For the 2012 Centennial Celebration in Vulcan Greg Seastrom penned a lovely essay on his time as an American import player in the Southern Alberta community. It's a keen look back at Vulcan and prairie ball in the mid 1950s. Check it out here.
Sterling Slaughter (on travel in Western Canada 1960) "I remember so well those car rides between towns ... we'd ride and ride and ride all night so we'd take turns driving and I'll never forget there was this radio station we used to get up there, a clear channel station from Oklahoma of all places. It would come in after midnight ... and I remember listening to the Flamingoes, my favourite group. I used to stay awake all night just so I could hear the Flamingoes and their songs. It was KOMA, Oklahoma City."
Bill Gatenby (Sceptre, 40's early 50's) A former President of Texaco Canada and President, CEO of Cameco, once the world's largest uranium mining company. "Those were marvelous times ... if I had to relive any three weeks in my life ... I'd probably pick three weeks in '47 and '48 when certain tournaments were on and go back and play ball. It was just marvelous, and you know I've been to Moscow three times and Japan 14 times on business, and lived in New York, lived in Los Angeles, lived in Miami, lived in Venezuela 12 years, all those were good times but none of them compared to playing semi-pro ball in rural Saskatchewan."
Bill Gatenby (on documentation of baseball on the prairies) "The records that were kept, even when we were playing, were not particularly good ... you know somebody kept the scorebook but nobody kept it the same and if you looked at a scorebook a year after it had been created it was awful hard to be exactly sure what all the symbols meant. It was more the individual style. Most of it's hearsay and memory and it just makes it so difficult. And we all remember things a bit different at times."
George Mahaffy (on the changing times in Sceptre) "My memory says they hired players in '46. There were a bunch of kids home from the war, needed a pitcher, pretty soon they needed a catcher, a second baseman. In '48 when I got mixed up in it, it would be three-quarters Sceptre. By the time '51 came there two Sceptre ball players and the rest were brought it ... somebody had a contact down in Fresno State. We'd phone up, "We want a catcher", and five days later some guy would show up and say he was a catcher. "
George Mahaffy (on probable intimidation) "Jesse Blackman played on that team (Indian Head Rockets). The rumour we had was that Jesse had killed a man with an inside pitch. We didn't hit too well against him."
George Mahaffy (on Chet Brewer) "Chet Brewer was 42 or 44 at the time and he had a little money because he came up in a big, green Buick and he brought two Cuban ballplayers with him -- Pedro Osorio and Bobby Prescott ...Chet Brewer got 450 dollars a month at a time when a room in a hotel was worth a dollar a night. Chet was the highest paid we ever had."
George Mahaffy (on Hal Price) " We hired him away from the St. Louis Black All-Stars. He was recovering from a bullet wound in the leg and he was working in a car wash in St. Louis. He was at a tryout camp of the Chicago Cubs or White Sox and you know how ball players do, they got in a ruckus and somebody shot him. He went home and got traveling with this club and he stayed with us for two years and I tell you he was good."
George Mahaffy (on the origin of the Sceptre Nixons) "We got in the Western Canadian playoffs, representing Alberta as we won a couple of tournaments in Alberta. Indian Head represented Saskatchewan and BC had Trial. A big deal in Saskatoon. By the time we got there we had gone broke and everybody muttered around and we had a local guy who was in the oil business and said I'll put thousands of dollars into your club if you'll let me put my name on the back of your uniforms. We became known as the Sceptre Nixons. Red Nixon. So Red is traveling with the team and he hardly knew first base from third base .... so we're in the final game and Red comes out and says to me, "Big George you're pitching:". Now Fergie Shields was the backbone of our team, he was our local man and played ball for forty years. Now Red has money in the team, he's the boss. So, Fergie comes over to me and says, "George you go out and warm up and get a sore arm". So I go out and it's wet, the old field on Avenue A, Cairns Field. I throw the hell out of the ball for five minutes and my arm's sore. So there's Hal Price who pitched a three-hitter the day before. "What do you say Hal? Want to start the game and go as far as you can, then we'll do something else?" Hal pitched another nine innings, eighteen innings in 24 hours."
Emile Francis (on Max Bentley as a ball player) " ... We played against Jerry Adair one night and the next night he played against the New York Yankees. They gave him 60-thousand dollars and flew him right out of North Battleford and the next night be played for the Baltimore Orioles ... Edmonton had this centre fielder, 18 years old, and the Dodgers signed him. They gave him 120-thousand dollars. Ron Fairly. This was the era of free agency. Max Bentley, to me, was a better ball player than either of those guys. One year out of our league there were eighteen guys who went out of our league as bonus players and I'll tell you, Max Bentley was better than any of them. He was a real good ball player … the best ball player we saw on the prairies at that time, a centre fielder, left hand hitter, and I'll tell you he was quick, nothing escaped him in centre field. He could hit with power, hit to all fields, he was a real good ball player."
Greg Seastrom (on the Alex Rodriguez-like salaries in 1955-56) "We got paid two-hundred dollars a month, cash. Twice a month, on the first and the fifteenth, we would report to the bank and we would get a one-hundred dollar bill."
Greg Seastrom (on a dollar dinner in Vulcan, 1955-56) "It was an actual boarding situation. We were all unmarried males, some working in the oil industry, some ball players. There was this gigantic table, just full. It cost us a dollar a meal."
Curly Williams (on playing in the US & playing in Canada) "It was awful. I cried so much when I was in professional baseball, I tell you. (In Canada) we were treated so well up there that's why I stayed up there so long ... We had so much fun there and everybody was accepted, you know, didn't have problems going any place we wanted to eat. Just wonderful people. May not have made a whole lot of money but people were excited and they enjoyed you and would invite you to their homes."
Jim Lester (on Willie Walasko's revenge -- a 6+ inning relief effort, no-hits, 17 Ks, 1956) "I remember his young brother Jim came over and pitched one game against Medicine Hat and they banged him around a little bit and Willie was mad. He came in and struck almost everybody out. He was just on fire."
Jack Altman (on a Skip Winn ejection) " ... one Sunday game in Champion, Alberta. I threw a good pitch, umpire Stan Bernard called it a ball, Skip said, "Jesus Christ, Stan, that was a good pitch." Stan said, "You're out of the game!" Skip asked "What in the Hell for?" Stan's reply: "Cussing on Sunday!"
