The Contra Costa Times
Posted on Fri, Oct. 01, 2004
By Win Currier
Another link to baseball's storied Bay Area legacy is gone.
Bernard Bartholomew "Frenchy" Uhalt, whose active professional baseball career covered 20 years, died Sept. 3 in Rossmoor, where he and his wife moved when their Broadway Terrace home was destroyed by the 1991 Oakland hills fire. And though his baseball career was long and distinguished (Pacific Coast League career totals of .298 batting and 2,798 hits in 2,499 games), Uhalt's reputation as a "really good guy" endured his entire 94 years.
And both "his really good guy" reputation and his athletic prowess are well documented and remembered.
Born April 27, 1910, in Bakersfield, Uhalt was an outstanding football and baseball player in high school there. But he turned down football scholarship offers at the University of California and the University of Southern California, among others. Instead, he signed as an 18-year-old for a professional baseball career.
He was given the option by the scout of signing with either the Oakland Oaks or San Francisco Seals. He chose the Oaks (and later said he wished he had made the other choice), picking baseball because he wanted to earn a living. When he joined the Oaks, the left-handed-hitting Uhalt was told to hit to left field because he didn't have enough power to hit over the high right-field fence at the Oaks Ball Park in Emeryville. Also in that park, hitters had to battle winds that came in from the bay through right field.
Uhalt was told to get a base hit and let Ernie Lombardi or Buzz Arlett drive him in. He also was noted for his speed (PCL career totals of 401 stolen bases, 130 triples and 1,561 runs). He was proud, as center fielder, to be captain of the outfield and, with his range, he made a number of backhand catches. Uhalt also had a strong enough arm to nail runners trying to advance.
Uhalt later regretted trying to hit to left instead of putting the ball in play to all fields. "If you have confidence, you can hit anybody," he said.
Accolades galore are included in the late Dick Dobbins' book "The Grand Minor League," and more detailed background can be found in Dobbins' earlier book, "Nuggets on the Diamond."
And throughout, Uhalt's peers always noted, in varying words, that he was a "good guy."
Bill Werle, a future major league pitcher (who, like Uhalt and many others cited here, played in the Alameda Semi-Pro Winter League), was with Uhalt on the 1946 San Francisco Seals. There, observers said, Uhalt "brought experience, speed and was a great outfielder." Werle added that Uhalt helped him "more than you can imagine."
"In batting practice I would go to the outfield and just talk to him," Werle said. "I hung out in his back pocket. I picked up things from him I had never (thought of) before."
With the Oaks, Uhalt was in the outfield with Tony Governor and Buzz Arlett, and ultimately saw the contracts of Arlett and Alameda's Johnny Vergez sold to the Phillies and New York Giants, respectively. Other Oaks teammates included Bernie DeViveiros at short, Joe Gordon and Dario Lodigiani at second, Jack Fenton and Leroy Anton at first base. Then the Oaks went on a youth movement and signed such talents as Frank Kelleher, John Lindell, Ernie Bonham and Walt Judnich, all destined for the major leagues.
Uhalt played in the first game for the Hollywood Stars when the San Francisco Mission Reds franchise was moved there in 1938. After playing their first season alternating as home team with the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field, the Stars opened at first Gilmore Stadium, then, after a road trip, Gilmore Field. It was there that Uhalt won a pair of shoes, a hat and two shirts for getting the first hit, first double, first steal and first run. He won the PCL batting championship in 1938, beating out longtime Alameda resident Smead Jolley because Jolley didn't have enough at-bats to qualify. Jolley hit .350 in 414 times at bat, Uhalt .332 in 635 at-bats.
With the 1946 Seals, Uhalt shared outfield honors with Neill Sheridan, while Ferris Fain, Roy Nicely and Ted Jennings were infield aces. Seals owner Paul Fagan paid Lefty O'Doul $50,000 to manage the team that year, a fact that led other clubs to develop major league links to compete with Fagan's ability to pay.
One of the memorable Uhalt tales happened as a result of the great Los Angeles Angels-Hollywood Stars rivalry. John Olds, a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, had been "on" Uhalt for being too old to do the job. The two met after a game that the Stars had just lost to the Angels. The story goes that "Frenchy spoke his piece, Olds spoke his," and they were about to go at it when fellow players decided to put the Stars' big travel trunks together to form a square. Olds, the story goes, was a "big guy," Uhalt much lighter. But, the oft-told tale says, Uhalt beat the "stuffing" out of him. And Olds didn't have any future derogatory comments.
There are names galore associated with Uhalt, and one of them is Ray Malgradi. Malgradi remembered Uhalt (who became a longtime personal friend) as his first manager in baseball with the Fresno Cardinals of the California League in 1949. He recalled when the team was in Bakersfield, Uhalt took him by a sporting goods store that still displayed a picture of Uhalt as a football player at Bakersfield High. And Lodigiani remembered Uhalt, in addition to the "good guy" reference, as "a real Dapper Dan."
After leaving baseball, Uhalt returned to settle in Oakland and had a bar-restaurant on Lakeshore Boulevard, a popular haunt for University of California students and athletes as well as his baseball buddies. But baseball was still in his blood, and he worked faithfully coaching his grandson's teams.
He also enjoyed his golf, playing with his grandkids. But it was not without pain when his daughter, Suzanne, died of breast cancer in Hawaii at the age of 50 in 1989.
Uhalt, though all-out on the field, was a quiet, considerate man, not one to "blow his own horn."
Few, unless they were there, can realize the professional skill, the impressive records, that have placed him in Bakersfield's Bob Elias Hall of Fame in 1973, then the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. And even fewer were privileged to realize the personification of the good guy.
At Uhalt's request, there was no public service, but the family requests donations to be made in his name to the Bernard "Frenchy" Uhalt Memorial Scholarship Fund, in care of Bakersfield High School, attention Arnie Elrod, 1241 G Street Bakersfield, CA.
Even after death, Uhalt still is having a favorable impact on others. And you can't beat that.