A History of Lancer Baseball

 



Introduction


Most anyone who has ever had anything to do with La Salle athletics will say that from an historical perspective, the most important sport at La Salle has always been basketball.  With the exceptions of the 1996 and 2003 CIF Championship finals years, the story of La Salle baseball has been sort of a quiet one in which the achievements of the teams, players and coaches have been told largely from the shadows of the celebrated basketball program.


This was made abundantly clear as I poured over early issues of The Lance in preparation for this article.  Even in the late spring issues, the sports sections were dominated by stories about the basketball teams.  Many of our round ball teams that could only be considered average received lots of press, while several of the truly competitive baseball teams received minor attention.  While it has been true that over the last 50 years many of La Salle’s greatest athletes played both basketball and baseball, the contributions from the Lancer diamond have been largely eclipsed by those from the Lancer court.


What made things a little more challenging was the need to obtain some of the information about the baseball program from almost 50 yearbooks -- yearbooks that typically go to press in the early spring, well in advance of the completion of the baseball season.  Unless those annuals had information about ball clubs and seasons carried over from the prior year, there was usually not much to be found there, either.


I did receive many choice nuggets from the alumni themselves, via interviews, email, phone calls and even through the U.S. postal service.  But since the recollections of athletes (like fishermen) can sometimes inflate with the passing of time, I tried to independently corroborate them.   Thankfully I was able to do this reasonably well through confirmation from other alumni, from newspaper accounts, from the Internet and from those yearbooks.


I owe tremendous gratitude to former coach and current Science Department chair, Mr. Brian Miller.  Mr. Miller provided not only a treasure trove of information about his own very successful tenure as head coach of the varsity baseball team, but also information about other years that he collected solely because of his devotion to the program and to the sport.


Nonetheless, the story of La Salle baseball remains an incomplete one.  I’m hoping that this narrative starts a dialogue in which the stories not reported can be added over time, and that challenges to the ones documented here are submitted and discussed in the interest of accuracy.


The Early Years


There’s no doubt that there have been many lean years for La Salle baseball, and perhaps the leanest occurred in the very beginning.


Anthony “Cookie” Kane played baseball and basketball for 4 years at La Salle and was also a member of its first graduating class in 1960.  Tony recalls the very first baseball game ever played at La Salle;


“The very first game we played when we were freshmen (in the Spring of 1957) was against the Burbank High School Junior Varsity team.  Of course they were all sophomores and juniors.  We played very determinedly and only lost 27-2.”


The fact is La Salle wasn’t even able to field a varsity baseball team until the Spring of 1959.  That first year La Salle was placed in the Olympic League at the CIF Division 2A level.  At that time there were only four CIF Divisions with 4A representing the largest, and what were considered the toughest, of the schools.  According to Tony, that scrappy team finished fourth out of eight teams that first year.


La Salle was placed in 3 different CIF leagues in the first 3 years of competition.  In 1960, La Salle was moved to CIF Division 3A and placed in the Parochial League with schools such as St. Paul’s, Bishop Amat, Mater Dei, St. Francis, Cantwell, Pomona Catholic and (San Gabriel) Mission.  Throughout the years, many of these same schools would be the ones that LSHS would face in league competition. 


Although the team finished 6th in league in 1960, Tony Kane was named to the All-Parochial League’s 1st team as an outfielder, giving him the unique distinction of being the first La Salle baseball player to be named all-league (centerfield) during La Salle’s brief 1-year history in the Parochial League.  Tony was also named to the La Salle Lancer Baseball Hall of Fame in 1960.


In the fall of 1961 the Parochial League was disbanded and the CIF formed the Santa Fe League.  The new Santa Fe League (Division 2A) consisted of La Salle, St. Francis, La Canada, San Gabriel Mission, San Gabriel, Pomona Catholic, La Verne, Bishop Amat, La Puente and Bosco Tech.  Due to their increased enrollments, Mater Dei, Cantwell, St. Paul, Servite and Salesian were moved to the newly formed Angelus League.   Many of the schools in the Santa Fe League would eventually be replaced by others and except for a brief stint in the Camino Real League, La Salle remained in Santa Fe until 2007, when they joined the more competitive Del Rey League, Division 5.


The first La Salle varsity baseball team in 1959 was coached by the legendary Phillip “Duffy” Lewis.  Coach Lewis’ 22 years as a teacher and coach at La Salle was the stuff of legend.  Duffy earned a reputation for taking a hard-nosed, tough-minded, no-nonsense approach to competition that set the tone for La Salle athletics for the many years that followed him.  His famous quote was, “We’ll play anyone, anywhere, anytime for money, marbles or chalk”.  Even today, my alumni friends and I still enjoy reminiscing about Coach Lewis’ unique style and peppery quotes.  The 1961 yearbook made the following observation about Coach Lewis, “His uncompromising, hard-line policy in sports is a legend to athletes.”


The La Salle varsity baseball team was coached by Lewis from 1959 until 1966.  This was a tall order considering he was also serving at the time as a very successful JV basketball coach and history teacher, while acting as La Salle’s first Athletic Director.  Coach Lewis also coached the varsity basketball team to their  first Santa Fe League championship in 1962, eclipsing perhaps the greatest baseball highlight from the same year -- John McKinerny’s 3-0 no-hitter against St. John Bosco.


In the Spring of 1963, after 5 years of varsity competition and despite one stretch during that season of almost 40 scoreless innings, La Salle earned a little respect by becoming the first team in the history of the school to finish as high as 2nd in league play.


5 players from the 1962-63 team, including junior Jerry Janeski and freshman Mike Murray, were named to the All-League 1st team.  Jim Keese, Al Divincenzo, and John Stygles were the others. The biggest surprise that year was the fact that celebrated La Salle athlete and teacher/coach, Mike Dooling, was left off the 1st team after being named the previous year.


The following year (1963-64) was a disappointing one for the Lancer baseball team, which finished  5th in the Santa Fe League with a 4-6 record; this, despite sophomore Mike Murray’s .311 batting average and excellent pitching by the only player named to the Santa Fe All-League 1st Team that year from La Salle, senior right-handed pitcher, Jerry Janeski.

 

Don Olender is the Chief Information Officer at Wells Fargo Foothill, a $12 billion commercial lending subsidiary of the Wells Fargo Wholesale Bank and a La Salle graduate from the class of 1970.

 

Don’s son Joe, (class of ’08), was an outfielder for the La Salle Lancers.

 

Don and Joe have shared a love of baseball going back to Joe’s 6 years in little league when Don was a coach, through Joe’s last 2 years in Lancer baseball and during the last 15 seasons as rabid Dodger fans.

 

Although Don himself only played in one La Salle varsity game, (as a fill-in during a 7-0 loss to Verbum Dei in the last game of an unfortunate 1970 season), he has been blessed to combine his appreciation of La Salle’s great legacy with his love of baseball and to enjoy both (a little vicariously) through his son.

 

Don and Joe would like to dedicate these stories to all of the fathers and sons who have ever had the good fortune to share their love for this great game, and to the 2008 La Salle Lancer baseball team.

Part 1 of 6

by Don Olender (’70)

About the Author:

Don Olender (Class of ’70) pictured with son Joe (Class of ’08).  Joe wore #21 and was an outfielder for the

La Salle Lancers.

Coach Phillip Lewis