Welcome to the Oakland Oaks' Spring Training Camp. The year is 1948. The months are February and March. The place is San Fernando, California.
With wise-cracking manager Casey Stengel at the helm, the Acorns went south to open their camp on February 22, 1948. The Oaks werere laden with a great array of former major league talent, plus a block of youngsters from their fine Class C Stockton (California League) farm from the previous year. Casey was determined graduate some of his rookies into Oak regulars.
The training conditions were excellent. Although the infield and outfield grass was not in as good condition as could be desired, due to a drought that cursed the entire state, the condition prevailed everywhere and the Oaks had no cause to complain.
The clubhouse where Trainer Red Adams would work over the sore muscles of the athletes was a marvel both of size and completeness, and both Adams and the players were tickled pink with what they fond. Stengel and his entire crew of 40 perspiring young athletes were out on the field from 1:30 until after four in the afternoon of the first day, and every athlete in the camp had his tongue hanging out after the workout.
No spring exhibition games had been planned until early in March, but many young Oaks in camp were anxious to get into action, and Casey was anxious to see them perform. Two weeks previously, Casey had turned down games with the University of Southern California Trojana and the Los Angeles Police, but he changed his mind. With more players coming each day by train, plane and auto, Casey believed it was necessary to add to his extensive series of spring games in order to furnish work for all his aspiring Oak ball players. So he decided to advance his Spring game schedule by booking early week-end contests with U.S.C. Trojans and the Los Angeles Police.
Facing his first spring game, against the reputedly strong University of Southern California Trojan squad, Casey named an all-rookie team. This was a case of choice and necessity. Other than Billy Raimondi, Casey had no veterans in camp, and he wanted to get an early look at the kids. The starting infield consisted of Norm Grabar at first, Ed Samcoff at second, Jimmie Brown at short, and Billy Martin at third. Lilio Marcucci was originally scheduled to start behind the plate, but instead Gene Lillard did the receiving. Will Hafey started on the mound. Jay Ragni was supposed to start in right, but instead the starting outfield consisted of Bill Taylor in right, Eddie Murphy in center, and Walt Pocekay in left. But before the day was over Stengel would use practically every man in the camp.
Casey's rookies got away to a flying start by taking a 6 to 1 win from U.S.C. in the opening of the spring exhibition series. Will Hafey, Aldon Wilkie, and Floyd Speer pitched, and all acquitted themselves in mid-season form. Hafey opened by hurling three hitless, runless frames and whiffing three men. Wilkie hurled the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and gave the collegians their lone run and their only hit of the game. Speer took over for the final three frames and hurled hitless ball. Starting catcher Gene Lillard was struck by a pitched ball on the little finger of his right hand and was forced to retire from the game. Aside from the pitchers and Lillard, the team was made up entirely by lads from the Stockton and Phoenix farm clubs.
Casey tried out a second combination of rookies against the Los Angeles Police Department, but withut meeting with the success that greeted his kid aggregation against the Trojans.
When the smoke had cleared, the police had pounded Oaks pitchers Damon Hayes, Lloyd Hittle and Gene Chelli for 13 hits and 6 runs, against the junior varsity Acorns 9 hits and 3 runs. Hayes, who used to twirl for the same L.A. Police team himself, professed to know their batting weaknesses, but he suffered a bad second inning, and was forced to turn the mound over to left hander Hittle, who showed a world of stuff when he took over in the fourth inning. Newcomer Chelli also looked good in the final three innings--only two balls were knocked out the infield against his stuff.
By March 1st, with the regulars drifting into camp by ones and twos, the serious business of spring training was getting under way. Dario Lodigiani, Lloyd Christopher, Nick Etten, Vic Buccola, Maurice Van Robays and Ray Hamrick were already in camp. By the following day, 50 Oaks, the full squad without holdout or exception, bounced around the spring training field in front of movie cameras as the Pacific Coast League photographers took official pictures of them. Les Scarsella drew more attention than the rest when he drove up in his new Cadillac, which caust him almost a year's pay, with Frank Shone, Mel Duezabou and Brooks Holder.
On March 3rd, Casey named his lineup to face the Sacramento Solons in Anaheim the following day: Merrill Combs, third base; Dario Lodigiani, second base; Loyd Christopher, center field; Frank Shone, right field; Walt Pocekay, left field; Vic Buccola, first base; Ray Hamick, shortstop; Gene Lillard, catcher; and Tom Hafey to pitch the first three innings. Also tabbed for the mound work were Ralph Buxton and Matt Zidlich, the latter reformed outfielder advanced from Stockton. Johnny Conant, the 19-game winner up from Phoenix, would also be taken along "just in case." Others making the trek to Anaheim were Billy Martin, third base; Eddie Samcoff, second base; Eddie Murphy, center field; Bill Taylor, right field; Jay Ragni, outfielder; Norm Grabar, first base; Jimmy Brown, shortstop; and Lilio Marcucci, catcher.
The mixed crew of Oakland regulars and rookies nosed out the Solon Junior Varsity, 4 to 3, in the team's first Coast League exhibition game. Most members of the team fielded by Sacramento would later be assigned to its Class A team in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Walt Pocecay, the Richmond prodigy, withstood the test of Coast League baseball, when in his sixth turn at the plate he got his first hit of the game, rapping a terrific double and then scoring on a Vic Buccola single. The Oaks were behind when the Richmond boy came to bat again in the seventh frame and picked a 2-0 pitch to rap into right filed to send the tying run across the plate. Because of a missing pair of sun glasses, however, the Acorns almost lost the game, when Frank Shone lost two successive fly balls in the sun to let in the tieing run. Fortunately, Ed Samcoff slapped a single to left in the top of the ninth and came home on a double by Ed Murphy.
The next exhibition victory was against the San Diego Padres on March 6, 1948. Then the Oaks blanked the Los Angeles Angels on March 7th for their third straight PCL exhibition victory. That game saw Loyd Christopher in an Oaks uniform facing Mickey Burnett in an Angels uniform for the first time, after the two had been traded at the end of the preceding season (see photo at right). The first Oak moundsman to go six innings, Will Hafey came through with a sparkling performance in that game, fooling the Angels with slow breaking curves and catching them off balance as they dug for his sparingly used fast ball. Hafey gave up only one scratch single, that in his last inning before turning the mound over to Aldon Wilkie. In addition to their 12 hits, the once flatfooted Oaks were starting to steal bases, with 5 stoled bases against the Angels and 4 against the Padres the preceding day.
On March 9th, in Bakersfield, the Oaks defeated the Seattle Rainiers 5-3, with rookie pitcher Lloyd Hittle throwing six innings of no-hit, no-run ball. He permitted only two men to reach first on walks and finished in a blaze by setting down the last nine men in order. Only three batters got the ball beyond the infield. The brilliant performance clinched the skinny southpaw from Stockton a regular job with the Acorns.
On March 10th, the club's four game success against Coast League opponents came to an end when they lost to the Padres, 4-3, in Phoenix.
Casey's men were now ready to take on the first of four big league clubs to be faced that Spring. On March 11th, one Oaks element met the New York Giants in Phoenix, while Oaks Squad number 2 remained at the San Fernando training site to stage a return match with Sacramento.
Though the Giants used a number of their regulars, they looked "bush" in comparison to the flossy Oaks during the earlier innings of their contest at Phoenix's Municipal Stadium. Will Hafey fired one-hit ball at them for the first three innings. Then Damon Hayes turned the identical trick for his three innings. Johnny Conant, the right-hander from Surgoinsville, Tennessee, was all set to be a hero before the Phoenix fans he had served the preceding season. There were two away in the ninth inning, and Oakland led New York, 3 to 0, but the roof caved in, and before the Oaks could recover their poise the Giants had rushed across four runs to win the game 4 to 3.
On March 13, 1948, Casey and an advance guard of the '48 Oaks came home for the for the first time since the commencement of Spring Training. They left only enough men behind in San Fernando to engage the Seattle Rainiers and Los Angeles Angels in two days of exhibitions. The game against the the Cleveland Indians scheduled to be played in the Oaks' park in Emeryville was expected to draw more than 10,000 home town fans. But rain stopped the game after two innings. The game started again the next night before 3,409 fans who not only braved the threatening skies but also sat in frustrated silence as Cleveland manager-slugger Lou Boudreau gave impetus to a 12-hit assault with two home runs.
Pitted against their former teammate, Gene Bearden (photo at right), the long lefty, the Oaks were very futile at bat and disappointing in the field, being charged with four errors. For the five innings he worked, Bearden gave up only one hit. In contrast, Casey's opener, Damon Hayes, gave up six runs (three of which were unearned), and his closer, Ralph Buxton, gave up three. Middle reliever Tom Hafey pitched three scoreless innings. Playing spiritless ball against the Tribesmen, Casey's Oaks ended up on the short end of a 9 to 0 score.
College ball clubs served as Oakland spring training foils on March 17th and 18th. On March 17th the pros met the University of California varsity at Edwards Field in Berkeley. Southpaw Virgil Butler started for the Oaks. He was one of four former Cal players who fell by the wayside during the mid-term exams. Shortstop Jimmy Brown, and right-handed hurlers Dick Larner and the later famoud Jackie Jensen were the other three. Butler gave up one run to his ex-teammates during his three innings on the mound. With the score tied at 2-2, the Oaks managed to push across five runs in the last inning to defeat the Bears 7 to 2. Oaks pitcher Aldon Wilkie, who opened the big inning by singling, got credit for the win.
On March 18th, coach Johnny Verges brought his St. Mary's collection to Emeryville. The Gaels gave 17 Acorns a healthy workout. Oaks regular first basemen Les Scarsella and Nick Etten had not been playing in the Spring games, but Casey took the wraps off Etten that day, and the latter responded by cleaning the bases with a line drive two-bagger in the first and a home run into the right field bleachers in the third before Casey rested him for newcomer Norm Grabar. The Oaks sewed up the right to call themselves bosses of the college nines by handing St. Mary's a 13 to 2 dubbing.
|Bill Laws (left), son on Oaks owner Brick Laws, interviews Oaks Manager Casey Stengel and Cubs Manager Charlie Grimm for Radio Station KLX|
The Cubs won the first match against the Oaks. In the second game, three unearned runs scored in the first inning sent the Chicago Cubs on to their second victory. Starting pitcher Charlie Gassaway was the victim of the first inning scoring and was the losing moundsman, but the big feature of the day was a triple play executed by the Cubs in the last half of the opening chukker. A crowd of 4,085 saw the Chicago Nine defeat the Acorns 6 to 1. The third game, however, went to Oakland, before a crowd of 7,308 paying customers, when the Oaks supported the air tight pitching of Tom Hafey and Damon Hayes with some lusty hitting to gain a 4 to 1 win over the Cubs.
|Merrill Combs, Oaks third baseman, is tagged out at home plate by Chicago catcher Clyde McCullough in the first inning of the last of three Oak-Cub games, which Oakland won, 4-1. The umpire is Bill Doran.|
These Spring Training Clips are from the Scrapbook of Renny Gonzalez. Photos and portions of the stories courtesy originally of The Oakland Tribune and Post-Enquirer.
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Copyright © 1999 William B.