The rosters consisted mostly of professional players with minor league experience, several ex-major-leaguers, and a few college and local players with exceptional talent. About 25% of the rosters consisted of ballplayers from the declining professional Negro leagues after those leagues were raided by Major League Baseball by snatching up great young ballplayers such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and other young stars. Several of these players came from great teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, Birmingham Black Barons, Newark Eagles, Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Philadelphia Stars while other ManDak stars came from the Pacific Coast League and other top minor leagues. The initial Mandak teams of 1950 included the Brandon Greys, Winnipeg Buffaloes, Carmen Cardinals, Elmwood Giants, and the Minot Mallards. Satchel Paige briefly pitched for the Mallards in the league's inaugural season. Other teams that eventually entered the ManDak were the Winnipeg Giants, Winnipeg Royals, Dickinson Packers, Williston Oilers, and the Bismarck Barons, the latter three all operating out of North Dakota. Three ManDak players were later enshrined into Major League Baseball's Hall Of Fame--Leon Day played for the Buffaloes and Greys. Willie Wells was the playing/manager for the Winnipeg Buffaloes and Ray Dandridge suited up for the Bismarck Barons. Other ex or future major-leaguers that played in the ManDak were the Drake brothers, Sammy and Solly, Jerry Adair, Mickey Rocco, Preston Gomez, and Roy "Stormy" Weatherly.
Sacramento's Frank Mascaro ended his professional career with the 1954 Brandon Greys. The 24 year old right fielder played one year in the ManDak where he hit .317 (14th best in the League), drove in 60 runs (league's 3rd best), collected 90 hits (2nd best), and hit six triples (the league's 3rd best). His 284 at bats was 3rd most in the league and his .461 slugging percentage was the league's 3rd best, topped only by ex-major-leaguers Roy Weatherly and Lloyd Gearhart. During the league's annual all-star game, Mascaro went 3-4 with a booming home run earning him MVP honors. Mascaro combined to hit .321 over the course of his four years in the minor leagues with a .464 slugging percentage including 20 home runs, 37 triples, and 78 doubles in 1,483 at bats. Mascaro spent the 1953 season with the Vancouver Capilanos of the level-A International League where he became a fan favorite and dubbed "Moose" Mascaro. He led the Caps in triples with 10 and hit .290, 2nd only to playing/manager Harvey Storey. The legendary Storey led the Pacific Coast League in batting in 1946 with his .326 average.
Nelson "Nellie" Briles was born in the small town of Dorris, located in Siskiyou County between Mt. Shasta and the Oregon border. The Briles family moved around working at various lumber mills throughout Northern California before settling in Chico, California where Nelson pitched for the Chico High School Panthers. He received a scholarship from Santa Clara University where he went 11-1 during his freshman year for the 20-16 Broncos. That summer, at age 19, Briles and teammate Jan Dukes trekked to the base of the Canadian Rockies and pitched for the Calgary Giants of the 4-team Western Canada League. Nelson Briles lead the WCL in Complete Games (13), Victories (11), and Strikeouts (184 in 131.3 innings pitched). He was 11-4 (.733 win %0) with a 2.46 ERA. (WCL’s 3rd best). On July 12th, Briles shutout league champion Saskatoon (42-26) on 2 hits and on the 24th, Briles shutout the Edmonton Oilers 1-0 with 18 strikeouts. Shortly after the season, Briles signed a contract with the St Louis Cardinals as a free agent.
In 1958, Chico's Pat Gillick and Yuba City's Bill Heath were battery mates for Rod Dedeaux's University of Southern California Trojans, winners of the 1958 College World Series.A few years earlier after the bidding of Fresno State coach Pete Beiden, Gillick hitch-hiked to the tiny prairie community of Vulcan, Alberta Canada where he pitched for the Elks of the Alberta Foothills-Wheatbelt League for a salary of $250/mo. Gillick never won a game for Vulcan but supposedly won three games including a no-hitter in one game and striking out 17 in another as a tournament pick-up for the Granum White Sox. He returned to pitch for Granum during the summer of 1957 and the following summer, Gillick was 0-3 with a 10.41 ERA for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada League. He was one of 15 USC players to suit up in the WCL including five Edmonton Eskimos. Gillick was a roommate of pitcher Bruce Gardiner, a USC teammate who a few years later would commit suicide.
