Gerald Ford was president of the United States but not for long. Happy Days was the top-rated television show, a much-needed antidote for the misery index to follow under Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter. Author Gaylon White was 30 – the uniform number for broad-shouldered Steve Bilko in 1956-57 when he belted 111 home runs to become known as Stout Steve, the Slugging Seraph.
On Saturday, October 2, 1976, White spent a day with Stout Steve at his home in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. He returns to Nanticoke Saturday, November 15, to sign copies of his book, The Bilko Athletic Club, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Nanticoke Historical Society, 495 East Main Street, Nanticoke.
Steve Bilko, Jr., and other Bilko family members are planning to attend the event honoring Stout Steve, who was 49 years old when he died March 7, 1978. Bilko’s sons, Steve, Jr., and Tom led the Nanticoke Area High School to championships in football, baseball and basketball in the late 1960s. They both played football at Villanova University.
Photos covering Stout Steve’s legendary career will be on display. One of them features Bilko and diminutive Albie Pearson when they played for the Angels and San Francisco Seals in 1957. Both are wearing the number 30 but the similarities stop there. “He was one of the biggest boned men I’ve seen,” said Pearson, a 5-foot-5, 140-pound outfielder. “His legs – you could put mine together and make one of his.”
The Seals won 101 games to claim the old Pacific Coast League’s last championship. The next year the Dodgers and Giants relocated to L.A. and San Francisco, forcing the Coast League to restructure with teams in Phoenix, Spokane and Salt Lake City.
“In the Coast League he was King Kong,” Pearson said of Bilko. “I tell you: if you didn’t get the ball in on his hands, he’d just kill you.
“You talk about a man who could hit a ‘crippled pitch,’ it was Steve Bilko. When I use the word ‘cripple,’ I mean the one that sometimes you get on 2-and-0 and 3-and-1 counts. He would just sit on a breaking ball or a fastball and he would eat your lunch.”
Bilko and Pearson were teammates in 1961-62 when the Angels joined the American League. In 1961, Bilko belted 20 home runs in only 294 official at bats. He was hitting .287 with eight homers in 1962 when a leg injury ended his season and big league career. “If he stayed healthy, he would’ve hit 40 home runs in the big leagues,” Albie said. “But it was late in his career.”
For more information on the book signing event, visit the Nanticoke Historical Society website: http://www.nanticokehistoryonline.org/index.html
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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