Showing posts with label Pacific Coast League. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pacific Coast League. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Gaylon White Author of 'Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier'

On the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast, Gaylon White, author of the new Artie Wilson biography, "Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier," explains how a friendship that started in the 1970s spawned an unparalleled look into the life of an often overlooked pioneer of MLB's integration.

Wilson, who is regarded by many historians as baseball's last .400 hitter after posting a .402 average for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, had a career that went much deeper than his 22 major league at-bats in 1951. In this interview, White discusses how Wilson's narrative finally came to light 40 years from their initial meeting, and why for nearly a decade Wilson was one of the most popular players to grace the Pacific Coast League.


Baseball Happenings Podcast - Gaylon White Interview

Click here to listen on Spotify

White has previously authored two baseball works that focus on the 1950s era, "Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer" and "The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels."

For those who are interested in purchasing a copy of "Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier," Rowman and Littlefield is offering readers a 30% discount with the following code - RLFANDF30.




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Les Layton, 92, homered in his first major league at-bat

Getting to the major leagues is a dream for most young men; hitting a home run in their first time at bat is an even greater fantasy. Les Layton, a former outfielder for the New York Giants who made both of those scenarios a reality in his 1948 debut, passed away March 1, 2014 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 92.

Les Layton, Jess Dobernic and Gene Baker at home plate during Hollywood Stars vs Los Angeles Angels game, 1950
Collection: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives
Layton was eager to contribute to the Giants in his 1948 rookie campaign, but manager Mel Ott only used Layton once within the first month of the season, filling in as a pinch runner during an early season game in Boston.

“I had a hard time,” Layton said in a 2008 interview with the author. “The Giants had so many outfielders. Bobby Thomson was coming on; Sid Gordon was there as was Willard Marshall.”

Twenty-five games into the season, on May 21, 1948, Ott finally summoned Layton to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the 9th inning against Chicago Cubs left-hander Johnny Schmitz.

“I can remember it now,” he said. “They told me to grab a bat, get up there, and hit one, and I did! It went on top of the roof in the Polo Grounds in left field.”

As Layton quickly circled the bases, he expected a hero’s welcome from his teammates. When he returned to the bench, the silence was deafening.

“I came back in the dugout and nobody said a word,” he said. “They didn't say, 'Nice going,' or anything, and then suddenly they all broke out in rapture.”

At the time he was only the 15th player in the National League to ever hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.

His role as a pinch-hitter produced another statistical oddity. His first four major league hits went for the cycle, all happening in four different parks. Layton’s first four career hits in order were a home run (New York), a triple (Cincinnati), a double (Pittsburgh) and a single (Chicago).

By the end of June, Layton was batting .350 strictly as a pinch-hitter, and Mel Ott finally inserted him into the starting lineup after Thomson and Whitey Lockman suffered minor injuries. He started eight games in a row at the beginning of July, going 10-33, which also included his second (and last) major league home run. Once the starters returned to full strength, Layton was relegated to pinch-hitting duties for the remainder of the year.

“Mel Ott called me aside later on when he was managing in the Coast League and apologized for not being able to play me so much,” he said. “The old timers that were making the money were the ones that had to play.”

Layton finished 1948 with a .231 batting average in 91 at-bats. With the emergence of Don Mueller and the arrival of Monte Irvin in 1949, there was no place for Layton on the Giants roster.

The Giants sold him to the Cubs, who sent him to Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League. It was the best experience of Layton’s career.

“I spent three years in the Coast League with Los Angeles,” he said. “I enjoyed that more than anything else. I got to play every day."

Layton stayed in the minor leagues through 1954, serving as a player-manager for the Wichita Indians his last season.

After leaving professional baseball, he went to work for Boeing for 18 years as a production engineer, a trade he studied while at the University of Oklahoma. While at Boeing, he played for their semi-pro baseball team, the Boeing Bombers. He helped to lead them to a championship at the prestigious National Baseball Congress tournament in 1955.

The World War II veteran retired to Scottsdale with his wife Barbara. When I caught up with Layton in February 2008, he was trying to move forward from her death a few months earlier.

