Monday, December 1, 2008

Renna Reflects on Career

When you mention his name to any of the Old Timers one of the first things they say “A great football player at Santa Clara”. This is true but what about being a former major league baseball player as well. Sitting down with Bill Renna was a treat reflecting on his career in baseball and football. He was a two-sport standout throughout his high school years and football ranks right up there. Born in Hanford, CA in 1924, at 84 years Bill still looks like he could hit a ball a mile and take on a defensive end. He was a three-sport athlete in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1940’s playing baseball, football and basketball. Baseball was always his first love but his 6’ and 200 lbs frame as a high schooler made him a football recruiter’s delight. Upon graduation from high school in 1942, he went to USF where he played fullback in a single wing formation. His teammate in the same backfield was Neill Sheridan. In addition to the gridiron he played baseball. As many young men at the time, he was drafted into the Army where he became involved in aviation and working on planes. After his two-year stint in the service he attended Menlo College with the thought of going to Stanford. But through some quirky incidents his transcript was mishandled and he wound up going to Santa Clara instead. There is where his football legacy began as he starred for two years as a fullback and later as a center from 1947-48. During a practice before the USC game his coach came to him and asked if he would consider playing center because the regular and back-up player at that position got hurt. Bill was reluctant because he was new at that spot and wanted to stay in the backfield. But after three snaps to his coach he was inserted as the center and ready to play. That Saturday the middle linebacker was none other than three time All-American Rod Franz and the battle was on. “I think it was a stand-off, he got me a couple of times and I laid him out too,” he chuckled. Because of his versatility, Bill was selected to play in the East-West game in 1949 and had a great game, so much so that he was wooed by the LA Rams. But baseball was still in his blood and he had two great seasons with the Broncos. He decide to sign with the Yankees and scout Joe Devine in 1950 for about $5,000 which was a signing bonus and first year salary. He spent his first year with Twin Falls of the Pioneer League and after a good season he was promoted to Kansas City, the top minor league affiliate for the Yankees. A freak injury set him back for most of the season and he wound up in Class B ball in the Piedmont League. Following a good spring training he started out with the Seals of the PCL in 1951, but after a 10 game losing streak he and several others were sent packing and he was sent back to B League Quincy. In 1952 everything fell into place for this strapping young man. He hit .285 with 28 home runs and 100 + rbi’s. This was the ticket to the Big Leagues and the New York Yankees. Playing with the 1953 Yankees was the most treasured time of his life and while it only lasted one season he has memories for a lifetime. Imagine playing with Mantle, Berra, Ford, Rizzuto, Raschi, Martin, Reynolds, Lopat, Bauer, Woodling and all the rest including manager Casey Stengel. That year he platooned in left field with Gene Woodling for most of the season as a 28 year old rookie. While he played respectfully he was traded the next year to the Kansas City Royals and was with them through 1956 having mediocre years. In 1957 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox and was sent down to the San Francisco Seals where he spent most of the year. Once again he had a great year as the Seals in their last year in the PCL won the pennant and Renna batted .295, with 28 homers and drove in more than 100 runs. In 1958 he was back in the major leagues with the Red Sox and he played behind Ted Williams all year. That was to be his last year in baseball because of a growing family and the need to have a more stable career so he quit the game to take a job in the concrete business.
I then had a question and answer session with him.
Question: What do you think about today’s ball players and howmuch time they spend on the disabled list?
Answer: They don’t run enough. Too many of them break down because of a lack of running. In my day we ran and ran to keep our body in shape. Today they have the weight rooms and trainers, in our time we couldn’t lift weights or even swim because of the muscle structure not being conducive to baseball.
Question: Do salaries mean anything to you as a former player?
Answer: No, not really. I understand the reality of today and yesterday. I made $15,000 at the height of my career and at the time I was satisfied.
Question: Do you see any problems in baseball today?
Answer: None that I can see. Baseball has the best union in the world and free agency has really helped out the players. It’s not good for the fans to have their top players around for just a short time but the players have the freedom to go where they want.
Question: Who was the greatest player you ever saw?
Answer: I had the opportunity to see some of the best in the 1950’s, but the best was Mickey Mantle. He could do everything and when he learned to play the outfield he became one of the best. If it wasn’t for the leg injury who knows what he could have done. I saw him hit the 565 foot homer out of Griffith’s Stadium in 1953 against Chuck Stobbs. Mickey was batting right-handed against the leftty Stobbs who threw him an off-speed pitch that almost fooled him, but he stayed back and waited on the pitch. When it left the bat we all stood up in the dugout and watched the flight of the ball as it kept on going and when it cleared the clock at the top of the stadium in left-centerfield we were all in total amazement.
Question: What was your greatest moment?
Answer: My wife Roni was in the hospital about to deliver our first child. I didn’t want to go on the road trip and wanted to be with her, but in those days staying at home wasn’t tolerated. I told Stengel about the situation and informed the clubhouse guy to let me know the moment he received a call from the hospital. As fate would have it, Casey started me in leftfield that day and just before the game started I got the call the call that my wife gave birth to our son. I was so excited that in my first at bat I hit a home run! When I got back to the dugout I got the silent treatment for a moment and then they all got all over me.
Question: Who was the toughest pitcher you faced?
Answer: Mike Garcia of the Indians, he just wore me out. Then one game I get hits off him in my first two at bats. As the teams were changing sides I passed Mike, who I grew up with in Hanford, and told him that I figured him out. In my next at bat Garcia knocked me down on the first pitch.
Question: Did you ever meet Joe DiMaggio?
Answer: Yes I was in spring training with the Yankees in 1950 in Joe’s last year and I met him. One of my jobs was to pitch batting practice in the morning workouts and then play the intra-squad game in the afternoon. One of the other rookies asked me to warm up with him and I told him that I was already loose because of pitching BP. I’m sitting in the dugout and there’s no one around except Joe at the other end. He says, “Hey kid you want to loosen up”? I immediately jumped up and tossed the ball with Joe. Later the other rookie comes up to me says, “Hey I thought you were already loose”? I said you ain’t Joe DiMaggio. Incidentally he got an autograph from DiMaggio as a kid in 1936 and still has it.
Question: So what did you do after baseball?
Answer: I decided to retire in 1959 even though I could have played a few more years. But with a family (now 3 children) I wanted more security in my life than baseball could offer me. So after searching around I took a job with Central Concrete Supply company as an estimator. I held that job for more than 26 years. I never wanted an inside job and doing the estimating kept me outdoors most of the time. He went into partnership with Manny Frito in Pacific Ready Mix and worked up to 1990. He finally decided it was time to spend more time with Roni, his wife for 55 years and their grandchildren. Major league baseball through their pension fund pays him a decent monthly retirement salary. He still lives in San Jose in the Willow Glen area and attends many of the PCL reunions and OTA dinners.

World Series Statistics
We picked the Rays in six and that didn’t turn out but this year’s World Series turned out to be a good one. Here’s some stats by the number. 5– Consecutive years that the World Series has been decided by a sweep or five games.
25– Years since the Phillies four major league franchises won a title. The 1983 76ers were the last to do so.
31– The Rays had a 31 game improvement in 2008 over 2007, 97 wins vs. 67 wins. 48– Closer Brad Lidge converted all 48 of his save chances for this season. 50– Number of hours from the first pitch on Monday Oct. 27 to the final out on Wednesday Oct. 29th.
Little Big Men Bring Home the Honors
The Giants Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young award and Dustin Pedroia wins the MVP of the American League. Both of these emerging super-stars are “little guys”. Lincecum is listed at 5’10” and about 160 lbs and Pedroia is 5’9” and about 170. In our day many players were under six feet and it wasn’t a big deal to see guys excel that weren’t big. Think about it, Marino Pieretti was about 5’7”; Mantle 5’11”; Willie Mays 5’10” and so on. Both Lincecum and Pedroia had big hurdles to overcome in this size conscience world we live in. If it wasn’t for the great mechanics Tim learned from his father he would just be another name. Pedroia was told he wasn’t big enough all his life growing up in Woodland. An interesting note on him is that our friend and former Mets Scout, Ken Wollenberg, had a part-time job last year up in Sacto delivering and picking up tires from retail stores. Ken goes into Radial Tire in West Sacramento on business when he notices a picture on the wall of Pedroia in a Red Sox uniform and another of a kid in a Little League type picture. So he asks the owner who the kid is in the pictures and he says, “That’s my son.” Surprised and not shy with words Ken goes on to tell Mr. Pedroia that this kid was going to win the Rookie of the Year award last year because of his scouting knowledge. Well it turns out that it happened and every time Wollenberg goes into Radial Tires Mr. Pedroia has good words for him.

Trivia Questions
Another stat for second basemen, Pedroia is one of only four AL second sackers to win the award. Who were the other three? And in the NL there were only six. Who were they? That’s your Trivia question of the month. The first four to get it correct will get lunch at one of the ad sponsor restaurants. And since no one got last months trivia questions with the prize being lunch at Caesar's here’s the correct answers: Question #1– As of opening day in 2008, what pitcher had the most career wins (112) in the 21st century? Roy Oswald.
#2– What was the only team in ML history to finish in last place with the worst record in its entire league despite scoring over 900 runs? 1930 Phillies.
#3– Who is presently the only player in ML history with 5,000 or more career at bats to post a career Slugging Average above .500 and hit less than 100 career home runs? Shoeless Joe Jackson
#4– What 200 game winner one year pitched for a 7th place team in an 8-team league, posted a woeful 5.08 ERA, gave up 30 home runs and yet won 20 games with 31 complete games? Bob Newsome 1938.
#5– Who is the only player to hit as many as 35 home runs before the All-Star break (37) and finish the season with less than 50 Hrs? Reggie Jackson 1969, 47.

Baseball Players Who Played Football
Thoughout the years there were many Old Timer baseball players that played dual sports and many excelled in football. We did some research and came up with some names of the two-sport players. Heading the list is former Lowell pitcher Bob Lee, who played college ball at UOP and then went on to have a great career as a quarterback in the NFL as a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and three other teams. Not far behind was Frank Hall, who played for the legendary Milt Axe at Poly. Frank was an All-City catcher and quarterback in 1953-54. He later went to USC where he had a fine college career. Art Von Wronsky, was an All-City catcher for Lincoln and was also the quarterback on the football team. Jerry Gosland, was Lineman of the Year for Lincoln and a stand-out as an outfielder and later played at SF State College. Sacred Heart produced some outstanding baseball/football players including Ron Fassler, who was in the same backfield with O.J. Simpson at City College. Also representing the Irish were Warren Johnston, and Howard Poblitz, who played both sports. S.I. turned out Bob Simi, Association president Bob Isola and quarterback Mel Canevaro. Isola says he was a “hell of a football player” but a lousy baseball player. There are probably a ton of others but here are some that come to mind: Tony Marotto, Lincoln in 1968; Ray Monteroso, quarterback at Poly; Jim Poppin, a lineman at Balboa; Tony Patch, Jr., at Lincoln and Jim Ruane who was a coach at Washington. All of the above were great just ask, but how about Ollie Matson, from Washington, Bob St. Clair, Poly, Gino Marchetti, Ed Brown, Joe Scudero, Roy Barni, and Ralph Thomas, who all played on the great 1951 USF team and most were products of San Francisco.

Recording the History of the Association
We got two volunteers to start putting down the history of the SF Old Timers on paper. Ernie Golding and Leo Martinez said they would help research the past history so that Newsletter editor, John McCarthy, can start recording the glorious past of this one of a kind association. If anyone else would like to help, it’s needed. Call if you’re interested.

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