Len Breckner (on when Cliff Pemberton belted the Regina owner, Denny Evenson during a 1955 game) "We're playing in Regina. Pemberton is playing third base, and I'm playing first. Denny Evenson, who liked to drink a little, was leaning over sort of a snow fence along the third base line. He's bugging Cliff Pemberton, making racial comments about some of our players. Cliff says, "You do that once more." And, he did. All of a sudden I heard this crack and I look over and Cliff had hit Evenson on the nose. Blood is running all over the place and Evenson is trying to get over the fence to get at Pemberton. When I went over there, Pemberton had his two fists up, bouncing up and down, waiting for this guy to come across. He never did."
Clarence Yanosik (on prairie profit-sharing) "If we made a profit we would divide it at the end of the year. One year the share was thirteen dollars a person. I went to the bank and got everything in one-dollar bills so that I could give everyone a fat envelope! Thirteen dollars. Including the owner and the manager."
Bob Bennett (on the value of prairie ball in the 50s) "It was a great experience, I loved it. It was the best game for baseball, far better than down here. Great athletes."
Kirby Wyllie (on being in Kamsack 1954, the California kid who had the fortitude to face a prairie winter) "We stayed on in Kamsack, several of us, that winter and worked for the telephone company ... cutting those little trees down under the poles. I can never forget this ... we were chopping the trees and we had one game left. It was billed as winner-take-all with Saskatoon, the last game of the season. We had nine guys left and our catcher, from Bakersfield, put an axe through his foot. And, Bob Bennett (off the Saskatoon roster) caught for us that night in Saskatoon. Bill Schulz was his name."
Jack Altman (on prairie ball parks, 1954-55) "The outfield fences were snow fences and cars would park around the fences and if you did something good, "beep, beep, beep."
Wayne Wimpy Stephenson (on being the lone white face on the St. Louis Black Cardinals) " ... I was playing with the Swift Current Indians at the time (1949). They put a pretty good team in that league with Estevan, Regina, Moose Jaw, all through there. Pretty well the whole team was imported ... and they ran into financial difficulties about the end of June so there was an exhibition game against the St. Louis Black Cardinals ... after the game, I beat them that night, about a 2-1 ball game, I noticed there was only ten guys sitting on the bench so I went over to them and I said gee, I'm out of a job as of tonight. This is the last fund-raiser to help Swift Current pay a few bills and I said, sort of as a joke, do you guys need another chucker for the rest of the summer? The guy said, if you can be ready by eight o'clock tomorrow morning, that's when the bus leaves, be on it and you're part of the team. It just happened that quick you know."
Stephenson (on the fabulous salary) " ... Payday was immediately after the game and we split it ten ways. Whatever it was, you got paid every day, no salary or nothing, split the gate ... we came pretty close to winning it in the big ball tournament in Lacombe and that was a little bit bigger pay day but you know your pay in those years would be anywhere from six bucks to fifteen to maybe whatever on any given day. Old man Cobb out of San Antonio he was the manager and owner of the club and he paid the hotel bill and everybody looked after their own meals and every once in awhile you'd stop and get a little dry cleaning done if you had a rainy day or whatever. Most of the time you were in that bloody bus trying to make the next tournament."
Stephenson (on the origin of his nickname, taken from a Popeye cartoon character with a passion for hamburgers) " ...I think it started in about grade five. Somebody took me to the bigger town and we got introduced to hamburgers for the first time and I had two or three of them and they started to call me Wimpy from that day on. Funny how it sticks with you."
Sterling Slaughter (on the benefit of prairie experience) "It (playing in Canada) was really what I needed. It was what my coach (at Arizona State) had hoped would happen ... see better competition and determine if I really had what it took. It turned out to be a very good thing for me as prior to that I hadn't been pushed."
Steve Schott (on arriving in Lethbridge, by bus, from San Francisco) "The first guy I met was Gary Kirk, he was running the bus depot. So I said, "Hey, we're a couple of guys (Dick Creighton was the other) from Santa Clara, we're going to set this league on its ear." And Gary says, "We don't know who you are. We don't have any record of you guys." Well, I said, "Where's the team?" "They're on the road," he says, "Who got you these tickets?" We said it was George Wesley and the manager who sent us the tickets. Well, it turns out that the manager who was supposed to be there was no longer there so they didn't know who we were. So it turned out to be a little bit of a try out camp. Fortunately, our first starts were pretty good ones and we stuck."
Roberto Zayas (on the slight climatic change from Cuba to Saskatoon) "The first year I was in Saskatoon. Before we started the season it was rain, rain, rain. We couldn't even practice and overnight it snowed and we didn't know that. We were staying at the YMCA and the next morning we all got up and saw all this snow. The newspaper phoned and they came over with hockey equipment and things like that and took pictures of everybody in this park across from the YMCA. I didn't go because I was too cold. I stayed in my room. It was the first time I had even seen snow."
Small world. Kirby Wyllie (from Tulare, CA) took time to visit Toronto in 1954 during his tour in Canada. Of course, one Toronto stop was at the ballpark. "We walk in and I hear they're announcing the lineup and pitching tonight is Vic Lombardi from Tulare, California. I could not believe it. It was such a small world."
Charlie Beene (on his season-long battle with North Battleford's Curtis Tate) "It was just typical. If a guy shows you up, when you're out on the mound, then you brush him back. If he's hitting you real hard and you have 0-2 on him, you brush him back. Well, when I'd brush Curtis back, he'd bunt down the first base line and run over me. And, so we had a running battle all summer. He ran over me a couple of times and I'd nail him in the ribs a couple of times."
Bob Milano (looking back at prairie ball) "How much fun we had. Playing every day, supposedly working on the fields, which we didn't. Traveling. Just the competition was great. It was just one of those wonderful things you got to experience."
Reg Chopp (playing in Moose Jaw, 1954) "My salary in Moose Jaw was $275 a month, plus bonuses based on average, home runs and ribbies. Might have worked out to $100 at the end of the year. Never got it anyway."
Roy Taylor (on Darrell Martin) "Darrell Martin was one of the best pitchers I ever had as a young kid and he never, ever got a break. He got up to the Pacific Coast League ... but it was just that time when they didn't pull people up and give them a chance ... they just thought that college kids were green nothings."
Jim Lester (on his first game in Canada, after arriving midway through the opening game and being hastily pushed onto the field to play for Vulcan) "I remember being on second base and John Vaselenak was playing shortstop and I looked and him and he looked back at me, we smiled at each other and we've been friends forever."
Curly Williams (on Barney Brown) "Let me tell you, he was great. When we had him in Lloydminster he'd probably throw two pitches that would hit the front of the plate that couldn't even get to the catcher. Then he'd come up there and strike the side out. And he was an old man. When Barney Brown came to Lloydminster he was almost fifty years old. He was like Satchel Paige, he just didn't get the breaks. That guy was something else. Just a little guy too. Didn't weight over 170 pounds. But he had so much stuff on the ball he had guys swinging at the ball before it got to the plate. He was amazing."
Greg Seastrom (on ownership of home plate) " A club owner who was pretty much responsible for starting the importing of players didn't want to stop. When he got voted down, it seemed he had bought home plate, so he went out and ripped it up saying, 'I don't want any bushers crossing my home plate.' Floyd Atkinson."
Modie Risher (on playing in Lloydminster and Western Canada) " In my life that was the nicest year I ever had in baseball. (The people) were so wonderful I will never forget them ... because they looked at you as a person. We didn't have any problems up there and nowhere we went in Canada ... Do you remember the McLeans?" Rod and his brother, Joe was like a father to me. I never met anybody like them. You know how I met them? I was in the store one day and Rod and his mother, you know Rod was a little fellow, were there and Rod said "Momma look at that black man. Doesn't he have a beautiful tan." His mother was a little halfway embarrassed. The next thing I knew the father called me and they had me over for dinner that Sunday and from then on ... in contact every year."
Bob Milano (the big city kid on his first impression of the prairies) "It was a shock basically, because we were not used to that kind of country. "
Emile Francis (on How many times were you thrown out of ball games?) " (Laughs) ... Oh, I couldn't count them all! In Saskatoon, Cairns Field was one of the greatest ball parks and right across from Cairns Field, Gordie Howe's dad, that's where he lived in a little house Gordie bought his dad. I got thrown out there several times and had to get right out of the ball park. I'd go over and sit there on the front porch with Gordie Howe's dad, turn the radio on and listen to the game and we'd shoot the breeze."
Charlie Beene (on how kids will be kids, even facing Gordie Howe) "Roy (Taylor) is driving along with Gordie in the front passenger's seat. Bob Garcia and I are in the back. What are 17, 16 year old guys going to do? You're going to slap him in the back of the head right? Punch each other and you're going to fool around in there to pass the time. Well, Bob reached up and slapped Gordie behind the head. We act like nothing's happened and we kept on going. Finally, Gordie says, "Stop the car." We get outside and me and Bob say "We can take ya." I go high, because I'm six-foot three and Bob goes middle and we go piling down the side of the road down about a fifteen foot embankment. I mean it's as good as any Hollywood movie. I mean we're flailing away. And, we get up and my nose is bleeding all over and Gordie's is bleeding, apparently I punched him accidentally. And, Bob says "Ha, I'm the only one who doesn't have a bloody nose." Well, Gordie got him with one of those big hockey hands right across his face. I think we won, but I'm not sure!"
Curly Williams (on Bennie Griggs) "He was a good golfer. We'd go over there to play baseball and they'd have to get him off the golf course to pitch. They say man go get Bennie the game is getting ready to start. He'd rush from the golf course, put his uniform on and throw about two pitches and he'd be ready."
Curly Williams (on Cliff Pemberton) "He wore the Canadian league out. He almost led the league every year. Man he could hit. Wonderful man."
Roberto Zayas (hitting off Fidel) "I was an amateur then, maybe 17 years old, and we used to play against the University of Havana where Castro was a pitcher. We played a few games against him when he was in his first year of university. Yes, I got some hits. Honest."
Bill Walasko (on his 1954 season, which included a no-hitter) "I don't know about a no-hitter but I do know that I beat Granum because they were the powerhouse. Of course Wesley (George Wesley, the Granum owner) remembered that so the following year he recruited me for Granum."
Lil McLean (on the end of the line for semi-pro ball in Lloydminster) "They were broke. They had so many games rained out and no lights. Some of the businessmen, including my husband, Joe McLean, and Russ Robertson and Ben Gulak bailed them out and got them enough money to leave."
Don Stewart (on one of the wildest nights in Western Canada baseball, June 12, 1957) " It was very, very weird. I was playing left field and Bob Gerst was up. You didn't wear helmets in those days, and a big right-hander from North Battleford, Bennie Griggs, beaned him. And he was down for the count and, no skull cap, and so they were waiting for the ambulance. In the seventh inning I singled and was given the steal sign. I started to steal but saw I was going to be thrown out so put on the brakes went back to first. I just got a brand new pair of spikes that day and they were extra long and I slid over the spikes and I broke my tibula, fibula and turned my foot completely around, looking at me. But I was safe! My uncle was in the stands way at the top and said you could hear that break, just a snap, way up there. So we're both laying on stretchers waiting for the ambulance. Later Francis threw the bats and everything else was going on. And the cops. Crazy game."
Emile Francis (on the Riot at Renfrew) "There are three policemen behind the Edmonton bench and three behind ours. All of a sudden I see six policemen coming, one is about to grab me and Johnny (Ford) nails him. They call for the wagon and off we go to jail in there with prostitutes and drunks."
Johnny Ford (who says he didn't belt the policeman) "I choked him and threw him to the ground. It was Kenny Nelson who was walking over him with his cleats. It was all Emile Francis' fault. He got away with nothing. It cost me fifty bucks, but the club paid for it anyway."
Bill Murray (playing with Gilbert Plains in 1948) "The first year I came up here I got $150 for the three months I played ball ... I survived ... I was married and had one son at that time. I pulled through, I don't know how."
Curly Williams (on salaries in the Negro league) "When I first went up to Newark in 1947, my salary was $250 a month and you got $3 a day for meal money and you could get breakfast for 50-cents and you'd leave a tip of 10-cents. And, I used to save some of that. My mother said, "Two hundred and fifty dollars a month? They don't pay nobody that kind of money to play baseball." When I went to the Dominican Republic I used to sent so much money home, because I was getting about $600 a month down there, she couldn't believe it. "
Roy Taylor (on a special exhibition game, 1959) "One year Satchel Paige was on a tour with a bunch of kids, seventeen or eighteen years old, and we played them an exhibition game in Saskatoon. I pitched for Saskatoon and he pitched for his kids. He was famous for throwing that alley-oop ball, he throw it kind of up high and let it come down over the plate and everybody would wait and wait for it to come down. So he threw me one of those when I was up at bat and so when he came up to bat I threw him one. You know, he could still play and after that he went back to the majors and finished enough to get his pension."
Len Tucker (on the treatment of black players in Canada) "Oh superb. It was just so free and mind at ease and everything. Just wonderful. The treatment was beautiful."
Ken McCabe (on the transformation of the Jacksonville Eagles) "I don't know when they actually played in Jacksonville because they came up to Saskatchewan in around April, the first of May, and took off their Jacksonville Eagles' uniforms and became the Indian Head Rockets. They stayed here until about the first of September and went back down south again."
Reg Chopp (on moving from Canadian junior ball into the Western Canada League) "You know you're twenty-one and cocky as a bull and nothing fazed me. I just kind of fit in."
Len Breckner (might as well hear it first hand) "In 1953 early in the year the Gems weren't playing very well and I know Pete Beiden and Ralph (Mabee) were talking about trading me to Moose Jaw. I was driving Ralph's car back from North Battleford and they were sitting in the back seat trying to improve the team."
Bill Walasko (on Calgary's entry in the league in 1960) "Lot of the teams like Picture Butte and Vulcan they just couldn't stand the extra expense of bringing up college kids like George Wesley did so they folded and to get sufficient teams to make a league George Wesley agreed to finance the Calgary operation. Vic Stasiuk was taken on to run the team, but I understand Wesley bankrolled it to keep the league going."
Jim Lester (on a part of the Granum contract which prohibited players from drinking alcohol during the baseball season) "We wouldn't have any ball players if everyone signed that contract. And, I'd hate to tell George, if I could, his son Gordie was with us all the time!"
Len Breckner (on a possible lost opportunity) "In the spring of 1953 we went down to California and I tried to get into Fresno State with Pete Beiden. But, I didn't get in as I didn't have enough education. But, Roy Taylor (at COS) told me after that, "I didn't want to interfere but you could have come to school at Visalia." I didn't know it at the time so I just stayed there and practiced with the guys for a month or so and came home. And, that could have changed my life I suppose."
Len Breckner (on the domination by the ManDak league clubs in the 1956 interlocking schedule) "They were a little better than we were. We were playing one time in Williston and I was playing right field and all these line shots were going out and bouncing off the wall. I think they beat us 13-3 or something. Those guys could hit and, I guess, we didn't pitch that well either."
Kirby Wyllie (on the Elite Cafe, Lloydminster) "Everybody hung out there. I can picture it right now."
Bob Milano (on ever-fresh memories of prairie ball) "We talk about it now and then and laugh about it and reminisce. I see Mike Noakes and talk to Bill Oakley a lot, and John Rebelo. We still talk about all that stuff. I run into somebody like Gary Adams (UCLA coach) and we laugh about some of the days of Calgary against Lloydminster. It always comes back, you know, it's never lost in the memory of the guys who played in that era."
Len Breckner (on why didn't we know this earlier?) "1955, seventh game of the finals I come to bat. Two on base and Jim Ryan (the Edmonton manager) walked me to load the bases. Jose Valladares comes up and Ralph (Mabee, the Saskatoon manager) goes to him and says, "Mario Herrera (who was very fast) is on third base, just put the ball down, Mario scores and the game's over." Jose says, "I can't bunt." So he hit a smasher to second base, the second baseman threw it home and Mario just slid in and was out. And, we lost the game in the 13th inning."
Greg Seastrom (on his bedmate for the summer of 1956 ) "It was in an actual rooming house -- Mike Miller's. I had two nurses from the hospital living right across the hall. The second year I slept all summer in the same bed with Pat Gillick. Not just the same room, the same bed!"
Pat Gillick (on making his way to Alberta from Los Angeles) "Actually, I hitch-hiked from LA to Alberta. Well, money was tight in those times and I was trying to save a little money. I took about four days. I got into Salt Lake and went up to Idaho Falls and into Helena and Great Falls and up through that way and just kind of hitch-hiked along the way."
Greg Seastrom (on an early example of pay cuts) "When Pat Gillick was playing for us (Vulcan) he didn't win a game ... but in the middle of the season George Wesley picks him up to go up north somewhere to play in a tournament and he throws a no-hitter. Well that didn't sit to well with the people of Vulcan. The next time he went to the bank (to collect his pay), before they gave him the money, they asked, 'Did Wesley pay you?' When Gillick said yes, they said, 'We're docking that from your pay' And they did."
Pat Gillick (confirming) "That's true! I was playing for the team in Vulcan, but played in those tournaments with George Wesley's team in Granum and basically they said if you're going to be playing with him you can draw half your salary from the Granum White Sox and half from the Vulcan Elks. My salary was $250 a month."
Lou Pisani (on a minor player revolt in 1950) "We got just room and board. In those days if they found out we got paid we would have been ineligible back in the states, so it was kept secret, But, we got together in Regina. We were playing a series, set up in a hotel, a big room they had for teams coming in. In fact, I brought this up with coach Beiden, "Look you've got us on room and board and we're winning all this money in these tournaments, and the guys were talking that we should get a little money." Finally we voted on it, and told Brick Swegle (the promoter) if we don't get it we're going home. We got thirty dollars a week. Pay them a little bit that's what Swegle did in 1950 and in 1951 it was the same way although it then became how important you were on the team, I think the pitchers got a little more."
Jack Altman (on arriving in Vulcan 1954) " I came up with a fellow who had played at Vulcan the year before, Skippy Winn. They picked me up in Eugene, Oregon, four of us drove. We drove over Crow's Nest Pass in a big storm ... when we got to Vulcan it was real stormy. They were burning gasoline on the Vulcan field. Our first game was against RCAF Claresholm. We won 14-4."
Bob Milano (on why so many of the Western Canada players became such celebrated college coaches) "I think a lot of it had to do with our era. That was a prestigious occupation in those days. If your coach asked you to run through a wall, you did it. We loved the game and wanted to continue what we knew about the game and help the next generation ... It was so enjoyable because of the kids. They made it worthwhile showing up every day. It was fun to watch them grow as people more than maybe as a baseball player."
Stan Busch (on the prairie experience for a college guy) "It was just a great time, a chance to play and meet people ... definitely a place to hone your skills, play every day and go back to the college game hoping it would help and it really did."
Charlie Beene (on the miracle in Kamsack, 1951 ) "When we went in there for that tournament I was a slow pitch guy, I threw the ball very moderately for high school even. And it was kind of rainy and about the second game we played it was sprinkling rain and it was like a miracle. All of a sudden I could throw the ball hard. Wham. I felt like Bob Feller. In one day. Something magical came over me in one day. I was never a fireballer like Jack Hannah, but at least it was a medium, major league fastball. It was the turning point for my career and my life."
Bob Bennett (on prairie driving, 1952) "There were dirt and gravel roads and we had five in our car going from Regina to North Battleford. We hit a bump and flipped over. We crawled out, thankfully nobody was really hurt. The first thing I hear is Tom Sommers yelling "Where's my bat?"
Bob Bolingbroke (on lessons learned and applied) "Being on your own up here was great, you learned responsibility ... and I think the three years I spent up here helped in that as far as what I ended up doing career wise. It set the stage for that. Plus, you had to work hard to make things payoff and, hey, that doesn't hurt anything in life. The whole association up here was just a great framework, foundation for the next forty years quite frankly."
Bob Bolingbroke (on quitting ball to go back to school) "Probably the one thing I would turn over again. I do regret ... just to see how far I might have been able to go. It's tough to argue with the success I have had, but still there's always that nagging thing, "Could I have made it." So that's one regret I have, I did not try to go further."
Steve Schott (on thinking back to Lethbridge 1959) "The one thing that sticks out more than anything else ... the fabulous groups of friends that we had, the chance to play with, live with. We boarded together ... in the old Ma Fisher, Pa Fisher boarding house just off main street ... Great camaraderie. Forty years later we run into each other and it's like we hadn't missed a beat. It's an amazing. There's a bonding, I guess you would call it, of friendship that we were able to develop while we were here, to play ball together, enjoy each others company, having an opportunity to win a championship and having an opportunity to share people's lives together, experiences, just a great bunch of memories."
Clarence Yanosik (on making choices) "I thought I was a good ball player until just before I left the Vancouver Capilanos when the boys from the higher up leagues started coming back down. When I saw what was coming down, compared to what I was, I realized I wouldn't be going to the majors for sure. And, I thought that was a good time to get serious about completing my education and playing ball when I could."
Ray Washburn (on his 1959 no-hitter) "Nobody thought it was a no-hitter, I walked so many guys, eight I think, and there were runners on the bases all night. I walked in two."
Arley Kangas (on meal money) "When I played pro ball in the Northwest League in 1961 we got $3.25 a day. Believe it or not, you could get three meals for that. You had to shop around and you weren't eating at the best restaurants but you could get three meals for $3.25. You didn't tip a lot!"
Clarence Yanosik (on his career choice) " I love judging. I would never go back to the practice of law, it's too hectic. From what I hear I did a relatively good job. I was a better judge than I was a ball player!"
Bob Bennett (on an introduction and almost an exit, 1952) "After days of traveling, including a stop in Plentywood, Montana where we practiced in an empty lot for half an hour, we arrived bone-tired in Regina. We got a call at six a.m. for a game that day. We drove to Estevan, a couple of hours. After the game, Denny Evenson wanted to send five of us back home, me, Bolger and Bartels among them. Pete Beiden told Evenson, "If you send them, you send the whole team." We stayed."
Curly Williams (on Slim Thorpe, the Lloydminster owner) "He used to get out of the dugout and go down the third base coaching line and try to coach. He was so funny the whole team used to laugh at him. He was kind of tall and skinny, a well-liked guy, everybody loved him."
Tug McGraw (on some differences between the US and Canada) " It was my first time away from home and I really didn't know anything. We'd be on a bus trip going from Lethbridge to Calgary or Edmonton and they'd stop the bus and say, you want a beer. Everybody else did, so I did. I'd order a six-pack, because that's what all the guys ordered and I figured it was the thing to do. But I didn't realize that there was a big difference in the alcohol content between Canadian beer and U.S. beer, and sometimes I wound up getting slightly smashed between bus stops ... I used to crawl up on the luggage rack, I was so small. I'd bring a blanket from the hotel, climb up on the rack, and snooze away." (McGraw, Tug & Durso, Joseph. Screwball. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974)
Stan Busch (on waking up with Walkingshaw) "I got a call from Lester (Jim) and a couple of hours later I was on a bus, 48 hours on a bus, all the way to Calgary ... I was picked up there and, two hours later, we were in Lacombe for a tournament. It was past midnight and they take me into my hotel and tell me I'm in a room with Darwin Walkingshaw, who I've never met before. What they didn't tell me, it was the same bed with Walkingshaw! Well, we got up at six or seven, as we had a triple-header that day, and shook hands for the first time."
Jack Altman (on college kids working for their pay) "One of the jobs I had was lifting big, heavy boulders into a pickup truck. I did that a day or two and said I don't think I can pitch well if I keep doing this. So I didn't have to do it anymore ... Once, several of us had jobs driving tractors from Vulcan to Lethbridge."
Greg Seastrom (on the stadium facilities) "We would dress at home. The little ballparks didn't have facilities. It was not uncommon to see, at a dance after the game, ball players still in their uniforms out on the dance floor."
Bill Walasko (on working for Wesley) "George had us painting the farm buildings, maintaining the ball park in town, hauling building materials for the hired carpenters that were adding new barns, cattle and hay sheds. I did this for two summers and went to school in the winters. It was a good experience and it kept us fit and busy. We dressed like the workmen we were on the ranch and ate in the cookhouse with the cowboys."
Emile Francis (on the Rosetown riot, 1962)
Greg Seastrom (on "what, me worry?") "Jack called and had convinced them (Vulcan) to add another player. The worst part was he told them they needed a third pitcher and he let them know I could pitch. I was not a pitcher. I had pitched enough to know how to step on the mound and not to balk, but I certainly didn't have any ability at it. But, that didn't bother me at the time."
Jack Altman (on the anxiety in the spring) "Pete Beiden (Fresno State coach) arranged for us to come up to Vulcan. We used to wait around with bated breath in the spring to find out if he was going to have openings for us. He called all the shots."
Jim Lester (on the "tools of ignorance" "I wasn’t a catcher but in an emergency I caught Dave Dowling who made it to the majors with the Cardinals. We were in Saskatoon and both our catchers got hurt. We’re meeting at the mound and wondering what we’re going to do. I pipe up and say “I can catch”. I think the last time I caught was in junior high. Dave Dowling is on the mound and he threw hard and had a curve ball that hit about six inches in front of you so you’re trying to block everything. I got beat up but at least I can say I caught a major leaguer."
Clarence Yanosik (on the days of the Lord's Day Act) " Most of them were Sunday games, doubleheaders and you couldn't charge admission. A silver collection. We were happy for weekday games because we could charge, not very much, but we could charge."
Dale Zeigler (on how a California college kid ended up playing in Edmonton in 1956) "A lot of the guys used to go to Northern California, but you know they'd play ... a couple of times a week and they'd work for the saw mills or whatever up in these small towns in Northern California. I don't know how this opportunity came about, I was just told you're playing summer ball in Edmonton. I said okay! How do I get there? I don't have any money I can't afford to go. They tell me your transportation will be paid for and you'll work for an accounting firm and you'll earn $300 a month."
Dale Zeigler (on the state of coaching for pitchers in the 50s) "I had no control over my body, I was a thrower, I was trying to learn to be a pitcher. I had talent but, I was a thrower not a pitcher. Instruction? None. Keep the ball down, throw strikes. Bend your back, throw strikes. Even professional baseball didn't have pitching coaches."
Dale Zeigler (on the experience of prairie ball) "A fantastic experience for me. Nothing I had ever experienced before and it did help me in becoming a player as a professional because we were playing every day and traveling and I really think it helped the kids to grow up and it was good baseball."
Dale Zeigler (on an eye-opener in Lloydminster) "In '56 at Lloydminster you guys needed a game, the last game of the season against us in your park and you needed it for the payroll but it had rained and the field was a mess. We're all there waiting and they poured more gasoline on that field ... gasoline on the infield and lit the match and then somebody in a car or a truck was going around in circles on the dirt to try and dry it out. And then some more gasoline. I'd never seen anything like that in my life."
Dale Zeigler (remembering Stan Karpinski, whose Meridians bounced Edmonton out of the playoffs) "He was a tough old buzzard, always needed a shave, gruff looking probably had grey hair, little bump on his nose, tall, not skinny ... threw junk."
Dale Zeigler (on apologies from Ernie Rodriguez) "Ernie and I played against one another from junior high school through college. We knew each other for a long time ... In that Global World Series I threw a one-hitter and the one hit was a ball that bounced about a foot in front of Ernie. And for years, for years, he apologized. Every time he'd see me he'd apologize for not making the play. This went on for something like ten years."
Conrad Munatones (writing home in June, 1957 on his experience in Edmonton) "I am really happy to be with this club. I can't over express myself. They do everything first class for us. We are not the highest paid team in the league, but we get the best facilities ... This is a very potent lineup [Ken Guffey, Mike Castanon, Larry Elliot, Tom Shollin, Ron Fairly, Con Munatones, Wayne Tucker, Eddie Sada]. Everybody on the team is capable of giving the ball a good ride. We hit the good fast ball pitchers like we own them. However, we have had a little trouble with the junkies. The junkies have beaten us the majority of the games we have lost."
Cleveland Grant (on the Texas kid playing in Edmonton in the 50s) "We played in Edmonton and it was snowing and the manager did not want us to hurt our arms so we all played different positions. The people wouldn't go home so we had to play and it was very, very cold."
Cleveland Grant (on a major difference for "coloured" players in crossing the border into Canada) "Felix Valdez and Chino Valdez from Cuba ... they were brothers, one was light skinned the other was dark and had kinky hair and one had kind of straight hair. We'd play in Louisiana sometimes and the light skinned one could go into places and get food and bring it out to his brother because he had the darker skin they wouldn't let him in there. In Canada we had no problems whatsoever. It was a big change."
Marvin Ligon (on "acceptance" in Canada) "During that time we were not as accepted in the States as we were in Canada. We could come and go and stay in the hotels and things without any problem in Canada ... A black face was somewhat unique out there on the prairies. We'd go into areas there where they had never seen one and so they were coming out to see the black faces as much as the baseball game."
Marvin Ligon (his first impressions of the prairies) "Dusty roads. The war was just over ... making transition to trying to play baseball and we;d play on some weird fields. They just knocked down the wheat and we'd go out and play ball."
Marvin Ligon (on his "contract" with the Ligon All-Stars) "Get on the bus and ride 'til September."
Marvin Ligon (on a 1949 crowd in Regina) "I remember one big day in Regina ... we were playing the Capitals and the park was full of fans. I realized later that they were there to see Barbara Ann Scott who had won the gold medal in figure skating in the 1948 Winter Olympics. If that wasn't big enough, she used my globe to go out and throw the first pitch and I didn't even get her autograph."
Dennis McIvor "As a young boy in Carman, I frequently was the batboy for Minot Mallards. Ed Albosta was the playing mngr. The rumour was he had pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ed was a nice guy and was always good for an American dollar at game’s end."
Carroll H. Rasch (who grew up in Minot, North Dakota and was a member of the "Knot Hole Gang" in the mid 50s). " ...How amazing to see those faces. I remember a short term pitcher named Cliff Lemme. They lived up the block and we would beg his son, David, to let us see his dad's baseball glove. He would bring it out into the yard and we'd fight over who could wear it for playing catch. We would treat it like a holy relic, but when bored, would leave it lying out in the yard. More than once his dad had to go looking for it in a panic. All of us thought we were Don Corcoran or Zoonie McLean. I remember Othello Renfroe and KNOW that he managed the Minot Mallards now and again. I have often wondered if he might be the first black to managed a team in the USA. I remember his humor and clowning. When Minot would be behind and the sky was overcast, he would come out of the dugout and look up to the sky and pray for rain. He was a wonderful comic."
" ... The ballpark was only eight blocks from my neighborhood. We would walk past it every day and, in summer, would grab our baseball gloves and hang out near the park, sending somebody in to see if we could hang out in the outfield and shag balls for them during batting practice. One of the Mallards would often hit us a few towering fly balls to chase as a reward. I remember getting under one and catching it and feeling as if I was the greatest. I also remember being invited to stand in the batter's box as one of the Mallards pitched. I was urged NOT to take a swing at the ball but I recall them coming past me at 60 to 90 mph and was in real awe of any man who can step up to the plate and hit a fast ball in front of stands filled with screaming fans."
" ... My uncle was a cop in Minot. There was this street of prostitution (Third Street West). It was made up of about three blocks of little restaurants and homes which advertised "HOT TAMALES." The police would often raid these homes and arrest people for selling liquor illegally. (You would ask for a cup of coffee and they would pour you a whiskey in a coffee cup.) Well, one long planning period before a series of raids, the police watched carefully to see who was tipping off these bordello operators about an impending raid. The police concluded that Sugar Cain was on the sidewalk outside all the time and that he entered the nearest house when the police were spotted. So, when the next raid was precipitated, the first cops on the block arrested Sugar Cain for "loitering" and hit the rows of houses. Sugar Cain ended up in jail and was in danger of missing his place in the rotation. My uncle (Det. Capt. Ray Lennick) was probably the least popular man in town. Sugar was released, if I recall, and pitched (or may have missed one start). I was young and don't remember it all, but I was fascinated by the players, the Mallards, the hookers, Dee Dee Goven and the whole underside of near west side Minot. When they cleaned up Third Street, ran huge fluorescent lights down the block and drove out the prostitution, they took the fun and heart out of the city."
" ... I am stunned at some of the names who played in Minot. A little voice in the back of my head said I saw Satchel Paige pitch, but people would tell me it was impossible. Now I see that he played in Minot for a year. I may have seen him pitch in an exhibition. It makes me angry that I was as interested in showing off for the girls in the Knot Hole section as I was in watching the game!"
Don Fleming (Edmonton Journal columnist) "Over the years, the Meridians from Slim Thorpe's fair border town of Lloydminster has delighted in tormenting the Eskimos at the darnedest of times ... On two occasions, the Esks have gone into playoff series as top-heavy favorites with the gamboleers, only to have the Meridians come along to confound the dopesters." (Edmonton Journal, June 9, 1961)
Lou Pisani (Medicine Hat Mohawks, Colonsay Monarchs on the hockey stars on the diamond) " ... Gordie Howe, played first base ... Bentley brothers had their own field ... good baseball players ... and you know how they used to slide into a base ... you know in hockey they give you a shoulder ... well, they used to come in and roll .. they didn't come in with spikes high, they'd come in, slide in and roll into you with their shoulder and knock the ball out of your glove. They played hard, they were great guys, had their own team. Bert Olmstead, a mean winger, if you fooled around with him, he'd take ya out."
Ken Marshall (former Burton & Kelowna second baseman) on John McCormack, Burton pitcher. "He was just excellent. He would go and play for Spokane, whenever Spokane had a big-money tournament they would get John to come and play. He was left-handed with this slow curve ball you would just break you back to try and hit. He was something else."
Betty Travis (Minot, North Dakota) " ... My Mom did the custom monogramming for the Mallards' uniforms etc. for years."
One family, the Krivels, became famous for their athletic and pugilistic abilities. They made Estevan safe for the Jews. Jake Krivel, the father of three husky boys and one beautiful daughter, was in his youth a professional boxer from New Jersey. He was unlike the other Jewish families in that he and his children participated in all the activities of the town. It became well known that if anyone said or did anything against Jews, the Krivel boys would be there with their fists. Of course, every Jew had to establish and protect a turf of their own but the Krivel presence was comforting. (Saul Berger - Jews in Small Towns: Legends and Legacies Estevan, Saskatchewan)
John Chavez (Picture Butte Indians, Lethbridge White Sox) " ... I had the pleasure of pitching for the Picture Butte Indians of the Southern Alberta League the summer of 1956. I had just completed my second year at Coalinga Jr. College in California where our team won 37 and lost only the last two games that year ... [won] the State championship. I was 14 -1 that year and had a scholarship offer to play for the ASU Sun Devils in the fall. I pitched well that summer and wound up with a 7 and 4 record. Three of my wins were against Granum White Sox the league champions. I got paid $325 per month and had much fun playing ball. I was very content because everyone in town treated us very well and were great fans. It was one of the best and easiest summers I ever had. The previous four summers had been spent budding fruit trees on my knees in the hot fields of Central California. When I got to Arizona State that fall, I was an experienced seasoned pitcher and easily made the starting rotation. My summer in Canadian baseball was a real confidence boost!. I was surprised at all the college players that we played against in the Canadian League. I returned in the summer of 1958 after my Senior Year at ASU. I won about four games then hurt my right shoulder permanently. That was it for baseball. However, two years later in the Army I started pitching softball underhand. I did that in the California Open division for about 20 years."
Vic Wall (Swift Current, Regina) on the strange injury that ended Cliff Beisel's pitching career. " ... Cliff was pitching at Mitchell Field in Swift Current when there was a loud popping noise, audible to both the fans and players alike, as he made his delivery to the plate. As fate would have it, the eerie sound was the result of the fracturing of his pitching arm between the shoulder and elbow. Needless to say, that put an end to his days as a pitcher but didn't finish his playing days as he continued on for a number of seasons thereafter as an outfielder."
A Canadian Press newspaper story from August 19th that summer confirmed the story. Beisel, a pitcher for the Portreeve team threw a ball so fast he fractured the big bone in his right arm just above the elbow. Admitted to hospital, he was being treated by bone specialist Dr. C.T. Wolan who described the accident as the strangest he had encountered.
Merlin "Dusty" Rhodes (Hillcrest, Carmangay, Champion, Vauxhall) on Hubert Glenn (Negro Leagues, Carmangay, Claresholm). "Hubie was a real teacher. He worked a lot with me. We’d go to the ballpark, just the two of us, and I was just a 16-year-old rookie, playing second base. He would hit the ball and I would go to my right and backhand it and go up in the air and flip it to him., But I had to one-bounce it to him or I got heck. Then he was hitting to the other side and I would go and get it there and jump up in the air and throw it on one hop to him and I’d come off the diamond ringing water out orf my sweatshirt and he’d say, “Man you sure is lazy!” He was a dandy ballplayer, a good hitter and he threw hard. He’d come over the top with that fastball and he could really boom it."
