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August 7, 2007 > Hayward High phenom

Hayward High phenom

After an outstanding career at Hayward High, Elmer Orella signed as a pro, with very high hopes.

By Steve Michel

Elmer Orella was born April 15, 1921 in Hayward. He grew up there and became a star baseball pitcher for the Hayward High Farmers. Orella would go on to throw a no hitter as a junior at Hayward High, in 1938, against Richmond High, striking out 10 batters. He tossed another no-no his senior year there. Thanks to his talents, the Farmers shared the Alameda County Athletic League Championship with Berkeley High in 1939. Orella was named First Team All - A.C.A.L both his junior and senior seasons.

In those same years, Orella also pitched for the Hayward Post American Legion Junior baseball team, where he threw a no-hitter in 1938 against the San Leandro Bees. In fact, he would have recorded a perfect game, as he gave up no hits and did not walk or hit a batter. However, two errors by his teammates allowed the Bees to score one run. Still, the 12-1 win went into to the books as a no-hitter.

After graduation, Orella signed a pro baseball contract with the San Francisco Seals at age 18. Now 86 years old, he says, "When I signed my first pro contract at age 18 some of the scouts made me feel that I could make it to the major leagues." Lefty O'Doul, Seals manager when they signed Orella, stated, "That kid has the best control of any young pitcher I have seen in any training camp."

Orella was sent to the Bakersfield Badgers where he played in 1940 and 1941. He then was assigned to play for the Double A Salt Lake City Bears in 1942. However, World War II intervened, interrupting his career while he served a two-year hitch in the Army.

"After I got out of the Army I got my chance in pro baseball with the San Francisco Seals in 1945. I won 16 games for the Seals and lost eight. But all eight games I lost in 1945 were by one run." Manager O'Doul had high hopes for Orella going into the 1946 season.

That year, Orella was the Seal's Opening Day starter when a freak injury altered his entire career. During the third inning, he took a hard, line-drive shot off his left hand that broke his index finger. After the injury healed, Orella found a serious flaw in his pitching.

"I never recovered from that broken finger. I had two pitches, a fastball and a curveball. I never could throw as hard after that broken finger and could not control my curveball the way I had before the injury. I pitched in three more games for the Seals in 1946 but I just was not the same pitcher the year before when I won 16 games."

The New York Giants had planned to call Orella up to the major leagues if he preformed well for the Seals in 1946. Instead, the finger injury ended his career with the San Francisco Seals and ended the New York Giants interest in him as well.

"After my pro career ended after the 1946 season with the Seals, I played two years of semi-pro baseball with a beer company team called Ben's Golden Glows. We had two great players on that Golden Glow team: Jackie Jensen who went on to play in the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox; and our shortstop, Eddie Lake, who went on to play 10 years in the Major Leagues with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.

"We beat the Los Angeles team three games in a row to win the State Championship. We got paid $300 each for that." Orella made more money in 1945 and 1946 when he pitched for the San Francisco Seals earning $6,600 each year, before the injury ended his professional baseball career.

Orella went into sales after retiring from baseball in 1950. He and his wife Fern have been married 66 years and have three daughters. "I remember a lot of things from my baseball career but I also remember the date I married Fern, which would be November 8, 1941. She has been with me through all the good times as well as the bad times."

As one of the last three surviving players from his Seals days, Orella acknowledges missing the others. "Yes I do feel quite a bit of sadness in having only two of my Seals teammates alive. But I do get together with Neil Sheridan and John Cavali quite often. In fact I will be having lunch with both of them next week. Those guys were great teammates and have remained lifelong friends of mine."

Although Elmer Orella's major league aspirations were never realized, thanks to the war, and then the finger injury, he was so good at Hayward High that local sportswriters dubbed him, Elmer "The Great," and Elmer "No Hit" Orella. After that, the baseball gods were less kind. All in all though, he thinks it's been a pretty good life, thanks especially to his loving wife, Fran, their daughters and their grandchildren. The Orellas now reside in Castro Valley.

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