Monthly Archives: October 2014

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.

Casey Wise played for the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and part of the 1959 season.
Casey Wise played for the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and part of the 1959 season.

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 1958 World Series. “Come on, Kid!” Hugh shouted.

On the mound for the New York Yankees was Ryne Duren, a hard-throwing and hardly sober pitcher who wore eyeglasses so thick a teammate once suggested he use tripods to hold them up. “A one-man war-of-nerves,” renowned sports columnist Jim Murray called Duren.

Casey wasn’t scared. He faced Duren many times in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) during the 1956 season when Casey played shortstop for the Los Angeles Angels and Ryne pitched for the Vancouver Mounties. A single off Duren in the ’56 PCL all-star game prompted a scout to tell Casey, “If you can hit guys like that, you’re going to make it in the big leagues.”

It was the top of the ninth inning. The Braves trailed 4-0. Duren walked the lead-off batter, his third walk since he entered the game the previous inning. Casey’s job was to get on base by drawing another walk or letting an errant pitch hit him. He wasn’t to swing at a pitch until Duren threw two strikes.

Casey played in all of the Angels’ 168 games in 1956.
Casey played in all of the Angels’ 168 games in 1956.

“You can observe a lot by just watching,” Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said.

Yogi watched as Casey walked to the plate. “Hi, Casey, you doin’ okay?”

Casey said nothing, concentrating on what he had to do.

“What kind of shoes are those that you’ve got on? They’ve got funny lookin’ tongues on ‘em.”

“What the hell is wrong with my shoes?” Casey thought to himself. “Here it is, the most serious moment in my athletic career and this guy is joking about what kind of shoes I’ve got on.”

The first two pitches were called balls. And, then, Duren fired two strikes to even the count at 2-and-2. If the next pitch was close, Casey had to swing.

The outcome was the same as it was for another Casey in the famous poem, Casey at the Bat. “I had one swing and, of course, I struck out.”

It was Casey’s only chance to bat in a World Series and it was not the stuff of boyhood dreams.

Many years later Casey received a questionnaire from the Braves’ publicity department, asking about his biggest thrill in baseball. He considered his two appearances in the ’58 World Series as a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter. And, then, he recalled how he felt after striking out. “You go up there defensively and you just have an awful time.”

Casey, far right, played briefly for L.A. in 1955. He’s shown here with, from left, Moe Bauer, manager Bob Scheffing and Hy Cohen. (Courtesy Raymond “Moe” Bauer)
Casey, far right, played briefly for L.A. in 1955. He’s shown here with, from left, Moe Bauer, manager Bob Scheffing and Hy Cohen. (Courtesy Raymond “Moe” Bauer)

The Braves used Casey mostly as a late-inning defensive substitute. In 37 games, he batted a puny .197. “It was very difficult to get into the lineup because Red Schoendienst at second and Johnny Logan at shortstop were both very established players.”

This was in stark contrast to ’56 when Casey played in every one of the Angels’ 168 games, batting .287 with seven home runs and 60 RBIs. He led the PCL in at bats (705) and was among the league leaders in hits (202), doubles (36) and runs scored (122).

Casey was a second baseman when he reported to spring training with the Angels in ’56. “You need to get a bigger glove if you’re going to play shortstop,” Angel manager Bob Scheffing told him.

Scheffing was so ecstatic over Casey’s play to start the season that he gushed: “If Ernie Banks or Pee Wee Reese would be sent here right now, Wise would still be my shortstop. “

When Scheffing and Angel president John Holland moved up to lead the Chicago Cubs in 1957, they took Casey with them.

The March 1957 edition of Baseball Digest featured a smiling Casey on the cover while, inside, a story titled, Wondrous Wise, quoted Holland: “We thought his fielding had been great at short, but it was simply out of this world at second.”

Casey was even making believers of the Chicago media, highly critical of the 11 Angels on the Cubs roster. As spring training was ending, the Sporting News wrote: “Wise probably never will inspire any new recitations of the immortal poem Casey at the Bat, but he will be a good man to have around and perhaps an even better one to play second base or shortstop for the Cubs.”

Casey aboard his 53-foot yacht, called Owl, in 2001.
Casey aboard his 53-foot yacht, called Owl, in 2001.

Scheffing praised Casey’s defensive abilities, citing a fielding record he set in the lower minors and a consecutive streak of 204 chances without an error. “He isn’t a great hitter, although he may be that later, but he gets his hits.”

Casey was batting less than his weight of 170 pounds early in the ’57 season when he committed four errors in a single game, tying a major league record. Casey was sent back to the minors and eventually traded to the Braves.

The more Casey thought about the questionnaire asking about his biggest thrill in baseball, he concluded it had nothing to do with the Braves or Cubs. “I was reluctant to put something about the minor leagues in there but I said, ‘Being part of and playing for the Los Angeles Angels in 1956.’ That is about as good an answer that I could come up with. It was the epitome really of what you think of with success. You’re an important part of the team. The team was cohesive and pulling for each other. And Bilko [Steve Bilko] was hitting home runs. It doesn’t sound like a lot now but 55 home runs in those days was pretty impressive.

“In Milwaukee, I just didn’t feel as much a part of the team. In L.A., even though I wasn’t a home run hitter, I felt like I was as important to the team as anyone else and probably more than some.”

Casey went on to become an orthodontist in Naples, Florida – the city’s first. When patients asked him about striking out against Duren in the World Series, he always mentioned the single he got off Ryne in the PCL all-star game. Casey wanted his patients to have all the facts.

 

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

 

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:

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.

 

Swinging a bat or singing a song, The Mad Russian could put a smile on your face. (Author’s collection)
Swinging a bat or singing a song, The Mad Russian could put a smile on your face. (Author’s collection)

Nobody is going to confuse Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler or Mike “Moose” Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals with Country Slaughter or Moose Skowron or Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants and Matt “Big City” Adams of the St. Louis Cardinals with Pee Wee Reese or Duke Snider. But their nicknames are equally catchy and endearing, creating a special bond with fans that has been missing since the game became just another big business.

 

Some nicknames are timeless and etched in our minds. After reading the lineups for the all-star game in 1970, Ed Cunningham wrote the following poem:

 

Why is Hodges sidelined

With a clipboard in his hands?

What is Bobby Feller doing

Sitting in the stands?

Where have all my heroes gone?

Where’s Big Johnny Mize?

Where’s The Splinter?

Where’s The Man?

Who are all these guys?

 

The Man, of course, refers to Stan “The Man” Musial and Ted Williams was called “The Splendid Splinter” as well as “Teddy Ballgame.”

 

For most fans, a Google search is required to find out the given names for Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Rip Repulski, Preacher Roe, Mudcat Grant, Catfish Hunter, Whitey Ford, and Vinegar Bend Mizell.

 

Many of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels had nicknames. Super-sub Lorenzo “Piper” Davis was widely known as Piper, the name of his hometown in Alabama. Veteran pitchers Marino Pieretti and Dwight Adams answered to the nicknames of Chick and Red. The initials K.C. for Kendall Cole led to Casey, the nickname for shortstop Casey Wise. Gale Wade, the Angels’ outspoken centerfielder, was called Windy and right-fielder Jim Bolger’s not-so-sunny disposition prompted one L.A. sportswriter to dub him Sunny Jim.

Pitcher Darius Dutton Hillman went by Dave, a name given to him by a boyhood friend after a concert by a popular banjo player, Dave Macon. Pitcher Bob Thorpe didn’t say much so he became known as The Quiet Man while Gene Fodge was nicknamed Suds by fellow pitcher Johnny Briggs “because we liked to sip our beer.” Second-baseman Gene Mauch was called Skip as a player and, then, Little General as a major league manager

 

Angel manager Bob Scheffing was nicknamed Grump because he was known to tell his players, “When the game is close, don’t be over near me because I’ll be grumpin’ and groanin’ about everything.” Joe Garagiola and Scheffing were teammates on the St. Louis Cardinals and became best friends. “You have to understand that Scheffing is a very happy man inside,” Joe said. “He just hasn’t told his face about it.”

 

Lou Novikoff and Lou Stringer were drafted by the Cubs in 1940 and, then, staged a lulu of a holdout before signing. (Author’s collection)

As you might expect, Steve Bilko led the team in nicknames. Stout Steve evolved into Stout Steve the Slugging Seraph. Sergeant Bilko was inspired by the television character played by actor-comedian Phil Silvers. This led to Sergeant of Swat and other nicknames based on his strength and home run-hitting power: Angel Atlas, Mr. Biceps, Boom Boom and the Ambulant Atomic Energy Plant from Southern California.

 

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

 

“I called him, “Mr. Bilko,” said Bob Speake, the Angels’ left-fielder.

 

“I said, ‘Yes, sir, to him,’” Hillman added.

 

For sheer color and entertainment, few can match The Mad Russian, the nickname for Lou Novikoff, a socking, singing outfielder who joined the Angels near the end of the 1939 season and batted a whopping .452 in 36 games. He continued his torrid hitting in 1940 with a .363 average and 41 home runs. On Lou Novikoff Day in June 1940, he rapped four hits, including two homers, and, then afterwards, stepped to the microphone to announce, “I will now sing that old Russian ballad, ‘My Wild Irish Rose.’” Thirteen thousand fans clamored for an encore so Novikoff wowed them with a baritone rendition of “Down by the Old Mill Stream.”

 

Novikoff went on to hit a respectable .282 in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. But he never fulfilled the promise showed in winning four minor-league batting titles. “No wonder they call you the Mad Russian,” one opposing manager heckled Novikoff. “If I couldn’t hit any better than that, I’d be mad, too.”

 

Benched for not being physically fit, Novikoff complained, “I’m only 17 pounds overweight.” After misplaying a few balls in the outfield, he said, “I can’t play in Wrigley Field because the left field foul line isn’t straight like in the other parks…it’s crooked.”

 

None of this mattered to Cub fans. They loved the Mad Russian and his eccentric ways.

:  Swinging a bat or singing a song, The Mad Russian usually was smiling. (Author’s collection)
The Mad Russian was a big hit with fans at Wrigley Field in Chicago as well as L.A. (Author’s collection)

When Cub manager Jim Wilson pinch-hit for him, fans howled their disapproval. “That razz nearly bowled me over,” Wilson said. “Twenty thousand fans can’t be wrong. Novikoff is a regular from now on. Never since Dizzy Dean have I seen the fans go so goo-goo over a guy as they have the Russian.”

 

The Mad Russian’s charm didn’t stop with the fans. “He’s given me a lot of laughs and I can’t stay mad at him,” Wilson said. “One night in Pittsburgh I saw him go to bed at 11 o’clock. At midnight someone told me he had left the hotel. Where do you suppose I found him? In one of those small night clubs, sitting on top of the piano singing at the top of his voice. How he loves to sing. If he could only hit as well as he sings, he’d be a .350 slugger.”

 

And he’d be in the Hall of Fame where anybody nicknamed The Mad Russian belongs.

 

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

 

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:

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.

Willie Smith
Willie Smith — sitting pretty.

Both past and present can be experienced at historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Georgia, home of the Sand Gnats, a New York Mets farm team in the Class A South Atlantic (Sally) League. Willie has been hanging out at the ballpark since the 1940s when he went to games with his dad. Blacks and whites couldn’t sit together in the stands any more than they could play against each other on the field. So father and son sat in the colored section along the third-base foul line.

These days Willie, soon to be 76, sits in the general admission section directly behind home plate. There’s even a seat with his name on it: “Mr. Willie Smith.”

“Times have changed,” Willie said at a recent playoff game between the Sand Gnats and Asheville Tourists. “My daddy should’ve lived to see this. He would love it. But, you know, people back then like my daddy, as I got old enough to see what was going on, they didn’t care where they were sittin’ at. They didn’t worry about it. They’d go to a ballgame and enjoy the game like there was nuthin’ to it. That’s the way it was. All they wanted was to get to the ballpark. That’s it!”

Willie is ushered to his seat at Grayson Stadium by Rozy Gober of the Sand Gnat staff.
Willie is ushered to his seat at Grayson Stadium by Rozy Gober of the Sand Gnat staff.

 

Willie is treated like royalty at Grayson Stadium, much like Roberta “Angel Annie” King at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

Angel Annie was a tiny black woman referred to as “The Screech” or “Human Siren” because she had “a shouting voice somewhere between a police siren and dynamite explosion.” Hearing Angel Annie shout was as exciting and memorable as watching a Steve Bilko home run soar over Wrigley Field’s ivy-covered brick walls. She had her own fan club, military personnel from all over the world writing to request autographs and photos of players they knew she had wrapped around her finger. When fans found out Angel Annie didn’t have a free pass to games, they chanted, “Get a pass for Angel Annie or we’ll kick you in the pants.”

Willie poses with Dominic Smith, first baseman for the 2014 Sand Gnats.
Willie poses with Dominic Smith, first baseman for the 2014 Sand Gnats.

 

Willie doesn’t need a pass. People call out his name as he enters Grayson Stadium before the gates open and roams the field and Sand Gnat dugout as he pleases before games. “Everybody knows Uncle Willie, don’t they?”

A lineup and barbecue sandwich, French fries and cherry Coke is delivered to his seat just before the home plate umpire yells, “Play ball!”   Willie has a gravelly, bubbly voice that reverberates around the grandstand like a Jackie Robinson line drive against an outfield wall. “St-r-r-r-ike!” he’ll holler, pumping a fist to celebrate a called strike on an opposing batter.

“I won’t sit nowhere else,” Willie explained. “I can call strikes and balls right here. I call them out loud, too. I let the whole stadium know what is a strike and what is a ball.”

Willie shows off the championship ring given to him by the Sand Gnats after they won the Sally League title in 2013.
Willie shows off the championship ring given to him by the Sand Gnats after they won the Sally League title in 2013.

 

He’s wearing khaki shorts, a gray t-shirt, size 12 ½ tennis shoes with no socks and a Sand Gnats baseball cap. On the index finger of his left hand is a South Atlantic League championship ring given to him by the Sand Gnats after they won the title in 2013.

Overhead, windmill-sized white blades of four Bad Ass fans whirl, cooling the crowd below.

Asheville has a runner on first base so Willie dutifully reminds the Sand Gnats they have a chance for a double play. “Give me two, now! Give me two, give me two! Make him hit it on the ground.”

The batter strikes out. “Sit down in your seat, Big Boy! Sit down in your seat! Go play football!”

When the Sand Gnats take their turn at bat, Willie unleashes his signature yell, “Put the wood on it! Put the wood on it!”

They’re called Bad Ass fans and four of are needed to keep fans in the grandstand cool on hot summer nights in Savannah.
They’re called Bad Ass fans and four are needed to keep fans in the grandstand cool on hot summer nights in Savannah.

 

Between innings, Willie reminisced.   “I like the team. I like baseball. But the outlook, the feel of the game ain’t there no more. Back then, in the ‘50s, when the players were on the field, no matter whether it was the Savannah Indians or the Jacksonville Braves, or whatever, those guys acted like they wanted to play ball on the field. The defense would get out there and they’d talk to each other. You could hear ‘em. You could hear ‘em poppin’ the glove. You know, playin’ defense. They’d be talkin’ to each other like: ‘Come on, Baby! Hang in there, Baby! We got ‘em. Come on.’ You don’t hear that no more out of the players.”

Willie would ride his bicycle to Grayson Stadium and watch the players practice. “They didn’t allow blacks in there during that time. I was in there, though. I jumped the fence. Put my bicycle up against the concrete wall, man, and get on the field and just keep on moving.” He was 14 in 1953 when 19-year-old Henry Aaron came to town with the Jacksonville Braves. “He was a big thrill for me along with our colored players that we had.”

Willie ticked off the names of the first blacks to play for Savannah – Fleming “Junior” Reedy and Al Isreal in 1953 and Al Pinkston and Isreal in 1954.

Al Pinkston won six batting titles in his career, including four straight in the Mexican League.
Al Pinkston won six batting titles in his career, including four straight in the Mexican League.

Five blacks – Savannah’s Reedy and Isreal and Jacksonville’s Aaron, Felix Mantilla and Horace Garner – played in the ’53 season opener at Grayson Stadium, breaking the 50-year-old Sally League’s color barrier. Aaron and Mantilla batted in the tying and go-ahead runs while Garner made a sensational catch in the outfield.

“Almost half of the 5,508 people in Grayson Stadium were Negroes,” the Savannah Evening Press reported. “By actual count of the turnstiles, the white fans outnumbered the Negroes by an even 400 – 2,954 to 2,554.” According to the Savannah Morning News, blacks filled “one section of the grandstand, the bleachers down the left field line and one section of the left field bleachers.”

Pinkston gave Willie and other Savannah fans plenty to cheer about the next year, hitting .360 to lead the league. He was the top hitter in the Class C Provincial League in 1952 and four-time Mexican League batting champ with averages ranging from .369 to .397. Altogether, Pinkston won six batting titles, tying him with the legendary Smead Jolley for the most in minor-league baseball history. He never made it to the majors. “The greatest hitter you never heard of,” one minor league historian said.

Willie’s son pitched for the Cardinals but this baseball card shows him in a Yankees uniform.
Willie’s son pitched for the Cardinals but this baseball card shows him in a Yankees uniform.

 

Willie vividly remembers the 6-foot, 5 ½ inch Pinkston. “Everybody know Pinkston for his size – long legs and big feet.” Pinky wore size 14 shoes and a 16 ½ shirt with a 37 sleeve.

The same season Willie saw an 18-year-old black outfielder for the Columbia Reds – Frank Robinson. “Shoot, yeah, Big Frank! Long, tall….”

Willie gets excited all over again, thinking about Robinson and Aaron, both Hall of Famers, and the humongous Pinkston. “Them guys were ready to explode, man. They were good players – super players in their league. They were ready, man. They were ready!”

Dale Murphy, a white player, starred for Savannah in 1976 before moving up to the Atlanta Braves and slamming 398 homers in an 18-year big league career.

In 1988, Willie’s son, also named Willie, was a relief pitcher for the Augusta Pirates, a long-time Savannah rival. “Mr. Willie, who are you going to pull for?” people asked.

“I’ve been coming to this stadium long before he was born,” Willie said. “I want Savannah to win but I want my son to have a good night. I want him to go on up.”

Willie made it to the big leagues, appearing in eight games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1994.

Grayson Stadium was built in 1926, making it the oldest minor league ballpark still in operation. Hardball Capital, owner of the Sand Gnats, is seeking a new ballpark either in downtown Savannah or in Columbia, South Carolina, where one is being built on the hope that a team will soon come. “Everybody wants new stadiums,” Willie said. “But that doesn’t guarantee they’re going to have a lot of fans.”

Here’s the view from Willie’s seat behind home plate at Grayson Stadium.
Here’s the view from Willie’s seat behind home plate at Grayson Stadium.

Willie looked around Grayson Stadium. The trees behind the left-field wall are twice as tall as they were when he was a kid. The old concrete walls have been replaced by the new wood fences closer to home plate and covered with advertisements. Willie pointed to a white tent where the colored section used to be. “We had to sit right over there — right behind third base. A little further down. Wooden seats. No backs on ‘em; went about 12 rows high. Of course, I was a little boy. I didn’t care to sit down, no how.” He laughed at the memory.

“They were good seats. On a big night they were full up, people standing along the sidelines. Shoot, blacks went to games more than they do now. They couldn’t choose where they sit at but they came to the game.”   Willie paused as he considered the future of Grayson Stadium. “Dale Murphy and all them boys played here. It’s got a great history. I think if they could add onto it in a fashion – bring it out! More convenience for the people who work here – the office and even the ballplayers. The dugouts and stuff. They can stay right here. Keep what they’ve got; don’t kill the image of the stadium. It’s got too much history.”   Rain halted the Savannah-Asheville game in the bottom of the eighth inning. After a delay of 90 minutes, the game was suspended and completed the following day. The Sand Gnats lost, ending their season.

As a kid, Willie listened to games on the radio with his father. “Radio was better than television. The announcers let you know what was going on. These guys on TV don’t do nuthin’. They sit there when somebody hit a home run: ‘Oh, he hit a home run.’ We can see he hit a home run. You don’t have to tell us that. It’s so dead that I go to sleep on the game. But radio was good.”

As the rains came down, Willie entertained fans around him with a home run call like he used to hear on the radio: “And, partner, there’s a ball going deep into right field. It looks like it’s outta here. The centerfielder is going back. He’s going back. And this ball is still traveling. I think it’s outta here. And, partner, it’s outta here! It’s a home run! Larry Doby just put one out of here 350 feet!”

Willie’s laugh is joyous and uplifting. What better way to spend a rainy night in Georgia than re-creating the past in a storied ballpark with a long-time fan that still has his boyhood enthusiasm for the game he loves.

Watch videos of Willie Smith and the Savannah Gnats game below:

Willie Smith / Calling a home run

Willie Smith / Put the wood on the ball

Rain Delay

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

 

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:

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.

Phil Silvers, left, adopted Steve Bilko’s name for Sgt. Bilko, the TV character he made famous in the ‘50s. (Courtesy Bob Case)
Phil Silvers, left, adopted Steve Bilko’s name for Sgt. Bilko, the TV character he made famous in the ‘50s. (Courtesy Bob Case)

The best criteria is one used by actor-comedian Phil Silvers when facing the task of selecting the name of the master sergeant he played on the television show, You’ll Never Get Rich, that premiered in September 1955. Assuming Silvers wanted to use the name of a baseball player, there were 400 in the majors and hundreds more in the minors to consider.

When the show premiered in September 1955, Ted Kluszewski was a household name because of the sleeveless jerseys he wore to show off the muscles that helped him smash 47 home runs. Al Kaline led the majors in batting average (.340) and hits (200) while Duke Snider was tops in runs batted in (136) and runs scored (126). Stan Musial was still living up to his nickname, “The Man”, hitting .319 and slugging 33 homers. Gil Hodges of the world champion Brooklyn Dodgers batted .289 with 27 round-trippers and 102 RBIs.

Silvers ignored all these stars for a minor leaguer, Stout Steve Bilko, of the Los Angeles Angels. Why?

Big Klu“I could just as well have been Corporal Hodges or Private First Class Musial,” Silvers told Red Smith, the syndicated sports columnist. “I gave it to a guy who needed it.”

So the question for the eight playoff teams is: Who needs it the most?

The San Francisco Giants, World Series champions in 2012 and 2010, need it the least followed by the St. Louis Cardinals, winners in 2011 and 2006. The Angels went all the way in 2002; the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988; the Kansas City Royals in 1985; the Detroit Tigers in 1984 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1983. That leaves the Washington Nationals.

Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States in 1924, the last time the Nationals won it all. Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller won three gold medals in swimming at the Paris Summer Olympics. Joseph Stalin took over power from Vladimir Lenin in Russia.

Through most of their history, the Nationals have lived up to the classic line: “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

In 1949, they finished last with a 50-104 won-loss record, prompting the firing of manager, Joe Kuhel, who said in his defense: “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.”

Given the Nationals’ dismal past, Washington needs it most, right?

"Phoenix Rising from the Ashes of Detroit" Photograph and set design:  RORSHAK (www.rorshak.com) Model:  Aleta Myles  For an in depth discussion of the image, visit http://www.rorywhite.com/newsletters/July_2014/
“Phoenix Rising from the Ashes of Detroit”
Photograph and set design: RORSHAK (www.rorshak.com)
Model: Aleta Myles
For an in depth discussion of the image, visit http://www.rorywhite.com/newsletters/July_2014/

No city in the U.S. needs a drug-free shot in the arm more than Detroit. Torn asunder in recent years by crime, political scandal and massive unemployment, Motown needs the pride and joy that a World Series title brings to a community. The Tigers reached the final round in 2006 and 2012 only to be embarrassed both times. In 2011 and 2013, they were eliminated in the American League championship series.

If it were up to Phil Silvers, the Tigers finally would win because Detroit needs it most. But Silvers is dead and Tigers aren’t feeling too good themselves after the Orioles knocked them out of the playoffs. Oh, well, as any diehard Cub fan attest, there’s always next year.

 

 

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

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: