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 Club, a book about Steve Bilko and the 1956 Los Angeles Angels of the old Pacific Coast League (PCL).
To give listeners an idea of Bilko’s awesome power, Tarone said: “If I were to mention the names of Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg, he would fit into that mold except he wasn’t a dead pull-hitter.”
Kiner and Greenberg are both Hall of Famers, Kiner hammering 369 home runs and Greenberg 331. Bilko blasted 313 in the minors and 76 in the majors, playing mostly part-time.
A comment in the book by Tommy Lasorda, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager, that Bilko would easily hit 50-60 home runs today prompted Tarone to mention Adam Dunn, slugging first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. Dunn began the 2014 season, his 14th in the majors, with 440 home runs and 2,220 strike outs. “Adam Dunn could’ve been Steve Bilko except he struck out a lot more than Bilko ever did and he had a nice long career in the major leagues.”
Bilko hit 21 homers while striking out a National League-leading 125 times for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 – the only year he was a day-to-day starter. Dunn has topped that number 12 times, including a league-high 222 whiffs for the White Sox in 2012.
In the interview with WSVA’s Schikman, White recounts Bilko’s 1948 season with the Lynchburg, Virginia, Cardinals of the Class B Piedmont League when, as a 19-year-old, he batted .333 and socked 20 homers.
The Brooklyn-born Schikman, a Dodgers fan before they relocated to Los Angeles in 1958, wanted to know what it was like to be there at the time.
“I loved watching baseball at Wrigley Field in L.A.,” said White, who was 12 years old in 1958. “It was a real ballpark just like the one in Chicago.”
The Dodgers elected to play at Los Angeles’ mammoth Coliseum instead of Wrigley Field. “The worst possible baseball park,” White said, adding, “The best part about it was listening to Vin Scully on the transistor radios which people brought so they’d know what was going on down on the field.”
To listen to White’s Sports Hub interview with Tarone, click on the following link:
Here’s the link for the interview with WSVA’s Schikman:
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:
- Rowman & Littlefield
- Barnes and Noble
- Vroman’s Book Store
- Sales Spider
- Tower books
- Powell’s Books
- Rakuten.com Shopping
- BetterWorld Books
- The Book Depository
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