In 1959, at age 21, Gillick signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles organization and pitched for the Stockton Ports of the Class-C California League. In his rookie season, he went 9-5 with a 3.78 ERA. He spent 5 seasons in the minor leagues ('59-'63) advancing as high as AAA with the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League, and the Rochester Red Wings and Elmira Pioneers, both of the AAA International League. His best season as a professional came in 1960 when he went 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA for the 82-56 champion Fox Cities Foxes of the level-B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. Gillick led all Fox City pitchers in Win % (.846), ERA (1.91 min. 50 inn.) and K's/9inn (9.2). Other Oriole farmhands included 2nd baseman Earl Weaver (.233), Cal Ripken Sr. (.281), Dean Chance (12-9), and 18 year old Boog Powell who led the Foxes in hitting with his .312 average.
Gillick won 45 games while losing 32 (.584 win %) with an impressive career .342 earned run average during his 5-year pro stint. In 1965, Gillick pitched for the United Baseball Congress semi-pro World Series champion Wichita Rapid Transit Dreamliners. The Liners finished the prestigious tournament with a perfect 7-0 record defeating the Liberal, Kansas Bee Jays 11-6 in the final. Gillick defeated Bobby Doig and the Humboldt-Eureka Crabs 3-2 in a fourth-round contest. For the tournament, Gillick pitched 13 innings allowing one earned run while striking out 18 batters. He was named to the NBC All-American team and was previously named Top Pitcher in the Kansas state tournament. Unlike his father Larry Gillick, who was a right-handed pitcher, Pat was a crafty lefty who relied on control and breaking pitches. Although arm problems ended his career as a player, they didn't end his baseball career as an executive. Championships seemed to follow Gillick no matter where he roamed.
Gillick gained experience and worked his way up the corporate ladder with scouting and Player Development positions with the Astros and Yankees before becoming Vice President of Player Personnel with the expansion Toronto Blue Jays in 1976. The following year, Gillick became Toronto's Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager and in 1984, he moved up to become the Blue Jay's Executive President of Baseball Operations. During his realm as general manager, Gillick's Blue Jays won 5 division titles (1985, '89, '91, '92, and '93) and back-to-back World Series championships in '92 and '93. He resigned in 1994 and the Jays immediately went into a free-fall. In 1995, Gillick became GM of the Baltimore Orioles with playoff appearances in '97 and '98. After his 3-year contract expired, he resigned once again and accepted a job with the Seattle Mariners as general manager. First on the agenda was to trade Ken Griffey Jr. to Cincinnati. The Mariners made back-to-back playoff appearances for the only time in franchise history in 2000, 2001, and the '01 Mariners with their 116-46 record tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the all-time Major League Baseball record for most wins in a single season. In 2005, Gillick became general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He traded 1st baseman Jim Thome which cleared the path for Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Ryan Howard. Gillick retired as Philadelphia's GM after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. In 1997, Pat Gillick was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2011, he became a member of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. As of today, 2016, Gillick is President of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Although major league baseball supplied the rosters, the WCL was almost exclusively made up of top notch California college players from schools such as USC, UCLA, Stanford, Santa Clara, St. Mary's, San Diego State, and Pepperdine, as well as a few Junior College ballplayers from San Mateo, Vallejo, and Sequoias. The Philadelphia Phillies supplied the entire Saskatoon Commodores who later moved to Medicine Hat. The St. Louis Cardinals sent players for the Lethbridge Cardinals. San Francisco was affiliated with the Calgary Giants and the Edmonton Oilers were linked to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Three Northern California ballplayers would advance to the major leagues while another would excel at the Triple-A level.
