Tag Archives: Western International League

Memorial Day–Jimmy Robertson

28 May

Born in Albany, Oregon on August 31, 1919, James G. “Jimmy” Robertson attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.  The Salem Statesman Journal called him:

“A hustling catcher and court star under coaches Spec Keene and Howard Maple at Willamette.  He was voted to Northwest conference teams in both sports.”

After graduating in 1942, Robertson signed his first professional contract with the Salem Senators in the Western International League (BR, and other sources conflate Robertson with several other players, including a shortstop by the same name who played with Salem in 1940).

Robertson made his professional debut on May 6; Salem defeated the Tacoma Tigers 6 to 2.  He was 0-2, with a sacrifice, was hit by a pitch, and scored a run.  The Journal said:

 “He caught a mighty smooth game.”


Jimmy Robertson

The next day, Robertson collected his first three professional hits, and first three RBIs in an 11 to 6 victory over Tacoma.

Robertson had appeared in just 21 games, hitting .250, when he was drafted, his final game was June 14.  The Statesman Journal said:

“That was a nice sendoff the 800-odd fans gave Jimmy Robertson on Sunday when he came to bat for the first time against the Tigers.”

In his last plate appearance, Robertson was hit by a pitch:

“But Jimmy didn’t mind as it came during that terrific seventh when Salem brought the house down.”

The Senators split a double header with Tacoma that day.

The Statesman Journal said:

“Yep, the Navy gets itself a good man in Robby, and when Uncle Sam is through with him, we hope he brings his dash and fire back to play for our Senators.”

Robertson trained as a pilot in North Carolina and Texas and went to the South Pacific in December of 1943 serving as a flight leader of a B-25 Mitchell bomber squadron.

The Statesman Journal said:

“First Lt. James G. Robertson, better known over the Willamette Valley and Western International baseball league as Jimmy, or ‘Jeem,’ basketball and baseball star has been killed in action in the South Pacific.”


First Lt. James G. Robertson

According to Robertson’s hometown paper, The Albany Democrat-Herald, the telegram sent to his wife–who gave birth to a daughter while Robertson was in the service–on April 24, 1944 gave no other details other than he had “died in the line of duty.”

The Eugene Guard said:

“He was a great competitor and his friends and acquaintances may be sure he got in some good licks…before the third strike.”

He is buried at Willamette Memorial Park in Albany.

“One of the most Astonishing Pennant Drives in Minor League History.”

16 Oct

After the Pacific Coast League’s (PCL) war-shortened 1918 season, John “Buddy” Ryan joined a team in Seattle’s Puget Sound “Shipyard League,” as a player/manager, but suffered a leg injury in September.

When the PCL reorganized for the 1919 season The (Portland) Oregonian said in an article about the Salt Lake City Bees:

“Buddy Ryan, who hits .300 year after year, is one of the holdouts.  (Manager Eddie) Herr does not know exactly whether Ryan is a holdout or whether he means to retire from baseball, but we who have watched the red-faced (Ryan) year after year know that Buddy wants more coin to cavort in the outer garden, hence the fact that he is secluded at a farm on the outskirts of Denver while the Salt Lake team is doing its best to get into shape.  Ryan has a bum pair of props, but still travels at a pretty fair gait.”

John "Buddy" Ryan

John “Buddy” Ryan

Whether it was about money or his “bum pair of props,” Ryan sat out all of the 1919 season.  In July of 1920 he returned to the PCL, signing with the Sacramento Senators.  The Oregonian said Portland Beavers owner Walter “Judge” McCredie “made strenuous efforts to sign him,” but “(Sacramento manager) Bill Rodgers seems to have pulled off a good stunt in signing the veteran slugger.”

Despite bad legs, the 34-year-old Ryan hit .298 in 105 games for the Senators; he hit .320 and .305 in 1921 and ’22, and retired again after hitting just .256 in 1923.

In September of 1924 Ryan, who operated several gas stations in Sacramento and did some scouting, was the surprise choice to replace Charlie Pick as manager of the last place Senators.  While he remained popular is Portland, The Oregonian was not encouraging about Ryan’s prospects:

“Buddy inherits a hard job.  Sacramento managers last about two years, win, lose or draw.”

Despite the prediction Ryan would remain manager of Sacramento until September of 1932; his best finish was second place in 1928 and he compiled a record of 825-927.

During the 1926 the usually mild-mannered Ryan, who The Berkeley Daily Gazette said typically “never so much as shouted from the sidelines,” was suspended three times for altercations with umpires.

In May The Los Angeles Times said the “rotund and soft-speaking manager” had “cuffed” umpire Augie Moran over “a decision at first base” during a game with the Hollywood Stars.  PCL President Harry Williams suspended Ryan indefinitely; he was reinstated after a week.

In August, after a ten-minute argument with Moran over a call at third base in Oakland, The Associated Press said:

“Moran ordered Ryan from the game, but the Sacramento manager refused to go, so three police men escorted him from the field.”

Williams again announced that he had suspended Ryan indefinitely; that suspension lasted a week also.

Three weeks after Ryan’s return, during a loss to the Los Angeles Angels, The Associated Press said:

“Manager Buddy Ryan of Sacramento took a healthy wallop at umpire (’s chin…With (John) Monroe on second in the first inning, (John) Knight drove a grounder at (Johnny) Mitchell, whose throw to second caught Monroe.  It was a close play, but Van Graflan ruled him out.  Ryan then walked to the field and in the course of an argument flattened Van Graflan with a perfect right to the chin.  He was chased from the field.”

Ryan was again suspended indefinitely, and again returned to the bench after a week.

He never had a similar incident during his nearly 30-years in baseball.

By the time Ryan resigned as Sacramento’s manager in 1932 he had become extremely wealthy, owning a chain of gas stations.  His business interests were cited as the reason for his resignation.

Buddy Ryan

Buddy Ryan

Three years later he managed the Portland Beavers for 52 games (23-29) before stepping down due to “ill health.”

After nearly a decade away from baseball Ryan joined the Oakland Oaks as a scout and coach for new manager Dolph Camilli—Camilli played for Ryan for four seasons in Sacramento and the two remained close.

Dolph Camilli

Dolph Camilli

After Camilli left Oakland Ryan became manager of the Wenatchee Chiefs, a Western International League team which had just been acquired as a farm team of Sacramento.  He led the team to a pennant in 1946, but was fired after a 31-59 start the following season.

In 1948 Ryan became a team owner.  Along with a partner he purchased another Western International League franchise; the Spokane Indians.  His first act as owner was to install himself as manager, replacing Ben Geraghty who had just led the team a second place finish, .001 behind the Vancouver Capilanos.

Ryan’s move set the stage for his friend Camilli’s greatest moment as a manager; what The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review called “one of the most astonishing pennant drives in minor league history.”   On August 3 Ryan was hospitalized with pneumonia and Camilli was enlisted to take over the team.  The Indians 59-52, in fourth place, 9 ½ game out of first.

Under Camilli Spokane won 45 of their last 57 games—27 of the last 31—and won the pennant by 2 ½ games.

Camilli turned the team around; he said his friend Ryan had been too soft on the players:

“The first day I walked in there, here they were drinking beer in the clubhouse—I raised holy hell about it—before the game.  I woke ‘em all up.”

Ryan sold his interest in the team after the 1948 season and retired, for the final time, from baseball.

Ryan died in 1956 at age 70—The Oregonian called him “one of the greatest baseball favorites old Vaughn Street (Portland’s ballpark from 1901-1956) ever knew.”

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