1942: The year Forest Grove (almost) ruled baseball
Spring Training sparks memories of Washington County legends
Its been a long time since Forest Grove-area baseball fans had a native son to cheer for in Spring Training. But back in the days of World War II, Dilley and Verboort were home to two of the sports most-promising prospects.
The star that shone most brightly in 1942 was Dilleys Harvey Storey. Storey was born in Gaston, but his family relocated to a farm on Stringtown Road. At a time when 5-foot-9-inch Peewee Reese was baseballs best known shortstop, the 6-foot, 200-pound Storey was poised to revolutionize the position.
Storeys career started in 1939, when the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League were looking to replace another big, strong athlete who had broken into the game as their shortstop. That mans name was Giuseppe Joltin Joe DiMaggio, who had gone on to join the New York Yankees. Harvey Storey was the Seals man, and he did not disappoint, hitting .351 in his rookie season.
Storeys 1940 season started even better, and the Chicago Cubs bought his contract. Unfortunately, just after signing the deal, he broke his leg. By the beginning of the 1942 season, Storey had fought his way back to health and was poised to become a star. But in December of 1941, the Japanese military had bombed Pearl Harbor, and Harvey Storey took on a new fight, joining the United States Navy.
By the time his military service ended, he was in his early 30s, too old to be considered a prospect, but he didnt give up, posting some of his best seasons in the minor leagues, including for the Portland Beavers. He never played in the Major Leagues, and died on February 10, 2005, in Forest Grove, at the age of 88.
The ill-fated Spring Training of 1942 marked the end of Forest Groves first shot at Major League stardom, and it delayed the launch of the areas greatest baseball career.
Larry Jansen was a pitcher, four years younger than Harvey Storey, and in 1941 he found himself pitching for the San Francisco Seals. Like Story, Jansen was poised for stardom and eagerly awaited Spring Training 1942. But like Storey, Pearl Harbor derailed his rise. Jansen was granted an exemption from the draft because he was too valuable as a farmer. So as Spring Training opened, he was behind a plow in Verboort, doing spring planting instead.
When the war ended, Jansen joined the New York Giants as a 27-year-old. His inaugural season was spectacular; enough so that he narrowly lost the Rookie of the Year vote to Jackie Robinson, one of baseballs all-time greats. But his star would rise even higher, including becoming the winning pitcher in one of the greatest games in Major League history.
In 1951, Jackie Robinsons Brooklyn Dodgers built a seemingly insurmountable lead for the National League title, but Larry Jansens Giants staged an amazing late-season rally to tie the Dodgers for first place as the regular season ended. The result was a three-game playoff series to determine which team would face the New York Yankees in the World Series.
In the third and deciding game, the Dodgers appeared to have the series clinched in the bottom of the ninth inning, until Bobby Thomson hit a three-run home run to win the game. Thomson became a baseball legend for the Shot Heard Round the World. Verboorts Larry Jansen notched his 23rd win of the season.
Jansen finished his illustrious career with 122 wins, and then went on to become one of the greatest pitching coaches in baseball history. He also left his mark as an author. When The Sporting News published a book titled How to Play Baseball, its authors included some of baseballs greatest players, including Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, and Joe DiMaggio. The section on pitching was written by Larry Jansen. He died in Verboort on Oct. 10, 2009.
Its Spring Training. Lets play ball! And lets also remember some Washington County legends.
Ken and Kris Bilderback are authors of four local history books, including Walking to Forest Grove, Law and Order at the End of The Oregon Trail, and Creek With No Name.