The San Francisco Seals, 1946-1957
By Brent P. Kelley
The Diamond Angle: We know this book interested you for several reasons.
Writer/Reviewer: Yes. I followed the Seals since 1946, when the book begins and when they came to Honolulu for Spring Training. They worked out in the old Honolulu Stadium, no longer with us, and I saw several practice sessions and exhibition games.
TDA: You were a fan.
W/R: Only partly. I was 10 and really getting "into" baseball, but my favorite team was the Boston Braves, from the beginning of the '46 season. I can't even remember all the reasons why I became partial to the Braves, and that's true today, even as they've been in three cities. I've spent a lot of time in Boston, but never have been to Milwaukee and only very briefly to Atlanta, before the team arrived. But the cities made no difference, I just liked the team itself. I do recall that I liked the uniforms, with the red and navy blue. Also, 10-year-olds sometimes think and act in mysterious ways; EVERYBODY else was a fan of the Yankees, Dodgers, and sometimes Cardinals and I was determined to be "different." Anyway, as for the Seals, if they won, that was good, but if they lost, I didn't go into a funk as I did when the Braves came out on the short end.
TDA: How could you follow the Seals from Hawaii?
W/R: Mostly on the radio. Many of the games were re-created from teletype, and the announcers would fill in the "color". I saw teletypes a couple of times; they would be like print media coverage - "Lodigiani flew out to left," "Fain grounded out to first." The announcers would make up the count and other sidelights, such as whether or not the ball was hit hard, and tried to guess which plays might be spectacular. Les Keiter, who later did important boxing bouts on national radio and who's still alive in Honolulu, was one of the announcers. Frank Valenti, a very nice man, and Joe Rose, somewhat irascible, were the others I remember.
TDA: Any outstanding recollections of radio games?
W/R: Yes, the PCL playoffs of 1947 and 1948. The league had a playoff of the top teams at the end of the year, called the Governor's Cup. It was like some of those college league basketball tournaments nowadays, ACC, etc., winner take all. The book covers those. The Seals won in '46, but lost to finish second in both '47 and '48. The '47 competition was against the Oakland Oaks, the Seals great rivals, and so there was a lot of excitement among diehard fans in Hawaii. But the father of my best friend and neighbor, across the street, had been born in Oakland and was one of the few Oaks fans around. We listened to some of the playoff games together. I was happy for him when the Oaks won. Then there was the next year, when the Oaks had old Ernie Lombardi and young Billy Martin. Casey Stengel was the manager, his last year before being hired by the Yankees. The Oaks won again, both regular season and the tournament, so it was a sweep for them. After those years, the Seals were never as strong until they were closed out when the Giants arrived.
TDA: A "down" time?
W/R: Yes, in several ways. The majority owner, Charles Graham, died, and his partner and successor, Paul Fagan, was a good businessman but not necessarily a good baseball man. As you know, there is a difference, can be a difference, between the two. I'll say more about those men later, but as for me, now into the 'teens, there was a little bit of rebellion. Except for the Braves, which continued to be a top priority, baseball went on the back burner a bit. I was playing football, there were girls now, and then the Korean War was kind of scary.
Part of this "rebellion" --- or perhaps malaise is a better description --- was caused by the work of a sports columnist at The Honolulu Advertiser, Dan McGuire. He was from the Bay Area byand, I swear, almost every darned column was about the relatively new NFL franchise, the '49ers, and the Seals. It was San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco. You would have thought no one else played these games anywhere else. My teen-aged fan friends and I considered ourselves more sophisticated and grew weary of being brainwashed by McGuire. I was especially "know-it-all" because my parents, since early 1948, had given me an annual subscription to The Sporting News --- by air mail, no less --- so news came only a day or two after West Coast cities. This was as "high-tech" information as a kid in Hawaii could get in those days. Anyway, it took a number of years before some of us could return to a more favorable view of teams from the City by the Bay.
TDA: Would this book appeal to younger fans, say, under 40 or 30?
W/R: Probably not, unless they are really immersed in baseball history. A lot of the players interviewed, 25 of them, won't be familiar to those age groups. I suppose it could be of interest to current PCL fans, although so many of the former league cities have Big League clubs now, pretty much along the lines of the old league --- Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, and two in the Los Angeles area. Only Portland and Sacramento don't have Major franchises, but, of course, they do in basketball. Having said that, I think there are several aspects of Seals/PCL baseball worth knowing or remembering in this day and age. One was the easy travel and schedule situation. The Seals would play a double-header at home on Sunday afternoon, then board an overnight train for Seattle. Monday was continuing travel, or off, then Tuesday through Friday had night games against the Seattle Rainiers. There would be an afternoon game on Saturday, followed by the Sunday afternoon doubleheader. And then it was back on the train to move on down to Portland for a week there, same schedule, then maybe to Sacramento or home for a couple of week-long homestands. Ballplayers love routine; they feel better and play better. The PCL offerred that. The salaries, especially before the early '50s, were very good, some on a par with the Big Leagues. Attendance was good, there was a lot of tradition, so the owners could pay. And because the climate was ordinarily excellent in the midst of the scheduling format, a lot of games could be played, which meant more income, which meant higher salaries. The PCL almost always played 180 games, some years even more --- 28 to 30 games per month for 6 to 6 1/2 months. It was a ballplayer's dream world; I just read the other day, in Baseball Digest, a squib on a pitcher named Henry Schmidt who went 21-13 as a rookie in the early 1900s. He was a Texan who had played in the PCL, and wouldn't re-sign with the big club, preferring to return to the Coast, which he did, never returning to the Majors. The League also provided chances for lucrative "curtain calls" for older Big Leaguers whose bats or feet had slowed a bit. Nick Etten, Cookie Lavagetto, and Lombardi were just a few of many. Former MVPs Joe Gordon and Bob Elliott became player-managers out there.
TDA: So there wasn't player development so much, as in AAA today.
W/R: Right. Some teams had working agreements with the big boys, others were independent --- maybe they'd sell a prospect up, maybe not --- but usually the best young players were sold to the Majors for the right price. Old Yankees Crosetti and Lazzeri and Paul Waner came from the PCL, and then later there was, of course, Joe DiMaggio, and then Ferris Fain, a two-time AL batting champion, and Larry Jansen, Lew Burdette, Dale Long, and Irv Noren (a big star for the Hollywood Stars), just to name a few. Many others are discussed in the book.
TDA: Of those Seals' players interviewed, who are the most famous or would perhaps be of most interest?
W/R: I would say Fain, who was a feisty guy, had trouble with the law in later years. He was among the very first to sign my autograph book when the team was in Honolulu. Dario Lodigiani, who played with the White Sox before World War II. Bill Werle, a lefty pitcher who went on to a good career with the Pirates, gives an excellent survey of the art of pitching, nuances and insights one doesn't see often. Burdette. And Joe Brovia. He was a slugger, one of my favorites, but I remember him more after he left the Seals and was sold to Portland. I was in college, in 1955, when I noticed that he had been peddled up to the Reds. He was older then, so didn't do a lot there.
TDA: Any final thoughts or references?
W/R: Just one. Readers might be interested in some of the ownership/management
aspects of the Seals in particular and the PCL in general. There was enlightened
leadership. Graham and Fagan paid well, made it a point to get along well with both
their players and their communities; it was a family atmosphere all around, something
that is missing from baseball nowadays, may never return, but was nevertheless remarkable.
Leave feedback on our message board.