Casey at the Oaks

Casey Stengel’s managerial career through 1945 could best be described as unimpressive. It was lengthy—there was that to be said for it—but in the better part of 20 seasons of managing in both the minors and majors, Stengel-led teams achieved little success and much mediocrity.

Stengel was a good major league ballplayer: a solid defensive outfielder (fast enough to handle center, though he spent most of his time in right field) with a highly effective bat (career OPS+ of 119). A roughly comparable modern player might be someone along the lines of Ray Lankford or Matt Lawton. Stengel was also, of course, extremely gregarious, alert and intelligent. Even as a young player, his primary persona as a fun-loving jokester barely concealed a serious and highly motivated student of the game.

The two managers for whom Stengel most played both took a genuine liking to him, and he could very properly be said to have been a protégé of both Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw (both of whom were themselves protégés of the remarkable 1890s Baltimore Orioles manager Ned Hanlon). Judge Emil Fuchs, the owner of the Boston Braves, also was impressed with Stengel, and in May of 1925 Fuchs offered Stengel, at that point a soon-to-be 35-year-old (though passing as soon-to-be 34) platoon outfielder for the Braves, the job as president and playing manager for the Worcester ball club of the Eastern League that Fuchs had just purchased.

The 40-Year Career Begins

Worcester was in last place when Stengel took over, but he was immediately successful, guiding the team to a 70-55 record and a third-place finish (Stengel’s own .320 average with 10 homers in 334 at-bats didn’t hurt). This caught the notice of McGraw, who then hired Stengel to manage the Toledo Mud Hens of the Triple-A American Association (of which McGraw was part owner). Stengel would manage the Mud Hens for six years, and his teams there would kind of bounce all around the league: fourth, first, sixth, eighth, third and eighth.

Back to the Majors

In 1932 Wilbert Robinson finally retired after an 18-year run as manager of Brooklyn. (Robinson’s stature was such that throughout his tenure there the team was known as the Robins.) Max Carey was hired to replace him, and Stengel was brought back to the majors as a coach under Carey. Two years later Stengel, at the age of 43 (though record books at the time still listed him as 42), took over as Brooklyn manager. His teams there were drearily bland, winning 71, 70 and 67 games, and finishing sixth, fifth and seventh. The Dodgers fired him as manager before the 1937 season, even though his contract still had a year to run; the press made much fun of the fact that Stengel had so impressed the Dodgers that they paid him to not manage the team.

It’s worth knowing that Stengel didn’t spend his paid vacation season of 1937 loafing. He and his wife Edna spent much of that hot summer in east Texas learning the oil business and making substantial and shrewd investments that would help provide them with ongoing financial security.

In 1938, Stengel and Edna, who was a very sharp businesswoman with means independent of her husband’s, made another major investment of $43,000—a whole lot of money in 1938. He became a part owner of the Boston Bees (as the erstwhile Braves franchise was known from 1936 through 1940), and under the deal the team hired him as manager. Stengel had a six-year run in Boston, and his teams there were just as grindingly mediocre as they had been in Brooklyn. He had just one winning season, a 77-75 fifth-place performance in 1938. After that came four seventh-place finishes followed by a sixth place.

By the end of this string, things weren’t looking very bright for Stengel. His biographer Robert Creamer writes:

…just before the 1943 season was to begin, Casey was hit by an automobile in Boston as he was crossing a street on a rainy night. He suffered a badly broken leg and was laid up for several weeks. Even an accident as serious as that somehow seemed comical because Stengel was involved. [Frank] Frisch, managing Pittsburgh, had often mocked Casey about the poor quality of his ball club, and he sent a wire to Stengel at the hospital, addressed in care of the psychiatric ward, that said, “Your attempt at suicide fully understood. Deepest sympathy you didn’t succeed.”

Stengel returned to manage the team for the balance of the season, but he was bothered by the leg— he would walk with a painful-looking hobble for the rest of his life—and it was another dismal year. After the season, new ownership took over the Braves, bought out Stengel’s stock and fired him. Literally adding insult to injury, Boston Record columnist Dave Egan summed up the season this way: “The man who did the most for baseball in Boston in 1943 was the motorist who ran Stengel down two days before the opening game and kept him away from the Braves for two months.”

