Memories of my days with Essendon Baseball Club (1940s-50s)
By Geoff Swann
In the late 1940s as a ten year-old I would attend Essendon Football Club’s home games at the Napier Street ground and would sit with my paternal grandfather in the A.F. Showers pavilion. In those days baseball matches were played, on the oval, before the VFL games. The home plate was in front of the old scoreboard and a net, attached to the boundary fence, was behind the home plate.
Harry Nunn, who I knew as Essendon Cricket Club’s wicket keeper, was Essendon’s catcher. The only other memory I have of those Saturdays is of a game between Essendon and St.Kilda when Geoff Brookes, a restauranteur and radio personality, playing for St. Kilda slid into second base and broke his leg.
In the 1953 on my father’s suggestion I attended a practice with the Essendon Baseball Club at Fairbairn Park. As a keen, but very average, cricketer I was following others who played baseball in the winter to keep their eyes and arms in shape.
The Straw brothers, Lyn and Ross, were coach and captain of the club. Both were very welcoming and patient to this beginner.
I had only a very basic knowledge of the game when, after a couple of practices, I was chosen to play in the second team against Fitzroy or Northcote at Merri Park, Northcote. My parents had purchased an EBC uniform and shoes from the Melbourne Sports Depot in Swanston Street but as I didn’t have a glove, Ken Morrison, a Major A player, gave me one of his old gloves.
The EBC uniform [ as can be seen in the below photos of my brother ,Russell ] when worn with the warm-up jackets was quite distinctive. Most clubs had one-coloured jackets. When warming up we were told to wear the full uniform and to stand in two rows when throwing to each other. Ross believed that this was part of the psychological aspect of the game.
The EBC diamond was in the south-east corner of Fairbairn Park – open to any wind and the rain. As I remember, in my first season, there was no permanent net behind the catcher but for the following season a large cyclone-wire net had been erected. The entire field was grass and, if you hit the ball far enough you could score a home run.
As mentioned previously my first match was played at Merri Park. It was a very north-windy Saturday afternoon. The diamond, near the north-east corner of the park was marked out, complete with a pass ball line.
I played left field. My first time at bat I connected with a pitch and sent the ball through the in-field and, because of an outfield error, it rolled across the rock-hard surface far enough for me, who was, definitely, not the fastest of runners, to complete a ‘home run’ of sorts.
Most of my time was spent in the seconds. I remember two games when I was promoted to the bench with the Major A team. The first was against Collingwood at Studley Park [?] – Bill Lawry, later to become an Australian cricket captain, was playing for Collingwood. The second match was against South Melbourne at Fairbairn Park when an all-in brawl interrupted proceedings for a while.
I am sure that at all the games I played there was only one umpire. For finals there would have been the required number.
Major A players of those days were: Frank Jones [pitcher] Struan Chitty [catcher], Ross Straw , Dennis Smith ,, Hockey Smith [SS], Lyn Straw , Kevin Brady [LF], Ken Morrison[CF], Norm Tyshing]RF], Trevor Sartori, Keith Maher, Max Wishart, Len Sharp
I was at Junction Oval, on a showery Sunday afternoon, to witness EBC’s first premiership.
Players I can remember are : Lin Willersdorf and Peter Griffiths – both captained the seconds.
Rolf Ludvigson – catcher
Bob Durrant who, in a seconds match at Como Park, slid into second base and broke his leg.
I think Arnold Paice was in charge of the junior team/s [?] My young brother, Russ became a catcher in the juniors and eventually caught for the seconds.
He was a member of 1958 or 1959 VBA schoolboys’ team.
Some baseball happenings in the fifties were:
In 1957/58 summers a night baseball competition was held under lights at the South Melbourne Cricket ground. Two of the teams were the Tintara Tigers [sponsored by Tintara wines] and MSD Stars [sponsored by the Melbourne Sports Depot]
The teams were comprised of players from the VBA.
In the outfield there was a home run fence on which was some of the sponsors’ advertising.
Visit by Lou Brissie
Lou Brissie was an American baseballer who had pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics after nearly losing his left leg during army service in WW2. On retiring he was appointed, in 1957, by President Eisenhower to the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on the Fitness of American Youth and in an effort to help goodwill for USA ran baseball clinics through Australia for two years. One of his lectures was in the Independence Hall, Collins Street, Melbourne.
Visit by US Newsboys’ team to Melbourne
These lads played a game against an Australian Schoolboys’ team at Olympic Park.
Regards and Best Wishes
Pics Below…………….Russell Swann