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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.