and letting you do your thing.”

Jim Fanning
Jim Fanning

 

“He let us be as creative as we wanted to be and he had great trust in us,” Mauch said. “After all the years I managed, I learned it’s far more important that the players know that the manager respects them than it is for them to respect the manager. Scheffing was a helluva manager – the best manager I ever played for.”

Mauch ranks 12th among big league managers in victories with 1,902 – three less than Casey Stengel, the legendary Yankees manager who managed in 10 World Series. He should be in the Hall of Fame with Stengel but, unfortunately, he is most remembered for his near misses with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964 and California Angels in 1982 and 1986.

With 12 games to play in 1964, the Phillies lost 10 straight games to blow a six-and-a-half game lead. In 1982, the Angels blew a 2-0 game lead against the Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-five championship playoff series. The Angels were one strike away from the World Series in 1986 when the Red Sox rallied to three consecutive wins and the American League championship. “If it’s true you learn from adversity, then I must be the smartest SOB in the world,” Mauch said.

Johnny Goryl
Johnny Goryl

What is often overlooked is Mauch transformed bad teams into pennant contenders. Under his leadership, the Phillies went from last-place in 1960 to second in 1964. The Expos went from 52 to 73 wins their first two years under Mauch. The Twins improved by nine games his first season as manager in 1976, and he guided the Angels to a division title in 1982, after they finished last the year before.

“He knew what it took to make a player better,” said Goryl, who followed Mauch as manager of the Twins. “It was unfortunate what happened to him in Philadelphia but he always believed in going with the horses that made the club good. That’s what he lived by and that’s how he managed.”

George “Sparky” Anderson succeeded Mauch at second base for the Angels in 1957. Tommy Lasorda was a pitcher for the ’57 Angels. Both are Hall of Fame managers. “I got good players, stayed out of the way, let ‘em win a lot, and then just hung around for 26 years,” Sparky said on being inducted.

Eddie Haas
Eddie Haas

One can only wonder how many championships Mauch would’ve won with players like Anderson had in Cincinnati and Detroit and Lasorda with the Dodgers.

Near the end of the ’56 Angels’ title run, Mauch was sold to the Boston Red Sox. Scheffing went on to manage the Cubs for three years (1957-59). “If I had known I was going to manage the Cubs, we would have never sold him to the Red Sox,” Scheffing said. “I’d have held onto him as a player, coach or something.”

A statement like that is a pretty good measure of Mauch as a leader.

 

 

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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:

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 was afraid he would hit me.”

This story appeared with the photo below in the L.A. Mirror-News August 22, 1955.
This story appeared with the photo below in the L.A. Mirror-News August 22, 1955.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Windy was chiseled and as tough as a gunslinger in a western movie. “He was sort of the good-looking wild child,” one Angels fan said.

He bowled over infielders and catchers with rolling blocks and crashed into and sometimes through outfield walls. “That’s what walls are for,” added Jim Brosnan, a 17-game winner for the Angels in 1955. “He was the kind of an outfielder that a pitcher liked. When he’d get an idea of where the fly ball was going to be, he would get it diving or whatever he had to do.”

“It’s like Gale said, if you have to take out a catcher to win, you take him out,” Speake explains. “Second base, you take him out – whatever is necessary to win the game.”

In Chicago, Wade threatened to throw sportswriter Edgar “Mouse” Munzel off a catwalk leading to the Wrigley Field press box after he wrote, “Nothing now, it seems, will beat the Cubs except more and worse fielding by Gale Wade.”

“He was a backdoor little dog,” Wade says. “Why he had it in for me, I don’t know. But he did. I scared him. I told him, ‘I’ll throw your little blankety-blank right off of here (the catwalk).’”

Shortly after arriving in L.A. in ‘55, Windy scolded Los Angeles newspapers for not giving Pacific Coast League baseball adequate coverage. “You fellows will probably want my blood now. But it doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t care what you guys or the fans think of me, only what the Cubs think of me. That’s all.”

In newspaper terms, Windy was “good copy” so Sid Ziff, sports editor of the Los Angeles Mirror-News, enticed him to report on the Angels’ road games the last month of the season.

“After the game he’d write out the stories in longhand and take ‘em down to Western Union,” Angel manager Bob Scheffing said. “The first time he handed the operator a mess of papers the guy said, ‘I can’t send that stuff.’

“The hell you can’t,” Windy barked. “That’s your business, isn’t it?

The caption for this Mirror-News photo began, “Now what should I write about?” (Courtesy Gale Wade)
The caption for this Mirror-News photo began, “Now what should I write about?” (Courtesy Gale Wade)

The byline on the stories read: “BY GALE WADE, Angel Outfielder (Written by Himself).”

“I wrote what I thought,” Wade recalls. “I wanted the public to get straight down the pipe what was going on.”

He called Steve Bilko “Big Hump” because of his batting stance. “He kind of hovered over the plate, hunching his shoulders into a hump.”

Windy humored readers with expressions he learned growing up in the Ozarks: “Lefty Joe Hatten was a tough as the bark on a hickory stump in the clutch last night as he set the Solons down, 4-2.”

He fired shots at the majors, writing: “The 1,376 fans on hand were treated to as good a game as they could have seen in the big leagues, and a darn sight better than some they play in the big show.”

After losing 11-1 to the Sacramento Solons, Windy called the Angels’ performance “one of the greatest three-ring circuses known to the history of modern-day baseball. The Solons supposedly have a clown in Chet Johnson, a left-handed pitcher, but last night he couldn’t have qualified as a prop man in our show.”

He needled his boss at the Mirror-News: “By the way Sid (Ziff), there were two photographers at the game last night and they had some good pictures on the sports page today. Just thought I’d mention it.”

Typing wasn’t one of Gale Wade’s strengths. “In high school, I got up to eight words a minute.” (Courtesy Gale Wade)
Typing wasn’t one of Gale Wade’s strengths. “In high school, I got up to eight words a minute.” (Courtesy Gale Wade)

The Mirror-News used Wade’s stories bad grammar and all. “There’s a lot of the English language that was screwed up but I wanted it to be just like I said it. They went along with it.”

“He’s a talker,” says Speake. “He’s not a grammar man.”

According to Ziff, “the only bit that had to be toned down was where he expressed his views” on one of the umpires in the league.

Wade didn’t write again until 1960 when he played for the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers and penned a column titled “Ranger Writer” for the Dallas Times-Herald. The newspaper introduced the column with a cartoon showing Wade, a press badge on his cap, holding a typewriter as if it was a bat. The caption read: “Dallas-Fort Worth outfielder hit .280, 5th in PCL SB’s [stolen bases] for Seattle in ’59. Reputation as a fiery scrapper…bust-a-gut to beat you…aggressive base runner. Hobbies: breaking up DP’s and second basemen. Bats left, throws right, types one finger.”

In L.A., Windy was photographed banging out a story on a typewriter while sitting in the dugout. Truth is, Wade couldn’t even type with one finger. “In high school, I got up to eight words a minute,” he laughs.

Wade’s manager in Dallas-Fort Worth was Jim Fanning, a catcher for the Angels in 1955 and early 1956.

Wade received this congratulatory telegram from Sid Ziff, Mirror-News sports editor.
Wade received this congratulatory telegram from Sid Ziff, Mirror-News sports editor.

“Do you think it would be OK if I wrote a story every day?” Wade asked Fanning.

“I don’t care what you do,” Fanning replied, cautioning, “But you’re going to have to be careful what you say in the story.”

He got into hot water over a column about two umpires, named Doyle and Gentry, who reminded him of “watching a Collie dog trying to set a covey of quail.”

Wade questioned whether Gentry “would last the year out unless the league was really destitute for umpires because it takes certain capabilities to be an umpire and Gentry didn’t show me any of them except he knew how to raise his left arm and his right arm and how to wear his uniform.”

“Doyle,” he continued, “perhaps is a shade better umpire than Gentry probably because he has been umpiring longer. But I wouldn’t bat an eye for the difference.”

Wade went on to tell readers that they would’ve seen his column on Gentry and Doyle sooner except Fanning “thought it best I not write it. He no doubt thought that this would cause Gentry and Doyle to make it rough on our club later on. But if they do, it will really show they don’t belong anywhere in baseball.”

Edgar “Mouse” Munzel, Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter, is shown here rubbing elbows with Chicago Cubs manager Bob Scheffing, left, and John Holland, a Cub VP. Wade called Munzel “Mousey”. (Author’s collection)
Edgar “Mouse” Munzel, Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter, is shown here rubbing elbows with Chicago Cubs manager Bob Scheffing, left, and John Holland, a Cub VP. Wade called Munzel “Mousey”. (Author’s collection)

Wade was fined $25 for his comments by Ed Doherty, the president of the American Association. “I’m not going to say anything good about Ed Doherty,” he wrote while praising the league secretary for getting him into a popular Denver country club for a round of golf.

