Raymond G. Starr, Book Review Editor
Echoes From Lane Field: A History of the San Diego Padres, 1926-1957.
By Bill Swank. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1997. Photos, statistics, index. 208 pp. $34.95 Hardbound.
Reviewed by Todd Tobias, Curator of Collections, San Diego Hall of Champions.
In January of 1936 William “Hardrock” Lane, owner of a struggling Pacific Coast League baseball team, was looking to move his ball club. Lane’s Hollywood Stars had finished near the bottom in the pennant race of 1935 and the gate receipts had showed it. On top of that, the management at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field wanted to double the rent to $10,000 a year. Without looking back, Lane went searching for a new city to call home. He did not have to look far; Lane struck a deal with city officials in the small border town of San Diego in January of 1936, which sent the Stars down south. There was no place to play when the team arrived, but with help from the Works Progress Administration, an 8,000-seat stadium was built in time for opening day on 31 March 1936.
Land Field was home to the San Diego Padres until 1957 when the team moved to Westgate Park in Mission Valley, but it was during those 21 years at Lane Field that San Diego and the Padres first fell in love with each other. San Diego baseball fans were treated to watching some of the most interesting names in baseball, both before and after they had made their mark not only in the major leagues, but in other aspects of life as well. Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams, two men who went on to Hall of Fame careers with the Boston Red Sox, began their professional careers in San Diego. John Berardino, better known as Dr. Steve Hardy on the soap opera “General Hospital,” was a Padres infielder in 1950. San Diego High School star Johnny Ritchey became the first African-American player in the Pacific Coast League as a catcher with the Padres in 1948-1949.
The stories of Williams, Ritchey and many more are recorded in a new book about the early Padres called Echoes from Lane Field, by Bill Swank. Swank, a former probation officer, is the preeminent authority on the Lane Field Padres and provides for his readers a detailed picture of the early days of professional baseball in San Diego. Swank presents the Padres in four distinct formats, which complement each other very well. The first section of the book, the introduction, consists of a chronological history of Bill Lane and his baseball affiliations from 1999 through the Padres move to Mission Valley in 1958. Brief vignettes, presented in a smooth and informative style, effectively summarize each baseball season and give the reader a quick glimpse at the Pacific Coast League in the l930s, 40s, and 50s. There are also sections providing the Padres team photos during the Lane Field years, as well as player statistics presented on both a yearly and a cumulative basis.
The heart of the book immediately follows the introduction and within minutes of reading, one realizes why Swank chose the title “Echoes from Lane Field.” For 148 pages the reader is treated to the stories of the Padres as told by the players themselves (or a close relative in the case of deceased players) in an edited interview format. One by one the Lane Field Padres take the reader back into a bygone era. Second baseman Bobby Doerr recounts the first time he saw Ted William swing a bat. First baseman Jack Graham remembers fighting for a $25.00 a month raise, while catcher Earl Brucker, Jr., describes standing on second base at Lane Field when the announcement came over the public address system that World War II had begun. Echoes covers baseball, but the reader gets so much more. Through the eyes of these former players we see San Diego as it was, 40-60 years ago.
The true beauty of this book lies in its simplicity. Bill Swank has met the men who played at Lane Field and asked them to talk baseball. This is baseball from the heart by men who loved the game. The book is talking baseball at the barbershop. This book is a father telling his son about the good old days and how the game used to be. This book is a child flipping bubble gum cards on a summer day. This book is comfortable.
Each spring the stores are full of newly released books depicting baseball in one fashion or another. Sitting alongside them will be Echoes from Lane Field by Bill Swank. Some of the books will have beautiful pictures, others will be full of statistics, but none will capture the game and what it meant to the players like Echoes from Lane Field. This book is a joy to read and one that can be appreciated by baseball fans of any generation.