It was the summer of 1969 and the 100-plus temperatures in Chicago were taking its toll on the Chicago Cubs, embroiled in a heated pennant race with the New York Mets. Ernie Banks looked around the clubhouse at his weary teammates and made his now famous declaration, “It’s a great day for a ball game. Let’s play two!”
Easter Sunday was a beautiful day for baseball in Cartersville, Georgia, where author Gaylon White lives, so it was only fitting that two radio stations broadcast interviews about his book, The Bilko Athletic Club.
“I played catch with my grandkids and was able to spread the news about Steve Bilko and the ’56 Angels – my own rendition of Banks’ ‘let’s play two’ theme,” said White, a long-suffering Cub fan.
In the interview with Steve Thomson of WCCO-Radio in Minneapolis, Minnesota, White pointed out that the ’56 Angels were made up of Cub castoffs who teamed in L.A. to have career years and win 107 games, finishing 16 games ahead of their closest competitor. He also said that the Angels’ ballpark, Wrigley Field, best known nowadays as the site for ESPN Classics’ Home Run Derby, was the first to sport that name. Chicago’s Wrigley Field was called Cubs Park from 1914, the year it opened, to 1926 when it was renamed.
Marty Lurie of KNBR-Radio in Berkeley, California, called his interview with White “a good historical perspective of baseball, which we love, but, of course, of a time on the West Coast when baseball really was king.”
White discusses the old Pacific Coast League (PCL), the closest thing California fans had to the major leagues until the Dodgers and Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958.
Lurie recalled an interview he did with the late Dino Restelli, a hard-hitting outfielder from San Francisco who preferred playing in the PCL rather than in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates because “it was more lucrative.”
“Bilko took a pay cut when he went back to the majors in 1958 with Cincinnati,” White added.
“No city has a greater tradition in baseball than San Francisco,” White said.
As an example, he cited the Friends of Marino Pieretti, a group that has met the third Wednesday of every month since 1981 to honor the pint-sized ’56 Angel pitcher who grew up in San Francisco’s Little Italy and won 115 games over seven Coast League seasons.
Pieretti was such a fiery competitor that, according to Johnny Briggs, a teammate in Sacramento as well as L.A., “you had to have a gun and point it at him” when you took him out of a game.
White described how Marino, pitching for the Sacramento Solons, was getting clobbered in a game when his manager, Tony Freitas, decided he’d seen enough. Instead of handing the ball to Freitas when he got to the pitcher’s mound, Marino heaved it over the grandstand and stomped off the field. On returning to the dugout, Freitas told Marino, “If you’d thrown the ball like that during the game, you’d still be out there.”
Listen to White’s interview with Lurie:
Listen to the interview with WCCO’s Thompson:
- 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
- Vroman’s Book Store
- Sales Spider
- Tower books
- Powell’s Books
- Rakuten.com Shopping
- BetterWorld Books
- The Book Depository
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