“I lost my wife in December and it’s pretty lonely out here,” he said. “We were married 62 years. I'm not a pretty good cook. I'm learning. You miss having her around, somebody to talk to. It's a whole different ballgame.”


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Revisiting the legend of Jigger Statz as Ichiro reaches 4,000

As New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki rounded first for what was his 4,000th professional hit Wednesday evening, somewhere in the distance was the fading voice of the oft-forgotten Arnold “Jigger” Statz.

For most, the name will not be familiar, as the bulk of his playing career came in the Pacific Coast League, far away from the lights of the east coast media.

Jigger Statz / SABR
Duke Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame center fielder, grew up watching Statz impress the Los Angeles crowds. Speaking with the late Snider’s friend, New York Yankees outfielder Irv Noren in 2012, he related a story of how Snider surprised the New York media when asked who the best center fielder was among himself, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays.

“Growing up in Compton, he followed Jigger Statz and everyone else out here,” Noren said. “They interviewed him out in New York and they had the three outfielders, Snider, Mantle and Mays. They asked him who the best one he’s ever seen was. He said, ‘Jigger Statz.’ Duke said this. All the writers went, ‘Who? Who?’ like a bunch of owls.”

Statz played professionally 24 years from 1919-1942, amassing 4,093 career hits between the major and minor leagues. By the time he played his last game, his career combined hit totals placed him second all-time, only behind Ty Cobb.

I first encountered Statz’s legend in Jason Aronoff’s “Going, Going, Caught …,” a wonderful book about the greatest defensive outfield efforts largely in the era that pre-dated national television and smaller ballparks. Using multiple news sources to reconstruct his highlight reel catches, Aronoff used ten pages to paint Statz as one of the greatest outfielders of the 1920s.

Aronoff chose a telling quotation from Baseball Digest’s Al Wolf, whose 1966 article, “Statz, ‘Best’ Center Fielder, Played in Record 3,373 Tilts,” aptly rated Statz defensively above the greatest center fielders in the game.

“Jigger is regarded by old-timers as the greatest defensive center fielder of all time," Wolf wrote. "They rate him over Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio and even Willie Mays in catching the ball.”

Statz played for four teams in the major leagues from 1919-1928, with his best season coming in 1923 with the Chicago Cubs when he batted .319 with 209 hits. He finished his major league career at age 30 with 737 hits, but was far from done.

Starting fresh with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, he reeled off eight consecutive seasons of over 200 hits from 1929-1936, and at age 40 in 1938, he piled on another 200 hit season to silence his doubters.

Lennie Merullo, the 96-year-old former shortstop for the Chicago Cubs is one of the few living major leaguers that played with this unheralded outfielder. Speaking with Merullo via telephone in 2009, he said playing with Statz as a member of the Angels in 1941 was one of the most cherished memories of his career.

“He was a legend,” Merullo said. “The word 'jigger,' you associate it with Jigger Statz. He was a good hitter! He meant one thing, one of the greatest center fielders that ever lived! He must have been something to play with at the time because I never forgot him."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ed Charles recalls Satchel Paige's trip with the Vancouver Mounties in the Pacific Coast League

Satchel Paige was an arm for hire. Pitching well into his 50s, Paige was widely coveted not only for his pitching, but his ability to put fans in the seats. Wherever Paige appeared, there was a crowd. Owners knew this and Paige capitalized. If the price was right, ol’ Satchel would put on the uniform.

In 1961, fresh off of his appearance in the Negro League East-West All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, the Portland Beavers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League signed Paige in late August with the hopes that the legendary hurler could fill their stadium. Paige felt he could still deliver the goods. 

“I’m sure I could still help some major league team as a relief pitcher,” he said in an August 30, 1961 Associated Press report.

Ed  Charles / Baseball-Almanac.com
Witnessing that delivery was Ed Charles, a 28-year-old third baseman for the Vancouver Mounties. (Ironically Charles ended up as Paige’s teammate on the Kansas City Athletics in 1965, when Paige made his final major league appearance against the Boston Red Sox.) During their final home stand in Vancouver, Charles recalled a humorous incident when one of his teammates tried to show up Paige on the mound.

