Bob Usher is 85 and hasn’t played professional baseball in more than 50 years, but he hasn’t forgotten an infamous moment in Pacific Coast League history. On August 2, 1953, while with the Los Angeles Angels, Usher participated in a legendary brawl.
I met Usher at the 16th annual Pacific Coast League reunion, held Saturday in San Leandro, California. Usher, who lives nearby in San Jose, was one of several PCL veterans in attendance. These men experienced the glory days of the league before the Giants and Dodgers moved to California in 1958, and the PCL became more of a feeder to the majors, rather than a West Coast alternative. Many of the former players still fraternize, though their ranks are thinning.
Usher collected 259 hits over parts of six big league seasons between 1946 and 1957 and spent five years in the PCL in the middle. He told me he played for the Angels in the PCL from 1952-1955, and my mind flashed on Joe Guzzardi’s post about the 1953 brawl. Usher said it was a long story and suggested we sit down. He began:
I’ve been asked to recount the brawl between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars August 2, 1953. It all started earlier than that. Normally when we’d go to a series, we used to play a seven-game series starting on a Tuesday. But since the Angels were playing the Stars, we started on Monday, and the tension grew each game as we proceeded through the series.
Our first brawl was on Friday night. I can’t recall the exact details of how this occurred, but Gene Handley, a third baseman for the Stars and Fred Richards, a first baseman for the Angels got mixed up somehow, and I don’t recall the exact circumstances.
Frank Kelleher, who was an outfielder for the Stars hurt us all week, particularly Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Sunday, he hit a triple, and he scored on a squeeze bunt. That was the fourth inning. In the sixth inning, Kelleher came up again, and Joe Hatten, our left-handed pitcher who used to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers, threw two fastballs inside and finally hit him with a curve ball. Frank walked to the mound, normally they charge today but he walked to the mound and started beating up on Joe Hatten and that emptied the bases.
Both Joe and Frank were ejected, and Ted Beard ran for Kelleher, and I don’t recall how he got to second, he might have stolen second base, but on the next play, Ted with his spikes high came into our third baseman Moe Franklin and hit him in the chest. The umpire Joe Iacovetti called him out at first, but Moe dropped the ball, and he was then called safe. But by that time, both benches had emptied, and for the next hour, there was such a melee on the field that the police captain of Hollywood broke out 50 uniformed policemen to help restore order.
It took over a half hour to do that… We had several people facing off each other in individual fisticuffs. No one was seriously hurt, but I remember coming in from right field, Mel Queen was beating up on our shortstop Bud Hardin who suffered a lower left and was injured that way.
Once the order was restored, the chief of police ordered all the players with the exception of those playing that game into the clubhouse, off of the bench. There’s pictures showing that there are three policemen and a couple ballplayers on the bench, and I’m not sure which bench it was Hollywood or Los Angeles.
The Angels lost 4-1 in the first game. The second game, the Angels won 5-3…. And that’s pretty much about the scenario. I’m not happy to be a part of it, but I was, as part of the melee, and I remember that just like it was yesterday. If anyone is interested in looking up the writeup on the brawl, you can go to www.sportshollywood.com/starsangelsbrawl.html
I asked Usher if he fought anyone, and he replied, “I don’t remember who, but I remember hurting my hand. I must have hit somebody.”
Interestingly, this wasn’t Usher’s most memorable moment as a ballplayer. Here’s a possible winner. In 1948, while at spring training with the Reds, Usher met a terminally ill Babe Ruth. “He had a gravel voice, he came to spring training with a long camel-haired coat on with a matching tan hat, and he signed a ball to me personally, and he passed away that August in ’48,” Usher said. “I got to talk with him, shake his hand. That was one of the biggest thrills I had. I still have his baseball at home.”
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