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1942: The year Forest Grove (almost) ruled baseball

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Spring Training sparks memories of Washington County legends


NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - This parade photo was from 1951 when Verboort native Larry Jansen (back seat) returned to Forest Grove after the World Series.  Harvey Storey is driving the car. They are both accompanied by their wives.It’s 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 sport’s most-promising prospects.

The star that shone most brightly in 1942 was Dilley’s 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 baseball’s best known shortstop, the 6-foot, 200-pound Storey was poised to revolutionize the position.

Storey’s 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 man’s 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.

Storey’s 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 didn’t 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 Grove’s first shot at Major League stardom, and it delayed the launch of the area’s greatest baseball career.COURTESY PHOTO: BECKY STOREY CRUME  - A broken leg and World War II combined to sideline Harvey Storey at what would have been the peak of his 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 baseball’s 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 Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers built a seemingly insurmountable lead for the National League title, but Larry Jansen’s 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.COURTESY PHOTO: BECKY STOREY CRUME  - Dilley native Harvey Storey was playing with the San Diego Padres when this baseball card was made. He also played in San Francisco, Milwaukee, Portland, San Diego, Salem, Los Angeles, Tulsa, Vancouver and several other cities.

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.” Verboort’s 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 baseball’s 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.

It’s Spring Training. Let’s play ball! And let’s 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.