A guy once told me that Sacramento is “a good baseball town.” His reasoning went like this:
The weather here is pleasant in the spring.
It’s hot in the summer, but it cools off at night.
The fall weather is perfect for baseball.
One night a few weeks ago, I tested this theory. That night I attended a Sacramento River Cat’s baseball game with my colleagues from Valley Community Newspapers. My editor Monica Stark was there along with fellow writers Lance Armstrong and Matias Bombal.
Before the game began, we all clustered inside our enclosed box, but we ultimately moved out the door to the plastic seats assigned to our group.
It was great. The temperature hovered around 90 degrees, but a gentle breeze made it feel much cooler. We took in the ambiance of Raley Field and watched the River Cats play a great baseball game.
They started fast, scoring their first run in the third inning. After that, they piled up runs so that by the eighth inning they led 10 to 0.
Then, with the game well in hand, I headed for home.
As I walked out to my car, I stopped to look back at the ballpark. Its lights shined down brightly on the field, and I thought “what a great venue this is: Just the right size, friendly staff, and a clean and welcoming place to go.
Then, I thought back to the days of old Edmonds Field where my boyhood heroes, the Sacramento Solons played AAA baseball. Unlike Raley Field, it was old and a little weather-worn. But I loved that team that featured players like Al Heist, Nippy Jones, Cuno Barragan and Elmer Singleton.
All of them had spent time in the major leagues before landing in Sacramento. Nippy Jones was even featured in a memorable World Series play. In the end, they came here to our town and played hard every day like it really meant something, and we loved them for it.
Soon my mind drifted back to the present and I thought out loud that Sacramento really is a good baseball town, and now that we have the River Cats, it will stay that way for a long time.
A guy once told me that Sacramento is “a good baseball town.” His reasoning went like this:
Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series about the history of broadcasting in the Sacramento area. This series was inspired by readers’ positive responses to previous articles about local television history in this publication and several requests to feature histories of local radio stations.Sacramento radio station KFBK, which was featured in the last article of this series, remained the city’s only commercial radio station until Monday, March 15, 1937. It was on that date that KROY, which would eventually operate in the Arden area, made its official debut at 1210 AM.
Efforts to establish KROY was described in an article in the Nov. 6, 1935 edition of The Sacramento Bee. In that article it was reported that San Francisco native Royal Miller (1884-1976), who then-resided at 1325 45th St., had applied to operate a new radio station in Sacramento.
Miller, according to the article, commented that KFBK was on the verge of doubling its advertising and enlarging its facilities, and therefore, he believed that Sacramento was in need of a second and smaller commercial radio station.
In addition to his eventual notoriety as the owner of KROY, Miller was well-known as the president of the Miller Automobile Co. at 1520 K St. That company then had an estimated net worth of $136,000.
At various times during his life, Miller had a variety of other roles, including serving as a member of the Sacramento City Council, second vice president of the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and president of the board of directors of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
As previously mentioned, KROY officially went on the air on March 15, 1937. That action occurred at 2 p.m., with a push of a button by Gov. Frank F. Merriam from his office in the state Capitol.
After starting the station’s transmitter, Merriam briefly spoke on air to the station’s first listeners.
KROY’s dedicatory program was broadcast from its studio on the mezzanine level of the Hotel Senator.
The program, which concluded at 6:15 p.m., included greetings by other guest participants, including city, county and state officials. Among those officials were Lt. Gov. George J. Hatfield, Mayor Arthur D. Ferguson, City Manager James S. Dean and Sacramento County executive and purchasing agent Charles W. Deterding, Jr.
During the same evening, at 7:30 p.m., the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce honored Miller with a formal dinner at the Sacramento Hotel at 1107 10th St.
The original KROY staff consisted of Robert Barringer, general manager; Al Wolfle, technical director; Robert S. Spence, program director; Bert F. Hews, news editor; George W. Collipp, sales manager; Lucille McCubbin, receptionist; George F. Strahl, radio operator; Alyse Sullivan, women’s programs; and Harry Oakes, announcer-salesman.
