Hawaii's Baseball History: The Early Days of Pro Baseball and The Hawaii Islanders
An insider looks back.
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Photo: Courtesy Rich Barry
In the early 1960s, long before sporting events from the Mainland beamed live on television, the Hawaii Islanders offered a brand of professional baseball worth watching.
The team was a big deal in Honolulu and with good reason. It was pro ball at the AAA level, which meant that the next step up for many Islander players was to the big leagues or “the show.” And the steps worked in the opposite direction, too. Players cut by big league teams also found themselves wearing Islander uniforms. I had the chance to experience it myself when I served as the team’s general manager in 1979.
While minor league teams across the rest of the country were struggling, Islander games at the old Honolulu Stadium on King Street consistently drew big, boisterous crowds. There were big names on the field and in the stands.
Photo: Courtesy Pipi Wakayama
Baseball fans will likely recognize some: Former New York Yankee Irv Noren was the first manager of the Islanders, and Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, also a former Yankee, had the job a few years later. A lot of former big leaguers performed here for local baseball fans, either playing for Hawaii or coming to town with visiting teams: Don Larsen, Bo Belinsky, Moe Drabowsky, Hector Lopez, Gene Freese and Diego Segui, among many others. Brooklyn Dodger legend Duke Snider showed up one year as manager of the visiting Spokane Indians, and former Yankee pitching great, Ed Lopat, was here for several games to scout a promising player. Most notably, Barry Bonds played 44 games for the Islanders in 1986. Of course, Bonds then was nothing like the power hitter he became in later years, before he became known for links to the steroid scandal.
Actor and part-time Hawaii resident Richard Boone (Have Gun, Will Travel) was frequently in the crowd, and his son, Peter, was the team batboy for a while. Ship-building magnate Henry Kaiser, who developed Hawaii Kai, attended with his wife nearly every game. They sat in a box seat directly behind home plate, where she rooted loudly for the home team and meticulously recorded each play in a scorebook.
The elderly father of local disc jockey Ron Jacobs was also a regular. Raymond Jacobs would wait quietly until some critical moment, perhaps late in the game when the opposing pitcher had loaded the bases and the Islanders’ best hitter was coming to bat. That’s when the old man would rise up halfway out of his seat, cup his hands around his mouth and bellow, “There … goes … the … ball … game!” You could almost see the pitcher wilt. The elder Jacobs was affectionately known as the Voice of Doom.