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.