Another ‘Boys of Summer’

San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank calls The Bilko Athletic Club the “West Coast version of the Boys of Summer.”

Boys of Summer is the baseball classic by Roger Kahn about the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s.

“We’ll happily endorse that endorsement,” Tom Hoffarth writes in the Los Angeles Daily News. The full story can be viewed by clicking on the following link: http://www.insidesocal.com/tomhoffarth/2014/04/09/day-9-30-baseball-books-in-april-2014/

In an interview with Fred Wallin, host of Sports Overnight America on Sports Byline USA, White discusses the pitching staff of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, citing a comment by Joe Gordon, manager of the San Francisco Seals, that the Angels could’ve finished second to the New York Yankees in the American League if they had two top-flight pitchers to go with Dave Hillman, a 21-game winner, and Dick Drott and Bob Anderson, kid hurlers who won 13 and 12 games, respectively.

Freese+Silvers+Bilko_1956_rw

L-R, George Freese, Phil Silvers and Steve Bilko pose for publicity shot at a CBS television press reception in 1956 to promote, You’ll Never Get Rich, starring Silvers as Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko. (Courtesy George Freese)

White points out that Steve Bilko took a pay cut when he returned to the majors in 1958 after bashing 148 homers in three seasons with the Angels, then part of the old Pacific Coast League. Bilko earned roughly $35,000 in salary and endorsements in ’56, the year he won the league’s Triple Crown. “That equals what Mickey Mantle made in 1956 when he won the Triple Crown,” White said.

“Unbelievable,” Wallin replied.

Wallin noted that his father, an avid fan of the Hollywood Stars, the Angels’ cross-town rivals, did not like Bilko.

White told the story of his father, Rev. Hooper W. White, telling his best friend and a big Stars fan, Rev. Eugene Robinson: “Gene, how can you be a Christian and pull against the Angels?”

“There was no love lost between the two teams,” White added.

Wallin contrasts the current situation in L.A. where 72 percent of the Southern California market is blacked out from seeing Los Angeles Dodgers games on TV with 1956 when most of the Angels and Stars home games were televised. “As a result of this television exposure, there were a lot of kids who saw Steve Bilko for the first time on TV,” White said.

Wallin asks why Bilko didn’t have greater success in the majors where he batted .249 with 76 home runs in 600 games. White recalled a conversation with George Freese, the third baseman for the ’56 Angels and Bilko’s roommate on the road. “George felt that if everybody had just left Steve alone – let him play his own way in the majors – he would’ve made it, he would’ve become the legend in the majors that he was in the minors. Instead, in George’s view, everybody tried to change him and make him look like a Mr. America in tights.”

Listen to White’s interview with Wallin:

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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: