Patience Pays

“Good things come to those to wait…and wait…and wait,” Ernie Banks once told Chicago Cub fans.

Cub faithful are still waiting – 10 years since the Steve Bartman incident; 30 years since a ground ball trickled through Leon Durham’s legs in the finale of the 1984 National League Championship Series; 69 years since the Cubs were in a World Series and 106 years since they won one.

Dave "Mr. Automatic" Hillman shows Ernie "Mr. Cub" Banks knuckler he used to blank Pittsburgh Pirates on a two-hitter in 1959. (Associated Press Wirephoto / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.)

Dave “Mr. Automatic” Hillman shows Ernie “Mr. Cub”
Banks knuckler he used to blank Pittsburgh Pirates on a two-hitter in 1959.
(Associated Press Wirephoto / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.)

It has been a mere 58 years since Dave Hillman won 21 games to lead the 1956 Los Angeles Angels to the Pacific Coast League crown. He led the Angels in innings pitched (210), complete games (15) and shutouts (three).

Hillman was at his best against the league’s best, going undefeated (8-0) against the runner-up Seattle Rainiers and third-place Portland Beavers.

He was an amazing 11-2 at L.A.’s Wrigley Field, a hitter’s paradise that most pitchers wanted to avoid. “It made me a better pitcher. You don’t take unnecessary chances. In a larger ballpark, you can make a mistake. I was always aware that being in a small ballpark, I had to be real careful.”

For all of his success with the Angels in ’56, Hillman got little recognition. “But for a sore arm that kept him inactive for the first five weeks, Hillman would have, at the very least, 25 enemy scalps dangling from his belt right now,” one L.A. sportswriter offered near the end of the season.

That was about it until the publication of The Bilko Athletic Club.

Dave Hillman, left, was featured on Bill Meade's sports talk show on WXSM radio in Tri-Cities area of Tennessee.

Dave Hillman, left, was featured on Bill Meade’s sports talk show on WXSM radio in Tri-Cities area of Tennessee.

A full chapter is devoted to Mr. Automatic, the nickname teammate Dwight “Red” Adams bestowed on him long after the ’56 season. “He went out there time and time again and pitched you that good ball game,” Adams said.

In recent months, Hillman, now 87, has appeared on a sports talk show in the northeast area of Tennessee where he lives. He’s been the subject of stories in the Kingsport Times-News and, most recently, a story by sports columnist Trey Williams in the Johnson City Press*.

“It was an inspiration to me and an honor to me to play on that ballclub,” Hillman told Williams, adding: “It was a magical thing.”

Hillman was part of that magic and he’s finally getting the credit he deserves. Banks, a teammate with the Cubs, was right after all. Good things eventually do come to those who wait, and live, long enough.

 

 

*To read the online version of Trey Williams’ column in the Johnson City Press, click on the following link: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/article/121559/kingsport-major-leaguer-recalls-championship-days

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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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