I have updated my earlier post about the progression of the record for the longest baseball throw after getting some more information about a claim that Tony Mullane broke the mark in 1881. As I say, it’s all a work in progress.
I recently learned of a master’s thesis involving the Far West League! Brad Peek, who later was a successful baseball coach in Northern California, wrote “The History of the Redding Browns of the Far West Professional Baseball League” in 1990 as part of his master’s degree in physical education from California State University-Chico, or as it is more commonly known, Chico State. I tracked down Brad and he was kind enough to share a copy of his thesis with me, and from that I learned this story.
Thursday, July 14, 1949, was “Vince DiMaggio Night” in Pittsburg, where the Diamonds hosted the Redding Browns. DiMaggio was in his first year as player-manager of the Diamonds; seems like I’ve read along the way that he was related to the mayor of Pittsburg at the time or one of the owners of the team or both, I’ll document that as the project progresses. At any rate Pittsburg is just up the delta from Martinez, the town where Vince and brother Joe were born (younger brother Dom was born after the family moved to nearby San Francisco).
The festivities for Vince were to include several visiting baseball celebrities (although I haven’t found a confirmed list of who actually showed up) and a postgame dinner at the Los Medanos Hotel. And as part of the celebration, both DiMaggio and his Redding counterpart, player/manager Ray Perry, played all nine positions in that night’s game at City Park. (Some pregame articles I read said they would play all positions but catcher, but apparently they decided to catch as well.)
I found this photo of DiMaggio and Perry together on the front page of the Redding Record-Searchlight newspaper earlier in July 1949, when their teams were playing in Redding. This image is from a scan of a photocopy from the microfilm reader, so the quality is a little shabby. It’s also the first photo I have seen of the FWL’s greatest player, Ray Perry. His nickname was “Little Buffalo,” and this is pretty much what I expected him to look like.
Unfortunately, I have not found a sufficiently detailed account of the game, which Pittsburg won, 11-2. I’ve read the unbylined story in the Redding paper, which may well have been sourced by a phone call; I’ve also looked at the papers from Martinez and Antioch (right next to Pittsburg) and the Oakland Tribune, whose sports editor was one of the pregame speakers. But none have all the details I hoped to find.
Both managers started the game on the mound. DiMaggio held the Browns scoreless (I don’t know if he faced Perry, who batted fourth), while the Diamonds managed one run off Perry (who must have pitched to DiMaggio, who batted third, but I don’t know how that worked out). DiMaggio did strike out a batter, I don’t know who.
Perry and DiMaggio each made one error, but there’s no report of what position they were playing when the error was made. (Each team had four errors in the game.) Perry finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and drove in both Redding runs; DiMaggio went 1-for-2 with two walks, three runs and an RBI. Neither had an extra-base hit. Looking at the box score, DiMaggio should have had five trips to the plate, but there’s no accounting for the other one. According to the account in the Record-Searchlight, each inning when the managers changed positions, the men they replaced went to right field.
Everette “Rocky” Neal, a 20-year-old righthander, entered to pitch for Redding after Perry’s stint and was lit up for eight runs in the second inning; I wish I knew what position Perry was playing then. The performance was an aberration for Neal. He finished the season with a 4.04 ERA, ranking sixth in the FWL among pitchers who had at least one inning pitched per team game, and he went on to record a pair of 14-win seasons in Class A ball in 1951 and ’52. Either he was hurt or went into the military in 1953 and his career fizzled out.
Bill Carr came on in relief of DiMaggio and pitched the rest of the game to get one of his 21 wins on the season (the Diamonds played only 127 games). The 20th and 21st wins came on the final day of the season, when he pitched both ends of a doubleheader against Willows and won by scores of 7-0 and 10-4. (Niles Jordan, of Klamath Falls, who went on to pitch in the majors, also won both ends of a doubleheader that day, beating Marysville 10-2 and 9-3 for his 18th and 19th wins.)
Carr led the FWL in 1949 with both his 21 wins and a 3.28 ERA. He must have an interesting story. According to his Baseball-Reference.com listing, using the minor league stats they have licensed from SABR, Carr made his debut in Organized Ball at the age of 30…at the highest level of the minors, with the Pacific Coast League’s Portland Beavers. Of course, it was 1945, and available players were scarce because of the war…but that’s still highly unusual. What kind of ball was he playing before that, and where?
Carr pitched in six games for the Beavers, just 6-2/3 innings…then after the war ended, he caught on with Salt Lake City in the Class C Pioneer League in 1946 and pitched 44 innings in 11 games. That left him just short of the cutoff to have his full stats published in The Sporting News Baseball Guide, but he allowed 37 runs in 44 innings. He doesn’t seem to have pitched in the minors in 1947…but he was back in ’48, this time in Class B with Salem (Ore.) of the Western International League, where he pitched 45 innings in 12 games. His record was 1-4, but his 4.00 ERA was better than league average.
And then, in 1949, at the age of 34, still with no real record of success in professional baseball, Carr fell to Class D and dominated the Far West League. He returned to the league the next year, in which he pitched for both Pittsburg and Marysville, went 16-12, and then his career came to an end.
Okay, I’ve got to find out more about this guy.
By the way, DiMaggio got hurt in an unusual incident shortly after the game in which he played all nine positions. From Brad Peek’s thesis: “Vince was severely cut on the hand July 24 when his Pittsburg team volunteered to help fight a fire that destroyed a medical-dental building in Pittsburg. The team was returning from a game in Willows when it came upon the fire.”
There were no published team pitching statistics for the Far West League. In fact, the Sporting News Baseball Guides from those years don’t have team pitching stats for any minor league, and they can’t be accurately recreated from the individual stats because the Guides used a 45-inning minimum for individual stats to be printed. A quick glance through my bookshelf shows team pitching stats don’t show up for the high minors until the 1959 Guide, covering the 1958 season, and not for the low minors until the 1962 Guide, covering the 1961 season. The only team pitching stat published for the FWL was Opponents Runs, as part of the batting table, and for some reason those didn’t appear in the 1949 season stats.
Let’s start with the league-wide stats for each of the FWL’s four seasons:
On-base percentage was not an officially published stat…I calculated it using hits, walks and hit-by-pitches. Sacrifice flies were not published and may not have been kept as a separate category that would result in a plate appearance without a time at-bat. At any rate they are not included in these numbers.
By the way, based on these numbers I feel comfortable saying the quality of play in the FWL was at its highest in 1950, because that season saw the fewest errors per game and the most double plays per game. You wonder what happened in 1951, when the league saw a sharp drop in home runs per game; individual league leader Ray Perry hit only 18, he had at least twice as many in each of the previous three seasons. Willows and Marysville had dropped out of the league after 1950; while I don’t have any home/road breakdowns, Willows had been first or second in the league in HR/G in each of its three seasons, so that may have been a good hitters park. But Marysville was well below average in HR/G in each of its three seasons, so the two parks could well have canceled each other out.
Now let’s take a look at the team records…most of these are on a per-game basis because of the varying lengths of the season, but in some categories I skipped that because the record was held by a team playing in one of the shorter-length seasons.
|RUNS PER GAME|
|Most: 8.38, Klamath Falls, 1949 (1039/124)|
|Fewest: 5.50, Pittsburg-Roseville, 1948 (616/112)|
|OPPONENTS RUNS PER GAME (not published for 1949)|
|Fewest: 5.72, Marysville, 1948 (703/123)|
|Most: 7.58, Reno, 1951 (895/118)*|
|* Pittsburg allowed 7.63 R/G in 1951 before dropping
out of the league after 48 games (in first place!)
|HITS PER GAME|
|Most: 10.89, Klamath Falls 1951 (1405/129)|
|Fewest: 7.87, Pittsburg-Roseville, 1948 (881/112)|
|HOME RUNS PER GAME|
|Most: 1.15, Redding, 1950 (161/140, the only team
in FWL history with HR/G>1)
|Fewest: 0.17, Oroville, 1948 (21/121)|
|WALKS PER GAME|
|Most: 6.89, Reno, 1951 (813/118)|
|Fewest: 4.56, Willows, 1949 (574/126)|
|STRIKEOUTS PER GAME|
|Fewest: 4.68, Klamath Falls, 1950 (855/140)|
|Most: 6.73, Pittsburg-Roseville, 1948 (754/112)|
|STOLEN BASES PER GAME|
|Most: 1.48, Klamath Falls, 1949 (183/124)|
|Fewest: 0.47, Klamath Falls, 1948 (59/126)|
|Highest: .302, Klamath Falls, 1951|
|Lowest: .242, Pittsburg-Roseville, 1948|
|Highest: .409, Klamath Falls, 1949|
|Lowest: .362, Pittsburg-Roseville, 1948|
|Highest: .448, Redding, 1950|
|Lowest: .318, Pittsburg-Roseville, 1948|
|Most: 250, Klamath Falls, 1948 (126 games)|
|Most: 96, Klamath Falls, 1948 (126 games)|
|Most: 99, Marysville, 1948 (123 games)|
|ERRORS PER GAME|
|Fewest: 1.94, Medford, 1950 (the only team in FWL
history with E/G<2)
|Most: 3.30, Medford, 1948 (one of only two teams in
FWL history with E/G>3)
|DOUBLE PLAYS PER GAME|
|Most: 1.04, Santa Rosa, 1949 (the only team in FWL
history with DP/G>1)
|Fewest: 0.49, Medford, 1949|
Klamath Falls set at least one offensive team record in each of the league’s four seasons! The city’s elevation of 4,105 feet was the highest in the league in 1948 and ’49, and second to Reno (4,498 feet) in 1950 and ’51. The next highest elevation was Medford (1,382 feet), followed by Redding (555 feet). At the other end, Pittsburg is at 26 feet above sea level; Marysville and Vallejo are both below 100 feet.
The Pittsburg-Roseville franchise of 1948 (the team moved on August 5) was clearly the worst offensive team in the FWL history. Based on what’s printed in the 1949 Baseball Guide it appears those stats don’t include 10 games for which official box scores weren’t submitted. Runners-up in the “worst” categories in which Pittsburg-Roseville was the worst: Runs per game, Medford, 1949, 5.78; hits per game, Willows, 1948, 8.45; batting average, Willows, 1948, .251; on-base percentage, Marysville, 1948, .366; slugging percentage, Marysville, 1948, .336.
A couple of notes here…
Games started was tracked only in the FWL’s last season, 1951. Cliff Keeley of Redding led the league that year with 28. I would love to be able to assemble a complete set of newspaper box scores from the league and put together a list of games started from 1949 through 1950.
In listing ERA leaders, I have used as the qualifying standard a minimum of one inning pitched per team game. But according to the 1951 Sporting News Baseball Guide, the FWL’s ERA champion in 1950 was Gene Valentine of Pittsburg. Valentine pitched 109 innings in the team’s 140 games. It’s true he had the most dominant season in league history, completing 12 of his 15 appearances with a record of 12-1 and a 1.82 ERA. He had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than two-to-one in a league that had more walks than strikeouts. And he never pitched in Organized Ball again after that season.
And now for your list of league leaders in the categories for which stats were kept:
|45||Vincent S. DiMaggio||Eugene||1950|
|1948||Larry Guelfo||Klamath Falls||42|
|Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||1950|
|Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||1950|
|19||Niles Jordan||Klamath Falls||1949|
|Clyde DeWitt||Klamath Falls||1950|
|1950||Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||22|
|14||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||1948|
|1948||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||14|
|269||Vincent S. DiMaggio||Eugene||1950|
|Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||1950|
|1950||Vincent S. DiMaggio||Eugene||269|
|AT BATS AGAINST|
|943||Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||1950|
|249||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||1949|
|1948||Edwin Pager||Santa Rosa/Roseville||220|
|1949||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||249|
|167||Vincent S. DiMaggio||Eugene||1950|
|161||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||1949|
|1948||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||142|
|EARNED RUNS ALLOWED|
|135||Vincent S. DiMaggio||Eugene||1950|
|1948||John Lopeman||Klamath Falls||111|
|SACRIFICE HITS ALLOWED|
|20||Edwin Pager||Santa Rosa/Roseville||1948|
|1948||Edwin Pager||Santa Rosa/Roseville||20|
|258||Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||1950|
|188||Niles Jordan||Klamath Falls||1949|
|1950||Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||258|
|18||Joe Nicholas||Klamath Falls||1949|
|1949||Joe Nicholas||Klamath Falls||18|
|EARNED RUN AVERAGE|
|3.34||William LaThorpe||Santa Rosa||1948|
|1950||Andy Sierra||Klamath Falls||3.46|
|4||William LaThorpe||Santa Rosa||1948|
|1948||William LaThorpe||Santa Rosa||4|
|6||Hub Kittle||Klamath Falls||1950|
|5||Russ Foster||Klamath Falls||1951|
|1951||Russ Foster||Klamath Falls||5|
My source material is The Sporting News Official Baseball Guides, 1949-52. The league statistics were done by Howe News Bureau in 1948; a note in the ’49 Guide says, “Averages are incomplete due to the fact that 20 official box scores were not forwarded to league statistician.” The franchise that started the season in Pittsburg and ended in Roseville has 122 games played in the standings but only 112 in the team batting and fielding stats; the other seven teams all have the same number of games in all categories. The final three seasons of FWL play the statistician was William J. Weiss.
The counting stats favor the 1950 season because it had the longest schedule (140 games) of any of the four years. In 1948 teams played from 121 to 126 games; in 1949, the six teams that finished the season played between 123 and 127 games; in 1951, the five teams that played the full season ranged from 114 to 132. In 1950 every team played at least 138 games; Willows played 141.
All right, here are the records in the categories for which the FWL kept stats:
|1948||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||125|
|540||Gerald Merritt||Klamath Falls||1950|
|532||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||1948|
|1948||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||532|
|1949||Ted Hesse||Klamath Falls||525|
|152||Al Sahlberg||Klamath Falls||1950|
|1949||Ted Hesse||Klamath Falls||135|
|188||Ted Hesse||Klamath Falls||1949|
|183||George Triandos||Klamath Falls||1950|
|182||Gordon Hernandez||Klamath Falls||1949|
|1949||Ted Hesse||Klamath Falls||188|
|1950||George Triandos||Klamath Falls||183|
|1951||William Stumpus||Klamath Falls||171|
|38||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||1948|
|35||James Dykes||Santa Rosa||1948|
|Al Grunwald||Santa Rosa||1948|
|1948||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||38|
|1951||William DeCarlo||Klamath Falls||31|
|21||Stan Roseboro||Klamath Falls||1951|
|17||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||1948|
|1948||Richard Small||Klamath Falls||17|
|1951||Stan Roseboro||Klamath Falls||21|
|40||Ted Hesse||Klamath Falls||1949|
|39||Gordon Hernandez||Klamath Falls||1949|
|Stan Roseboro||Klamath Falls||1951|
|1949||Ted Hesse||Klamath Falls||40|
|1951||Stan Roseboro||Klamath Falls||36|
|162||Al Sahlberg||Klamath Falls||1950|
|HIT BY PITCH|
|15||Al Smith||Santa Rosa||1949|
|1949||Al Smith||Santa Rosa||15|
|RUNS BATTED IN|
|142||Chet Ashman||Klamath Falls||1950|
|.409||Stan Roseboro||Klamath Falls||1951|
|.406||Lou Vezilich||Vallejo/Santa Rosa||1949|
|1949||Lou Vezilich||Vallejo/Santa Rosa||.406|
|1951||Stan Roseboro||Klamath Falls||.409|
Frank Sullivan (pitcher, Oroville, 1948): A huge (6’7-1/2″) righthander, Sullivan started his pro career in Oroville. After missing the 1951 and ’52 seasons for military service, he reached the Red Sox in mid-season 1953 and had a remarkable five-year run from 1954-58, winning at least 13 games and having a record at least three games above .500 each year with an adjusted ERA better than league average, usually much better. He led the AL in wins in 1955 with 18 and was named to the all-star team in ’55 and ’56 (giving up Stan Musial’s game-winning 12th-inning homer in ’55). Sullivan progressed from walking 41 batters in 27 innings at Oroville to issuing the fewest walks per nine innings of any AL pitcher in 1957. He may be the only FWL alum who has written a book.
Gus Suhr (player/manager, Pittsburg, 1948): A San Francisco native, Suhr began his pro career in 1925 and had some great seasons with the San Francisco Seals before reaching the majors with Pittsburgh (the one in Pennsylvania with an h) in 1930. He went on to play 1435 games in the majors, setting the National League record by playing in 822 consecutive games from 1931-37 (a streak that ended when we went to his mother’s funeral). Suhr’s only managing experience was with Pittsburg in 1948; he was replaced on July 9. He also hit .400 in 15 at-bats.
Al Grunwald (first baseman, Santa Rosa, 1948): Grunwald went on to pitch nine games in the big leagues, but in 1948 he was an 18-year-old first baseman. He didn’t start pitching until 1954. I believe he was the only Far West League alum ever to play professionally in Japan, posting a 2-8 record for the Taiyo Whales of the Central League in 1962.
Jim Tyack (player/manager, Willows, 1948): Tyack had spent the 1943 season as a reserve outfielder with the Phillies. In a minor league career that began in 1936 he batted .307 with 1455 hits. Tyack started the 1948 season as manager at Willows; he was replaced on June 12 and finished the season as a player only for Bakersfield in the Class C California League. Bakersfield was Tyack’s hometown and an award for Kern County’s top high school athletes is named after him (the first winner was Johnny Callison).
Hubert “Hub” Kittle (pitcher/manager, Klamath Falls, 1949-50): Kittle never reached the major leagues as a player, but he won 144 games in the minors and started his managing career as a 31-year-old in 1948. The next year he went to Klamath Falls, where he guided the Gems to second place in ’49 and the regular season championship in ’50 and had a pitching record of 17-2 over the two seasons. He managed through 1959, became a minor league general manager in 1960 and won The Sporting News’ Minor League Executive of the Year award that year, went back to managing in 1964, then became a coach for the Houston Astros in 1971 (and pitched a scoreless inning in an exhibition game against the Tigers at age 56 in 1973; he would pitch a scoreless inning in an American Association regular season game when he was 63). Later he was Whitey Herzog’s pitching coach with the Cardinals from 1981-83 (he had managed Herzog in winter ball) and stayed active as a minor league instructor until he was past 80. SABR member Ken Ross has written an extensive, well-researched and -documented online biography of Kittle, who died in 2004.
Glen Gorbous (third baseman, Medford, 1949): An 18-year-old Canadian in his first year of pro ball, Gorbous made 64 errors in 119 games at third base for Medford in 1949. But he hit .345 to earn his way up the ladder and finally reached the majors leagues in 1955 and stayed long enough to play 117 games. After returning to the minors he set a record that still stands for the longest throw in 1957, which I have written about earlier.
Vince DiMaggio (player/manager, Pittsburg, 1949-51): The older brother of Joe and Dom, Vince wasn’t as successful a player as his brothers but still played more than 1100 games in the majors and was a two-time all-star. Vince started his managing career at Stockton in the Class C California League in 1948, then the next season took the job at Pittsburg, closer to his Bay Area home. He had two monster seasons as a player in 1949 and ’50. After the Pittsburg franchise folded due to poor attendance in June 1951 (while leading the league), Vince went on to play for Tacoma in the Class B Western International League, then left baseball after the season. According to his 1986 obituary in The Sporting News, DiMaggio’s jobs after baseball included working as a bartender, a milk truck driver, a liquor salesman and a Fuller brush man. (A different Vincent DiMaggio also played in the FWL from 1949-51.)
Al Heist (outfielder, Redding, 1949): Heist had a terrific season as a first-year pro in 1949 and went on to play 177 games in the majors, starting the majority of games in center field for the Cubs in 1961. He had 1650 hits in a minor league career that lasted until 1965 and stayed in baseball, serving briefly as a major league coach and also as a scout.
Darrell Johnson (catcher, Redding, 1949): Johnson grew up in the Bay Area and started his long career in professional baseball in the FWL. He went on to play 134 games in the majors, appeared in the 1961 World Series for Cincinnati, then later managed all or part of eight seasons in the big leagues and guided the Red Sox to the 1975 American League championship. SABR member Bill Nowlin has an excellent biographical profile of Johnson, who died in 2004.
Tom Seats (pitcher, Eugene, 1950): Seats won 202 games, most of them in the Pacific Coast League, in a minor league career than began in 1934 (when he went 18-8 in the Nebraska State League) and ended in Eugene. He also won two games for the 1940 AL champion Detroit Tigers and went 10-7 for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. Bill James, in The New Historical Baseball Abstract, tells the story of how Leo Durocher decided Seats should drink some brandy before his starts to settle his nerves, and how Branch Rickey was apoplectic when he found out.
Bob Bowman (outfielder, Klamath Falls, 1950-51): Bowman started his pro career in the FWL and went on to play 256 games for the Phillies from 1955-59. He also pitched in five games for the Phillies in 1959 and made a few pitching appearances in the minors in 1960 and ’61.
Tommy Nelson (player/manager, Medford, 1950): Nelson had been a backup infielder for the Boston Braves in 1945. He finished his baseball career in Medford with his only season as a manager; he was replaced on July 8.
Walter “Duster” Mails (manager, Eugene, 1951): Mails became general manager of the Larks in 1951, started the season as the team’s manager and resigned as manager on July 1, admitting he was not qualified for the job. Mails had been the featured speaker at a dinner to welcome Eugene’s first-ever minor league team in April 1950. A pitcher in his playing days, Mails won 224 games in the minors from 1914-36 and 32 more in the majors, including a 7-0 regular season record plus a World Series win for the 1920 champion Cleveland Indians. Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright have quite a bit of biographical information about Mails in an essay about the 1928 San Francisco Seals, for whom he pitched.
Cliff Dapper (player/manager, Eugene, 1951): The Larks acquired Dapper from Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League to catch and succeed Walter Mails as manager in July 1951. Dapper’s major league career consisted of eight games with the Dodgers in 1942 (his career batting average of .471 is the highest in history for anyone with at least 15 at-bats); the Dodgers later traded him for Ernie Harwell. Dapper was a player/manager in the minors for all or part of eight seasons and finished his career with more than 1300 hits. He missed three seasons (1943-45) while serving in the Navy during World War II.
Troy “Dutch” Herriage (pitcher, Klamath Falls, 1951): Herriage made his pro debut with Klamath Falls. He went on to post a 1-13 record in his only season in the majors with the Kansas City A’s in 1956, losing his last 11 decisions after pitching a three-hitter against the Senators on May 22 for his only career win. Since leaving baseball he has worked as an aerospace engineer and as the innkeeper of a bed and breakfast.
Frank Lucchesi (player/manager, Medford, 1951): Lucchesi was just 25 years old when he was named manager of the Rogues for the 1951 season. (Lucchesi’s Wikipedia page says he was born in 1927, as does his Retrosheet page; this 2007 piece on MLB.com says he was 23 when he took over Medford. But the Baseball Registers when he was managing the Phillies give his birth year as 1926. I’ll try to get to the bottom of this.) That was the first of 19 seasons he spent as a minor league manager before the Phillies named him manager in 1970.
Henry “Cotton” Pippen (pitcher/manager, Reno, 1951): Before coming to Reno for his first (and only) managerial job, Pippen had already won 186 games in a minor league career that had run from 1932 to 1948, most of it in the Pacific Coast League. He also pitched in 38 major league games with the Browns, A’s and Tigers. His 10 wins at Reno at the age of 40 gave him a total of 201 professional victories. Pippen was the pitcher in Ted Williams’ first professional at-bat in 1936, when Ted was a 17-year-old with his hometown San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League; Pippen, pitching for Sacramento, struck him out.
Bert Convy (outfielder, Klamath Falls, 1951): Convy joined the FWL right out of high school in 1951, although his stats aren’t available. He played one more year of minor league ball before leaving the game. By spending part of 1952 in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League he earned a mention in SABR member John Hall’s comprehensive history of that league, “Majoring In The Minors.” Convy went on to gain some degree of fame as an actor and game show host, winning an Emmy for his work on “Tattletales” in 1977. He was an original cast member of both Broadway musicals “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cabaret” and was also a vocalist on a number of records.
In no particular order, here are some of the more prominent players and managers in the four-year life of the Far West League…not including Ray Perry, who’s been discussed previously…
Joe Gantenbein (player/manager, Klamath Falls, 1948): Gantenbein was an infielder with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in 1939-40. His first managing assignment was in 1948 and he took Klamath Falls to the seventh game of the league championship series. He also hit .368 as a part-time outfielder for the Gems.
Dick Young (outfielder, Klamath Falls, 1948): A first-year pro in the first season of the FWL, Young had a brief career in the major leagues (20 games with the Phillies in 1951-52). He had more than 1400 hits in a minor league career that lasted until 1960.
Don Ferrarese (pitcher, Klamath Falls, 1948): Ferrarese made six appearances in the FWL to begin a career that included 183 games in the majors from 1955-62. He’s become a generous philanthropist in the high desert of southern California.
Niles “Sonny” Jordan (pitcher, Klamath Falls, 1948-49): A World War II vet, Jordan broke into pro ball with six appearances for Klamath Falls in 1948, then returned to go 19-7 for the Gems in 1949. He quickly moved up the ladder, going 17-6 at Terre Haute in 1950 and 21-3 for Wilmington in 1951 to earn a spot with the Phillies late in the ’51 season. Jordan pitched a three-hit shutout against Cincinnati in his major league debut but won only one other game during his brief major league career in 1951-52.
Spence Harris (player/manager, Marysville, 1948): Harris had 3617 hits in a minor league career that began in 1921 and ended in Marysville. He took over as manager of the Braves on August 14, 1948, two days after his 48th birthday, and he hit .361 in 11 games down the stretch. Harris is the all-time minor league leader in hits, runs, doubles and total bases and also played 164 games in the majors between 1925 and 1930.
Ed Wheeler (player/manager, Marysville, 1948): Wheeler had spent the 1945 season with Cleveland. He was Marysville’s first manager before being replaced by James Keller on August 3.
Larry Shepard (pitcher/manager, Medford, 1948): Shepard went 22-3 at Medford and led the FWL in wins and ERA. It was the first of four straight 20-win seasons for Shepard (who had the others for Billings) on the way to 179 career minor league wins. It was also Shepard’s first year as a manager; he managed in the minors every year but one through 1966, then managed the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1968-69. After being fired by the Pirates, he became Sparky Anderson’s pitching coach with the Cincinnati Reds for all of Sparky’s nine full seasons with the Reds.
Nino Bongiovanni (player/manager, Oroville, 1948): Bongiovanni started his career in the Pacific Coast League in 1933 and finished his minor league career with more than 1800 hits. He played 68 games for Cincinnati in 1938-39, serving as a backup outfielder for the Reds’ 1939 National League champs. In 1948, his first year as a manager, he led Oroville to the regular season championship. He lived to be 97.
Jack Littrell (shortstop, Oroville, 1948): Littrell made his pro debut in the FWL and continued playing until 1962 in a career that saw him get almost 1400 hits. He also saw action in 111 major league games with the A’s and the Cubs between 1952 and 1957. Littrell was a railroad brakeman and conductor after his baseball career and died just last year.
I’ll continue posting these as I can. By the way, I finally set up a Far West League category here on the blog to make it easier to find the FWL posts.