“Spending a few idle hours on the golf course can help take a player’s mind off baseball, which a player needs to do at times. For that old saying about eating and sleeping baseball can at times make up an unbalanced diet and some sleepless nights.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned this golf game, for some night in Dallas when we have a bad night some fan will no doubt yell out why don’t you bums give up and start playing golf for a living.”

Outside his home in North Carolina, Gale displays a woodcarving made for him by ’56 Angels teammate, Bob Speake.
Outside his home in North Carolina, Gale displays a woodcarving made for him by ’56 Angels teammate, Bob Speake.

The fan Wade worried about turned out to be Ranger owner J.W. Bateson.

Fanning got a call from the front office: “You’ve got to stop Gale Wade from writing these stories.”

Instead, Fanning urged Wade “to tone it down” and talk about baseball, not golf. “It was the golf thing that got him into a little trouble with Bateson. But I didn’t deter him from writing. He continued to the end of the season. He wrote very well. They were great stories.”

Wade’s stories paved the way for Brosnan, a teammate on the ’55 Angels, to write The Long Season in 1960 and The Pennant Race in 1962 – the first books to give fans a glimpse inside a baseball team’s locker room.

“Oh, silent Jim,” says Windy. “Gosh whiz, I had no idea he would become an author. Jim stayed to himself. He was a very, very silent guy – a good human being.”

Wade is Brosnan’s opposite but just as honest and genuine as the columns he wrote in L.A. and Dallas. “We’ve become real close,” Speake says. “With the Cubs, I didn’t pay much attention to Gale. I’m the quiet type; he’s a talker. It took a long time for me to realize that the guy is real.”

Gale Wade has a wall of memories in the basement of his North Carolina home to remind him of Green Bay Packer great, Ray Nitschke, and his days as a centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs in the majors and Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.

 Click here or below to view a video of Wade walking down memory lane.

http://youtu.be/MKnkw3K_DSc

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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:

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.

Dave Hillman_pitcher_Cubs
Dave Hillman

Hillman, a pitcher, and Fanning, a catcher, were battery mates at Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1950; Beaumont, Texas, in 1954; L.A. in 1955 and 1956 and Chicago where they played for the Cubs in 1955 and 1957.

“We broke into pro ball on the same ballclub – Rock Hill,” Dave says. He posted a 14-11 for the Chiefs, a Class B team, his rookie season and won 20 games for them the next year.

“Dave had a good fastball,” Jim says. “He had a super changeup. He had excellent control. You could sit on the outside or inside of the plate and he’d hit it. He and I could go out and play a game today and I would know how exactly to call a game for him.”

With Jim catching, Dave was 16-11 for Beaumont in the Class AA Texas League. Jim batted .333 in 12 games for the Angels in ’56 while Dave was the ace of the pitching staff with a 21-7 won-loss record.

Jim and Dave started the ’55 season with the Cubs before being sent to L.A. They were driving west on Route 66 when the Cubs’ “Sad” Sam Jones became the first black to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues. “We got so excited listening to the game on the radio that we had to stop the car,” Jim recalls.

Earlier in the season, Fanning was the catcher when Sad Sam blanked the Cincinnati Redlegs on two hits. “He had the best curve I ever saw.”

Jim Fanning
Jim Fanning

In the ninth inning of his no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sad Sam walked three straight to load the bases before striking out the next three batters to end the game. Clyde McCullough was the Cub catcher.

”If I hadn’t been sent out, I’d be catching this game,” Jim told Dave repeatedly.

Dave finally had enough. “Yeah,” he said, “and Jones would’ve been gone in three innings.”

Like their shared birthday, the story bonds the ex-teammates,  taking them back to their youth and big league dreams.

 

 

 

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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:

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.”

Steve Bilko
Steve Bilko

Unlike Ruth and Boggs, Steve Bilko isn’t enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  But he’s a Hall of Famer in the beer-drinking department.

