(Fifth in a series based on Author Gaylon White’s recent visit to Nanticoke, PA)
Stout Steve Bilko wouldn’t fit in with today’s sluggers who like to linger at home plate, admiring a ball they just hit out of sight.
“He could hit the ball a mile but he didn’t make a big deal of it,” said Jim Brosnan, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels in 1955 when Stout Steve belted 37 homers.
“Dad didn’t like it when someone ran with their thumbs up,” Steve Bilko said of his father. “He considered it hot-dogging.”
Steve was swapping stories about his dad with Ken and Paul Huber, life-long neighbors in the Honey Pot section of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. They were kids when Stout Steve was King Kong of the Pacific Coast League, smashing 148 homers in three seasons (1955-57) in L.A.
“He didn’t let anybody know he was a baseball player,” said Ken. “We just thought he was a nice guy in the neighborhood.”
“Even I didn’t know the magnitude of his fame,” said Steve, the oldest of Stout Steve’s three children.
“I played Little League ball and Teener League ball and we had to sell these stupid candy bars,” said Paul. “The first thing you did was to run down to Bilko’s house. He bought all of ‘em.”
Steve recalled the time a wealthy man bought his dad a drink at a bar in L.A.
“Give everybody a round of drinks on me,’ the man told the bartender.
Bilko bought the man a drink in return.
“Who gave me this?” the man asked the bartender.
“Steve Bilko,” the bartender said.
“He went to my dad and said, ‘What’s the big idea of buying me a drink?’
“My father said, ‘Where I come from, when somebody buys you a drink, you buy him one back.’
“That impressed the guy so much, he said, ‘Nobody ever did this before. Listen, Steve, I have three Cadillacs: a pink one, a green one and a yellow one. You pick the one you want and you can have it for the summer.’”
Steve doesn’t remember what color his father chose but he knows that contrary to what legendary manager Leo Durocher believed, nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they wind up driving a Cadillac.
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 Il dlustrated 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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