Padres Pics #6.

Tony Gwynn Mets Slide
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 San Diego Padres
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

PCL Padres Friar Carlos Hadaway
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)

The First Padres Airing on November 1st!

If you live in the San Diego area, I suggest tuning into KPBS tomorrow at 12pm to watch an airing of “The First Padres,” a documentary film on the San Diego Padres of the old Pacific Coast League. This is obviously up my alley, due to the fact that I love the history of the PCL Padres, but I think it’s an amazing film across the board and anyone who loves San Diego Baseball, or the history of the game, will enjoy it as much as I do.

There are interviews with Padres players of yesteryear, such as original Padre and baseball Hall of Famer, Bobby Doerr. The vintage photos and videos are incredible and San Diego Baseball Historian, Bill Swank lends his knowledge as well. All in all, it’s a can’t miss for anyone who reads this blog.

The film maker who made “The First Padres,” is a local San Diegan named Chris Boyd who is quite talented. I interviewed him a few years ago regarding the film and it turned out pretty great. You can read it HERE. Also, if you can’t catch tomorrow’s airing on KPBS and would like to get your hands on a copy of the film, you can purchase the dvd of the film HERE.

Bridging the Gap: The PCL Padres & MLB Padres (Part 2).

In part two of “Bridging the Gap: The PCL Padres & MLB Padres,” I share those who have a connection to both the PCL and MLB Padres via managing or coaching. This list is solely based on my personal research, so it’s quite possible I could be overlooking someone. Much like part one of this project, I’ll update this post for reference reasons if it turns out this is the case.

Whitey Wietelmann
Whitey Wietelmann PadresWhitey Wietelmann is a name that I hope most Padres fans are somewhat familiar with. In some ways, Wietelmann was “Mr. Padre” prior to Tony Gwynn due his years spent with the team in different capacities and his love for Padres baseball. Wietelmann played parts of nine seasons in the big leagues with both the Boston Braves/Bees and Pirates and after his big league career ended, he found himself in the Pacific Coast League. After one season with the Sacramento Solons, he found himself in San Diego with the PCL Padres in 1949, where he played until 1952. Wietelmann fell in love with the city San Diego and decided to move there. He never left.

After his playing days ended, Wietelmann was hired as a coach for the PCL team from 1957 to 1958, then from 1960 to 1965, and again in 1968. After MLB granted San Diego an expansion team in 1969, Wietelmann joined the big league staff as the bullpen coach, where he stayed for an entire decade. Even after 1979, Wietelmann still stayed active in the Padres organization through the early 1990s as an advisor, handyman/assistant equipment manager, and even a clubhouse cook. For this, he was dubbed “Mr. Indispensable,” and was a beloved member of the San Diego Padres. 

Three fun facts about Whitey:
1) He threw out the ceremonial first pitch of Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS against the Cubs. As you all know, this was the Garvey homerun game.

2) Wietelmann kept a scrapbook collection of every single MLB Padres box score, from their inaugural season of 1969 until 1993. The collection of scrapbooks is now taken care of by the San Diego SABR Baseball Research Center and continues to be updated to this day. 

3) Curious as to who Tony Gwynn got his famous #19 from? Search no farther than Whitey Wietelmann. Whitey wore #19 as a coach for both a PCL Padres and MLB Padres. After his days as a uniformed staff member ended, long time Padres equipment Manager Ray Peralta got “permission” from Whitey to assign the number to Gwynn. In fact, before Gwynn’s first major league game in 1982 against the Phillies, it was Whitey who physically brought him his new jersey. According to Tony, Whitey informed him that only a few players had worn #19, so don’t disgrace it. Gwynn said he was just happy that it was lower than #53, his spring training number. Ten years later Tony asked Whitey how was he doing and he responded by saying “Yeah, kid, you’re doing all right.” 

Larry Bowa
Larry Bowa Padres Manager
I assume most people who read this are familiar with Larry Bowa. He’s still quite involved with baseball and is currently the bench coach for the Phillies. For me though, I’ll always think of him as a Padre due to the fact that he was the Manager of the team when I first became interested in baseball in 1987/1988. In fact, I loved THIS card as a kid and still think of the Padres teams from that era quite fondly. Besides managing the MLB team, Bowa spent a quick minute in San Diego in 1966 as a player, during the team’s time as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies.

A cool sidenote: Although I’ve never read it, his book “Bleep: Larry Bowa Manages,” which he wrote with Barry Bloom, features the manager in his Padres uniform.

Deacon Jones
Deacon Jones San Diego Padres
George William “Deacon” Jones played for the PCL Padres in 1960, during the team’s short time as the AAA affiliate of the White Sox. Although he only played in the big leagues for small parts of three seasons, he spent parts of 11 seasons in the minor leagues, where he was a notable power hitting prospect in the White Sox system, until a shoulder injury derailed his career. Jones came back to San Diego as the hitting coach for the MLB team from 1984 to 1987, serving under Managers Dick Williams, Steve Boros and the above mentioned Larry Bowa.

At the age of 81, Jones is still involved in baseball, working in the Sugar Land Skeeters organization, a team in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

Dick Sisler
Dick Sisler San Diego PadresSisler was an outfielder and first basemen for the Padres from 1954 to 1956, during the classic era of the Pacific Coast League. Even though it was near the end of his playing career (he hung up spikes after the 1958 season), his three seasons for the Friars were solid. In fact, he was a pretty solid player in general and was even an All-Star with the Phillies in 1950. Sisler eventually came back to sunny San Diego as a hitting/first base coach for MLB Padres during the 1975 and 1976 seasons, under manager John McNamara. However McNamara is is best known as the manager who essentially blew the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox.

Bob Skinner
Bob Skinner San Diego Padres
Despite having an impressive career as a player where he was an All-Star, Bob Skinner never actually played for the Padres at any point. However, he did manage the PCL team for two seasons (1967-1968), during their time as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. He was later hired as the hitting coach/third base coach for the MLB Padres, where he stayed from 1970 to 1973, and joined the team again for the 1977 season.

Skinner actually has one win under his belt as a manager for the Padres, where I assume he filled in on an interim basis or during a suspension.

Jim Snyder
Jim Snyder Padres
Jim Snyder served as the bench coach for the MLB Padres from 1991 to 1992, serving under both Greg Riddoch and Jim Riggleman. But long before Snyder came to San Diego to coach the MLB team, he played for the PCL team in 1960, during their time as an affiliate of the White Sox. Unfortunately, that’s really all I have on him worth mentioning.

The Curious Case of a PCL Padres Cap.

1941 Padres Cap (Ebbets)

While reading up on old Pacific Coast League uniforms a few years ago, I came across the above image in a web store called Rakuten. The sold out item was described as a “San Diego (PCL) Padres Authentic 1940 Game Cap by Ebbets Field Flannel.” If there’s one thing I know well, it’s the PCL Padres and their uniform history, however, this cap was a complete mystery to me. If it didn’t have “1940” in the title, I would’ve disregarded it and assumed it was just a custom Ebbets Field Flannels cap. The fact that 1940 was referenced had to mean something, right? As time passed, my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to contact both Jerry Cohen & Joe Swide at Ebbets to ask about the cap. 

Jerry responded and initially informed me that “This was an old cap we did once for a special event.” However, he emailed me shortly after and said he was mistaken and that “It was a regular cap we did.” He also mentioned that “We used the one with the SD because it’s more interesting than a blank cap. That’s all there is to it.” This all makes sense, but my curiosity was still sparked because if this was indeed a legit cap the PCL Padres wore, why had I never seen it in all my photos and books that I’ve collected over the years?

Shortly after my emails with Jerry, Joe responded as well and verified that they made the cap. He also informed me that no one wore the cap in the 1940 team photo:

1940 San Diego PCL PadresHowever, he gave me a heads up that a player with the last name of Skelley is wearing the cap in the 1941 team photo. Look for him in the middle row, three over from the left:

1941 San Diego PCL PadresI was no stranger to this team photo but somehow had overlooked this gem. When I proceeded to look up the 1941 team, I couldn’t find anyone with the last name of Skelley, which added to my overall confusion and curiosity. After some sleuthing, I found two players with that last name who played for the PCL Padres. The first being William Skelley, who played 10 games for the Padres back in 1937 and later played for the Hollywood Stars in 1940. I also found  Mel Skelley, a local San Diego kid who played American Legion ball with Ted Williams prior to professional baseball. This particular Skelley played for San Diego in 1942, was in the military from 1943 to 1945, and then came back in 1946. He fits the age, frame of time and his photo on the 1942 team photo looks a lot like the same guy in the above 1941 team photo.

It’s not that odd that Mel Skelley was featured in the 1941 team photo but never played. It’s possible that he may have joined the team late in the season and didn’t get into any games; but still managed to get into the team photo. That, or the photo was taken in Spring Training and he didn’t make the team out of camp. Either way, Skelley actually spent the 1941 season playing with the Tacoma Tigers of the Western International Team & Salt Lake Bees of the Pioneer League. It’s possible they were affiliated with the Padres as the old PCL teams did have affiliated teams under them at times. Ultimately I didn’t care too much about all this, I just wanted an explanation as to why Skelley is wearing this mysterious cap and no one else is.

After my emails with the Ebbets guys, I was flipping through Bill Swank’s Echoes from Lane Field–A History of the San Diego Padres 1936-1957 (If you don’t own this, get it!) and found this collage of the 1940 team:

1940 San Diego Padres CircleIf you look at Pat Tobin (left side, around the “8:30” position), he’s wearing the same “SD” cap! I did a little research on Tobin and the only similarity between him and Skelley that I found is that they both played in the Pioneer League in the year that each photo was taken; however Tobin played for the Idaho Falls Russets. I doubt there’s a connection, but it’s just worth mentioning. Still, I was left without any backstory on the cap and eventually gave up on trying to figure it out. I just hoped that sooner or later I’d be able to add the Ebbets cap to my personal collection, but wasn’t holding my breath as they were no longer made.

1940 PCL San Diego Padres Cap 2

Well, after monitoring eBay for a few years to no avail, I recently got the cap. Or should I say a version of it, as mine has a red line that goes down the middle and the one I initially found online did not. I actually like my version more, which is also navy blue, but this photo makes it seem a bit darker than it actually is. Finally owning the cap is what sparked me writing this post, however, I still I have no backstory on it.

Maybe it was a throwaway cap that ended up not being used, yet was given to players when nothing else was available? Maybe they were made for a special day? Maybe they were worn by players in the same capacity that college football players wear stars on helmets? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine and regardless of why it existed, it’s gotta be quite insignificant, or it would have been documented better. Something I’m aware of (and Jerry from Ebbets stressed to me), is that it was common for uniforms from this era in the minor leagues to not always entirely conform. A relevant example would be the 1936 team photo, which features 3 players wearing Hollywood Stars uniforms. Still, there’s a documented backstory on that. There’s no backstory to explain why the “SD” cap was made and if anyone else besides Skelley and Tobin wore them? I’d have a hard time believing that only two players ever wore these caps.

As of today, this curious case of the PCL Padres cap remains open. When (and if) I ever find more info, I’ll be sure to share here as I can’t be the only person who loves stuff like this. To be continued…I hope.

After posting this last week, I decided to contact my friend and San Diego Baseball Historian, Bill Swank. It’s something I should have done ages ago, as he knows more about the PCL Padres than anyone. With that said, Bill was able to shed some light in regards to the caps:

Hi Duane,

The PCL Padres went through several uniform changes in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. Mel Skelley is wearing a 1939 Padres uniform in the 1941 team photo. You’ll notice that several players are wearing the same jersey. They were young men under contract to the Padres who played winter ball in San Diego as the Junior Padres. Mel is also wearing the cap of the Junior Padres.

There are several references to “Junior Padres” in “Echoes from Lane Field.” The most memorable is from Earle Brucker, Jr. on page 123.

“I’ve got quite a memory of Lane Field. I was standing on second base for the Padre Juniors when they turned on the PA system and said the War had just started. It took away a double, so it was a bad war.”

Mel Skelley 1941 Padres Team Photo (Detail of Mel Skelley cap from 1941 Padres team photo)

Looks like Bill set the record straight on the caps! I’ve read about the Junior team before, but only in reference, so it never crossed my mind. Also, I’ve never noticed that Skelley and four other players are wearing 1939 jerseys in the 1941 team photo, so that’s a cool little gem to be aware of as well. Thanks again for the information, Bill!