When Gale “Windy” Wade spoke, people listened – or ran for cover.
“Gale speaks his mind,” says Bob Speake, who played alongside Wade in the outfield with the Los Angeles Angels in 1956 and Chicago Cubs in 1955. “As hard-nosed and strong jawed as he was, I didn’t want to mouth off to him. I was afraid he would hit me.”
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Windy was chiseled and as tough as a gunslinger in a western movie. “He was sort of the good-looking wild child,” one Angels fan said.
He bowled over infielders and catchers with rolling blocks and crashed into and sometimes through outfield walls. “That’s what walls are for,” added Jim Brosnan, a 17-game winner for the Angels in 1955. “He was the kind of an outfielder that a pitcher liked. When he’d get an idea of where the fly ball was going to be, he would get it diving or whatever he had to do.”
“It’s like Gale said, if you have to take out a catcher to win, you take him out,” Speake explains. “Second base, you take him out – whatever is necessary to win the game.”
In Chicago, Wade threatened to throw sportswriter Edgar “Mouse” Munzel off a catwalk leading to the Wrigley Field press box after he wrote, “Nothing now, it seems, will beat the Cubs except more and worse fielding by Gale Wade.”
“He was a backdoor little dog,” Wade says. “Why he had it in for me, I don’t know. But he did. I scared him. I told him, ‘I’ll throw your little blankety-blank right off of here (the catwalk).’”
Shortly after arriving in L.A. in ‘55, Windy scolded Los Angeles newspapers for not giving Pacific Coast League baseball adequate coverage. “You fellows will probably want my blood now. But it doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t care what you guys or the fans think of me, only what the Cubs think of me. That’s all.”
In newspaper terms, Windy was “good copy” so Sid Ziff, sports editor of the Los Angeles Mirror-News, enticed him to report on the Angels’ road games the last month of the season.
“After the game he’d write out the stories in longhand and take ‘em down to Western Union,” Angel manager Bob Scheffing said. “The first time he handed the operator a mess of papers the guy said, ‘I can’t send that stuff.’
“The hell you can’t,” Windy barked. “That’s your business, isn’t it?
The byline on the stories read: “BY GALE WADE, Angel Outfielder (Written by Himself).”
“I wrote what I thought,” Wade recalls. “I wanted the public to get straight down the pipe what was going on.”
He called Steve Bilko “Big Hump” because of his batting stance. “He kind of hovered over the plate, hunching his shoulders into a hump.”
Windy humored readers with expressions he learned growing up in the Ozarks: “Lefty Joe Hatten was a tough as the bark on a hickory stump in the clutch last night as he set the Solons down, 4-2.”
He fired shots at the majors, writing: “The 1,376 fans on hand were treated to as good a game as they could have seen in the big leagues, and a darn sight better than some they play in the big show.”
After losing 11-1 to the Sacramento Solons, Windy called the Angels’ performance “one of the greatest three-ring circuses known to the history of modern-day baseball. The Solons supposedly have a clown in Chet Johnson, a left-handed pitcher, but last night he couldn’t have qualified as a prop man in our show.”
He needled his boss at the Mirror-News: “By the way Sid (Ziff), there were two photographers at the game last night and they had some good pictures on the sports page today. Just thought I’d mention it.”
The Mirror-News used Wade’s stories bad grammar and all. “There’s a lot of the English language that was screwed up but I wanted it to be just like I said it. They went along with it.”
“He’s a talker,” says Speake. “He’s not a grammar man.”
According to Ziff, “the only bit that had to be toned down was where he expressed his views” on one of the umpires in the league.
Wade didn’t write again until 1960 when he played for the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers and penned a column titled “Ranger Writer” for the Dallas Times-Herald. The newspaper introduced the column with a cartoon showing Wade, a press badge on his cap, holding a typewriter as if it was a bat. The caption read: “Dallas-Fort Worth outfielder hit .280, 5th in PCL SB’s [stolen bases] for Seattle in ’59. Reputation as a fiery scrapper…bust-a-gut to beat you…aggressive base runner. Hobbies: breaking up DP’s and second basemen. Bats left, throws right, types one finger.”
In L.A., Windy was photographed banging out a story on a typewriter while sitting in the dugout. Truth is, Wade couldn’t even type with one finger. “In high school, I got up to eight words a minute,” he laughs.
Wade’s manager in Dallas-Fort Worth was Jim Fanning, a catcher for the Angels in 1955 and early 1956.
“Do you think it would be OK if I wrote a story every day?” Wade asked Fanning.
“I don’t care what you do,” Fanning replied, cautioning, “But you’re going to have to be careful what you say in the story.”
He got into hot water over a column about two umpires, named Doyle and Gentry, who reminded him of “watching a Collie dog trying to set a covey of quail.”
Wade questioned whether Gentry “would last the year out unless the league was really destitute for umpires because it takes certain capabilities to be an umpire and Gentry didn’t show me any of them except he knew how to raise his left arm and his right arm and how to wear his uniform.”
“Doyle,” he continued, “perhaps is a shade better umpire than Gentry probably because he has been umpiring longer. But I wouldn’t bat an eye for the difference.”
Wade went on to tell readers that they would’ve seen his column on Gentry and Doyle sooner except Fanning “thought it best I not write it. He no doubt thought that this would cause Gentry and Doyle to make it rough on our club later on. But if they do, it will really show they don’t belong anywhere in baseball.”
Wade was fined $25 for his comments by Ed Doherty, the president of the American Association. “I’m not going to say anything good about Ed Doherty,” he wrote while praising the league secretary for getting him into a popular Denver country club for a round of golf.
“Spending a few idle hours on the golf course can help take a player’s mind off baseball, which a player needs to do at times. For that old saying about eating and sleeping baseball can at times make up an unbalanced diet and some sleepless nights.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned this golf game, for some night in Dallas when we have a bad night some fan will no doubt yell out why don’t you bums give up and start playing golf for a living.”
The fan Wade worried about turned out to be Ranger owner J.W. Bateson.
Fanning got a call from the front office: “You’ve got to stop Gale Wade from writing these stories.”
Instead, Fanning urged Wade “to tone it down” and talk about baseball, not golf. “It was the golf thing that got him into a little trouble with Bateson. But I didn’t deter him from writing. He continued to the end of the season. He wrote very well. They were great stories.”
Wade’s stories paved the way for Brosnan, a teammate on the ’55 Angels, to write The Long Season in 1960 and The Pennant Race in 1962 – the first books to give fans a glimpse inside a baseball team’s locker room.
“Oh, silent Jim,” says Windy. “Gosh whiz, I had no idea he would become an author. Jim stayed to himself. He was a very, very silent guy – a good human being.”
Wade is Brosnan’s opposite but just as honest and genuine as the columns he wrote in L.A. and Dallas. “We’ve become real close,” Speake says. “With the Cubs, I didn’t pay much attention to Gale. I’m the quiet type; he’s a talker. It took a long time for me to realize that the guy is real.”
Gale Wade has a wall of memories in the basement of his North Carolina home to remind him of Green Bay Packer great, Ray Nitschke, and his days as a centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs in the majors and Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.
Click here or below to view a video of Wade walking down memory lane.
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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