Tuesday, 18 March 2008

How Salem Won the First Half

The Bull Pen
[Oakland Trib., Tuesday, July 7, 1953]
Hugh Luby established a Coast League record as an "ironman" by playing 866 consecutive games for the Oaks between 1939 and 1943, and he's still making baseball history.
The sensational finish of his Salem (Oregon) Senators In the first half of the Western International League certainly qualifies for honorable mention in any book of outstanding sports achievements.
As recently as May 15, Salem was last in a 10-club circuit.
Yet on July 2, Thursday, the surging Senators not only sewed up first place but also nailed it down with an extra-inning victory over Vancouver.
Having come out of nowhere—10th place is two steps below the cellar in most leagues—Salem was five games behind with two weeks to go. That's a lot of ground to make up on short
But Luby, who plays second base, manages the team, runs the business office and sells tickets in his spare time, made it.
Dave Dahle, the former Stanford and Oakland southpaw pitcher, was returned by San Diego in time to pitch a 4-0 victory ever Yakima. This started the team on an 11-game winning streak.
The Senators next traveled to Lewiston, Idaho, where they won four straight from the league leading Broncos. Only one game behind now, they drove to Spokane, where they made another
four-game sweep.
Salem Sews Up Lead on Last Day
This put them in first place by the slender margin of half a game and they maintained this advantage by taking three out of four from Tri City at home, to play in Vancouver. But there were still four games.
After winning the first two, Salem dropped the opener of an afternoon and night twin bill. Lewiston still had two to play. It the Broncos won both of them, and the Senators lost, Lewiston
would regain first place by a few percentage points.
The heat was on, and Luby's club responded with a victory. The veteran Lewiston team, meanwhile, fell apart, losing its final two contests to leave Salem on top with a generous two-game edge.
Last Sunday, before the Oaks played their series-ending double-header in Portland, we had an opportunity to talk with Ironman Hugh. The first question, naturally, was what happened
to transform a last place club into a pennant winner.
"The Coast League sent us help," Luby answered, "and because Lewiston was over the veteran limit of 12 men we were able to buy Pitcher Joe Nicholas, a San Leandro man who really
came through for us."
The "help" consisted primarily of option players from San Diego and Sacramento.
Milton Smith, the Negro third baseman who hit .390 for the first half of the WIL season, was with the Padres this spring and was sent to Salem when Jim Merson reported. To say that he was a sensation with the Senators would be putting it mildly.
Then there was Dahle. Purchased from Salem last winter, he was returned just in time to get Luby's team off on its big winning streak.
Sacramento sent Center Fielder Jim Deyo and Pitcher Gene Roenspie north on option, and both men came through. Used largely in relief, the latter won two games in a row during the
crucial scries in Vancouver.
"And," Luby added, "he saved a lot of other games for us."
Sacramento also optioned Jerry Ballard at a time when Salem was desparate for a first baseman to replace Joe Ciardy, who had quit because of an injured spinal disc.
"Ballard hit a couple of home runs for us in the clutch," Hugh reported, "and he was outstanding in the field."
Salem's success should be an object lesson to those Coast League owners who last winter voted against accepting players from the American and National Leagues.
"We couldn't have won without our option men," Luby said, "and the way the weather cut down our gate during the first half we couldn't have afforded to buy them."
There's a lot more to the Salem story, of course. To begin with, there's Luby. Nearing the 40 mark, Hugh missed less than 10 games at second base. From this vantage point he ran the team and batted over .320.
Hopes to Challenge Western League
Dick Sabatini of Oakland, the club utility man, spelled Hugh at the keystone. When Lee Witherspoon, the hard hitting outfielder was out for a week with a leg injury, Dick moved to right field. Just from reading the meager reports on the WIL in the Seattle and Portland papers we know he won at least one contest with his bat.
Luby also rates very high Gene Tanselli, his shortstop, and Jack Hemphill, a right-handed pitcher who won 10 games. Both of them should be ready for a crack at the Coast League in 1954, Hugh insists.
This is Tanselli's second year with the Senators. He was proffered a contract by Pittsburgh in 1951 after he graduated from Oregon State, but turned it down to go with Salem. Luby believes
he has a good chance to make it in the Coast League at either short or third.
Having come from away back to grab the first half title, Hugh sees no reason why his club shouldn't win the second half. This would eliminate the scheduled playoffs, but he has an answer
for that, too.
"It we can win both ends of the schedule," he said, "we'd like to play the Western League in a Class A championship. Even if we miss and have to go through a WIL playoff, I'd still
like to see our pennant winner meet the Western League champs in a post-season series."

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