The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: In the world of Bonita baseball, long before there was ever a Garza there was “The Whip”… by Brad Eastland

June 3, 2012
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     I was chatting with the great Pete Bennett the other day.   He publishes this newspaper, and is also an old friend.   A very old friend.   Literally.   Yeah, he’s pushing sixty. — LOL.   

     As newspaper publishers go, size-wise, Bennett is no William Randolph Hearst.   On the other hand, in many wonderful ways, Hearst is no Bennett.  (plus Hearst is dead, which gives Pete a big advantage over him….)

     As a newsman, what Pete occasionally lacks in knowledge he more than makes up for with inexhaustible enthusiasm.   And a child’s never-ending sense of wonder.   The other day he asks me, “So Eastland, I’m betting you’ve heard of this old-time guy Ewell Blackwell—have you?”   Well, being both a baseball historian and The Sports Philosopher naturally I say “of course”, and then proceed to give Pete a brief biography on the 6-foot 6-inch Blackwell, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in the 40s, and was so long and lanky and intimidating with his snapping, high-velocity, sidearm delivery that frightened enemy hitters nicknamed him, out of respect driven by fear, “The Whip”.   I go on to explain to Pete how Blackwell once came within a couple outs of matching Johnny Vander Meer’s amazing feat of pitching no-hitters in two consecutive starts.  (I guess what I lack in enthusiasm and childlike wonder I make up for by knowing a lot of obscure stuff.)

"The Whip"

"The Whip"


     Anyway, unable to contain himself any longer, Pete finally exclaimed, “Yeah, well it turns out that this guy Blackwell went to Bonita High!!!”   Bonita being, of course (as you locals in the La Verne Online orbit already know), that very fine high school right here in La Verne.   And old Pete was even more excited than usual because Bonita, where all three of his baseball-playing sons went to school, was getting ready to play for their first CIF Baseball Championship since 1951 in a couple days.   At Dodger Stadium, no less.

     So with Pete still shaking with excitement on the other end of the telephone line, I quickly Googled up Blackwell to see what else we could find out.   Yeah, Ewell Blackwell was pretty good, all right.   In 1947 he led the whole National League in wins (22) and strikeouts.   He also led the National League in hit-batsmen.   In fact he led the league in hit-batsmen six years in a row.   No wonder hitters were afraid of him!   Pittsburgh Pirates Hall-of-Fame slugger Ralph Kiner once declared, ”Ewell Blackwell was a scary pitcher.   Your legs shook when you tried to dig in on him.”   Blackwell himself agreed with that assessment: “I was a mean pitcher,” he once said.  

     Kiner was also quoted as saying that Blackwell was the “greatest right-handed pitcher ever”, which I told Pete I thought was a curious thing for a Hall-of-Famer to say about a relatively obscure non-Hall-of-Famer, particularly when you consider Kiner’s quote placed Blackwell above, among others, magnificent right-handers the ilk of Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, Juan Marichal, Christy Mathewson, and the immortal Walter Johnson.   But then I noticed that Kiner went to high school at Alhambra High, and so I figured he was simply giving Blackwell the kind of praise and props one local prep star gives to another.

     And then a curious thing happened.   Upon hearing that Kiner went to Alhambra, Pete remarked (and remarked far too casually, for my money) that that was who Bonita’s Bearcats were getting set to play on Saturday at Dodger Stadium for the CIF Championship.   I couldn’t believe it.   “You mean Blackwell went to Bonita and Kiner went to Alhambra and now seventy years later out of all the hundreds of high schools in Southern California it comes down to Bonita playing Alhambra on Saturday for the CIF title???” I exclaimed, Pete’s childlike enthusiasm suddenly transferring itself to me.   “That’s right,” Pete replied through a yawn.

     And thus this column was born.

     Now this is what I call a GREAT story.   The story of one Hall-of-Fame player and another one who would have been a Hall-of-Famer absent injuries, battling each other on the prep diamonds of Southern California in their youth, before heading east to do battle in the cathedral-like ballparks of the major leagues.   And then, over seventy years later, their two high schools battling for the CIF title in Dodger Stadium.   And all of it spilling out as the result of one stray conversation between The Sports Philosopher and his editor.   I’m gonna cry….

     The last couple days I’ve been reading up on Ewell Blackwell and Ralph Kiner.   I’m here to tell you, people, these are the two best ballplayers you’ve probably never heard of.   As for me, I was already aware of most of the cool Kiner stuff; the six years leading the entire major leagues in home runs (a record), the first National Leaguer to ever produce two 50-homer seasons, the only man to ever hit two home runs in four straight games, etc.   But I didn’t realize how great Blackwell was.   He not only won those 22 games in 1947, but 16 of them were in a row.   That’s a National League record for consecutive wins for right-handers which still stands.   And oh by the way, all 16 of those wins were complete-game wins.   As in no relief pitchers.   That’s back when men were men, I guess.

     Both men hit their peak that summer, at the age of twenty-four.   While Blackwell was winning his 22 games and almost pitching consecutive no-hitters, Kiner was hitting 54 home runs.   Pretty good numbers, when you consider they had to face each other five or six times that year, with each’s greatness no doubt lessening the statistics of the other.

     And each man’s greatness was ultimately ruined by injuries.   Just one more way in which these two diamond legends are intertwined.   Ralph Kiner retired after only 10 seasons due to a bad back.   He “barely” got into the Hall of Fame, by one vote, in his 13th and final year of eligibility.   Ewell Blackwell was even less fortunate.   Injuries and a badly infected (and then amputated) kidney limited The Whip to only seven full seasons.   (Maybe Kiner was right and Blackwell was the greatest ever….’just never got to prove it.)

     Did I say they were both twenty-four in the summer of 1947?   It gets creepier.   Blackwell was born on October 23rd, 1922.   Kiner was born on October 27th, 1922.   Four days apart.   If ever two big-time ballplayers were destined to be linked forever, from adolescence to their graves, it is these two.  

     Maybe it will be the same destiny for two kids named Garza and Briones.

The Bearclaw?

The Bearclaw?


     Bonita’s Justin Garza and Alhambra’s Marco Briones entered Saturday’s game widely hailed—with ample justification—as two of the best high school pitchers in Southern California.   The left-handed Briones was 9-0 with a microscopic ERA of 1.01, while the brilliant Garza, a senior about to pitch his final game for Bonita, was 11-1 this season and 24-1 over the last two.

     Something had to give.   Someone had to blink.   It was Briones.   Bonita’s batters got to Alhambra’s sophomore southpaw like no other team had done all season, and their pluck carried Garza and the Bearcats to a 5-1 victory.   In case you missed it, here’s Pete’s excellent write-up of Bonita’s triumph:

     Shades of Blackwell and Kiner.   But will a similar fate to Blackwell and Kiner await their two old high schools’ current superstars?   Will Garza and Briones carry their dominance into the major leagues, where they will face each other on the big stages that their luminous fellow alums did?   Only time and the baseball gods will tell.   If they do, Saturday’s little high school game shoehorned into the cathedral that is Dodger Stadium will then become the stuff of legend.

     And maybe 70 years from now, alums of Bonita and Alhambra will date-stamp that game as part of their heritage.

     It therefore seems only fitting to close by paraphrasing the iconic James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball….America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, it’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again….baseball has marked the time….it’s a part of our past….”

     Part of our present, too.


meet….The Sports Philosopher!image002

Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, film buff, undiscovered literary savant, and a lover of sports coincidences.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.   His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’.   Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on,, or   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   And then read it again.   And then post your praise on Facebook.   He thanks you, from the bottom of his mercenary heart…..










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