Jim Landis played for the Chicago White Sox from 1957 to 1964 and four other teams during an 11-year major league career, earning five Gold Gloves as an outfielder, before settling down in Napa.
He coached Kyle Rasmusen for five years in the Napa Little League, and Rasmusen has used what Landis taught him during his own 30-plus years of coaching. This year, Landis, 77, has been helping Rasmusen coach his son’s Napa American Legion 13-and-under baseball team.
Landis was signed by the White Sox shortly after graduating in 1951 from Richmond High in the East Bay, where he had been a third baseman. After a year in the minor leagues, he was converted into a center fielder. He still ranks among the top outfielders defensively all-time with a .989 fielding percentage.
Landis batted .247 with 93 home runs and 467 RBIs during his career. He played in the 1959 World Series and was voted by fans to Chicago’s 27-player “Team of the Century” in 2000.
Now a member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, Landis will be flown out by the White Sox today to be part of Thursday’s Minnie Minoso Hall of Fame Forum at the U.S. Cellular Field Conference and Learning Center.
The forum will celebrate the legendary career of Minoso — another Team of the Century member — and promote his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hosted by ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, the forum will include panels of historians, statistical experts, former teammates and opponents of Minoso and current and potential Hall of Fame players.
Landis and former teammates Billy Pierce and Jim Rivera will talk about playing with Minoso. The forum will be streamed live on www.whitesox.com starting at 11 a.m. Thursday Pacific time.
Rasmusen asked his players to research Landis’s professional career, and last Wednesday, after the team’s final fall-season practice at the Veterans Home of California’s Cleve Borman Field in Yountville, they and some adults on hand grilled him for 25 minutes.
Here are the questions and his responses:
Blake Wickersham: You batted against Sandy Koufax in the World Series. Is he the best pitcher you’ve ever faced?
Landis: I played winter ball with Sandy Koufax and he was sorta wild, then I get in the big leagues, and he gets in the big leagues, and at that particular time that year he was only 10-10 (record-wise) and he wasn’t really there yet.
I’m not knocking him, because he could throw pretty well, but it was just a little after that when he was pretty tough. I went 1 for 3 against him and I scored the winning run.
Jake Rasmusen: After two years in the minor leagues, you got called to military service in connection with the Korean Conflict. How difficult was it to come back and play?
Landis: It took me close to the year that I played to really be like, ‘I’m with it again.’ It was a long layoff, two years in service. I gotta tell you one thing: I was very lucky that I was one of these guys they sent out because they had 90 days to go. They sent me to Alaska and you know what my duty was? Go out to the baseball field every day and pick up rocks. That was my big duty.
Aiden Willard: How does it feel to be elected to two All-Star games and only get one at-bat, and to be walked in that at-bat?
Landis: Well, I’ll tell you the funny story on that. I love the guy, we played together, we were good friends, and that’s who I had to face — Bob Shaw (of the Milwaukee Braves, in the 1962 All-Star Game). It was funny to face a good friend of yours, it really was.
Kale Olmstead: In the 1959 World Series against the Dodgers, you had seven hits. Which was the most memorable and who was it against?
Landis: My most memorable was in the first game because I got three hits, but my point is that the three hits helped us win the ballgame.
(Kyle Rasmusen adds that there were more than 90,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum that day).
Tyler Rustice: What was the greatest adversity you faced and how did you get through it?
Landis: Why do you use the word adversity? I only went through the 12th grade, man (players and coaches burst out in laughter).
Go ahead and ask it a different way.
Tyler Rustice: What was the greatest obstacle you faced and how did you get through it?
Landis: My biggest obstacle was my first year. I was horrible. Luckily they sent me down to finish the season in Triple-A, but my obstacle turned out pretty good because the next year I was back starting for the White Sox.
Jaksen Wilson: Did you ever encounter tough competition in your baseball career for the position you wanted? If so, did you learn anything from this competition?
Landis: I was a third baseman my first year in pro ball and my obstacle was only against myself to learn all the stuff I’ve tried to tell you guys.
Jacob Ray: How many injuries did you face in your entire major league career?
Landis: I was fortunate. I had little freak things. I never had a broken bone.
My situation when I got near the end of my career was I had a pulled hamstring.
Anthony Cornwell: In your 11 years in the major leagues, you only had 11 errors. How did you do that?
Landis: To be honest with you, I’m very proud of that. All these things that I’ve (taught) you, and maybe there’s a couple more, I picked it up and it really, really helped me, like the crossover (step drill). I made plays maybe I wouldn’t have made.
Anthony Keiser: Out of all your Gold Gloves, which one means the most to you, are you most proud of, and why?
Landis: Well, they all mean something. They’re all the same to me. It’s all great.
Jared Horn: In your at-bat against Bob Shaw, how were you feeling?
Landis: Well, I felt like, let’s go home. When Bob and I were with the White Sox, we stayed in the same hotel, we’d catch the bus together standing on the corner, we’d eat together. It was weird and I didn’t want to face him.
Derek Oved: How did your parents feel when you got into the major leagues, and how hard was it for them when you had to move far away?
Landis: In our day a lot of kids left their home at 18, to go to school, whatever, so my parents by the time I went to pro ball were happy for me and happy I could do it.
Assistant coach Mike Clark: Your (White Sox) teammates volunteered you to be the player rep one year and you asked on their behalf for $50 in appearance fees. Weren’t you traded pretty soon after?
Landis: Ha ha, you bugger. How did you hear about that? No, I wasn’t traded. What he’s talking about is our player rep got traded somewhere — I think it was Detroit — so they made me (player rep) and I told them I’m not going to do it forever. I’ll just go to this one meeting and you better go find somebody else. Well, for this one meeting, the guys wanted $50 for a radio appearance and, oh my God, our general manager came down and chewed my butt out and I never saw a game for about two months. Just because of that.
Daryl Horn: Coach, what was your favorite city to visit on the road, and why?
Landis: I liked New York because of a lot of things. The music, the pubs. You know what my favorite groups are? AC/DC and Guns ‘n’ Roses.
Blake Wickersham: You also had a scary moment in Game 6 (of the World Series) when you got hit in the head by a pitch. Do you remember what happened?
Landis: Yeah, I laid on the ground for a while. That’s what I remember. Do you remember a pitcher named Johnny Podres, the left-handed Dodger? It was him.
Jake Rasmusen: A lot of people think that you were as good defensively as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. What made you stand out?
Landis: I don’t know what made me stand out. I’ll tell you what, I hustled my butt off, for one thing. When you hustle and learn certain things I was trying to tell you, you’ll be surprised at what you can do.
Andy Wilcox: What drove you to win four more Gold Gloves after you won your first one? Didn’t you figure you had the game mastered?
Landis: I know it was a great honor and feeling, but when you come back the next season, all you think about is playing hard and winning. To me it was no different. I didn’t think, “I gotta win another Gold Glove.”
It was just a good spirit of winning. When you play with the guys I played with, it was a fabulous feeling because everybody played that way. Three guys I played with are in the Hall of Fame, and it had a lot to do with hustle and great defense — Nellie Fox, second baseman, Luis Aparicio, shortstop, and Early Wynn, pitcher.
That in itself makes you think that everybody was boom-booming it.
Derek Oved: Looking back, how did it feel to go into Yankee Stadium and play against Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford?
Landis: It was a great feeling, especially earlier in my career, when I had a couple of friends that came up and played for the Yankees. I got to go into the clubhouse a few times, and one of my saddest moments was when I went into a certain area and there was Mickey Mantle with wrapping around (the entire length of) his leg.
I think he was one of the greatest players I’ll ever see. Later in his career, when he hit left-handed, his (right) leg would come right back up because it was bad. But he was great. God bless him.
Jake Rasmusen: In 1964, your coach Al Lopez and your relationship deteriorated. What happened? Do you think that caused you to get traded to the A’s?
Landis: Well I had a lot to do with it, from that player rep thing I told you about earlier. Little things in those days, it was weird what kind of a problem it would be.
Jake Rasmusen: In 1961, you had your best year offensively by far with 22 homers, 85 RBIs, 87 runs scored and 19 stolen bases. Who was your doctor that year?
Landis: People don’t realize I only weighed 165 pounds. If I put 40 pounds on this body they’d know right away.
Blake Wickersham: When you first came up to the White Sox in 1957, do you remember anything about the first game?
Landis: I’ve remembered it all my life, believe me. (Pitching) was Herb Score, a left-hander who could throw the devil out of the ball. I think I struck out, got fisted, and went 0 for 3. I went into the clubhouse after the game and said, “I’d better get a lunch pail, man.” That’s what I said to myself. Wow.
Blake Wickersham: If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
Landis: I wouldn’t do a darn thing differently. I’ll tell you one thing. The group of guys I played with were fabulous. I did this, I did this, I did that, and I’m very happy I did all that. But when I sit home, my first thought is the (relationships with the) guys. I know you guys are young eggheads, but you remind me a lot of that, how you get along. And hey, don’t ignore that. It’s better that way by far when you play together, the companionship and all that.
Blake Wickersham: Do you still keep in touch with the White Sox organization and former teammates?
Landis: Yeah, a couple. One I go to Florida to visit, and one to Chicago, Billy Pierce and Gary Peters. When I went up (to the majors) I was pretty young compared to all the rest of the guys. I was 23, and a lot of guys were 30 or 32. I think we only have 10 still alive off of that ball club, because most of them were vets.
Jacob Ray: Was there ever a brawl that you got into in your 11 years of playing baseball?
Landis: No, man. I’ll tell you what, though. One time I had a hamstring injury and one of the Yankees, Billy Martin, got in a fight with Walt Dropo and everyone ran out on the field. I had to hop out on the field. The funny part is, all of a sudden the fight’s going on and I see Billy Martin behind the pack — and he started the fight. I shouldn’t knock him, because I think Billy Martin was one of the best managers ever in the game.
Jake Rasmusen: You were named to the White Sox All-Century team. Were you surprised that the fans would remember you like that?
Landis: Was I. Your dad was there, man. You don’t think of things like that, then all of a sudden, boom, then boom, they have a little ceremony. To me it was fabulous because that was a lot of years they picked the team from.
Kyle Rasmusen: Is there anybody out there that can name the four outfielders that were on the All-Century team for the White Sox?
Assistant coach Daryl Horn: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Harold Baines, Jim Landis and Minnie Minoso.
Derek Oved: How hard was it to move from third to the outfield?
Landis: I went to spring training, it was an A-ball team and right away they told me I’m going to play the outfield. We’d practice and after practice I’d be out there for about an hour and a half learning things they want me to learn almost every day. In fact, it got so bad the manager, Paul Richards, had to come out to tell the coach who was working me to let up a little bit. But when I look back, that’s what made me learn to play the outfield.
Derek Oved: Were good grades as important back then as they are right now?
Landis: I got to hide from that one (laughter). I was a good student. I’m no dummy. I was dreaming since I was 8 years old to be a big league ball player, but I was good with my grades.