Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Featured Photo: Intlekofer, Bryson, and Safety Pins

There's a degree of irony in this 1947 picture, but it takes a little research to uncover it. We'll get to that in due time. Meanwhile, do you notice anything strange in the photo? Go ahead, click on it to see the enlarged version. We'll wait.

If you said "safety pins," you're either highly observant, or you just took a hint from the title. Either way, we salute your astuteness. The Visalia Cubs' jerseys were hand-me-downs from the Major League club, and they often were not in the best shape after being worn at Wrigley Field the previous year and then shipped cross-country.

This picture was taken on Opening Day of the 1947 season. John Intlekofer, the Visalia manager, is on the left, and big Jack Bryson, with his uniform held together by a couple makeshift devices, is the man on the right.

Bryson, like many players in that era, had his early career interrupted by World War II. He had been signed by the Washington Senators in 1941, and had begun his professional days in Orlando, Florida, at the tender age of 18. But he was drafted the next year, and found himself occupied with more important things until after the war.

The '47 season was his first in the Cubs organization, and his first full season back in pro ball. He was now 24 years old. Unfortunately, the years he'd lost had prohibited him from developing the raw talent that the Senators had seen in him six years earlier.

Bryson had a statistically solid season, as he went 16-13 in 1947, with a 3.94 ERA. His control, however, haunted him, as he walked 131 batters. He returned to Visalia in '48, and while the walks remained a constant feature of his game, his ability to pitch around them did not. He slumped to a 3-15 record with an ERA of over 6, and the Cubs released him. He remained in the area, playing for nearby Porterville in the Sunset League, but he didn't have much more luck there, and he retired from baseball after 1949. We haven't been able to determine what happened to him after his playing days.

John Intlekofer, meanwhile, helped lead the team to a dramatic turnaround from their inaugural season, when they won only 39 games. Intlekofer's club went 79-61, a full 40 games better than in '46, and they finished in second place. Only Stockton, who ripped off 26 consecutive victories at one point, compiled a better record than the Cubs.

Intlekofer didn't just manage from the bench; he was a pitcher-manager, although he threw only 56 innings in what would be his last playing season. He was 35 years old that year, and he'd been playing professionally since he was 19. His minor league career had taken him through Portland, Macon, Waterloo, Omaha, Little Rock, Cedar Rapids, Decatur, and two stops in the glamorous Pacific Coast League with the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars. Already well past the point of Major League potential, he was transitioning into a managerial role, and his first go-around would be a highly successful one.

After the 1947 season, Intlekofer managed for a couple more years before leaving the game. It seems logical that he had made contacts within the movie industry during his playing days in Hollywood, because in his post-baseball days, he became a successful wardrober and costumer for 20th Century Fox. He worked on films such as Planet of the Apes and Mash, and also outfitted Elvis Presley in several of his movies. Intlekofer passed away in 1999 in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 88.

A picture of John and Elvis, personalized with a thank-you note and autograph by The King himself, recently sold for over $4,500 on auction, along with a brown cowboy hat that Intlekofer picked out for Presley for his first film Love Me Tender.

All of that was still ahead of Intlekofer when he posed with Jack Bryson in April of 1947. The irony of it, of course, is that a man who went on to become a wardrober to the stars was managing a team that couldn't even afford buttons for their ragged hand-me-down jerseys.

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