About three weeks ago, thanks in large part to Baseball: Past and Present, I received an invitation to attend the annual Oldtimers and Active Baseball Players Association of Portland, Oregon dinner. One of the Oregon event organizers members who lived in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and had attended the game at the old Forbes Field read my blog about Vernon Law and his 18-inning masterpiece. An exchange about the Pirates then and now ensued, an offer was extended, and before I knew it, I had booked an airline flight to Portland.
Having grown up in Los Angeles during the old Pacific Coast League’s heyday, I had a working knowledge of the Portland Beavers, one of the of the league’s original teams. But since I rooted exclusively for the Hollywood Stars and only followed their bitter cross-town rival Angels, all I really could tell anyone about the Beavers from that era (1950-1957) is that the team consistently finished in the middle or at bottom of the pack with uninspiring records like 101-99 (1950), 92-88 (1952), 71-94 (1954) and, gasp, 60-108 (1957).
Thinking that my Portland welcome might be warmer if I had something more positive to say about the Beavers other than that they were perennial losers, I turned to my book shelf and pulled out “The Portland Beavers” by Kip Carlson and Paul Anderson.
Beavers’ history is rich indeed! Among the Beavers that would make their mark in the major leagues were such stalwarts as Luis Tiant, Lou Pinella, Satchel Paige, Rickey Henderson, Ray Fosse, Mike Shannon and Vic Raschi who, in 1947, was on loan from the New York Yankees.
Around Portland, there may still be lingering curiosity about what might have been had Raschi not been returned to the Yankees mid-season.
When Raschi reported to spring training in 1947, he was confident that based on his strong late 1946 performance he had made the Yankees’ starting rotation. But that year manager Bucky Harris inexplicably turned over the pitching coach duties to Charlie Dressen, a notoriously bad and unpopular handler of hurlers.
In Florida, Dressen limited Raschi to throwing batting practice. Just before the Yankees headed north, Raschi was ordered to report to the Beavers. Disgusted, Raschi instead went home to his wife Sally in Conesus, New York. After several calls from the Yankees threatening to banish him for life unless he went to Portland, Raschi reluctantly headed to the Northwest.
Once in Portland, Raschi met pitching mentor Jim Turner who would provide the keys to his years of pitching success with the Yankees and then the St. Louis Cardinals.
Tuner convinced Raschi that to win, he would need to pitch aggressively inside. As Raschi recalled in an interview late in his life, Turner told him:
“You have to crucify those sons of bitches, Vic. Murder them, crucify them, kill them.”
After a few weeks, Turner had so deeply instilled the mantra of “up and in” that Raschi dominated the PCL with his fearsome pitching and went 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA. By July, Turner knew that it was time for Raschi to return to the Yankees. After Turner placed a call to Yankees general manager George Weiss, Raschi was on his way back to New York. Although the Yankees were in the midst of a formidable winning streak, their pitchers’ arms were tired.
Raschi and Bobo Newsome, acquired in a trade, arrived in New York on the same day, started and won both ends of a double header against the White Sox in Chicago on the team’s way to 19 consecutive victories. Raschi ended the year with a 7-2 record, a 3.87 ERA and helped lead his team to a World Championship.
Meanwhile back in Portland, the Beavers finished 8-1/2 games behind the pennant winning Angels and 7-1/2 behind the second place Seals. Beavers’ fans, in one of those baseball questions that can never be answered, were left to wonder if Raschi would have made the difference between third and first.