Sunday was a somber day to be a Bruin, as the Wilson athletic community said goodbye to a pair of local legends during simultaneous memorials across town from each other for Bob Ballack and Bob Bailey.
Bailey was a legendary baseball star at Wilson who passed away in early January at the age of 75. Bailey was a bonus baby signed to the Pirates in 1965 with a then-unimaginable signing bonus of $175,000. He went on to a 17-year career that spanned 1,931 games and 773 RBI for the Pirates, Expos, Reds, Red Sox, and Dodgers.
Bailey is survived by his wife, Karen and their three children as well as 18 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.
While Bailey’s services were wrapping up at an area church, another segment of the Long Beach sports community was bidding goodbye to Ballack at Trani’s on Sunday afternoon.
Ballack passed away last Sunday at the age of 90, leaving behind him a unique sports legacy.
Most famously, Ballack was a member of the 1943 Wilson “Jinxbusters” team that was the first to beat Long Beach Poly on the gridiron. Ballack’s passing means that only Ray McCoy survives from that team, one of the most famous in Long Beach history.
The Jinxbusters were famous not just for making history against the Jackrabbits but for the grandiosity of the postgame celebration, which saw the team and its fans marching down second street all Friday night.
After graduating from Wilson, Ballack played football at LBCC and was then drafted into the Army, where he was part of the post-war occupying force in Tokyo along with several other Long Beach servicemembers and football players.
In Tokyo, the American forces held football games that saw Ballack star as a receiver.
“We faced other military squads like 11th Airborne Division, or 1st Cavalry Division,” Ballack told Doug Krikorian in an interview. “The stadium originally was built to stage the 1940 Olympics that were canceled because of war.”
After returning home he played football at Cal Poly Pomona and then worked in the oil fields of Signal Hill.
Famously, Ballack was diagnosed in that time with polio at the age of 21.
“For the first six months I was terribly depressed, and literally cried every day,” he told Krikorian. “Here I was one day a very physical guy who surfed and played volleyball, fast-pitch softball and football. And the next day I no longer could do all the athletic activities I was accustomed to doing. I felt sorry for myself.”
Ballack’s outlook changed in part thanks to the support of his longtime wife, Sally, to whom he was married for 51 years until her passing in 2002. He had a long career in town as a car salesman, working at times with fellow local football legend Johnny Olszewski, who would sell cars during his NFL offseasons. Once the duo teamed up to sell a BMW to fellow Wilson legend Bobby Grich, a longtime Major League baseball player.
Although Ballack was handicapped by the polio that afflicted him 70 years ago, his life wasn’t—he had a long career, and he and Sally raised four children. He also maintained lifelong friendships with fellow Wilson alums like Harry Minor and Al Larson.