I came across this photo not long ago and fell in love with it. Tony Gwynn going in hard at second base, while Wally Backman of the Mets attempts to complete a double play. The dirt flying, Backman in the air and Gwynn’s #19 on his brown uniform; It doesn’t get much better than this.
Bob Usher played professional baseball for parts of 14 seasons and spent time in the big leagues with the Reds, Cubs, Indians and Senators. He also spent time in the Pacific Coast League, where he played with the Angels and Padres. Known for his speed and strong arm, Usher was also a solid hitter. In his only full season with his hometown Padres (1956), he hit .350, while accumulating 208 base hits, which propelled him to the big leagues for one last stint. During Usher’s life in baseball he witnessed or took part in some notable moments in the history of the game that some of you may find interesting:
- When people think about legendary baseball brawls, they probably think of the Juan Marichal and John Roseboro brawl in 1965, or even the Braves and Padres brawl in 1984. However, one of the greatest brawls in history did not happen in the big leagues, but in the Pacific Coast League, during a Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars game in 1953. Usher was in the middle of this mayhem and discussed his memories of how it went down in Graham Womack’s blog, “Baseball: Past and Present,” in an interview entitled “Remembering A Good Brawl.” It’s a great interview and the blog itself is incredible, especially if you love the history of the game.
- As a teenager, Usher played on the San Diego American Legion Post No. 6 team that played in the 1940 American Legion World Series, held in Albemare, North Carolina. This is significant due to the fact that the two black members of his team were barred from playing in the final series. One of these players ended up being future Negro League star, John Ritchey. The man would one day be dubbed the “Jackie Robinson of the Pacific Coast League,” due to breaking the PCL color barrier with the Padres. To read more about this series and the ramifications of it, click HERE. A young Bob Usher is featured in the team photo, top row, 3rd from left.
- 1958 was Usher’s last year in professional baseball and he spent it playing with the Miami Marlins of the International League, who were the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. This is significant due to the fact that the ageless wonder, Satchel Paige played on the Marlins and it was his last real season in professional baseball. As a 51 year old, Paige went 10-10 with a 2.95 ERA over 110 innings. Not bad for an old-timer.
In 2011, I met Usher at the Northern California Pacific Coast League Reunion and for a 87 year old, he was quite sharp, witty and took a liking to me. Needless to say, I enjoyed my time hanging out with him. To see a photo of myself along with him, click HERE, where he is to the left of me. Also featured in this photo is former PCL Padres Pitcher, Pete Mesa (far left) and my friend and baseball historian, Bill Swank. Unfortunately, both Mesa and Usher have since passed away. I always meant to go to Usher’s house here in the Bay Area and interview him, but I never got around to it. For this, I’ll always kick myself.
In 1961, the Pacific Coast League Padres held a contest in which fans were encouraged to design a team mascot. A 19 year local kid named Carlos Hadaway won the contest by creating the now beloved San Diego Padres Friar. However, the original friar was not in his classic swinging pose, as this was implemented in the late 1960s and is supposedly based on THIS photo.
Something I was not aware of until recently is that the friar was absent from the Padres from 1985 to 1995. Regardless of ownership, the team consistently strays away from its traditions on various levels, over and over again. As a fan, this is incredibly frustrating. Oh yeah, by the way, I have the Swinging Friar tattooed on my inner bicep. My brother got it for me as a birthday present years ago and I still love it. Click HERE for the photo.
(Image Source: Baseball In San Diego – From The Padres To Petco by Bill Swank)