John “Swede” Jensen, outfield
Padres: 1939-49 The only man who was a member of the PCL Padres longer than Johnny Jensen was his good friend, Al Olsen. “Swede” led the team with a .305 batting average in 1941 and he likes to point out that he also tied for the club leadership in home runs during the 1943 season. And, “Swede” is a Dane.
[John “Swede” Jensen interview by Bill Swank, 30 January 1995, transcript notes.]
I was working at Graybar Electric [W. Market] after high school. I hadn’t picked up a bat and ball for a couple of years and one time, I stopped by North Park and they were a man short for winter league. I played 8, 10 or 12 games and I was going great. A nurse owned the Padres then and Major Lott called me. He said, “I understand you’re a young man who likes to play ball.” He opened his desk and started pulling out $100 bills. I hadn’t seen quarters til then. When he got to $700, I signed. That was 1939.
It was just as well for me to have played in the Pacific Coast League as the major leagues. They almost made us [the PCL] a major league. We had a working agreement with major league teams and they’d send guys down. They couldn’t break into our lineup. It was a good league.
George McDonald was the best first baseman anywhere. He held out one year, so when he came back, Al Olsen and I started singing, “Somebody else is taking your place. Somebody else is playing first base.” Of course, as soon as George came back, he was on first.
One day, Del Ballinger and I weren’t playing and we got some of Cookie’s [Trainer Les Cook] black cord that he used to lace up gloves. We nailed it into a ball. The dugouts in San Francisco were 3 or 4 feet deep. I hid in the bottom and Del stood at the top. He rolled the ball out. Old Powell was the umpire. The pitcher was getting ready to pitch and Powell called, “Time.” Ballinger said, “Now” and I moved it about a foot. He came after it and I kept pulling it a little. Finally, he threw us both out.
I always felt bad about the way John [Ritchey] was treated. He had to room alone. He was a helluva fine ballplayer. He was quiet and a good man. When I got sent to Atlanta, my teammates couldn’t understand how I could play on the same field with colored ballplayers. I told them, “One of the days, you’re going to be shaking their hands when they cross home plate after a home run.” They didn’t like that and they ostracized me.
At the end of one season, I got a call from Railway Express. The voice asked if I needed a job for the winter? I sure did! When I went in, the man asked if I remembered him? He had gotten on me when I was having a bad day and I had gotten smart with him. Well, he gave me the nicest job and he was the nicest man. I was embarrassed. We were good friends with the fans and the kids in those days. It was wonderful.