Before Walter O’Malley brought the Dodgers to Southern California in 1958, Los Angeles belonged to the Angels. A part of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL), it was a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and was as loved in its time as Brooklyn loved its bums. The 1956 PCL championship Angels team was led by the slugging Steve Bilko, a minor league superhero who somehow never made a mark in the big leagues. His memory is given a much-deserved revival in this book. While Bilko is the main focus, chapters are also given over to the voices of other 1956 Angels, with surviving former players such as Gale 'Windy' Wade and Jim Fanning speaking of where their careers in baseball went after their time with the team. These reminiscences are enjoyable on their own. . . . VERDICT Undoubtedly, both old-time and younger baseball fans will relish the stories here. This volume will fit in nicely in any public or sports-focused library, especially in the Southwest.
)Before the Brooklyn Dodgers departed the fabled Ebbets Field in New York City in 1958 for the City of Angels, one of the key reasons leading to the exodus was the public frenzy for an much admired minor league player, Steve Bilko, and his red-hot Los Angeles Angels two years earlier. Former Denver Post sportswriter White relives that miracle season when the beer-guzzling, hefty Bilko, with his mighty bat, ignited the lowly minor league team in the Pacific Coast League during a historic year. Written in a subdued voice without any sensational prose, Bilko, known as the Sergeant of Swat and Mr. Biceps, is a stirring tribute of a superstar shining on a small stage, guiding 'baseball’s last great minor league team,' slugging 313 homers in the minors, but the highly hyped athlete’s luck fizzled in the majors with only 76 round-trippers. However, Bilko dazzled the sports world for the incredible 1956 season, at a time when Yankee star Mickey Mantle pursued Babe Ruth’s home run record nationally and baseball fans held their breath. Weaving in anecdotes from Bilko’s teammates and rivals both in the minors and the pros, White’s precise, powerful account of a remarkable, unlikely athlete who peaked too early without achieving too much when his dream finally came true.
)The old Angels are the subject of one of the best sports books of 2014: The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, by Gaylon H. White. The book, one you definitely should put on your holiday wish list, was an obvious labor of love for White, who grew up in L.A. . . .In the book, White writes not only about Bilko, but he offers interesting profiles of others, such as Gene Mauch, an infielder with the Angels who was considered a brilliant baseball mind despite a somewhat star-crossed career as a major-league manager.
)For a generation of baseball fans in Nanticoke and Southern California, of course, Bilko’s career was always more than decent. He was larger than life, and the story of his days on the diamond bring back floods of warm memories. With The Bilko Athletic Club, White lets everyone else get a little taste of those memories too.
(The Citizens Voice
)For a generation of baseball fans in Nanticoke and Southern California, Bilko's career was always more than decent. He was larger than life, and the story of his days on the diamond bring back floods of warm memories. With The Bilko Athletic Club, White lets everyone else get a little taste of those memories too.
)The Bilko Athletic Club provides an in-depth account of the '56 Angels, and describes how popular baseball was on the West Coast even before the major leagues arrived. It also tells the fascinating story of one of baseball's greatest minor league legends, Steve Bilko.
(Polish American Journal
)The perfect gift for your baseball loving friend or family member.
)My family would drive 200 miles to watch Steve Bilko homer or strike out—he did both with such flair that the trip was always worth it. The Bilko Athletic Club lovingly re-captures an era where the Pacific Coast League was the big leagues in L.A.
(Ron Shelton, award-winning director and screenwriter of Bull Durham and Tin Cup)Steve Bilko was a massive man. One of his legs was as big as my two put together. In the old Coast League, he was King Kong. And L.A. fans adored him. The Bilko Athletic Club captures all this and more. It’s a grand slam!
(Albie Pearson, former major league outfielder, 1958 AL Rookie of the Year and 1963 All-Star selection)The Bilko Athletic Club touches all the bases—from my long-time friend Bob Case stuffing himself with donuts so he could be big like his boyhood idol, Steve Bilko, to Bilko hitting the last home run at L.A.'s Wrigley Field. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and Bilko hit a ball over his head into outer space. Believe me, it was unreal. So is this book.
(Dean Chance, winner of the 1964 Cy Young Award and two-time All-Star selection)Of all the clubs I played on and managed, the 1955 and 1956 Los Angeles Angels will always be my favorite. The ’56 team had truly big league players, led by Steve Bilko. A book could be written about so many of the Angels, particularly Buzz Clarkson and Piper Davis. They were super players, great friends and teammates. The Bilko Athletic Club follows these Angels long after their exploits on the field. And now to read their quotes and dialogue with Gaylon White, we know the rest of the story.
(Jim Fanning, former major league player, manager, and front office executive)A wonderful look back at a man and a time when Steve Bilko was the sporting star in a city delighted both to have its own brand of baseball and its own special hero. In The Bilko Athletic Club, Gaylon White knocked one out of the park—Wrigley Field at 42nd and Avalon, of course—as surely as did Stout Steve over the leftfield bricks. The 'real' L.A. Angels are back. Play ball.
(Art Spander, award-winning sports writer)Steve Bilko was this big Santa Claus-type guy that everybody liked. Even though he was a dangerous hitter, nobody tried to knock him down. You wanted to pitch to him to see what you could do against the great Steve Bilko. The Bilko Athletic Club gives a detailed account of the homer Steve hit off me for the last one ever hit at L.A.'s Wrigley Field. I didn't get mad. In fact, I was kind of tickled by how far he hit the ball.
(Jim "Mudcat" Grant, former major league pitcher, 1963 and 1965 All-Star selection)As a kid growing up in Long Beach in the 1950s, Steve Bilko was our Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams all rolled into one. My dad took me to Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, in 1956 to see my first professional baseball game. After the game, in which Bilko homered, I looked around and found a stubbly pencil on the ground and tore up a popcorn box to use to get Bilko’s autograph. He saw my excitement and graciously took the stubbly pencil and signed on the grey inside piece of my popcorn box. I still have that in my storage space and The Bilko Athletic Club got me thinking it’s about time to pull that out and reminisce on what a great experience and memorable day that was for me.
(Bobby Grich, former major league second baseman, six-time American League All-Star selection)This is a wonderful book. Sadly, the time it talks about is gone forever, but it's not yet forgotten. The Bilko Athletic Club knocks over the head the silly notion that Los Angeles baseball sprang full-grown from Walter O'Malley's forehead in 1958. And I'm forever jealous that Gaylon White got to interview Steve Bilko.
(Harry Turtledove, author of The Guns of the South and Hugo-award winner)The 1956 Los Angeles Angels were the 1927 Yankees of the Pacific Coast League and Steve Bilko was their Babe Ruth. Like the Bambino, Bilko became part of our popular culture. You’ll Never Get Rich is remembered as one of TV's funniest comedy series from the 1950s. Phil Silvers played Army Sgt. Ernie Bilko. The show's creator named the main character after his hero, Steve Bilko. Gaylon White spent years reassembling the 1956 Angels, LA’s big league team before the Dodgers moved to town. He tracked down fascinating old ballplayers including Gene Mauch, Piper Davis, and Marino Pieretti who were much more interesting and accessible than today’s stars. The exploits of the ‘56 Angels were followed closely by small boys, grown men, and at least one TV producer. White's book is a West Coast version of The Boys of Summer.
(Bill Swank, author of Echoes from Lane Field)
About the Author
Gaylon H. White started his career as a sportswriter for the Denver Post before moving to the corporate world as a speechwriter. He has authored some 80 articles for international and U.S. publications, many on baseball, and is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.