In 1902, the independent class D Northern League was formed with teams from Grand Forks, Devil’s Lake, Cavalier and Fargo, North Dakota, Winnipeg, Manitoba and the Crooks of Crookston, Minnesota. The league operated until 1971 with teams coming and going, changing their names and merging with other leagues. The Winnipeg Maroons were champions during the league’s first two years. They were also title holders in 1907, ’12, ’16, 1934 and 1939. They won three more Northern League crowns after they changed their name to the Goldeyes. In 1908 the league became the Northern Copper Country League and the Brandon, Manitoba Angels took top honors.
Notable Northern League players include “Hammerin” Hank Aaron of the ’52 class C Eau Claire Bears where he hit .336 with nine home runs. Jim Palmer went 11-3 with a 2.51 ERA for the ’64 class A Aberdeen Pheasants and Orlando Cepeda hit .355 with 26 homers for the 1956 class C St. Cloud Rox. Nineteen year old Gaylord Perry was 9-5 with a 2.39 ERA while with the 1958 St. Cloud team. Don Larson, the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter in a World Series, at age 18 went 17-11 for the 1948 Aberdeen Pheasants. Roger Maris at age 18 hit .325 with nine homers for the ’53 Fargo-Moorhead Twins and finally, broadcaster Bob Ueker hit .171 for the 1956 Eau Clair Braves.
In 1907, another northwestern baseball league came into existence with the formation of the class D Western Canada League, although it may just as well have been called the Alberta Baseball League since, initially, all four teams were from the Princess Province, named after Queen Victoria’s daughter Alberta. The charter members were the Calgary Bronchos, the Edmonton Grays, the Lethbridge Miners and the Mad Hatters of Medicine Hat. The 58-32 Hatters took the first WCL title behind the pitching and hitting of nineteen year old Ralph Works. Works led the league in hitting with his .341 average while compiling a 27-9 pitching record. His 217 strikeouts stood as a WCL record for fourteen years. Two years later, Works began a five year career in the major leagues with Detroit and Cincinnati where he logged a 24-24 career record with three shutouts during the 1911 season with Detroit. Later, the Grays became the Eskimos and Gray Birds. Other teams joining the league were the Brandon Angels, the Moose Jaw Robin Hoods, the Red Deer Eskimos, the Regina Bonepilers, later the Red Sox, the Saskatoon Berrypickers, later the Quakers, and the Winnipeg Maroons.
Some of the best players from the early Western Canada League which operated at three different time periods between 1907 and 1921 were Chicken Hawks and Cuckoo Christensen of the Calgary Bronchos and Babe Herman of the 1921 Edmonton Eskimos. Hawks, a first baseman who attended Santa Clara University in Northern California went on to hit .288 for the New York Yankees in 1921 and .322 for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1925. At age 24 the 1st baseman hit .359 at Calgary in 1920. Christensen at age 20, was a teammate of Hawks at Calgary and was 2nd on the team with a .345 batting average. The outfielder went on to hit .350 and .254 respectively for the ’26 and ’27 Cincinnati Reds. His .350 average was 2nd in the National League and his .426 on base percentage led the league. Babe Herman, who attended Glendale High School in Southern California, hit .330 at Edmonton. In 1930, while playing for the Brooklyn Robins of the National League, Herman slugged 35 home runs. His .393 average, 2nd in the National League, .678 slugging percentage, 241 hits, and 416 total bases are all-time Dodger records.
During the summer of 1958, coach Dedeaux sent 15 of his Trojans to compete in the Western Canada Baseball League, nine of which, including catcher Bill Heath, suited up for the league champion 30-23 Williston, North Dakota Oilers. Heath hit .378, third best in the WCL behind teammate Jerry Adair's .404 average. Immediately following the championship game, Adair was flown to Baltimore where he signed a contract with the Orioles and on September the 2nd made his major league debut. The following year at USC, Heath was named team captain, led all Trojans with his .396 average, was All-Conference, and was selected as a collegiate All-American. That summer, Heath returned to the Western Canada League where he was a league all-star and hit .321 for the league champion and pennant winning 39-29 Edmonton Eskimos.
Bill Heath was born in Yuba City, California. He attended Downey High School High School in Modesto, Ca., before receiving a scholarship to play baseball at USC. He spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues (1965-'67, '69) with the Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago Cubs. He began his pro career in 1960 at age 21 with the Bakersfield Bears of the level-C California League where he hit .356 in 32 games. Heath averaged .285 over the course of 11 seasons in the minor leagues. Heath made his major league debut with the White Sox in September of 1965 going 0-1 in his only at bat. The following year, Heath hit .301 in 55 games for the Houston Astros. Used mostly as a back-up catcher, Heath averaged .236 with 13 home runs during his four years in the majors. He spent parts of three seasons ( 1968-'70) in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with Spokane and Tacoma.
BILL HEATH IN CANADA
EARLY PROFESSIONAL PRAIRIE BASEBALL
The two most notable prairie leagues during the mid twentieth century was the Basin League and the ManDak League. The Basin League operated for twenty-one years (1953-1973) in small towns along the Missouri River in South Dakota and one town in Nebraska. Only the Alaska Baseball League with her Goldpanners and Sky Pilots and players such as Tom Seaver, Barry Bonds, Mark McWire, Dave Winfield, Randy Johnson, and Jeff Kent have sent more stars to the major leagues than the Basin League. The fabled Cape Cod League, founded in 1885, with Tim Lincecum, Mark Teixeira, Barry Zito, and Nomar Garciaparra remains a distant third as far as collegiate summer baseball leagues are concerned.
Ron Parranoski tossed a 1-0 shutout and Dick Howser scored the only run while leading their Watertown Lake Sox over the Valentine, Nebraska Hearts in the 1956 championship game. In 1957, big Frank Howard of Washington Senator fame, led the Basin League in homers (8), batting average (.390), and slugging percentage (.770). Don Sutton, while pitching for Souix Falls, led the BL with his 2.20 earned run average. Also, Bob Gibson pitched for the Chamberlain Chiefs. Jim Palmer and Jim Lonborg pitched for the Winner, S.D. Pheasants. Dick Green and jim O’Toole performed for the Mitchell Kernels in 1959 and 1966 respectively. Jimmy Williams and Dick Selma suited up for the Sturgis Titans. Dick Radatz from Michigan State led the BL with his 107 strikeouts and his 10-1 record. Jerry Adair played shortstop for the Huron Jims. The most notable Basin players from Northern California were Barry Sbergia from San Mateo Junior College whos perfect 8-0 record for the Mobridge Lakers in 1970 is an all-time BL record for winning percentage. Pat Gillick from Chico, California pitched for the Winner Pheasants in 1957.
WESTERN CANADA LEAGUE
Briles spent but one season in the minor leagues before landing in the majors at age 21 with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1964, he pitched for the Tulsa Oilers of the AA Texas League and won 11 games while losing six with a 2.79 earned run average. After a 3-3 ( 3.50 ERA) rookie season with the Cards, Briles only won 4 of 19 games during his sophomore year however did manage a 3.21 ERA which was indicative throughout his 14-year major league career (129 wins-112 Loses, .535 Win % with a career 3.44 ERA). In 1967, Nellie led the National League with his .737 Win % (15-4). His 2.43 ERA led the Cardinal pitching staff which included Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (13-7, 2.98) and Steve Carlton (14-9, 2.98). Only Dick Hughes (16-6, 2.67) won more games. The '67 Cardinals (101-60) won the National League pennant and beat the Boston Red Sox 4 games to 3 to capture the World Series. Briles hurled a complete game 5-2 victory in game #3. Briles tossed a total of 11 innings with a 1.64 ERA.
In 1968 Briles finished the season with a 19-11 mark and 2.81 ERA. His 19 wins was 4th best in the NL and .633 Win % ranked as the NL's 7th best. The Cards fell to Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers 4 games to 3 in the World Series with Briles starting two games and losing one with a 5.56 ERA. The next two seasons, Nellie compiled 15-13 and 6-7 records with 3.52 and 6.24 ERA's before getting traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he rebounded with 8-4, 3.04 ERA, 14-11, 3.08 ERA and 14-13, 2.84 ERA seasons ('71-'73). In 1971, Briles picked up his 2nd World Series ring when the Pirates defeated the SF Giants 3 game to 1 in the NL Championship Series before besting the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 3 in the Fall Classic. In game 5, Briles tossed a complete game, 2-hit shutout topping Baltimore's Dave McNally four to nothing. The 1972 (96-59) Pirates again won the NL East but lost the NL Championship Series 3 games to 2 to Oroville's Gary Nolan and the Cincinnati Reds. Briles started game #3, pitched six innings and received a no-decision. The next year, 1973, Briles led the 3rd place (80-82) Pirates' pitching staff in victories (14), Games Started (33), Complete Games (7) and Innings Pitched (218.2).
Nelson Briles spent the 1975 season with the Kansas City Royals, the '76 season with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles before ending his major league career in 1978 with the Orioles. He spent nine years in the National League (97-82, 3.26 ERA) and five years in the American League (32-30, 3.91 ERA.)
THE MANITOBA-DAKOTA LEAGUE or ManDak League was a rogue, independent league that operated for 8 years (1950-1957) in the province of Manitoba, Canada and the state of North Dakota. The all professional league replaced the semi-pro Manitoba Baseball League. The ManDak was considered an outlaw league in that it did not abide by the rules and regulations of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. There was no restricted free agency. Players were allowed to and often jumped from team to team, usually for better pay or more playing time. Minimum salary in the ManDak was $300/month with a cap of $900/month, about twice the amount offered by MLB affiliated minor league teams. Salaries were based on previous experience.
Dixon, California native Billy Hulen, aka Billy Hamilton, was the first of these Northern Californians to play baseball in one of several prairie baseball leagues of Western Canada. Billy "the kid" Hulen began his career in organized baseball when he hit .251 for the Los Angeles Seraphs of the 1882 California League. Three years later, at age 25, he hit .369 for the Minneapolis Millers of the level A Western Baseball League and briefly played for San Francisco in the California Winter League. The following year Hulen made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies where he hit .265. After spending two seasons back in the Western League, Hulen returned for one final year in the majors. He got into 19 games with the 1899 Washington Senators but only hit .147. He is recognized as the last regular left-handed shortstop to play in the majors. From 1900-1913, Hulen played for and managed several minor league teams. In 1902 he hit .235 for the Sacramento Gilt Edges of the Independent California League. In 1905, as a playing manager, he hit .296 and guided the Everett Smokestackers to the level B Northwestern League championship.
Early the following year, Hulen became missing-in-action and was divorced by his wife for desertion when he was discovered in Canada playing under the alias Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, rather Hulen, hit .319 for the 1907 Medicine Hat Mad Hatters of the level D Western Canada League. An eye injury ended Hulen's playing career in 1909 after batting just .203 with the Hatters but he skippered the Medicine Hat team to a Western Canada League championship with their 67-33 record. Hulen ended his baseball career when his 1913 Regina, Saskatchewan Red Sox finished dead last in the Western Canada League with a 29-77 record. He began his coaching career when he guided Santa Clara College of California in 1897.
Teammate Terry Christman from San Francisco fared better for Lethbridge. On June the 23rd he shut out the WCL's best team, the Saskatoon Commodores on his way to a 10-4 record and 2.76 earned run average. Two years later, after attending San Francisco State College, Christman signed a contract and spent 7 seasons in the Mets organization (1965-'69, '71, '72) advancing as high as Triple-A with the Jacksonville Suns of the International League. He combined to win 27 games while losing 19 (.587 win%) in 100 games and hit .250 with 12 home runs in 346 games during his career as a pitcher, first baseman, and outfielder. Christman ended his playing career 1971 as a playing manager for the Visalia Mets of the Class-A California League (3-3, 3.00 ERA, .125 ave.) He also managed the Marion Mets in 1970, the 1971 Key West Sun Caps of the "A" Florida State League and the 1983 Great Falls Giants of the Rookie Pioneer League. Christman was also an instructor and batting practice pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.
Seventeen year old Jan Dukes won 6 games and lost 4 with a 2.50 earned run average for the last place 31-40 Calgary Giants. On July the 5th, he combined with Nelson Briles to strikeout 23 batters (Dukes, 19 K's in 9 innings) in an 11 inning 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. On the 27th, Dukes shutout the Lethbridge Cardinals 3-0. Dukes attended Mills High School in Millbrae, California. He was a 5th round draft pick out of Santa Clara Univ. (8th overall) by the Washington Senators in the 1966 MLB June Amateur Draft and a 1st round pick a year later in the 1967 January Draft-Secondary Phase. That spring he tossed a no-hitter against the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara. Dukes spent parts of 3 seasons in the major leagues as a reliever with the Senators ('69, '70) and Texas Rangers (1972). In 20 innings, he went 0-2 with a career MLB 2.70 ERA. He also spent 7 seasons in the minors, mostly at the Triple-A level with a career 39-45 record and 3.76 ERA. Dukes spent the summer of 1964 pitching for the Bellingham Bells-Giants, winners of the National Baseball Congress Washington State championship and 3rd place finishers in the National tournament held in Wichita. Dukes topped the Everitt Orioles 1-0 on a 3-hitter with 15 K's in the State final, was named MVP and won 3 games without a loss at Wichita for the 3rd place 6-2 Bells. He struck 31 batters in 30 innings with a 0.90 ERA during the NBC semi-pro World Series
Charles "Swede" Risberg was born in San Francisco, Ca. and is most noted for his alleged involvement as a middleman between Chicago White Sox players and "the Mob" during the fixing of the 1919 World Series. MLB commissioner George Kennishaw Landis banned Risberg and 8 other Sox players including "Shoeless" Joe Jackson from ever playing in the major leagues again. It also included any minor league team affiliated with MLB but that didn't stop Risberg from making a living playing baseball. He got paid for playing semi-pro baseball for teams such as the Rochester, Minnesota Aces, the Souix Fall Canaries and the 51-8 Scobey, Montana Giants (65-9 according to the Helena Daily Independent). Riseberg, and his Giants (aka the Outlaws because "Happy" Felsch, another banned Sox player, was also on the team) often ventured into Saskatchewan during the 1925 season to enter high-paying tournaments. The banned ex major leaguers were lauded in Scobey, however often taunted and heckled while playing on the road. Scobey had to leave town in a hurry after Felsch punched out a bad-mouthing fan following a tournament in Moose Jaw, Sask.
TUG MCGRAW TERRY CHRISTMAN JAN DUKES NELSON BRILES
Risberg began the 1929 season playing tournament baseball for the Oilers of Virden, Manitoba, Canada where only 4 games where played in Virden. The main competition was the Brandon Greys of Manitoba, Minot, North Dakota, the Toronto Oslers, the Detroit Colored Giants, and Gilkerson's Union Giants, originally out of Chicago, but based in Bismarck, North Dakota. Later that summer, Swede joined a team from Jamestown, North Dakota, where he was mostly used as a 2nd and 1st baseman. He hit .472 with a 3-1 pitching record. He gave up 18 runs in 36 innings, an indication that he was losing it, as far as pitching was concerned. All of the games were played in Jamestown.
The tap roots of Canadian prairie baseball were probably embedded at the bar of a hotel pub in Winnipeg, Manitoba during the mid 1880’s, shortly after soldiers returned home from the Riel Rebellion. 1886 saw the formation of Western Canada’s first professional baseball league, a city league, which featured the Hotelkeepers, the Metropolitans, the Winnegegs, the Ottawas, Prairie City, and the Canadian National Railroad Club. Large bets were wagered. Teams began bringing in “ringers” from the United States and Ontario to secure their bets. The ’86 Hotelkeepers hired five Americans paying $500/mo. plus room and board at the hotels. Quite the sum of money for that era. The Metropolitans brought in experienced ballplayers from Ontario for $300/mo. plus room, board, and transportation. The average joe’s pay those days was about a buck a day.
1963 WESTERN CANADA BASEBALL LEAGUE
Frank McGraw was from the once small fishing village and later petroleum-smelling oil refining town of Martinez, California, the same town that produced Vince and Joe DiMaggio. McGraw received the moniker "Tug" at an early age when his mother referred to the young tyke as "quite the little tugger". Mabel would later be admitted to the Napa State Mental Hospital. The "Tugster" was a flake, a screwball, and a bit of a haywire; a sort of a loose cannon, you might say. He supposedly rode atop of a station wagon and drank a six-pack of Molsons (twice the alcoholic content as a Budweiser) while traveling to a WCL away game. When asked what it was like to play on Astro Turf, he replied that he didn't know because he had never smoked the stuff. "Tug's" only rival would be Burbank's Bill "Spaceman" Lee.
