Thursday, October 15, 2009

Team Photos: 1947 Visalia Cubs


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Question: Of all the people in this picture of the 1947 Visalia Cubs, which went on to have the longest Major League career? Hint: it wasn't any of the players.

This was the second season of Visalia's minor league franchise, and the '47 team was a vast improvement over the 1946 expansion edition, which finished dead last in the California League. These Cubs finished in 2nd place before losing in the league playoffs.

The club featured several high-caliber players who were unlucky to be playing in the pre-expansion, pre-Free Agency era, when there was very little player movement either at the Major or Minor League level, and far fewer Major League jobs were available. While many fans bemoan the lack of player continuity in modern teams, the "old days" had a downside of their own: hundreds of gifted ballplayers (who would likely have been Big Leaguers if they played fifty years later) rotted away in the lower levels due to the stagnancy of player movement, and never had their moment in the spotlight.

Chuck Abernathy (top row, 4th from left) led the '47 team in batting with a .335 average and clubbed 16 homers. He was considered a top prospect, but he never made it to the Majors despite spending eight seasons in the Cubs' farm system. He died in Chowchilla in 2001.

Bob Talbot (middle row, far left) did make it to the big club in 1953. He played two seasons in Wrigley Field and became a fan favorite with the Bleacher Bums before injuries cut his career short. He moved back to Visalia after his playing days, and still lives here today. We'll feature him in a much longer piece soon.

Don Alfano (bottom row, far left) hit one point under .300 that year. He stalled at the AAA level a few years later, never making the big breakthrough. He would return to Visalia in 1951 and '53 before retiring and settling down in the city.

Bob Moniz (bottome row, 2nd from right) has most likely appeared in more games for Visalia than any other player. Records from this time are sketchy, so we can't know for certain. But we do know that he played in parts of 6 different seasons at Recreation Park with a few other stops in-between, starting in '47 and ending in 1955. He also decided to make the town his permanent home after meeting his future wife at a Visalia swimming pool.

But of all the men in this picture, it was John Holland, a non-player (top row, far right) who arguably had the most well-known career. As Visalia's Business Manager, he ran the team's day-to-day operations, and he rose steadily through the Cubs system over the next decade before Philip K. Wrigley named him General Manager of the Major League club in 1956. He would remain Chicago's most powerful executive for almost 20 years, finally retiring after the 1975 season. He is still the longest-serving GM in Cubs history.

Visalia fans loved the 1947 team, as evidenced by the fact that over 104,000 of them turned out during the season (at a time when the population of the city was around 10,000 people). It was a franchise record that would stand until 2009.

2 comments:

  1. I thought Visalia is home to the Visalia Rawhide (a "high-A" class team of the Arizona Diamondbacks) of Minor League Baseball.

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  2. Maryann Hofmann RizzoMay 19, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    How nice to find your blog! My Dad, John Hofmann, was a pitcher for Visalia in 1947. He is pictured in the top row, 4th from right. All the minor league teams he played for are referenced here (even though they spelled his name wrong!) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=hoffma003joh.

    The names you speak of in your article are very familiar as he kept in touch with Don Alfano and many others throughout his life. He also spoke the same words you did many times...that "hundreds of gifted ballplayers would likely have been Big Leaguers if they played fifty years later." There is a great article in Hardball Times http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/minor-league-workhorses-1946-1950/ that talks about how hard the players of that era "worked" at baseball. My Dad is listed as one of the Top "workhorses" of 1946-1950. He did get called up and had short stints with the Red Sox and Indians. His dream was to manage after he retired from baseball in 1955, but he went into business instead after his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

    During his later years he spent many hours watching baseball on ESPN, knew every player, every new rookie, all their stats, team stats, you name it...he was a walking baseball encyclopedia and never lost his love for the game.

    So glad to have found this article...makes me proud to know the 1947 Team was so beloved.

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