Old Oaks player part of Oakland baseball history
OAFC BBS - All Topics: Archive: Old Oaks player part of Oakland baseball history
| By chris_d on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 - 10:04 am:|
May 11, 2004
Raimondi still at home in Bay Area
By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER
OAKLAND -- The ballparks of Billy Raimondi's world have been torn down. But the foul pops he caught, the runners he gunned down, and the pennant he won are indestructible memories from a half-century ago.
Now 91, he is the last survivor of Oakland's first and foremost baseball family, the Raimondi brothers. There were six of them, four of whom -- Billy, Ernie, Al, Walt -- played at the Triple-A level locally long before Major League Baseball ever considered western expansion.
The Oakland Oaks' ballpark at 40th and San Pablo in Emeryville was razed years ago, but that's where Billy Raimondi crouched behind home plate for 17 years, from 1932 to 1949.
"The greatest thing in the world was playing at home," he said the other day.
The Raimondi family home was located at Fifth and Brush in West Oakland. Billy took the streetcar to his workplace, where this thinking-man's ballplayer wore the catcher's "tools of ignorance."
Raimondi later played for Sacramento and Los Angeles, so his Pacific Coast League career spanned 22 seasons. Little physical evidence of that career remains as Seals Stadium in San Francisco, Lane Field in San Diego, Gilmore Stadium in Hollywood and other PCL parks have been demolished.
There is a ballpark in West Oakland, though, that outlived those PCL facilities. Raimondi Field was dedicated in the name of Ernie Raimondi, a nifty third baseman who played for the Seals and Oaks before he was killed during World War II.
Al Raimondi pitched for the Oaks and Mission Reds, a second PCL franchise in San Francisco. Walt Raimondi was an Oaks shortstop in 1944 before the war ended his career. Joe Raimondi was a local race track figure, while Hank Raimondi owned a paint store in Oakland's Montclair district for years. The brothers' one sister, Lorraine, was the baby of the family.
"My parents were trying to get her for so long, and they finally got her," Billy said of Lorraine, who's still alive.
Their father was a bootblack, their mother a cannery worker. The father was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking someone to the West Oakland train station in 1931, the same year Billy turned professional.
After 11/2 years of lower-classification baseball in Arizona, he was called up to Oakland, thereby beginning one of the longest runs by a player with one franchise in minor league history.
In 1936, Raimondi was a victim of bad timing. He came down with a bad arm that sidelined him the entire season, the same year he made it to the big leagues with Cincinnati. He was on the Reds roster the first three games that year, but didn't come to bat before he was released.
He never returned to the bigs, and never felt the need.
"I got to stay at home," he said, "and I made more money in the Coast League."
His biggest contract was
$10,000, with bonuses, in 1948, when he was among the "Nine Old Men" who won the PCL title under Casey Stengel's managing. That championship earned Stengel the New York Yankees' managing job the following year, launching a Cooperstown career.
"He studied the guys better," Raimondi said of Stengel's managing style. "He knew what he wanted to do. He treated all of us great. We'd have a couple cases of beer after the weekend. And on the road, he'd give us extra money -- $15 or $20."
Raimondi was involved when baseball's integration moved from Jackie Robinson to the PCL. Artie Wilson, an African-American shortstop, joined the Oaks in 1949 and won the league batting title even though he was a left-handed hitter who rarely pulled the ball.
"George Metkovich and I would kid with him, and I don't remember anyone taking offense," said Raimondi. "How could you get mad with a guy batting .340 and leading the league? And (blacks) should have been playing long before then."
The PCL was more regimented back then, with weeklong series. Teams played single games Tuesday through Saturday, then a doubleheader Sunday. Monday was a travel day, with San Diego to Seattle the longest trip.
"We played cards -- bridge, poker, pinochle," Raimondi recalled of those mostly train trips. "You had your own group. I don't remember if we had air conditioning."
Raimondi lacked the typical, stocky catcher's physique. He was 5-91/2, 140 pounds, thus never hit more than two homers in a season. He normally hit around .270, but he was fast, stealing 14 bases one year. His biggest individual thrill was stealing home to beat the Seals in 1947.
He also was an unusual catcher in that he wore glasses.
"I never took my mask off on pop flies because it would have turned the glasses around on my face," he said. "It didn't bother me."
Glasses or not, catching at night in Emeryville was a chore.
"The scoreboard would light up, and you're looking right at it, 3-2 or 2-2 (count)," he said. "You really had to bear down and concentrate."
Raimondi managed the Oaks briefly during the war years and didn't like it. Then after Stengel left, Charlie Dressen was brought in to manage, and Raimondi's homey situation was about to change.
"I hit close to .300 in 1948, but I wasn't his type of catcher," said Raimondi. "I didn't get along with Dressen."
Dressen traded Raimondi to Sacramento, a deal that led to a torrent of negative press and fan reaction toward Dressen.
"There was nobody more popular in Oakland than Billy Raimondi," Oaks radio announcer Bill Laws recalled years later.
Billy and his wife of 66 years, Frances, live in Alameda. They have three children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
But how many living Oakland Oaks are there?
"Well," pondered Raimondi, "there's myself, Mel Duezabou, Will Hafey, Dario Lodigiani, Frenchy Uhalt ..."
Four more, and you've really got nine old men.
| By deajay on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 - 01:17 pm:|
Nice article. Thanks. Billy Martin was also an 18yr old rookie during one of Stengel's years in Oakland. His last one, I think. Is Jim Marshall still alive? Didn't he manage the A's for a season or so? He played first base for the Oaks at one time. Chuck Connors (of "Rifleman" fame and several other acting roles) also played first base in the PCL. I think for the Hollywood Stars.