Back to the Minors

Stengel found another job in baseball in May of 1944, going to Bill Veeck’s Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association to replace manager Charlie Grimm, who had been hired by the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers were in first place when Stengel took over, and he successfully guided them to the pennant, his first since his 1927 Mud Hens. But it was a minor league pennant in a wartime year, and it didn’t attract much national attention. George Weiss, farm director of the New York Yankees, then hired Stengel to manage his Kansas City Blues team in the American Association for 1945. He was back in his hometown of “K.C.,” but Stengel didn’t enjoy success with the wartime-depleted Blues, finishing seventh. He wasn’t invited back for 1946.

Stengel was now 55. He had had two major league managerial opportunities and had achieved nothing more than sustained mediocrity in both. The likelihood of his ever managing again in the majors seemed highly remote. He was financially secure, and he contemplated retirement with Edna in their sunny Glendale, California home.

The Turning Point

Perhaps the only job offer Stengel would have accepted at that point was one that would allow him to stay near his wife on the west coast, and that was what he got. Clarence “Brick” Laws, owner of the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League, asked Stengel to manage his club for 1946.

The Oaks were generally considered “the other team” in the Bay Area, languishing in the shadow of the high-powered San Francisco Seals, who had won the PCL championship in 1943, 1944 and 1945 and were a perennial contender. The Oaks had won just two PCL pennants since the league’s founding in 1903 and none since 1927. But Laws was a smart and aggressive baseball operator, and he was committed to converting the also-ran Oaks into a power. Stengel was intrigued by the challenge, and of course also by the Pacific Coast League lifestyle, which would keep him in pleasant west coast environs all year long and provide several lengthy road trips to southern California (the PCL had franchises in Los Angeles and Hollywood as well as San Diego).

Four years later, Stengel would be the manager of the New York Yankees, winning the pennant in close dramatic fashion (over Boston, which had to be especially sweet for Stengel), cruising to a World Series victory (over Brooklyn, which also had to feel really good), and being named the major leagues’ Manager of the Year. How did he get from being essentially washed up in Oakland in 1946 to the toast of New York in 1949?

Very simply, by managing the Oaks in 1946, 1947 and 1948 in a manner that dazzled everyone who witnessed it. No one had ever seen anything quite like this before.

1946

Let’s take a look at each of those Oakland teams. First, here’s the 1946 edition, which finished a very close second to the Seals, winning 111 games and losing 72, a .607 winning percentage. (the PCL customarily played a season of at least 180 games.) In the postseason tournament, the Oaks defeated the fourth-place Los Angeles Angels four games to three to advance to the championship final, where they lost to the Seals four games to two. This was a dramatic improvement over the 1945 Oaks, who had been 90-93 and in fifth place. Attendance boomed to a franchise-record 634,000, nearly double the Oaks’ previous best, which had been set way back in 1924. It was in every respect the most successful Oakland season in a very long time.

Here are the key 1946 Oaks’ batters (for positions at which players appeared in fewer than 10 games, just the position is noted):

Player            B  Age  G by POS          G   AB   R  HR  RBI   BB  SO    BA
Les Scarsella     L   32  1B-115          121  428  76  22   91   46  35  .332
Mickey Burnett    R   27  2B-95,SS-51,3B  155  563  79   1   42   49  86  .238
Ray Hamrick       R   24  SS-103          103  346  34   1   35   30  46  .266
Bill Hart         R   33  3B-114,SS-16    134  458  49   6   70   48  67  .227
Brooks Holder     L   30  OF-148          155  477  88  13   59  131  29  .283
Wally Westlake    R   25  OF-126          136  429  60   7   57   30  66  .315
Hersh Martin      B   36  OF-130,3B       139  447  62  10   46   77  44  .255 
Billy Raimondi    R   32  C-111           112  347  34   0   32   38  31  .300
                        
Max Marshall      L   32  OF-99           103  345  53   9   56   40  32  .278
Tony Sabol        R   27  2B-62,OF-24,3B  109  301  40   0   23   28  44  .246
Eddie Kearse      R   30  C-64             73  209  21   1   30   23  21  .273
Vic Buccola       L   24  1B-54            54  196  26   4   22   12  20  .265
Arky Biggs        R    ?  3B-30,SS,2B,1B   50  159  16   0   12   16  10  .245
Pete Fox          R   37  OF-41            57  155  15   0   14   10  21  .258
Gene Bearden      L   25  P-32,1B-14       67  138  19   2   18   11  20  .246
Babe Martin       R   26  C-25             32   82   4   1    9    9  17  .244

And here are the key pitchers:

Pitcher           T  Age   G  GS  CG   IP   W   L  SV    H  BB   SO   ERA
Rugger Ardizoia   R   26  38  25  15  207  15   7   3  187  76  105  2.83
Cotton Pippen     R   35  30  24  11  184  14  11   0  189  56   58  2.84
Floyd Speer       R   33  38  21   8  184  11   8   5  158  56   72  2.93
Spec Shea         R   25  24  21  15  174  15   5   0  125  60  124  1.66
Gene Bearden      L   25  32  15   9  167  15   4   2  139  75   81  3.13
Bryan Stephens    R   25  29  20  10  159  10   9   0  141  65   91  3.40
Charlie Gassaway  L   27  19  13   7   89   7   5   1   70  39   52  3.13
                           
Tom Hafey         R   32  31  12   7  137   6   8   3  126  38   62  2.63
Ralph Buxton      R   32  31  11   4  119  10   5   3  109  32   68  2.57
Bull Palica       R    ?  23  11   3   74   5   3   1   73  24   28  2.55
Hy Vandenberg     R   40  11   5   2   46   1   5   0   61  19   17  5.28

Two things stand out right away. First is that the Oaks weren’t a young team. Understand, of course, that like most other PCL franchises, they weren’t a “farm” team; this was an independent operation, in business for the purpose of winning games and making money, not developing talent per se. That said, even by PCL standards, the Oaks were a distinctly veteran ball club.

Second, and far more remarkable, was Stengel’s extraordinarily full use of the roster. This was a team that played 183 games, yet only two players saw action in as many as 140, and only one pitcher had more than 185 innings. Liberal use of platooning is obvious, not just on a left-right basis (although there was that going on in the outfield), but also in the way Stengel juggled his light-hitting infielders, clearly pinch-hitting for them on a regular basis. The pitching staff was a particularly egalitarian environment, with 12 pitchers starting at least 11 games, and no one relieving in more than 20.

This was just not how business was customarily conducted in the PCL. The pennant-winning 1946 San Francisco Seals, for example, used Ferris Fain and Hugh Luby in 180 and 176 games, respectively, and both had well over 700 plate appearanes. Seals’ ace pitcher Larry Jansen started 38 games, winning 30 of them and pitching 321 innings. Every other team in the league except the last-place Seattle Rainiers featured batters with well over 600 at-bats and pitchers with well over 250 innings. The Oaks were able to win 111 games despite having almost no individual stars. The only Oakland players with stats among the league leaders were Les Scarsella, whose 22 home runs in a part-time role tied for second in the league; Spec Shea, whose 1.66 ERA was second-best in the league (to Jansen’s 1.57); and Brooks Holder, whose 131 walks led the league.

The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers doesn’t specify Shea as a knuckleballer, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that he threw a knuckler at least some of the time. Gene Bearden definitely was a knuckleballer, and in any case the Oaks’ pitching staff was a collection of no-names who overpowered nobody, yet they allowed the second-fewest runs in the league.

1947

For 1947, several of the team’s best young players were gone. Shea was picked up by the Yankees, as was Rugger Ardizoia. Wally Westlake was acquired by Pittsburgh and Bryan Stephens by Cleveland. So how did Stengel and the Oaks fit the pieces together?

Key batters, 1947:

Player              B  Age  G by POS                G   AB    R  HR  RBI   BB  SO    BA
Les Scarsella       L   33  1B-87                  89  341   47  13   56   30  29  .255
Dario Lodigiani     R   31  2B-124,3B-17          141  498   83  11   92   76  29  .311
Ray Hamrick         R   25  SS-147                147  473   44   0   52   43  47  .266
Gene Lillard        R   33  3B-67,C-26,P-2,OF     110  291   45   7   46   34  45  .258
Brooks Holder       L   31  OF-163                172  599  137  16   78  136  39  .311
Vince DiMaggio      R   34  OF-138                140  473   80  22   81   36  87  .241
Hersh Martin        B   37  OF-92                 116  294   48   4   48   52  13  .361
Billy Raimondi      R   33  C-147                 152  418   55   0   47   54  20  .297

Maurice Van Robays  R   32  1B-70,OF-34           137  380   52   8   77   30  43  .295
Mel Duezabou        R   27  OF-73                  88  238   33   5   24   33  30  .315
Chuck Workman       L   32  OF-63,3B               81  213   47  12   40   41  26  .268
Glenn Crawford      L   33  2B-31,3B-20,SS-19,OF   87  215   36   6   30   35  12  .298
Mickey Burnett      R   28  SS-51,2B,3B            98  224   36   3   26   18  20  .295
Roy Hughes          R   36  3B-48,SS               48  183   32   0   14   23   6  .295
Tony Sabol          R   28  OF-31,3B-30,2B-19,SS  105  167   31   0   15   15  17  .287
Nick Etten          L   33  1B-41                  46  140   27   4   30   22   6  .300
Will Hafey          R   23  P-31,OF,1B,3B          87  157   15   4   24    4  24  .280
Eddie Kearse        R   31  C-57                   58  123    9   2   15   20  15  .252

Key pitchers, 1947:

Pitcher            T  Age   G  GS  CG   IP   W   L  SV    H  BB  SO   ERA
Gene Bearden       L  26   26  21  17  198  16   7   0  185  82  80  2.86
Floyd Speer        R  34   45  24   8  189  16  14   3  206  74  83  4.38
Damon Hayes        R  28   35  22  12  183  12  10   0  200  84  96  3.93
Charlie Gassaway   L  28   45  24   8  183  12  11   2  227  61  89  4.23
Ralph Buxton       R  33   29  16   4  125   8   8   1  128  42  52  3.89
Dewey Soriano      R   ?   21  18   6  114   7   7   1  134  54  59  4.82
Cotton Pippen      R  36    9   8   3   52   1   5   1   66  15  11  3.98
                           
Lefty Wilkie       L  32   33  15   4  135   7   7   1  163  43  49  4.67
Will Hafey         R  23   30   8   5  107   7   5   1  110  49  40  3.28
Tom Hafey          R  33   31   8   4   98   7   6   3  127  44  50  6.15
Hugh Mulcahy       R  33   31   7   1   89   1   6   3  118  40  20  6.67

The 1947 Oaks dropped back in regular season performance, going 96-90 and finishing in fourth place. This was enough, however, to once again enter into the league’s postseason tournament, where they enjoyed the pleasure of defeating the Seals (who had tied for first in the regular season before losing a one-game playoff to Los Angeles) in the first round four games to one. Then the Oaks lost the finals to the Angels four games to one. But it was another successful season overall, with attendance at a robust 590,000 and Stengel now firmly ensconced as an enormous fan favorite.

This Oaks team was, if anything, even more adroitly handled by Stengel. Holder, who again led the league in walks, was the only true regular. Virtually the entire remainder of the roster was an intricate tapestry of complex multi-position platooning; without a single batter in the top 10 in the league in RBIs, the Oaks led the league in runs scored with 929. And Stengel navigated a 186-game regular season without using a single pitcher in as many as 25 starts, 22 relief appearances or 200 innings.

For 1948 the Oaks lost Gene Bearden (promoted by the Cleveland Indians, who owned his contract), far and away their best pitcher in ’47 and a useful pinch-hitter as well, overall hitting .283 in 41 games and 99 at-bats. (Yet another interesting element of Stengel’s method was to make liberal use of Bearden, as well as Will Hafey and Tom Hafey, in pitcher/pinch-hitter/position player utility roles.) But essentially the rest of the team would be back, including veteran first baseman Nick Etten, who had done well filling in for the injured Les Scarsella in late 1947, as well as a brash, skinny young East Bay infielder named Billy Martin, who had joined the Oaks at the tail end of the ’47 season. He’d been promoted from Phoenix in the Arizona-Texas League, where at age 19 he had led the league in hits, doubles, RBI and batting average.

1948

Here are the 1948 Oaks’ primary batters:

Player              B  Age  G by POS            G   AB    R  HR  RBI   BB  SO    BA
Nick Etten          L   34  1B-162            164  578  115  43  155   91  47  .313
Billy Martin        R   20  2B-124,3B,SS      132  401   60   3   42   18  30  .277
Merrill Combs       L   28  SS-133,3B-40,2B   175  580   91  10   69   83  51  .271
Dario Lodigiani     R   32  3B-91,2B-78,SS    162  581   77   7   72   48  31  .303
Brooks Holder       L   32  OF-138            148  482   99  10   57   97  24  .297
George Metkovich    L   27  OF-132,1B         134  500  116  23   88   66  54  .336
Loyd Christopher    R   28  OF120             124  352   56  14   61   39  43  .318
Billy Raimondi      R   34  C-120             126  302   40   0   31   33  23  .285

Mel Duezabou        R   28  OF-112            132  389   69   7   52   35  41  .303
Les Scarsella       L   34  OF-75,1B-17       111  329   60  14   61   39  43  .271
Cookie Lavagetto    R   35  3B-73,2B           86  286   54   3   38   29  18  .304
Ray Hamrick         R   26  SS-71,2B-23,3B    101  243   30   1   26   19  21  .259
Maurice Van Robays  R   33  1B-35,OF-13,3B     87  192   26   2   25   15  14  .313
Will Hafey          R   24  P-30,OF            75  131   14   3   34   11  13  .282
Ed Fernandes        B   30  C-47               62   91   12   1   21   34  14  .297

In addition, in 1948 Ernie Lombardi produced a portion of the following PCL stat line for the Oaks. No resource covering this era that I’m aware of breaks minor league multi-team players’ records down by team, so it’s unknown how many of these 102 games Lombardi played for the Oaks. My estimate is that it was more than half, probably about two-thirds:

Player              B  Age  G by POS            G   AB   R  HR   RBI   BB  SO    BA
Ernie Lombardi      R   40  C-80              102  284  25  11    55   22  18  .264

Here are the 1948 Oaks’ primary pitchers:

Pitcher            T  Age   G  GS  CG   IP   W   L  SV    H   BB  SO   ERA
Charlie Gassaway   L   29  43  30  13  198  15   8   2  202   59  68  3.09
Earl Jones         L   29  39  26   9  196  13   6   1  184  110  82  2.98
Lefty Wilkie       L   33  41  25   7  185  11   6   1  212   70  56  3.79
Will Hafey         R   24  30  25  13  183  13  10   0  182  102  75  4.48
Les Webber         R   33  32  14   5  131   8   5   2  163   55  68  5.50
                           
Floyd Speer        R   35  49   6   0  108  12   3   2  128   42  55  5.17
Ralph Buxton       R   34  34   7   4   96  13   3   8   78   29  52  3.19
Jim Tobin          R   35  10   3   1   44   2   1   2   41   10  11  2.25
Bob Klinger        R   40  16   1   0   28   2   4   3   26   14  11  4.18

In addition, both of the following pitchers spent most (again I estimate probably about two-thirds) of 1948 with Oakland, while also pitching for the last-place Sacramento Solons:

Pitcher            T  Age   G  GS  CG   IP   W   L  SV    H   BB   SO   ERA
Jack Salveson      R   34  41  33  15  245  13  18   1  300   55   95  4.74
Lou Tost           L   37  42  26  11  226  12  15   0  236   68  107  3.70

It was, all things considered, the most successful season in the history of the Oakland Oaks. They went down to the wire in a thrilling pennant race against the archrival Seals, and prevailed by a two-game margin, at 114-74 (.606) over San Francisco’s 112-76. The Oaks then defeated the Angels four games to two while the Seals lost to the Seattle Rainiers four games to one. In the finals the Oaks beat the Rainiers four games to one. They were PCL champions for the first time since 1927.

The 1948 Oaks were nicknamed “The Nine Old Men” by the press, in acknowledgement of their extreme veteran character. Being managed by the nearly-60 Stengel and playing in an antiquated wooden ballpark nicknamed the “splinter emporium” just added to the colorful underdog ambience. The 1948 Oaks did enjoy the services of a couple of offensive stars: Nick Etten was second in the league in both homers and RBI, and Catfish Metkovich was fourth in the league in average. But once again it was the depth of the roster and Stengel’s frantically intricate deployment of it that stood out. Nowhere was this more evident than the pitching staff, where Stengel won 114 games with no pitcher winning more than 15 or working as many as 200 innings, in a league in which every other team had at least one pitcher with well over 200 innings, most with several.

All told, it was a star-making performance on Stengel’s part. He was named by The Sporting News as Minor League Manager of the Year, his first managerial honor in 21 seasons of work. After a long career in which he’d been recognized as a clown but rarely respected as a competent professional, it was a dramatic late bloom.

The Triumphant Return

George Weiss, who had hired Stengel to manage Kansas City in 1945, was now the GM in New York, and he came calling again. When Stengel was announced as the new Yankee manager for 1949, those who hadn’t been paying attention to his Pacific Coast League work were stunned, and the choice was widely hooted. The hooting would stop in 1949, and it would become a distant memory as Stengel, displaying exactly the complex-platooning method he had demonstrated in Oakland, would go on to be named TSN‘s Major League Manager of the Year every season from 1949 through 1953.

Stengel would manage the Yankees for 12 seasons in which they would win 10 pennants and seven World Series. It was simply the most successful managerial stint in the history of baseball. Stengel would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.

The following are players who played under Stengel in the major leagues who went on to become major league managers:

Hank Bauer
Yogi Berra
Jerry Coleman
Roger Craig
Kerby Farrell
Gil Hodges
Tommy Holmes
Ralph Houk
Billy Hunter
Darrell Johnson
Eddie Joost
Eddie Lopat
Al Lopez
Jim Marshall
Billy Martin
Roy McMillan
Norm Sherry
Frank Skaff
Zack Taylor
Don Zimmer

In addition, legendary University of Southern California baseball coach Rod Dedeaux briefly played for Stengel in Brooklyn in 1935.

References & Resources
The Early Coast League Statistical Record by Carlos Bauer (San Diego: Baseball Press Books, 2004), and The Sporting News Baseball Guides from 1947, 1948 and 1949 provided the statistical data on the Oakland teams of 1946, 1947 and 1948. Neither source provides the precise games played by fielders in fewer than 10 games at any position, but Bauer’s marvelous book does indicate all positions played. Positions listed above without a specific number of games indicates the player appeared in fewer than 10 games.

Robert W. Creamer’s Stengel: His Life and Times (New York: Dell, 1984) is a wonderfully rich and detailed biography.

Three excellent sources regarding the old Pacific Coast League are:

Kevin Nelson, The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball, San Francisco: California Historical Society Press, 2004.

Paul J. Zingg and Mark D. Medeiros, Runs, Hits, and an Era: The Pacific Coast League, 1903-1958, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Bill O’Neal, The Pacific Coast League, 1903-1988, Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1990.

The 1946-48 Oaks featured two players who were career Pacific Coast League stars, neither of whom played an inning in the majors, although both clearly had the ability to perform at least competently at the big league level:

Billy Raimondi played in the Arizona-Texas League (which often served as a farm league for PCL teams) in 1931 and 1932, and then in the PCL every year from 1933 through 1953 (missing only the 1936 season due to injury). He was a very quick and agile defensive catcher; as a hitter he had utterly no power, but he slapped his way to a .276 career minor league average (with just 12 home runs) in 6,898 at-bats. His record is listed in Minor League Baseball Stars (Springfield, Virginia: TechnoGraphics, 1978), page 79.

Brooks Holder was in the PCL every season from 1935 through 1951. His lifetime minor league average was .295, with 2,540 hits and 1,610 runs. He scored 110 or more runs in the PCL 8 times. His career stats can be found in Minor League Baseball Stars, Volume II (Manhattan, Kansas: Ag Press, 1985), page 88.

Gene Lillard played briefly in the majors, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of his career; he hit .303 with 345 home runs (as well as going 35-26 as a pitcher) in a minor league career that lasted from 1932 through 1954. The sponsor of his baseball-reference.com page, David McWater, says it well: “In 1935, 21-year-old Gene hit 56 home runs for Los Angeles. The next year he got 34 ab’s for the Cubs. The year after that they tried to make him a pitcher. I gotta believe somebody screwed up there.” Lillard’s story is so interesting that it will warrant an article of its own at some point. His record is listed on page 68 of the first Minor League Baseball Stars.

Will Hafey and Tom Hafey were brothers, and cousins of Hall of Famer Chick Hafey. A third brother, Bud Hafey, also played in the PCL and the major leagues. Being able to both hit and throw seems to have been a Hafey trademark; of the four Hafeys, only Chick wasn’t deployed as both a pitcher and a position player in pro ball, although Chick was well-known for a tremendous outfield throwing arm. Tom’s throwing prowess was such that he carried two nicknames: “Heave-O” and “The Arm.”

Readers of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four may recognize the name of Dewey Soriano, who was president of the Seattle Pilots in their one and only season of 1969 (and not a particular Bouton favorite). Soriano pitched for several years in the PCL.

As I’ve shared before, I have some familial regard for the Oakland Oaks. My parents both grew up in Oakland in the 1920s/30s and have often shared fond memories of being Oaks fans and attending games at rickety old Oaks Park, near the bay in Emeryville. By the late 1940s they were married and still living in Oakland, and although yours truly wouldn’t come along until a decade later (the youngest of seven), their tales of Casey Stengel and his “Nine Old Men” captivated me as a youngster. Among the most delightful elements was the musical quality of the many multi-syllabic Italian names: Ernie Lombardi, Billy Raimondi, Cookie Lavagetto and (perhaps best of all) Dario Lodigiani.

My late father-in-law grew up in Louisville, Kentucky but came to Oakland during World War II when, after naval service in the South Pacific, he was assigned to the Alameda Naval Air Station. He was a semi-pro ballplayer, and he played alongside many PCL players in various circumstances. His story comprises the chapter “There Were Ballplayers Everywhere,” in David Cataneo’s delightful Hornsby Hit One Over My Head: A Fans’ Oral History of Baseball (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1997).

From page 90:

“I went to see the Oaks play in the old Emeryville ballpark. I got married in 1945 and my wife’s family liked baseball, so we all went to see the Oaks. We couldn’t always afford to go, but we saw eight or nine games a year. We’d listen to them on the radio. Casey Stengel was there.

“I played semi-pro ball after I got out of the service. Alameda had a big ballpark. A lot of major league and Pacific Coast League ballplayers played there in the wintertime. Les Scarsella, who had been up to the major leagues and was first baseman for the Oakland Oaks, owned Babe’s Play Haven, a bar, and sponsored this team and played for them. I played for them for three years. My path crossed over a couple of times with Billy Martin. He was still in high school in ’46. He was a hotshot. He played for a team called the Base Hit Cafe. We played against each other and practiced with him in Berkeley a couple of times. Cocky. He knew he had it. And everybody else knew he had it. When he went to Oakland right after high school, there was no doubt.”

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