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The 1949 Visalia Cubs won few beauty contests and even fewer ballgames; they lost 98 out of 140 contests, finishing last in the California League. But if you can look at this team photo without smiling, you're either having an especially bad day, or you're a robot.
The '49 squad was initially managed by Leon "Red" Treadway (first row, 3rd from right). Treadway was a player-manager who had enjoyed a 2-year stint with the New York Giants during World War II before embarking on an extended tour of the Minor Leagues. Poor defense and an inability to hit with runners on base doomed his career in the bigtime, and poor pitching would be his demise in Visalia.
Cubs pitchers posted awful numbers in 1949; while we don't have complete statistics, we do have ERAs and WHIPs for 11 Visalia pitchers, and they're not pretty. Dominic Contreras (top row, 3rd from right) pitched in 30 games that year and had an ERA of almost 6 and a half. Ray Peet (middle row, 2nd from left) had a respectable ERA of 4.66, but his WHIP (Walks plus Hits allowed divided by Innings Pitched) was almost 1.8, which isn't good at all. Other pitchers who joined the team later in the year and aren't pictured included Norm Fitzgerald (6.60 ERA in 15 appearances) and Walter Koehler, who managed to go 0-7 with a bloated 8.72 ERA over 18 outings. If you're a masochist, you can visit Baseball Reference's page on the '49 team for more numbers.
There were a couple bright spots for the '49 Cubs; Tommy Perez (top row, first from left) led the team in hitting with a .311 average and 24 home runs. He went on to play eight more seasons of pro ball in seven different cities before ending his career in Albuquerque in 1957. Despite posting solid numbers everywhere he went, he never got his shot at the Majors.
One man on this squad who did, however, was Ed Winceniak (bottom row, 3rd from left). Ed was just 20 years old when this picture was taken, and it would take him seven more years of toil to briefly reach the Show. In 1956, he appeared in 15 games with the Chicago Cubs. He collected 2 hits in 17 at-bats. The next year, he made 17 appearances for Chicago, and went 12 for 50. That was it. And yet, it was more than the vast majority of ballplayers ever experience. To people who only follow the Major Leagues, he was a failure; for those who understand the incredible effort it takes just to get there, he was the exception.
Red Treadway, meanwhile, wouldn't last the year as Cubs manager; he was replaced midway through the season. He managed another seven years in professional baseball before retiring to an unknown life of relative anonymity. All we know about him after 1956 is that he eventually died on May 26, 1994 in Atlanta.
1949 was a season to forget in Visalia. But if the Chicago Cubs are perpetually seen as lovable losers, the '49 Visalia Cubs are almost as lovable, especially after six decades. The losses and bad statistics fade; the smiles, the throwback gloves, and the unfortunate noses are timeless.