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The 1955 Seattle Rainiers, guided by manager Fred Hutchinson, captured Pacific Coast League championship.
By Steve Rudman
The Seattle Rainiers, the city’s principal baseball infatuation for more than a quarter of a century (1938-64), twice called upon native son Fred Hutchinson to come to the aid of the franchise in times of dire need. The first occurred in 1938 when a 19-year-old Hutchinson, barely out of Franklin High, won 25 games and helped save a club that a year earlier
Top to bottom: The 1955 PCL champion Rainiers in their dugout at Sicks’ Stadium. Manager Fred Hutchinson, far left, middle row. New Rainiers manager Fred Hutchinson (front left), who had starred with the club in 1938, addresses the Rainiers on the first day of spring training in 1955. A ticket stub from the Seattle Rainiers’ 1955 home opener April 19 at Sicks’ Stadium. The Rainiers moved into Sicks’ Stadium, located in the Rainier Valley, in 1938 and played in the facility until its demolition in 1979.
teetered on bankruptcy. Hutchinson’s breakout year resulted in his being named Minor League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. It also prompted one of the significant trades in Seattle sports history, when the Tigers paid $50,000 for Hutchinson and sent the Rainiers a nucleus of players who would help Seattle win three consecutive Pacific Coast League pennants (1939-41). Seventeen years later, the euphoria of those memorable summers had dissipated. Hutchinson, meanwhile, had pitched in the Majors for 10 years, fought in World War II, and managed the Detroit club for three. He would have remained there had the Tigers
offered him a multi-year contract, or had he been amendable to a series of one-year deals. He wasn’t. Knowing that, Hutchinson’s childhood friend and teammate, Dewey Soriano, who had become the Rainiers’ general manager, coaxed Hutchinson to return to his roots and reinvigorate public passion in a franchise that had (continued on page 28)
(continued from page 27) become beset by apathy. In many ways, what Hutchinson accomplished with the 1955 Rainiers is more remarkable than his dazzling display in 1938. Hutchinson first had to gut Seattle’s 1954 roster (the club had staggered in fifth) and rebuild it virtually from scratch. With Soriano’s assistance, Hutchinson focused on acquiring as many former Major Leaguers as possible – players, defined by Hutchinson, “who understood how to give me nine good innings every day.” Former MLB notables imported by Hutchinson and Soriano included 1B Bill Glynn (Indians); RHP Lou Kretlow (Orioles); RHP Elmer Singleton (Cubs); RHP Larry Jansen, who in 1951 had been the winning pitcher for the Giants when Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard Round the World;” RHP Ewell Blackwell (Reds), who in 1947 had nearly duplicated Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-no’s; and INF Vern Stephens (Browns, Red Sox), an eight-time MLB All-Star. To these, Hutchinson added the 28
likes of OF Bobby Balcena, the first native of the Philippines to play professionally in the United States. Blending his imports with such holdovers as catcher Ray Orteig, Hutchinson cobbled together a roster that included 42 players and 22 pitchers, 64 Rainiers in all. He even used local fast pitch softball phenom Bobby Fesler in three games. The ’55 Rainiers had no superstars, no 20-game winners and no .300 hitters. But Hutchinson helped turn his roster, many of them late-season acquisitions, into an outstanding team. Although Singleton led the staff with a 19-win effort that included a no-hitter (July 24), the key to the Rainiers season became Hutchinson’s mid-season acquisition of Kretlow, who went 14-3 in the second half. (continued on page 30)
Clockwise from top left: Bobby Balcena, the first native of the Philippines to play professionally in the U.S., crosses home plate after hitting a home run at Sicks’ Stadium. Balcena is congratulated by Ray Orteig (10) and Vern Stephens. Rainiers owner Emil Sick (left) presents general manager Dewey Soriano with The Sporting News “Minor League Executive of the Year” award for the 1955 season. Lou Kretlow, who had pitched for nine years in the Majors, joined the Rainiers midway through the 1955 season and posted a 14-3 second-half record. With Seattle manager Fred Hutchinson (far left) watching, Angels slugger Steve Bilko is presented with the Tony Lazzeri Trophy, awarded annually to the PCL’s home run champion. The Rainiers congratulate first baseman Bill Glynn, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, on his return to the dugout after a home run.
(continued from page 28) That ultimately separated the 95-77 Rainiers from pennant challengers, the San Diego Padres (92-80), Los Angeles Angels (91-81) and Hollywood Stars (91-81). More than any of the 1955 pennant aspirants, the Angels, featuring slugger Steve Bilko, future big league manager Gene Mauch, and 17-game winners Jim Brosnan and Cal McLish (both would enjoy productive MLB careers), stood on the verge of greatness. Led by Bilko’s 55 homers, the Angels would win 107 games in 1956, taking the pennant by 16 games. But the ’55 Angels didn’t yet have enough to overcome Hutchinson’s roster manipulations and bench management. On Aug. 19, Hutchinson’s 36th birthday, 17 years after winning his 19th game for the 1938 Rainiers on his 19th birthday – one of the landmark events in Seattle pro sports history – the club feted him in a ballpark party
prior to a game with the Hollywood Stars, lavishing Hutch with gifts. Hollywood manager Bobby Bragan, asked to speak, but won no admirers with the Sicks’ Stadium throng when he introduced his team as “the 1955 PCL champions.” Taking the microphone from Bragan, Hutchinson replied, “There are 21 fellows on this side of the field who will dispute that.” A month later, on Sept. 10, the Rainiers needed one win to give the franchise its first pennant since 1951.
Top: The ’55 Rainiers in their Sicks’ Stadium dugout. The player second from left is pitcher Elmer Singleton, who led the staff with 19 victories. Above left: Ewell (The Whip) Blackwell made 13 starts for the 1955 Rainiers, posting a 4-4 record and 4.02 ERA. Blackwell had previously pitched for the Cincinnati Reds. Above right: The 1955 Rainiers did not feature a 20-game winner, but they had a 19-game winner in Elmer Singleton, who pitched in the Major for eight seasons.
Turn Back the Clock Day – May 26, 2012
TURN BACK THE CLOCK DAY
BRANDON LEAGUE BRENDAN RYAN
MAY 26, 2012
Join us as we turn the clock back to a year when Elvis was king, Leave it to Beaver debuted, the space race began and the Boeing 707 made its first flight. So, guys put on your tight jeans, leather jackets and a white t-shirt and ladies dust off your poodle skirts and join us for a nifty afternoon at the ballpark. To celebrate, the Mariners will sport retro Rainiers uniforms and the Angels will wear their old Pacific Coast League jerseys. Plus, the first 20,000 fans pick up a Mariners poster thanks to Seattle Magazine.
Kretlow provided it against the Angels. After working out of a first-inning jam by fanning Bilko, he mowed down Los Angeles, 3-1, for his 12th consecutive victory. The crowd of 5,100 that eyed the pennant clincher swelled the Rainiers season attendance to 342,101, more than double the previous year, another Hutchinson coup. With Major League Baseball three years away from expanding to the West Coast, the Rainiers 1955 pennant marked their last PCL hurrah, and Hutchinson’s second in two years – 17 seasons apart – in a Seattle uniform.
Photographs and images: David Eskenazi Collection. David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman collaborate every Tuesday on “Wayback Machine” at sportspressnw.com
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