A unique, original offering by KROY was its on air interviews with job applicants, for the benefit of employers through the California State Employment Service.
In 1941, KROY’s frequency was changed to 1240 AM, and the station began transmitting from a 195-foot-tall tower at 3502 Kroy Way in today’s Tahoe Park area.
Two major events in KROY’s history occurred in 1943, as the station changed from its original 100-watt operation to 250 watts of power, and KROY’s license was modified to feature a partnership of owners doing business as Royal Miller Radio. That partnership featured Royal Miller and his wife, Marion Miller, and L.H. Penney and Gladys W. Penney.
The Billboard magazine announced in its May 18, 1946 edition that the Federal Communications Commission had approved the sale of KROY to Harmco, Inc. for $150,000.
In the same edition of that weekly publication, it was noted that the Gibson Broadcasting Co. had submitted the same offer, but was turned down by the FCC, because that company was already operating another radio station, as well as two newspapers.
In the fall of 1952, Harmco, Inc. sold KROY to KROY, Inc., a then-newly formed organization headed by Charles L. McCarthy, for $425,000.
KROY was sold once again, in 1954, to Robert W. Dumm, a former manager of Sacramento radio station KXOA. Dumm had also previously worked as the sales promotion manager of San Francisco radio station KSFO.
In 1956, KROY began broadcasting at 1011 11th St., above the Country Maid Creamery restaurant.
KROY was sold to John T. Carey, Inc. in 1959, and then to Sacramento Broadcasters, Inc., which was headed by Lincoln Dellar, a year later.
It was also about that time when Arden area resident A.J. Richards became KROY’s station manager.
As a station that was known for presenting popular music of respective eras, KROY entered the rock and roll era in the same decade.
For a period of time, KROY regularly played surf music.
During research for this chapter, a unique entry was discovered in the April 11, 1963 city council minutes. That entry reads: “In accordance with verbal recommendation of the city manager, (Bartley W. Cavanaugh), Councilman (Philip C.) Mering moved that the written request of radio station KROY for permission to land a helicopter in Edmonds Field baseball park (at Riverside Boulevard and Broadway) on Saturday, April 13th, for a children’s Easter egg hunt be granted with the stipulation that evidence of insurance be filed, saving the city harmless.”
In early 1966, KROY, which was then a Top 40 format station, relocated to 977 Arden Way.
KROY was then managed by Dwight Case and was advertising itself as an “all request” radio station.
The station relocated its transmitter to the city dump, off 28th Street, in 1966.
It was also around that time that KROY persuaded popular KXOA deejay Johnny Hyde to become a KROY deejay and present his unique, non-Top 40 music program, “The Gear Hour.”
A KROY listeners’ survey list from Oct. 8-14, 1966 shows the titles of 40 top songs and 12 “hit-bound” songs. The top five songs on the main list are “I’m Your Puppet” (James & Bobby Purify), “Poor Side of Town” (Johnny Rivers), “Fortune Teller” (The Rolling Stones), “If I were a Carpenter” (Bobby Darin) and “The Fife Piper” (The Dynatones).
Such survey lists were based on a survey of record sales, listeners’ requests, national sales information and KROY’s “judgment of the record’s appeal to the Sacramento audience.”
A KROY document for the week of April 26 to May 4, 1967 notes that the 12 most requested tunes at that time were: “Yellow Balloon” (Yellow Balloon), “A Day in the Life” (The Beatles), “She Hangs Out” (The Monkees), “Blues Theme” (Davie Allan & The Arrows), “Groovin’” (The Young Rascals), “Somethin’ Stupid” (Nancy and Frank Sinatra), “Dry Your Eyes” (Brenda and The Tabulations), “Creators of Rain” (Smokey and His Sister), “On a Carousel” (The Hollies), “The Sound of Music” (The New Breed), “When I Was Young” (Eric Burdon & The Animals) and “Close Your Eyes” (Peaches & Herb).
In 1968, KROY became recognized as Sacramento’s number one radio station – according to Arbitron ratings books – and it would hold that position for several years.
KROY moved to new studios in the basement of a building at 1017 2nd St. in 1975.