Andrew (Andy) Lillie (Roblin, Yorkton, Estevan, Grandview, Moose Jaw, 1951-1954) Some remembrances of the Moose Jaw Mallards 1954. I think Walt Tyler had been given the idea that he would be the manager but then they hired Larry Isbell . . . Tyler and his group did not take orders from Isbell and so there was dissension.
I was one of the later arrivals due to going to medical school in Winnipeg. I do not remember too much of the early games but I do remember one of the classic pitcher/manager confrontations on the mound. We were in Rosetown and Gardiner was pitching and he could not find the strike zone. Finally, out charges Isbell and says to Gardiner, "What the f--- is the matter?" Gardiner replies, "I can't get the f-----g thing over". Isbell says, "Well you better get the f--- out of here." Short and sweet and poor Don was pretty much done in Moose Jaw.
Russ Stuart and I were roommates. We lived at the YMCA along with Penn Weldon who roomed alone.
When Isbell left at the end of June to report to the Regina Roughriders, Billie Conroy took over and did a good job. He was a gentle soul but could be tough when he had to be. I think he was from Elizabeth City, NJ. Creon Psome was from Long Island. He used to take over the kitchen where he boarded and would have all of us over for spaghetti dinner. I still use his recipe. Pretty good left-handed pitcher. Russ Stuart was from Monrovia, CA. Great second baseman. Could make a major league turn at 2B. Lefty hitter. Eddie Girado, 1B. Left-handed all the way. WAs from College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Collins Jones, left-handed hitter and thrower. Good outfielder and for a big man had surprising speed. I think he originated in Minneapolis. George Lipscomb was from South Carolina State University. Nice man and good player. Gardiner and Seymour were from Winnipeg and when Gardiner was let go, Al Seymour went home with him. Home sick?
Reg Chopp was from Winnipeg also. While I was bout the same age, they played below me in Winnipeg. I started in juvenile at 14 with Rosedales. Played one more juvenile and three years with the junior Rosedales. We had great teams. Then it was on to Roblin, Yorkton, Estevan, Billings, for a cup of coffee, Grandview and Moose Jaw. Then it was internship year and baseball took a back seat. Billings was interesting. I, of course, had missing spring training and when I got there the team was in first place and there was no chance to break in. There was then the option to go to Batavia, NY or Brunswick, GA. Long way from home. Maury Enright the GM in Billings gave me the option to decide. So I decided to go home and Pittsburgh paid my way back to Winnipeg. The Pirates were one of few major league teams to pay for your trip home if released. Pretty nice.
Dick Loe, catcher from Compton, CA, right and right. Good catcher with good arm. Penn Weldon,pitcher and outfielder. Good pitcher but paid for it with terrible arm pain after each outing. Good all around player. WAs from either Monrovia or Pasadena, CA. Pancho Gray, right-handed pitcher. The old man of the team. Had been around. Bob Holowaty, right-handed pitcher from up around Saskatoon somewhere. Bunt Hubchick. I played with him at Grandview the year before where he broke his leg. Harvey Allen, big outfielder. Right and right. Emery Coieman and Willie Wilson pitched early in the year. I think that Garrett, Green, King, Searcie, Walls were in Tyler's group. Walt Tyler, excellent hitter. Wasn't there very long. Hard to get to know. Dave Kosteniuk, pitcher from Saskatchewan, workhorse.
Steve Cottrell (Vulcan) is a former weekly newspaper editor in Nevada City California and a long-time member of City Council. Long before he was a baseball pitcher and ranch hand in Vulcan Alberta. A few years back Steve penned a piece on his prairie days. Here's an excerpt :
When I returned to San Francisco after the aborted Fresno tryout [in 1961] I received a call with an offer to go to Vulcan Alberta - $200 a month and a free apartment in the local Legion Hall while the Vulcan Elks finished their season in the Alberta Foothills - Wheatbelt League.
Not what I had in mind a week earlier when I faced Willie Mays & Co. at Candlestick Park but it was baseball. Besides I had never been to Canada and my mental picture of Alberta was of Nelson Eddy in his mountie uniform standing on the shore of Lake Louise cooing to Jeannette McDonald with the snow-capped Canadian Rockies in the background. "Oh Rose Marie I love you... " An offer to play baseball in Alberta? And be paid with a free apartment? I'll take it.
That the league's hyphenated name had a reference to wheat should have been my first clue. But I was raised in California; what the hell did I know about the topography of Alberta?
Vulcan Alberta is (was?) wheat and cattle country. Flat? Very. The joke up there was that a person could stand on a newspaper and look into next week. Several miles to the west stood the beautiful Rockies and from the ball park the view was great because there was very little visual obstruction between Vulcan and the distant mountains.
But it was a summer in Canada and a chance to play ball regularly across the vast Southern Alberta prairie. Places like Okotoks High River Black Diamond Charmangay Champion and other great small s I had never heard of and never expected to visit.
As the summer became fall I grew to love Vulcan and its people -- honest folks who earned their living from the soil; some who spent Saturday nights inside the Vulcan Hotel bar hoisting .10¢ glasses of draft beer while others waited their turn in the pool hall for a friendly game of snooker. There were only 1200 people in and I was the only non-Canadian on the local baseball team but I was never made to feel like a stranger.
I was crushed having been released by the Red Sox and frustrated that the Giants did not offer me a contract in Fresno but I was 18 years old being paid to play baseball and life was good.
In fact looking back at that summer in Vulcan Alberta life was damn good.
Following spring training with the Giants in '62 and still without a contract I returned to Vulcan for a second season of old-fashioned team ball. Then when the season ended I stayed on until the spring of '63 -- a hired hand on a ranch outside for the princely sum of $5 a week and use of a pickup truck every Saturday night for the short drive into Vulcan. And once in I would blow the five bucks in the company of my friends and drive back to the ranch for another seven days of work. And another $5 bill.
And like most young people I just didn't realize how good I had it.