Steve Bilko’s 50th home run
Aug. 26, 1956: Steve Bilko of the Los Angels Angels hits his 50th home run of the year in game against the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Rainers at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles.
Bilko ended up winning the 1956 PCL triple crown with a .360 batting average, 55 home runs and 164 RBIs.
Later in 1961, Bilko played with the American League expansion team Los Angeles Angels — who played their first season in downtown’s Wrigley Field. He hit the team’s first home run, then later in the season, the last home run at Wrigley.
Following Bilko’s death, columnist John Hall wrote in the March 10, 1978 Los Angeles Times:
It is impossible for anybody who wasn’t around Los Angeles prior to the arrival of major league baseball in the form of the Dodgers in 1958 to understand the hold Steve Bilko had on the sporting public and press around here.
His home-run heroics of the mid-’50s for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League made him a special sort of local legend. Bilko, who died this week at 49, was no Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays in ability. He was much bigger at old Gilmore and Wrigley fields.
Once, during one of Bilko’s ferocious tears, Sid Ziff, then sports editor of the then-Mirror-News, wrote in his column that the only intelligent thing any opposing pitcher could do was intentionally walk Bilko every time he came to bat–even with the bases loaded at the expense of forcing in a run. Better that than a grand slam or being killed by a line drive. That may sound ludicrous now, but it is a perfect example of the awe Bilko inspired.
With men on base and a rally brewing, the late Bob Kelley, voice of the Angels, frequently used a favorite phase to stir the audience. “And here comes Bilko!” Kelley would scream. It is hoped that somewhere Kelley is shouting it again right about now.
This photo was in the recent Wrigley Field photo gallery but deserves its own post.
A separate but similar photo was published in the Aug. 27, 1956 Los Angeles Times. I believe staff photographer Art Rogers used a Bell-and-Howell Foton 35mm sequence camera the Los Angeles Times owned in the mid-1950s. The published version is below.
Front page of the Aug. 27, 1956 Los Angeles Times with Art Rogers’ photo of Steve Bilko hitting his 50th home run. Credit: ProQuest.
April 16, 1962: Slugger Steve Bilko blows bubbles during ceremonies at City Hall for the Los Angeles Angels. This photo was published in the April 17, 1962 Los Angeles Times. Credit: John Malmin/Los Angeles Times
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