In 1976, KROY 1240 AM was joined by KROI 96.9 FM.
According to a July 25, 1978 article in The Bee, during the previous day, the FCC approved the sale of KROY and KROI to Jonsson Communications, Inc. for a combined $4.08 million.
During the following year, KROI became KROY-FM.
Both KROY stations replaced their Top 40 format with an adult contemporary music format in the early 1980s.
KROY 1240 AM remained in operation until 1982, when it became known as KENZ.
On July 26, 1984, The Bee reported that KROY-FM had ended its rock format.
The article’s lead paragraph reads: “Sacramento radio listeners who had their sets tuned to KROY-FM this morning got a surprise when they awakened to KSAC and the sounds of vocalists like Frank Sinatra instead of the rock music of Van Halen.”
In regard to the KSAC call letters, the article noted that Ken Jonsson, who was president of the firm that owned Sacramento magazine, Heavenly Recording Studios at 620 Bercut Drive and radio stations in Sacramento, Manteca and Reno, played an integral role in securing those letters from a college radio station in Kansas.
The KROY letters were revived in 1985 by the station’s then-new owners, Commonwealth Broadcasting of Northern California.
KROY-FM made news again on Nov. 8, 1988, when The Bee reported that the station had been sold to the Great American Radio and Television Company of Cincinnati, Ohio for $11.7 million.
The article noted: “The station is expected to retain its current format of adult contemporary music. Its assets will be transferred from current owner, Commonwealth Broadcasting, to Great American within the next 90 days, a spokeswoman said.”
KROY-FM, which would eventually be recognized as “Hot 97,” officially left the air permanently in 1990 when it was replaced by radio station KSEG “The Eagle” 96.9 FM.
As presented in the first article of this series, a fire destroyed the original Edmonds Field at the southeast corner of Riverside Boulevard and Broadway during the summer of 1948. And 65 years later, people are still talking about the tragedy.
During interviews conducted for this article, six people shared their memories regarding the fire, and in some cases spoke about the ruins it left behind and the mystery regarding its origin.
Excerpts from these interviews are presented, as follows:
“We were getting cinders clear over there [at his house at 2770 19th St., near Markham Way] from the ballpark fire,” said 94-year-old Sacramento native Morrison Bruner. “What a glare in the sky. It was late at night.
“It has been said that [the fire] started from a cigarette butt landing on wood below the stands, which I doubt very much. There were spaces in the floor boards and under the seats where anything could be dropped, especially Coke bottles. After the game, some of us would go under the stands and find the bottles to take to the store for [a] refund of a few pennies. The structure was built in such a way that horizontal wood was very scarce. Most of it was angles. There was a dirt floor and it was not compacted and the dust was about six inches deep. There was also lots of dust on the cross members of the framing.”
“We were at a bar at 18th (Street) and Broadway (on the night of the fire),” recalled 90-year-old Sacramento area native Billy Rico, whose own successful baseball career included playing for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. “I was with a guy who was a great (PCL) ball player by the name of Frankie Hawkins. A fire broke out and everybody went out in the street, because it was the ballpark (that was on fire just a few blocks away). It was about time for it to catch fire anyway. It was old wood. Everybody was running like crazy up and down the street. I didn’t go down by the fire. You couldn’t, because it was so damn hot. I also went out there the next day (to the ballpark remains) and looked around. I hated to see the (destruction), because I saw a lot of great ball games out there. The greatest left-hander I ever saw pitched there. That was (the Solons’) Tony Freitas.”
“What I know about (the fire) is a man named Joe Valine, who was a salesman for the International (tractor) dealer, Sacramento Valley Tractor Co. (at 1901 Broadway), used to talk about it,” said 82-year-old Walnut Grove native Dennis Leary. “He thought the whole neighborhood was going to burn before it was over. The flames were probably 200 feet (tall) and spewing sparks all over the neighborhood. I had gone to quite a few baseball games at that old, wooden stadium. All of the early stadiums were like that. That’s the way they were built. It was all out of wood. It wasn’t out of concrete and cinderblocks or whatever they use today, and every once in a while one burned.”