“He could drink more beer in one sitting than anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Ted Bowsfield, a pitcher and teammate of Bilko’s with the Los Angeles Angels in 1961 and 1962. “Unlimited capacity for it. The thing that baffled me – he never went to the bathroom. I think he had a wooden leg.”

“Bilko could drink more beer than you could haul in a vehicle,” said Gale Wade, a centerfielder for the Angels in the Pacific Coast League from 1955-57 when Bilko was belting 148 homers along with his beers. “He could down a six-pack and not even think about it. It was nothing.”

“Steve loved his beer,” recalled George Freese, a third-baseman for the ’56 Angels who would drink beer with Bilko while relaxing in the clubhouse whirlpool after home games. “I couldn’t keep up with him. We’d drink the beer and sweat it out. Get some more and sweat it out.”

Gail_Harris_(baseball)

Eddie Erautt, a pitcher and former St. Louis Cardinals teammate, often sent Steve postcards, unsigned, with the name of Steve’s favorite beer, Kulmbacher, written on it.

The story goes that in 1958 when Bilko played for the Cincinnati Redlegs, he hopped off the team bus during a brief stop to buy a case of cold beer. By the time he got his change, he emptied two bottles.

It doesn’t matter whether some drinking stories are fact or fiction. They are so good they are passed on from one player to another. Take, for example, a story related by Gail Harris to Dave Hillman, a 21-game winner for the ’56 Angels.

One of Gail’s teammates when he played for the New York Giants from 1955 to 1957 was James “Dusty” Rhodes, a hard-hitting and hard-drinking outfielder that Giants manager Leo Durocher used primarily as a pinch-hitter. He gained fame in the 1954 World Series, going 4-for-6 with two home runs and seven runs batted in as the Giants swept the heavily-favored Cleveland Indians in four games. “I couldn’t buy a drink in New York after that ’54 Series,” Rhodes said.Jim Dusty Rhodes_Topps_1954

In his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, Durocher called Rhodes “the worst fielder who ever played in a big league game who made training rules forgotten.” He added: “And, boy, he could hit.”

Durocher wanted to play Rhodes every day. “If you stop drinking, Dusty, you’ll get to play more. You’ll do a better job in the outfield.”

Dusty paid little attention to Durocher and kept on drinking gin. Finally, Leo decided to fill a glass with gin and put in two juicy earthworms to demonstrate what it can do to a person. The worms turned white, shriveled up and died.

Dusty watched as Durocher made his point: “It goes to show you, Dusty, what gin will do to you. What does that tell you?”

“Well,” Dusty mused, “as long as you drink gin, Leo, you won’t have worms.”

 

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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:

Bingo to Bango to Bilko

One double play combination produced a legendary refrain, the other a clever phrase that’s now a trivia question.

Ernie “Bingo” Banks (Courtesy George Brace)
Ernie “Bingo” Banks (Courtesy George Brace)

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”. In 1954, the trio of Ernie Banks at short, Gene Baker at second and Steve Bilko at first lifted Cubs play-by-play announcer Bert Wilson to new alliterative heights with “Bingo to Bango to Bilko”.

Gene “Bango” Baker (Courtesy George Brace)
Gene “Bango” Baker (Courtesy George Brace)

Wilson was hoping for another winner like his signature one-liner, “I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s the Cubs.” Banks and Baker were promising rookies, Ernie moving up from the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues and Gene joining the Cubs after four solid seasons with the Los Angeles Angels where he was the best shortstop in the Pacific Coast League. The older, more experienced Baker moved to second base so Banks could continue at short. The Cubs acquired the right-handed hitting Bilko from the St. Louis Cardinals in early 1954 to complement Dee Fondy, a left-hander who racked up a .309 batting average and 18 homers the year before. The bulky Bilko was a big, sure-handed target at first base.

Steve Bilko’s name put the rhyme in Bingo to Bango to Bilko.
Steve Bilko’s name put the rhyme in Bingo to Bango to Bilko.

“Bingo to Bango to Bilko” had a nice ring to it. Unfortunately for Wilson, Bilko spent most of the season on the bench, rendering the rhyme a useless piece of trivia for Stout Steve’s Wikipedia profile. That’s likely where Larry Rifkin of WATR radio in Waterbury, Connecticut, came across the phrase. The host of the long-running Talk of the Town show puts it to good use at the end of this interview with Gaylon White, author of The Bilko Athletic Club. You can listen to the interview by clicking the “play” arrow below:

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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: