Lethbridge did it again!
In the final season of the Western Canada Baseball League (this version) the White Sox took the title for the second straight season.
The Sox upset Saskatoon, the runaway regular season champs, in six thrilling games in the best-of-nine final series.
The Sox, bolstered with players from Edmonton and Lloydminster / Medicine Hat, got brilliant pitching in the final to send the highly-favoured Commodores down to defeat. Dick Dyer tossed a 15-inning shutout, Jerry McDonald pitched a three-hitter, Willie Walasko allowed just two unearned runs, and Dave Dowling won the final game with a five-hit, 18 strike out performance.
Fans were treated to three extra inning games in the final, and four games decided by a single run.
It was a tremendous climax to a year in which financial troubles forced the league to move the Lloydminster franchise to Medicine Hat in early July and, a month later, suspend the operation of the Edmonton club.
With the exception of the playoffs, it was a season dominated by the Saskatoon Commodores. They finished with 46 wins in 62 games, had the batting champion in Lyle Olsen (left) and the pitching leader, Dan Schneider.
Commodores won 10 of the 11 spots on the all-star team. Outfielder Stan Busch of Lethbridge was the lone all-star not from the Saskatoon roster.
Two Saskatoon players were unanimous selections (chosen by press, radio and television reporters) -- John Boccabella at first base, Lyle Olsen at second base and as the top manager.
c - Gary Herrington; 1b - John Boccabella (left); 2b - Lyle Olsen; 3b - Tim Cullen; ss - Midge Fazio; of - Stan Busch, Bob Levingston, Mickey McDermott; rhp - Bob Peters; lhp - Dan Schneider; mgr - Lyle Olsen.
Among the season's highlights were one-hitters by Darrell Sutherland of Saskatoon and Dave Dowling (right) of Lethbridge. Dowling also registered 18 strikeouts on two occasions -- in the final playoff game and in the Lethbridge tournament, and he fanned 17 in a regular season match.
Link Curtis of Saskatoon had one of the biggest days at the plate with a 6-6 day.
Lethbridge rolled up 22 runs in trouncing the Meridians. Marve Marchbanks was the only White Sox not to get a hit. He was released following the game.
Fans in Saskatoon must have thought they had Cy Young on the hill. 18-year-old Floyd Thionnet posted four consecutive shutouts at Cairns Field.
Eventually, five members of the Commodores would advance to the major leagues -- Boccabella, Cullen, Fazio, Schneider and Sutherland.
In tournament play, Lloydminster / Medicine Hat copped both major events winning in Lacombe and in Lethbridge. Tim Cullen had a rare day in tourney play -- consecutive grand slam homers.
Curly Williams loved Lacombe. He had three hits in the semi-final and another trio in the final. The previous year at Lacombe he had reached base 14 times in 15 plate appearances.
In mid-August, bugs forced delays in two games in Lethbridge. Moths were so thick they forced Stan Busch to flee from his outfield position.
Competition was often fierce but not without compassion. In a twin-bill in Lethbridge, Lloydminster catcher Bob Milano was injured in the first game leaving the club without a backstop. Between contests the White Sox released catcher Jerry King who suited up with the Meridians for the second game.
The Bee-Boys were a big hit. Ray Barboza (right) of Edmonton led the circuit with 15 homers and Boccabella was second with 13.
Glee to grief. July 31st Saskatoon announced it had acquired outfielder Kenny Washington, from USC, to replace all-star Bob Levingston who was forced to return to university classes.
Washington, son of a former NFL great, scored a run and made a sensational catch in his first game. He had two hits, including a double in his second game. In his third game he had a homer, two runs batted in and two steals. Then, in the 6th inning, disaster. On a double steal, Washington collided with catcher Bob Milano at the plate. Fractured leg.
A touch of irony is that coinciding with Eskimos' return to the WCBL, it almost came to pass that there was a Charnofsky bossing the Saskatoon Commodores this season ... When Spero Leakos was here last weekend, he disclosed that Roland Jones, who is back with the Esk pitching staff, was one of the last three when the Hub City managerial candidates were narrowed down ... Obviously, another was Lyle Olsen, the eventual choice ... Now it turns out that the third was Hal Charnofsky, twin brother of Stan Charnofsky, who is Rex' predecessor at the helm of the Eskimos (Edmonton Journal, June 9, 1961)
In their return to the league, the Eskimos had a new look at the top. Long-time general manager John Ducey was no longer affiliated with the team. Roy Edwards headed up the new organization with Lou SImon, Bob Sharp and Lou Hiatt also prominent.
The 1961 season was the end of baseball for one of the league's most colourful characters.
Clif Pemberton started the season as the playing-manager of the Meridians but, in late June, a fractured hand put him on the sidelines. He wasn't inactive for long, getting back on the field as an umpire as he turned over the Meridians to veteran Curly Williams. While his stint as an official drew high praise, he was soon back in uniform as playing-manager of the Edmonton Eskimos. The Esks would soon fold and Pemberton packed his bags for his last trip home from Canada.
(July 14) Lyle Olsen, playing manager of the Saskatoon Commodores was fined $15 for "directing abusive language at game officials" during a July 6th tilt in Saskatoon. Also, Jim Lester, third baseman for the Lethbridge White Sox, was fined $10 for being evicted from a game July 2nd after he had "threatened an umpire with a bat"
The Regina Red Sox repeated as Southern League regular season pennant winners in 1961 but were upset by the fourth place Swift Current Indians in a semi-final playoff round. The Moose Jaw Steelers also advanced to the league's final playoff series after steamrolling over the Estevan Maple Leafs in three straight games. The Steelers, under the leadership of Mike Dayne, (left) carried the momentum into this final showdown and swept the Tribe in four straight meetings.
Lionel Ruhr (right) of The Regina Red Sox finished with a lofty .415 batting average to walk off with the hitting crown. Ruhr, who finished .057 percentage points ahead of runner-up Duane Ring of the Fort Qu'Appelle Sioux Indians, was also selected as the league's MVP. Pitchers Gord McDonald of the Estevan Maple Leafs and Denny Weston of the Swift Current Indians posted the top winning percentages as both finished with identical 5 - 1 records. Doug Modrell of the Balcarres Braves recorded 53 strikeouts to lead the league in that department.
Neilburg downed Unity 3-0 in the deciding game of the final series to win the Northern Saskatchewan title.
Peter Prediger (left), the 47-year-old playing-manager, belted a homer to win it for the Monarchs.
Don Stewart, the former Lloydminster playing-manager, drove in the tying run and scored the winner as Unity captured top prize in the Exhibition tournament with a 3-2 win over Neilburg. Stewart won $25 as the top hitter in the tournament
August 4th Bentley MacEwen pitched a no-hitter as Kindersley beat Unity Cardinals 5-0. The Klippers' lefty ace fanned nine and didn't issue a single free pass in the abbreviated contest, called after seven innings because of darkness. Three Kindersley errors kept MacEwen from a perfect game.
1961 marked the revival of the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. Five teams competed in the inaugural season which each team playing 16 games. Hamiota Red Sox easily won the pennant but was upset in the playoffs as the Dauphin Red Birds captured the title with playoff wins over Binscarth and Hamiota. Bill Berezinski of Binscarth captured the batting title with a .549 batting average. Neil Amy of Hamiota was the top hurler with a 7-1, won-lost mark.
Brandon placed four players on the All-Star team. First baseman Tommy Town, second baseman Lloyd Brown, right fielder Don Hunter and pitcher Lorne Lilley all made the squad. The pennant-winning Red Sox had just one player selected, pitcher Amy. Dauphin had a pair, shortstop Gerry Shumanski and left fielder Al Evason. Berezinski took the centre field slot with teammate Del Stainer at third base and Cliff Seafoot of Riverside chosen as the catcher.