My dad’s slugger-cousin Lou Novikoff (1915-1970) is the perfect choice for this week’s special event. Our family is 100% “Go Halos” Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim fanatics, so the fact that The Mad Russian played long ago for their top-level minor league team has always been way cool.
Here’s a few fun facts:
- Playing 36 games for the AA Pacific Coast League Angels in 1939, Lou hit .452 and was named Minor League Player of the Year.
- He played 174 games for the Angels in 1940 and hit .363 with 41 home runs and 259 hits. This earned him the Pacific Coast League Batting Title.
- One of 12 kids, Lou grew up near Bakersfield, California and joined a professional softball team in high school. Therefore, he was banned from high school sports for accepting money. His baseball career almost ended there…
- …but he became such a sensational fast-pitch pitcher and hitter that the Chicago Cubs shocked the baseball world by offering him a contract for their class C team in 1937.
- He found great success in the minor-leagues. His claim to fame–purposely going after bad pitches and most times, knocking the ball out of the park!
- A colorful guy with a “duck-waddling” gait, he refused to play at Wrigley Field because he was certain the vines climbing on the walls was poison ivy!
- In the off season, he took on such jobs as a longshoreman out of Long Beach, California and worked in the oil fields as a roughneck.
- Mostly known as The Mad Russian, reporters also gave him such monikers as The Crazy Cossack, The Soviet Slugger, The Moscow Mauler, and…the Volga Batman.
- He had a pet Russian wolfhound that he proudly displayed. And claimed the dog only ate caviar.
- Lou was suspicious. Around 1940 with the Angels, The Mad Russian claimed he couldn’t hit unless his wife was nearby heckling him from the bleachers. Supposedly Esther’s nasty insults inspired him. Seems with Mrs. Mad Russian in the stands, her Muscovite mate batted .300 every game.
- Also a proficient bowler, Lou loved his harmonica and played it in 1941 on Bing Crosby’s radio program. Oh, uh, also on left field sometimes. Once, an aria in his fine baritone earned him a fine for singing during a game.
- Kids loved him. He’d purposely smack practice balls into the low-rent seats for their souvenirs.
- During the Second World War, he was a beloved attraction while big-gun major leaguers were off to war. Originally deferred due to Esther’s ill health, Lou was inducted into the U.S. Army in July 1945. At U.S. Air Corps Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, he played on the service team, The Flyers.
- After an unsuccessful comeback with the Angels in 1950, Lou returned to softball. He led his Long Beach (CA) team to three championships and became the first man inducted into the Softball Hall of Fame. (1965)
Thanks with my whole heart to David Eskenazi for permission to share with us photos from his collection. For more details on The Mad Russian, check out David’s article with Steve Rudman. http://tinyurl.com/o35vo2y
My new release–details soon: