Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Name of the Game: Break Up That Double Play

Gale “Windy” Wade doesn’t write a sports column like he did for the Los Angeles Mirror-News in 1955 playing for the Los Angeles Angels or in 1960 when he doubled as the centerfielder for Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers and a columnist for the Dallas Times-Herald.

Columnist Gale  Wade: “Bats left, throws right, types one finger.” (Courtesy Gale Wade)
Columnist Gale Wade: “Bats left, throws right, types one finger.” (Courtesy Gale Wade)

The Times-Herald introduced Wade’s column showing him wearing a cap with a press badge on it and 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.”

Wade doesn’t follow baseball anymore. But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say about baseball matters close to his heart.

Take, for example, the rough-and-tumble slide by Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers that broke up a double play as well as the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the second game of the recent National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Mets. The slide made Utley Public Enemy No. 1 of Mets fans and led to a two-game suspension from Major League Baseball.

“There’s not a thing wrong with it,” Wade said of Utley’s slide. “It’s just good ol’ offensive baseball. I thought it was a joke when they started saying they were going to suspend him. Hellfire!”

Hellfire describes the Wade ran the base paths for the Angels from 1955-57 in the old Pacific Coast League (PCL).

“I saw him go in there and just roll over some of those guys,” said Cece Carlucci, a long-time PCL umpire.

Eventually, the league banned the cross-body blocks the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Wade used to bust up double plays.

Wade was a star halfback in high school at Bremerton, Washington, in 1946. In the same backfield was Don Heinrich, a quarterback who went on to earn all-America honors at the University of Washington and play for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League. “After all these years,” Heinrich said well into his pro career, “I have to say I never saw anybody start faster on a quick-opening handoff than Wade. If he had decided to go into professional football, he would have made somebody take notice.”

Wade accepted a football scholarship from Texas Christian University, but changed his mind when a Brooklyn Dodgers scout offered him $5,000 to play baseball. “I got a call from almost every college in the country. If I’d got one call from Notre Dame, I would’ve never seen a baseball.”

A lot of opposing players wish Notre Dame had made that call.

“The biggest kick I got out of baseball was breaking up a double play at second base. I’d rather do that than hit a home run. Winning one ballgame to me was a whole season. If it meant taking a catcher out at home plate or knocking out the second baseman with a rolling block, I did it. I sacrificed my body to win ballgames.”

In 1948 at spring training with the Dodgers, Wade aimed one of his signature rolling blocks at Jackie Robinson in an intra-squad game. “He’s starting to turn a little bit toward first to make the double play, that’s when I got him. Oh, man, he came up off the ground and we went at it. Right there about twenty feet behind second base.”

Another crunching block in a game in Venezuela in 1955 started a riot and a near international incident. Windy barreled into Chico Carrasquel, a star shortstop for the Cleveland Indians and a national idol. Chico was knocked unconscious and removed from the game.

Playing for the Spokane Indians in 1958 he upended Jack Lohrke, a Portland Beavers second baseman nicknamed “Lucky” because he cheated death six times by the time he was 22 years old.

Wade’s signature rolling block slide. (Courtesy Gale Wade)
Wade’s signature rolling block slide. (Courtesy Gale Wade)

Lohrke fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and Battle of the Bulge during World War II. On four occasions, soldiers on both sides of him were killed in combat. Returning home from the war in 1945, he was bumped from a military transport plane to make room for an officer. The plane crashed 45 minutes later, killing all on board. In 1946, he was traveling by bus with his Spokane teammates when he got a telephone call at a restaurant stop to report immediately to another minor-league team. Lohrke hitchhiked back to Spokane. Soon afterwards the bus plummeted off a mountain cliff, killing nine of the 15 players aboard.

Lohrke wasn’t so lucky in his collision with Wade. He dislocated a shoulder that sidelined him nearly two months and essentially ended his career.

“I felt bad about that,” Wade admitted. “Jack was one of my good friends from winter baseball. I thought the world of Jack. Of course, I took them all out. And they all knew it when they got near second base. They knew that they were fair game. They tried to low-bridge me, too. That was part of it.”

Knockdown pitches were also part of the game when Wade played. In fact, a fastball to the head in 1961 shattered his right cheekbone, just below the temple. “It would’ve killed him if it had hit in the temple,” said Jack Hannah, a teammate. “That was the end of Gale Wade’s baseball career right there.”

Sometimes Gale, center, waded into fences like this one at San Diego’s Lane Field. (Courtesy Gale Wade)
Sometimes Gale, center, waded into fences like this one at San Diego’s Lane Field. (Courtesy Gale Wade)

A few months earlier Freddie Frederico, a trainer for the Seattle Rainiers, recalled when the PCL implemented a rule requiring hitters to use either batting helmets or liners. Wade was playing for the Rainiers at the time.

As Wade walked up to the plate to hit, the umpire noticed he wasn’t wearing a helmet or liner. Wade claimed otherwise.

“Take it off and show me,” the umpire insisted.

“Why, you big-nosed so-and-so,” Wade protested.

That got him kicked out of the game. “And, as he takes off,” Frederico said, “he shows that bald head of his – no helmet.”

The next day Cece Carlucci is the home plate umpire. “And here comes Wade,” Frederico continued. “He has stuck a piece of liner in the crown of his baseball cap, and when Cece gives him the business about a liner, Wade taps his head and tells him: ‘Hear that, I got one on.’”

Carlucci told him to take off his cap anyway.

“He jerks off his cap,” Frederico said, “pulls it down on Cece’s head and walks off. He didn’t even wait for the thumb.”

“I just didn’t like to be wearing anything that I thought was bothering me,” Wade explained. “I never had been hit in the head. I hadn’t been around anybody else that had been hit in the head, you know, at that time. The knockdown pitch was a normal thing then.”

That brings back us back to Chase Utley’s hard-nosed slide in the playoffs and baseball today.

“I don’t really have a strong feeling about baseball period because it has turned into such a money-grab thing,” said Wade, now 86 and splitting his time between homes in North Carolina and Florida. “Any time you can find the players are making more money than the manager, you know who’s running the club.”

Click to view Utley’s slide

Wade saw replays of Utley’s slide while watching the news on television. “They are going to suspend a guy for taking somebody out at second base,” he said incredulously. “Hell, that’s the name of the game. That’s what you did. Break up that double play.”

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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 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:

Go Cubbies, Go!

Ransom Jackson is 89, Dave Hillman 88, Bob Speake 85 and Hy Cohen 84. None of them thought they would live long enough to see their old team, the Chicago Cubs, play in the World Series again.

Jackson, the oldest of the ex-Cubs, was 19 in 1945 the last time the Cubs were in the World Series and lost to the Detroit Tigers. Of course, none of them were around in 1908 when the Cubs last won baseball’s ultimate prize.

Dave Hillman
Dave Hillman

The 2015 edition of the Cubs won 97 games during the regular season, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild card playoff game and, then, ambushed the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series (NLDS), winning the best-of-five series three games to one.

True, Cub manager Joe Maddon looks like Spencer Tracy, the renown actor, and the movie Back to the Future II predicted in 1989 that the Cubs will win the World Series in 2015. There also has been some great theatre produced by a bunch of no-name players. But these are still the Cubbies, lovable losers who inspired the t-shirt asking, “What did Jesus say to the Cubs? Don’t do anything until I come back.”

“They could be unconscious, asleep but whatever, I hope they keep on going,” said Hillman, winner of 21 games for the Cubs from 1957-1959.

“It’s a fun thing to see,” said Cohen, a promising young pitcher for the Cubs in 1955.

“Go Cubbies, go!” said Speake, an outfielder-first baseman for the Cubs in 1955 when his 10 home runs in the month of May had Cub fans chanting “Speake to me” each time he came to bat. “They played real good, solid baseball for as young as they are. It’s amazing. We’ll follow them all the way to the World Series.”

Hy Cohen
Hy Cohen

“They’re too young to know they’re not supposed to be doing that,” added Bob’s wife, Joan, referring to Cub rookies Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez who played like old pros against the Pirates and Cardinals.

A two-time all-star for the Cubs in the 1950s, Jackson wasn’t following the Cubs until the fourth game of the NLDS when they pounded three home runs to eliminate the Cardinals.

“When I watched the game and looked at the names of the guys playing, I’ve never heard of any of them,” he said.

Schwarber got Jackson’s attention with a monster shot in Game 4 that appeared to soar over Wrigley Field’s new scoreboard in right field. “It was hard to follow on TV,” Jackson said. “And nobody knew where it was. I thought it went over the scoreboard.”

Jackson was interested in knowing how far the ball traveled because in 1954 he belted a homer over the left-field bleachers and Waveland Avenue, bouncing off the third floor of an apartment building overlooking the ballpark. There was no way to accurately measure home run distances in those days so Jackson has come up with his own estimate of 450-475 feet.

It was finally announced that Schwarber’s blast went 419 feet, a number Jackson questions. “That doesn’t sound right. It’s 400 feet just to the centerfield wall. It’s got to be 900 feet.”

Ransom Jackson
Ransom Jackson

“When he hits the ball, it really goes,” Cohen said of Schwarber. “He swings from his a-hole. They go out of sight.”

Speake likened Schwarber’s swat to those hit by the Sultan of Swat of the old Pacific Coast League (PCL) – Stout Steve Bilko.

With the 1956 Los Angeles Angels of the PCL, Bilko slammed 55 homers. Speake watched in awe as Bilko smashed balls out of Wrigley Field in Los Angeles even when he was fooled by a pitch. He wonders what Bilko would’ve done playing his entire career at Chicago’s Wrigley Field like Ernie Banks, who hit 512 homers to become known as Mr. Cub.   “If you had put Bilko in Wrigley Field where Ernie hit his 500, man, I don’t know.”

Cohen praised Jake Arrieta, the ace of the Cub pitching staff with 22 victories. “He is what I call an artist. His arm action and everything is so smooth.”

Cohen had a 5-0 record, best in the PCL, when the Angels sent him to the lower minors in 1956. In eight minor-league seasons he won 100 games.

“My philosophy on pitching is the same as his,” Cohen said of Arrieta. “He just throws the ball down the middle of the plate because whatever pitches he’s throwing move anyway.”

“I don’t know where they got all these kids,” Hillman said, “but it’s all falling together for them.”

Bob Speake
Bob Speake

Speake recalled his home run streak in 1955 that had the Cubs in second place behind the Brooklyn Dodgers going into June. “I was so excited to have a Cubs uniform on that the adrenalin just carried me.”

Over the next two months the Cubs were 23-39 and finished the season in sixth place, 26 games behind the pennant-winning Dodgers. “As we were preparing for our second road trip, the atmosphere just sank. Now, I’m a rookie. I don’t know what to expect about anything. These guys are talking about the road trip and saying, ‘Oh, dear!’ And we fulfilled prophecy.

“There’s a lot to be said for the history of the Cubs losing. These kids, they are not losers. They didn’t put that uniform on as a loser. The adrenalin is really flowing and that’s good if you’re basically a good ballplayer. They walk up to the plate and they have the confidence. There’s an aura around them.

“Winning…there’s nothing like winning. We experienced it in L.A. It was triple-A, it was West Coast major leagues, call it what it is. The camaraderie that was on that ball club can only be experienced by being on a winner. We experienced it. These kids are experiencing the same thing.”

 

The Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber hits a baseball to the moon

Movie Back To The Future II predicts Cubs win 2015 World Series

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

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: