Alas, the old Seattle Rainiers are slowly leaving us, and another one departed this week with the death of Larry Jansen at age 89.
Jansen was the last 30-game winner in the Pacific Coast League in 1946 for the San Francisco Seals, was the winning pitcher for the New York Giants in the famous tie-breaking game in which Bobby Thomson hit his “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and played for the Rainiers from 1955-57, playing under two legendary managers, Fred Hutchinson and Lefty O’Doul.
In 2006, when the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) held its national convention in Seattle, I was asked to do a story on the old Pacific Coast League for “Rain Check,” a SABR publication designed for the event (distributed by University of Nebraska Press).
The story was an oral history featuring interviews with several players — all getting up in years, obviously — including Jansen, who was living in Forest Grove, Ore.. Like all the men I talked to, he was quite eager to discuss the PCL and adamant in his belief that the quality of play was comparable to the major leagues.
“They were awfully close,” Jansen told me. “I went from here to there and did the same thing.”
Translation: Jansen won 30 in the PCL in 1946, then went to the New York GIants and won 21 games his first year in the majors, 1947.
I still have the interview in my computer, so I figure it’s a fitting tribute to present Larry Jansen, a Northwesterner, in his own words:
LARRY JANSEN, pitcher
Jansen was the last 30-game winner in the PCL for the pennant-winning Seals in 1946 – just two years after his PCL career, which began with San Francisco in 1941, was abruptly halted by WWII.
“I was very fortunate. When the war started, during the winter I was working on our farm in Oregon. The next spring, I called the draft board and said, ‘I’m supposed to leave for spring training tomorrow.’ They said, ‘What’s your address? We’ll send the induction forms right to you.’ I said, ‘I have two children. What happens if I stay on the farm?’ They said they’d give me a deferment for awhile. I said, ‘I’m not going to spring training.’ I skipped ’43 and ’44, and part of ’45.
“Before I left the PCL, my catcher taught me a slider. It was a pitch that had hardly ever been used. I learned it before the season ended in ’42. I worked on it playing in semipro leagues. When the war ended, San Francisco called and asked if I could pitch. I said I had to call the draft board. I told them the San Francisco Seals wanted me to play baseball. They asked me if I had taken any vacations while I worked on the farm. I said no. They said, ‘We’ll give you a five-week vacation.’ I went down and went 4-1, helped get them into the playoffs. But I couldn’t play in the playoffs because I hadn’t gotten there in time. I went home, and they went on to win the playoffs and the pennant. They sent me a full share.
“The next year, I went 30 and 6. The slider just chewed everyone up. That’s why I was such a good pitcher in the big leagues. The slider was a very, very new pitch. Everyone thought it was a fastball. They hit ground ball after ground ball.
“In 1947, I went to the New York Giants. Mel Ott was my manager. In spring training, Bob Feller hit a line drive back at me in Tucson, the first game I pitched, and I was out. When the season was starting, I hadn’t pitched for awhile, and I relieved a little bit. I hadn’t relieved in my life. Three or four days before cutting time, the pitching coach said, ‘You’ve got to give Jansen a chance to start. He won 30 games last year.’ They started me in Boston and I beat them 3-2, and four days later in St. Louis, he pitches me again, and I beat them. I made the team, and went on to win 21 games.
After going 120-86 in the majors leagues for the Giants from 1947-54, Jansen returned to the PCL in 1955 with Seattle. He was a player-coach for Fred Hutchinson on the Rainiers’ 1955 championship team, and for Lefty O’Doul in 1957, O’Doul’s last season managing in the PCL. He also played for Portland in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“Lefty O’Doul, my manager in Seattle, was a great, great guy. He had been let go by San Francisco. We were playing one day in San Francisco, at the old Seals Stadium. Only two or three balls had ever been hit over the center-field fence. I was pitching for Seattle that day, and I hit one over the center-field fence. O’Doul was coaching third, and as I round third, there’s O’Doul laying flat on his back, yelling, ‘Stop and pick me up.’ I stopped and picked him up. The next day, I’m running in the outfield, and San Francisco’s manager came up and told me, ‘The guy you hit the home run off is gone to Fort Worth.”
“I had a pretty good stretch in Seattle. In ’56, I was 11-2. The Cincinnati Reds brought me up. They had a chance to win the pennant. They pitched me against the Braves, because I used to pitch well against them. I beat them, and then the Braves came into Cincinnati, and I beat them again. But they made the mistake of pitching me against three more teams.”