Tug McGraw tossed a record two shutouts for the Vallejo Junior College Indians (now Solano Community College) before suiting up for the 33-38 Lethbridge Cardinals of the Western Canada League. He went 4-7 with a 3.48 ERA. On July the 14th, he hurled a 10-inning 1-0 shutout over the second place Edmonton Oilers. The 42-26 Saskatoon/Medicine Hat Commodores won the pennant and playoffs and were the only team in the league with a winning record. A week later, "Tug" failed to retire a single batter in a 14-2 loss to the Commodores and later walked 10 batters in a first round playoff game against the same Commodores. Less than two years later, he made his major league debut with the N.Y. Mets at age 20. It was the screwball (learned from Ralph Terry while on a golf course) that later made "Tug" McGraw the greatest relief pitcher in the National League for the Mets and Phillies during their World Series heydays of the late 60's and early 70's. Only a few other pitchers (the Giants Carl Hubbell and Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers being the most notable) have been able to master the pitch which requires an outward twist or rotation of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. McGraw spent 19 seasons in the major leagues with a career 96-92 record and 3.14 ERA including 180 saves. He also spent parts of six years in the minors with a 27-24 record and 2.67 ERA.
Several Northern California ballplayers found their way to the prairies of Western Canada and the central parts of the United States where they began their professional baseball careers while a few ended their careers there. Some returned to play semi-pro or professional baseball while a few returned and became highly successful coaches. One of these Northern Californians returned to become an All-American and spend several years in the Major Leagues while another became a Lefty Gomez Award recipient, emblematic for achievements at the local, National, and International levels. Several returned and became enshrined into MLB's Hall of Fame.
They erected and dedicated a seven foot bronze statue in his honor. Pete Beiden, born in Russia, never had a losing season in his twenty-one years while at the helm of Fresno State Baseball. Between 1948 and 1969 he won 601 games with only 268 losses for a .692 winning percentage. In 1951, his Bulldogs went 36-4, fourth best in NCAA history for winning percentage at that time. In 1931, Beiden was a member of Redlands University championship baseball team. During the summer of 1947, Beiden managed his Atwater Packers to a California State semi-pro title with a 14-3 victory over the Santa Maria Indians in the final and later placed fourth at the National Baseball Congress World Series held annually in Wichita, Kansas.
During the 1950' and 1960's Pete Beiden and Bob Bennett of Fresno State College along with Roy Taylor, hall of fame college coach at Sequoias Junior College, sent more than a hundred college ballplayers into the Western Canadian prairies to play semi-pro baseball for the summer months. It all began in 1949 when Walnut Creek, California businessman “Brick” Swegle convinced Beiden to round up a group of collegiate ballplayers, mostly from the Fresno area, to barnstorm the Northwestern United States and Western Canada to compete for cash while playing in tournaments and exhibition games. They were known as the California Mohawks and that first year they won forty-eight games and lost only 6. They won a lot of money, which supposedly after expenses, “Brick” kept for himself. Most of the players came from Beiden’s Fresno State team. The idea was fairly simple--play 50-60 games each summer against some pretty good semi-pro teams and gain an advantage over your rivals for next year’s college season. Some of these college players returned and went on to play in the major leagues. Others came back to play professional baseball in the minor leagues or become coaches. A few never came back at all.
Beiden returned for another barnstorming tour in 1950 and a year later, he and several of his players embedded a few roots by entering the Western Canada League where his 24-22 Medicine Hat Mohawks finished in 3rd place trailing the 33-13 Indian Head Rockets and the 2nd place 27-20 Regina Caps. Beiden showed up at mid-season along with pitcher Fred Bartels to win 11 of their final 14 games. Bartels would later pitch for the Fresno Police team in the NBC semi-pro tournament in Wichita, Kansas and for the 1955 Yuba-Sutter Rebels of Northern California's Sacramento Valley League. Other 1951 Mohawk players included Bud Watkins and SF Bay Area players John Noce and "Pumpsie" Green. Watkins won 2 of 5 games for Medicine Hat before signing a professional contract a year later. He played 9 seasons in the Pacific Coast League, including 6 years with the Sacramento Senators. He combined to win 58 games while losing 78 with a career 3.76 ERA, mostly with the lowly Senators. In 1947, Watkins led his San Mateo Bulldogs to the Northern California Junior College League championship and in 1950, he pitched for the Fort Ord Warriors, a military team that won the National Baseball Congress California State semi-pro title.
Elijah "Pumpsie" Green from Boley, Oklahoma, grew up in Richmond, Calif. and attended El Cerrito High School and Contra Costa Junior College. His brother Cornell Green was a long time safety and Pro-Bowler for the Green Bay Packers. "Pumpsie" was 17 years old when he hit .227 in 119 at bats for the 1951 Mohawks before signing a professional contract in 1953 with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. As a 19 year old rookie, Green hit .244 for the Winnatchee Chiefs of the Western International League, a level-A league that also included the Vancouver, B.C. Capilanos, the Calgary Stampeders, and the Victoria, B.C. Tyees. Green spent a total of 10 years in the minor leagues (career .283 average) including 1959 where he was batting .320 for the AAA Minneapolis Millers before making his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox. He finished the year with a .233 average in 50 games for the Crimson Hose. Green spent parts of five seasons in the majors ('59-'62 with Boston and '63 with the N.Y. Mets) mostly as a backup infielder where he combined to hit .246 in 344 games. He ended his career at age 31 when he combined hit .247 for the Buffalo Bisons and Syracuse Chiefs, both of the Triple-A International League.
After the 1969 season, Pete Beiden retired as head baseball coach at Fresno State and handed over the keys to his former catcher, Bob Bennett who in turn continued to send Fresno State players to the Canadian prairies from '69-'71. In his 34 years at Fresno, Bennett compiled a 1,302-759-4 career record including 17 conference championships and 21 NCAA tournament births. He produced 32 All-Americans, nine first-round draft picks, and two College World Series appearances. In 1984, he was named Team USA’s head baseball coach. In the year 2000, he was awarded the prestigious Lefty Gomez Award and later inducted into College Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Bennett joined Beiden’s Regina Caps of the Saskatchewan Baseball League in 1952 and donned the mask for Roy Taylor’s ’53 Kamsack Cyclones of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan League. He later put on the catcher’s gear for the pennant winning Saskatoon Gems in 1954 where he hit .254 and returned briefly to catch for the 1959 Saskatoon team.
Another Beiden disciple was catcher John Noce who hit .255 for the Mohawks in 1951 before signing a pro contract with the St. Louis Browns organization. He hit .224 for Stockton in 1952 and .227 for Ventura in '53, both of the level-C California League. He returned to Northern California and became one the winningest coaches in California Community College history. Noce, (pronounced No-chee), managed the Bulldogs of San Mateo Junior College for 31 years (28 winning seasons) with a record of 772-412 (.652 win%) including 13 Golden Gate and Big 8 Conference championships. Seventy-two of his players have signed professional contracts with 8 reaching the major leagues. Fifty-two have become high school, college, or pro coaches. In 1972, Noche and his Bulldogs barnstormed the prairies of Canada and won two major tournaments. They defeated the Spokane Jets from Washington 11-4 in the finals of the prestigious Lacombe Lions Baseball Tournament. The Bulldogs also defeated the Moose Jaw Devons 8-5 (winners of the Saskatchewan Southern League) and the Calgary Giants 10-6 (second place in the Alberta Major League). San Mateo's Len Benedetti homered against the Giants, went 4x5 in the final, hit .636 for the tourney and was named tournament MVP. San Mateo also won the Kendersley Elks Tournament that same summer. Noce managed the 2nd place 15-13 Edmonton Tigers of the Alberta Major Baseball League in 1975.