Birthday Boys

Dave Hillman and Jim Fanning were the 1956 Los Angeles Angels’ birthday boys, born September 14, 1927, and playing on the same teams on their way up to the big leagues. Today, they are 87, Hillman living in Kingsport, Tennessee, and Fanning in London, Ontario, Canada.

Dave Hillman_pitcher_Cubs

Dave Hillman

Hillman, a pitcher, and Fanning, a catcher, were battery mates at Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1950; Beaumont, Texas, in 1954; L.A. in 1955 and 1956 and Chicago where they played for the Cubs in 1955 and 1957.

“We broke into pro ball on the same ballclub – Rock Hill,” Dave says. He posted a 14-11 for the Chiefs, a Class B team, his rookie season and won 20 games for them the next year.

“Dave had a good fastball,” Jim says. “He had a super changeup. He had excellent control. You could sit on the outside or inside of the plate and he’d hit it. He and I could go out and play a game today and I would know how exactly to call a game for him.”

With Jim catching, Dave was 16-11 for Beaumont in the Class AA Texas League. Jim batted .333 in 12 games for the Angels in ’56 while Dave was the ace of the pitching staff with a 21-7 won-loss record.

Jim and Dave started the ’55 season with the Cubs before being sent to L.A. They were driving west on Route 66 when the Cubs’ “Sad” Sam Jones became the first black to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues. “We got so excited listening to the game on the radio that we had to stop the car,” Jim recalls.

Earlier in the season, Fanning was the catcher when Sad Sam blanked the Cincinnati Redlegs on two hits. “He had the best curve I ever saw.”

Jim Fanning

Jim Fanning

In the ninth inning of his no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sad Sam walked three straight to load the bases before striking out the next three batters to end the game. Clyde McCullough was the Cub catcher.

”If I hadn’t been sent out, I’d be catching this game,” Jim told Dave repeatedly.

Dave finally had enough. “Yeah,” he said, “and Jones would’ve been gone in three innings.”

Like their shared birthday, the story bonds the ex-teammates,  taking them back to their youth and big league dreams.

 

 

 

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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:

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