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This excerpt appears in the book The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels by Gaylon White. The author spoke with Bill Littlefield on Only A Game. (Listen to our interview with White and read Bill’s book review.)
Chapter 6 – Stout Steve, the Slugging Seraph
In the 1970s, Hallmark published a greeting card booklet titled: What Makes This Country So Great? The booklet features Peanuts comic strip characters and opens with Linus saying, "Just think of all the people who have made this country great!" He lists George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and Simon and Garfunkel among others. Lucy suggests Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Rona Barrett and other women activists of the era.
Sally chips in with movie actresses Arlene Dahl, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mitzi Gaynor, and the wrestler, Gorgeous George. Schroeder recommends Van Cliburn and several other musicians.
"Not to mention Bill Haley and the Comets!" says Snoopy.
"And Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Steve Bilko, and Sandy Koufax,” reminds Peppermint Patty.
"And let's not forget Lassie, Rinny, Bullet...and Alan Shepard," adds Snoopy.
Suddenly, Charlie Brown has a revelation and declares, "You! You're what makes this country so great!"
Peppermint Patty has a parting thought: "Steve Bilko couldn't have said it more beautifully."
The writer of the Hallmark booklet wasn’t the only one with a special affinity for Bilko.
“I could just as well have been Corporal Hodges or Private First Class Musial,” Phil Silvers said of his adopting the name Sgt. Bilko for his television role instead of the names of perennial all-stars, Gil Hodges and Stan Musial. “I gave it to a guy who needed it.”
Steve Bilko was never the superstar he was supposed to be, but for one summer in 1956, he was as mighty as Babe Ruth and as magnificent as Mickey Mantle.
“He really had everything,” Borgman, the scout, said after hearing of Bilko’s death. “Scouts dream about finding that kind of guy. No matter how it ended I know one thing. On one August afternoon in Honey Pot, he was beautiful.”