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.”