“The last series of the '61 season, Satchel was with Portland and we were finishing up with Portland at home. ... Satchel [was] scheduled to pitch, which he did, the final game on a Sunday,” Charles said during a 2012 interview. “He really stuck that ball up our ‘you know what,’ until I think I got a hit off him in the 7th [sic]. ... The big thing about that, we had a second baseman Billy Consolo. ... He took it upon himself to try to bunt on Satchel Paige.”

Paige quickly let Consolo know that his attempt wasn’t appreciated.

“He laid down the bunt and Satch didn't attempt to go to the ball to field the ball," he said. "Satch just stood on the mound and stared at Billy as he was running to first base.”

Consolo’s home fans gave him an earful as well.

“Our fans. they took offense to Billy trying to drag [bunt] on Satch. They start booing him and saying, ‘You should be sent to the minor leagues having the guts to lay a bunt down on that old man, you bush league so and so!’”

Consolo was no stranger to the unspoken rules of baseball. He played 10 seasons in the major leagues, and later spent 13 years as a coach on Sparky Anderson’s staff with the Detroit Tigers. When Consolo returned to the dugout, Charles pressed Consolo about his motives.

“[I asked him], ‘Why would you try to bunt on that man like that?’ Billy said, ‘I'm trying to win a ballgame, I don't care who's out on the mound.’”

Over 50 years later, it was not Paige’s mastery on the mound, but his looming glare across the diamond that is etched in Charles’ memory.

“It was funny the reaction of our fans towards Billy for trying to lay down a drag bunt on Satchel Paige. ... Just to see Satch stand there and stare down Billy, that was funny.”


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tom Saffell, former MLB outfielder and WWII veteran dies at 91

Tom Saffell, an outfielder who played parts of four big league seasons from 1949-1955 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Athletics, passed away last week. He was 91.

Saffell was the president of the Gulf Coast Rookie League for 30 years from 1979-2009, working until he was 89 years old. That capped a career in baseball that started almost 70 years prior in 1941 in the Class D Newport Canners of the Appalachian League.
Tom Saffell / Author's Collection
His playing career was interrupted in 1942 when he signed up for the Army Air Corps in World War II. He served until 1946, getting out right in time for the baseball season. During his service, he flew 61 missions over Europe, without being wounded or shot down.

Saffell’s breakout year came in 1947 when he batted .370 for Class B Selma Cloverleafs. He started out the season with the Atlanta Crackers, but he was displaced upon the arrival of a future Hall of Famer.

“I played part of the season for one month until they signed Charley Trippi," Saffell said in a 2008 interview from his home in Florida. “That’s when they sent me out to Selma, Alabama.”

His outstanding performance earned him a promotion to AAA Indianapolis, where he hit .299 in 1948. The next season, he was in the big leagues.

“I had a good year my first year up there, I hit .322,” he said.

It would be the only year in the major leagues that Saffell would see consistent playing time.

"That's the only year I played regularly for Pittsburgh," he said to SABR member Jim Sargent. "I played against both right-hand pitchers and left-handers. After that first season, they usually put me in for defensive purposes or against right-handed pitchers.”

He shuttled between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis during the 1950-51 seasons but didn’t see the majors again until 1955. When he returned, there was a fresh face in Pittsburgh outfield, Roberto Clemente.

“One of the greatest ballplayers that put on a uniform,” he said. “You could see that Clemente had great talent. Anyone could see that. He was one of the better-coordinated ballplayers I ever saw. He could throw off-balance and get himself in position to throw quickly.”

Saffell was released by the Pirates toward the end of the season and latched on with Kansas City to finish out the year. He remained in the minors as a full-time player until 1959. In 1960, he was offered a managing job with the Dodgers Class C team in Reno and began a 13-year career as a minor league coach and manager.

It was then in 1978 when he was approached by Murray Cook to become the president of the Gulf Coast League. Saffell gladly accepted and held the position until 2009. He was honored in 1999 as the "King of Baseball," at the baseball winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif.