Gale “Windy” Wade doesn’t write a sports column like he did for the Los Angeles Mirror-News in 1955 playing for the Los Angeles Angels or in 1960 when he doubled as the centerfielder for Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers and a columnist for the Dallas Times-Herald.
The Times-Herald introduced Wade’s column showing him wearing a cap with a press badge on it and 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.”
Wade doesn’t follow baseball anymore. But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say about baseball matters close to his heart.
Take, for example, the rough-and-tumble slide by Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers that broke up a double play as well as the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the second game of the recent National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Mets. The slide made Utley Public Enemy No. 1 of Mets fans and led to a two-game suspension from Major League Baseball.
“There’s not a thing wrong with it,” Wade said of Utley’s slide. “It’s just good ol’ offensive baseball. I thought it was a joke when they started saying they were going to suspend him. Hellfire!”
Hellfire describes the Wade ran the base paths for the Angels from 1955-57 in the old Pacific Coast League (PCL).
“I saw him go in there and just roll over some of those guys,” said Cece Carlucci, a long-time PCL umpire.
Eventually, the league banned the cross-body blocks the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Wade used to bust up double plays.
Wade was a star halfback in high school at Bremerton, Washington, in 1946. In the same backfield was Don Heinrich, a quarterback who went on to earn all-America honors at the University of Washington and play for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League. “After all these years,” Heinrich said well into his pro career, “I have to say I never saw anybody start faster on a quick-opening handoff than Wade. If he had decided to go into professional football, he would have made somebody take notice.”
Wade accepted a football scholarship from Texas Christian University, but changed his mind when a Brooklyn Dodgers scout offered him $5,000 to play baseball. “I got a call from almost every college in the country. If I’d got one call from Notre Dame, I would’ve never seen a baseball.”
A lot of opposing players wish Notre Dame had made that call.
“The biggest kick I got out of baseball was breaking up a double play at second base. I’d rather do that than hit a home run. Winning one ballgame to me was a whole season. If it meant taking a catcher out at home plate or knocking out the second baseman with a rolling block, I did it. I sacrificed my body to win ballgames.”
In 1948 at spring training with the Dodgers, Wade aimed one of his signature rolling blocks at Jackie Robinson in an intra-squad game. “He’s starting to turn a little bit toward first to make the double play, that’s when I got him. Oh, man, he came up off the ground and we went at it. Right there about twenty feet behind second base.”
Another crunching block in a game in Venezuela in 1955 started a riot and a near international incident. Windy barreled into Chico Carrasquel, a star shortstop for the Cleveland Indians and a national idol. Chico was knocked unconscious and removed from the game.
Playing for the Spokane Indians in 1958 he upended Jack Lohrke, a Portland Beavers second baseman nicknamed “Lucky” because he cheated death six times by the time he was 22 years old.
Lohrke fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and Battle of the Bulge during World War II. On four occasions, soldiers on both sides of him were killed in combat. Returning home from the war in 1945, he was bumped from a military transport plane to make room for an officer. The plane crashed 45 minutes later, killing all on board. In 1946, he was traveling by bus with his Spokane teammates when he got a telephone call at a restaurant stop to report immediately to another minor-league team. Lohrke hitchhiked back to Spokane. Soon afterwards the bus plummeted off a mountain cliff, killing nine of the 15 players aboard.
Lohrke wasn’t so lucky in his collision with Wade. He dislocated a shoulder that sidelined him nearly two months and essentially ended his career.
“I felt bad about that,” Wade admitted. “Jack was one of my good friends from winter baseball. I thought the world of Jack. Of course, I took them all out. And they all knew it when they got near second base. They knew that they were fair game. They tried to low-bridge me, too. That was part of it.”
Knockdown pitches were also part of the game when Wade played. In fact, a fastball to the head in 1961 shattered his right cheekbone, just below the temple. “It would’ve killed him if it had hit in the temple,” said Jack Hannah, a teammate. “That was the end of Gale Wade’s baseball career right there.”
A few months earlier Freddie Frederico, a trainer for the Seattle Rainiers, recalled when the PCL implemented a rule requiring hitters to use either batting helmets or liners. Wade was playing for the Rainiers at the time.
As Wade walked up to the plate to hit, the umpire noticed he wasn’t wearing a helmet or liner. Wade claimed otherwise.
“Take it off and show me,” the umpire insisted.
“Why, you big-nosed so-and-so,” Wade protested.
That got him kicked out of the game. “And, as he takes off,” Frederico said, “he shows that bald head of his – no helmet.”
The next day Cece Carlucci is the home plate umpire. “And here comes Wade,” Frederico continued. “He has stuck a piece of liner in the crown of his baseball cap, and when Cece gives him the business about a liner, Wade taps his head and tells him: ‘Hear that, I got one on.’”
Carlucci told him to take off his cap anyway.
“He jerks off his cap,” Frederico said, “pulls it down on Cece’s head and walks off. He didn’t even wait for the thumb.”
“I just didn’t like to be wearing anything that I thought was bothering me,” Wade explained. “I never had been hit in the head. I hadn’t been around anybody else that had been hit in the head, you know, at that time. The knockdown pitch was a normal thing then.”
That brings back us back to Chase Utley’s hard-nosed slide in the playoffs and baseball today.
“I don’t really have a strong feeling about baseball period because it has turned into such a money-grab thing,” said Wade, now 86 and splitting his time between homes in North Carolina and Florida. “Any time you can find the players are making more money than the manager, you know who’s running the club.”
Wade saw replays of Utley’s slide while watching the news on television. “They are going to suspend a guy for taking somebody out at second base,” he said incredulously. “Hell, that’s the name of the game. That’s what you did. Break up that double play.”
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.
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