“I actually heard about the fire while I was in Guam,” said Dick Ryder, a June 1947 C.K. McClatchy High School graduate, who grew up a short distance from the ballpark at 2800 Regina Way. “I was working for the Navy under the naval civil service when I was 18 and that (fire) happened during that summer that I was still there under my contract. He came over, incidentally driving a brand new Ford Sportsman woody, and was telling me all about the big fire that he had seen before he left Sacramento. Since I was so far away when I heard (the news), it kind of shows you what an international place Sacramento is!
“About seven years earlier, when (former St. Louis Cardinals star) Pepper Martin was the (Solons’) manager, I attended every home game that year. (The original Edmonds Field) was a big wooden ballpark, and my recollection is you sat on wooden seats and there was a space under the seats that went down to the ground underneath the (stands). There was that empty void down there, and when (former Sacramento Bee columnist) Stan Gilliam used to (talk about) the fact that his smoking started the fire, I can believe that.”
“At (the time of the fire), we were living at [2550 Freeport Blvd.] and we heard all of the commotion and the (sirens of) fire engines go by, so we went on down to the end of the street to Broadway,” said Sacramento native Dolores Greenslate, a June 1942 graduate of McClatchy High. “We saw all the lights and the flames of the fire and the smoke and everything, and everybody was running in that direction, so we ran down in that direction, too. We were just about where Tower Records (was later established at 16th Street and Broadway) and we stopped there, because they didn’t want anybody to go any further. It would have been interfering with people who were fighting the fire. There was debris and it was flying. It was an old rickety ballpark and naturally when it was burning cinder hot, there’s going to be sparks all over the place. It was a spectacular fire, because ambers and flames were reaching high into the sky. What was especially notable was the fire was burning the telephone poles on the north side of Broadway. With the sparks spitting out everywhere, it kind of reminded you of the 4th of July. Those poles were in front of the (Shell Oil Co.) gas station (at the northeast corner of Riverside Boulevard and Broadway) and were burning brightly and viciously, and nobody wanted to go by there, because they thought the gas station was going to explode. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, if the fire got down to that gasoline and it exploded, what a catastrophe that would be.’ There were a lot of houses on Yale Street and other streets over there that had residential stuff and they would all go up in smoke. If the electric lines were on fire, they would go right to the houses, too.
“(Stan Gilliam) was always (talking) about how he thought he burned down the ballpark, and I think he did, because, in those stands, stuff would fall down (to the ground). If you were eating some popcorn and you dropped some, it would just fall all the way down there (to the ground). There were wrappers down there and everything else. And (Gilliam) said he really did lose his cigarette. I asked him about it one time and he said, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if I did start it, because I was there that night.’”
“I recall the fire in the particular area in which I lived in East Sacramento (at 1215 44th St.),” said Toby Johnson, the 96-year-old, former longtime educator and county supervisor. “There were flames in the sky and the general reaction was a mass turnout of people (at the site or) trying to view it from some vantage point, like the Capitol grounds and so forth.
“The following day, a couple of my friends, Mike McPartland and Jack Harrison, and I went over there and looked at (the ruins). Mike had a car, so we went over in that. They wouldn’t permit you to go in where the fire had been its greatest. The devastation was pretty darn rampant. (That) day, everybody in Sacramento had to see the outcome of the burning of (the ballpark).”
Editor’s note: This is the first article of a two-part series about the fire that destroyed the original Edmonds Field.
Sixty-five years ago, one of the darkest days in the history of baseball in Sacramento occurred as a community treasure, the original Edmonds Field, at the southeast corner of Riverside Boulevard and Broadway was destroyed by fire.
The fire at the roughly 11,000-seat stadium, which was home to the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Solons baseball team, was reported to have been discovered by Fire Battalion Chief Peter Mangan shortly before midnight on Sunday, July 11, 1948. Carl Murphy, the stadium’s assistant manager, had been the last person to leave the ballpark when he departed at about 9:15 p.m.
The stadium, which was originally known as Moreing Field, was constructed in 1922.
In its July 13, 1948 edition, The Sacramento Union described the loss of the mostly wooden stadium, which was built at a cost of $50,000, as a “gaping wound in the heart of the city’s sports world.”
Also lost as a result of the fire were the nearby homes of Roy Milner at 2605 Riverside Blvd., Clarence N. Baker at 2609 Riverside Blvd. and Harold Jordan at 2613 Riverside Blvd.
The Sacramento Bee reported that residents within a four-block radius of the stadium fought flying sparks and bits of smoldering wood with water emitted from garden hoses.
And The Union noted that at one point, “spewing flames, cinders and huge chunks of burning wood” fell upon the streets on both sides of the stadium.
Jack Dyer, who co-owned The White House restaurant at 2633 Riverside Blvd., where today’s Riverside Clubhouse restaurant now operates, lost his parked automobile after it caught on fire on Riverside Boulevard, 100 feet south of Broadway. Another car parked in the same area also caught on fire.
Nearby telephone and power lines collapsed, three transformers blew out and fear built regarding further danger due to a possible disaster if the gas station across the street from the stadium caught on fire.
According to The Bee, embers from the fire were carried in the wind more than a mile away.
Charles McDonnell, who resided at 2401 13th St., told The Union that he discovered cinders in his car in front of his home during the morning of July 12, 1948.
The Union also reported that “others said there were ashes as far north as Capitol Avenue.”
The blaze, which would eventually include flames that reached about 500 feet tall, drew an estimated 50,000 people, who were eager to view the spectacle that would ultimately level the majority of the ballpark. Only the outfield fence, a section of the left field bleachers, the scoreboard and the stadium’s lights were left standing.
The magnitude of the scene was partially described in The Bee, as follows: “As the flames shot upward, the entire section of the city in the vicinity of Broadway and Riverside Boulevard was as light as day for more than an hour.”
Others spectators, also numbering in the thousands, arrived at the site to view the charred ruins that were left behind after the fire was extinguished.
The Union noted that the onlookers, who observed the scene as “morbid souls gathering around a dying giant,” were “seemingly unable to believe their eyes at the twisted wreckage and waste of the grounds.”
Bill Conlin, The Union’s sports editor noted in his column that even members of the Solons, who were then managed by Joe Orengo, made their way down to the stadium site after the fire.
Conlin wrote: “The players, each of whom lost $100 to $200 in personal belongings, were visibly stricken over the dilapidated grandstand, which they had come to regard as home.”
Also lost in the fire was a collection of baseball photographs that had been hung on walls in the stadium’s press room, and Solons majority owner Oscar Salenger’s ornate office furniture.
Fire Chief Terence Mulligan was reported to have fractured his right wrist at the stadium while he directed a large firefighting force, and four firemen and a policeman suffered burns of various degrees, but no human casualties were reported.
Twenty-eight prized chickens in the backyard of the aforementioned Harold Jordan, who was the scoreboard operator at Edmonds field, were burned to death.
But fortunately, the baseball club’s cat, Alta, was eventually found to be a survivor of the fire.
Although it was never determined exactly how the fire began, a strong speculation was that it was caused by a possible smoldering cigarette that had been left behind following a game.
In its July 12, 1948 edition, The Bee reported: “It is believed a cigaret (sic) carelessly dropped in the stand during yesterday’s (last) doubleheader game may have started the disastrous blaze.”
A day later, The Union published the following words: “Day after day, patrons were warned to be sure to extinguish their cigarets (sic) to prevent just such a fire.”
Whether there is any truth to the matter in relation to the fire, the late Bee columnist Stan Gilliam, during his latter years, would often relate a story about how he believed it was his own cigarette that caused the stadium fire.
The idea that the ballpark was destroyed as a result of a random cigarette was not the only words that were being spoken around the city regarding the cause of the fire.
Two weeks prior to the fire, the insurance policy for the stadium had been raised from $140,000 to $250,000, causing some people to utter the dirty word, “arson.”
Furthermore, two days earlier, the stadium was the site of another early morning fire, which was quickly extinguished by local firefighters.
Fire investigators recorded the cause of the disaster as “undetermined.”
Because the then-last place Solons became homeless due to the fire, the team took on the role of a traveling club for the final 11 weeks of the season, playing at various times in San Diego, Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco, Oakland and Portland.
In an effort to keep the Solons’ home games in the Sacramento area, Hughes Stadium in the Land Park area and the North Sacramento ball fields at Grant Union High School and Dixieanne Park were speculated upon in local newspapers as possible alternative home field playing sites. However, such temporary sites never materialized.
Yubi Separovich, the club’s general manager at that time, told The Bee that there was no grandstand in the Sacramento area that could accommodate a PCL crowd.
In order to maintain its franchise, the Sacramento Baseball Association, which had been formed four years earlier, acted quickly in its efforts to have a new stadium constructed either at the Broadway and Riverside site or somewhere else in the Sacramento area.
Shortly after the fire, Separovich spoke to The Union regarding the club’s intentions to have a new baseball stadium built in the Sacramento area.
“I am confident that we can count on 100 per cent (sic) support from Coast League directors,” said Separovich, who opened a post-fire, temporary office at 2422 13th St., which is now the site of Iron Steaks restaurant. “I mean full and complete help that will start us on our way to building a modern, concrete grandstand that will seat 16,000 or 18,000 persons. We must keep the Sacramento franchise in the Coast League and we must have a new park by 1949.”
As hoped for by the Solons ownership, fans and others associated with the team, construction of a new Edmonds Field, albeit built without financial assistance from the league, was completed at the site of the former stadium in time for the home opener of the club’s 1949 season.
Celebrating the 100th Janey Way Memories Column
It seems hard to believe, but four years ago, on July 2, 2009, I penned my first Janey Way Memories column. Much has transpired since that date: my third and fourth grandchildren came into this world, a president won re-election, and I witnessed a total eclipse of the sun. All the while, the Janey Way stories have continued to play out on the pages of the East Sacramento News.
Do you recall some of the adventures we have shared? Remember the pit, the vacated sand and gravel site behind the houses on the east side of Janey Way where the Janey Way Gang played? Remember Ole Man Charlie, the sometimes frightening watchman who chased us around the pit. In the end, we found that he wasn’t really very scary at all.
How about “Scooters and Sidewalk Surfing”, you may remember doing that yourself?
Do you recall how my brother Terry, Randy Puccetti and I pulled off the famous great beer heist?
That first year I also told you about building a Christmas tree fort and how that led to “Christmas Tree Wars.” Sadly, I also told you about the loss of my good friend Mike Gilson in Viet Nam—not all of my stories have been fun.
Writing this column has also given me the chance to tell you about some of the extraordinary people who lived on Janey Way such as my mother and father, Martin and Mary Relles, Dom Costamagna who helped us survive to adulthood, Lou Viani, the Mayor of Janey Way and the many other unique characters who once lived in my neighborhood.
In writing this column, I’ve also had the opportunity to recall many great things about Sacramento such as the Alhambra Theatre, the Memorial Auditorium, the old California State Fair on Stockton Blvd. and Edmonds Field, the home of the Sacramento Solons baseball team.
I must tell you that I have really enjoyed sharing these stories of my youth with you. Doing so, reminds me of what a great city Sacramento is and what a great life I have experienced here.
Over the next year, I hope to share many more Janey Way Memories with you. You can help me with this by sharing some of your Sacramento childhood memories with me. Just email me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you, and also to sharing more of my Janey Way Memories with you.
When McClatchy opened its doors in September 1937, Sacramento was truly a small town.
Sutterville Road was the southern end of Sacramento, the Land Park Zoo had opened 10 years earlier in 1927, Sacramento Junior College had just moved from Sacramento High to its new site on Freeport Boulevard and the Sacramento Metro Airport sat among the fields of rural Sacramento.
In 1937, Land Park began to take shape, and the Land Park Plunge on Riverside was the place to swim. Holy Spirit Church wasn’t built until 1940.
It would be 10 years before Hollywood Park and Vic’s Ice Cream would open, and 30 years before Greenhaven was begun.
The Solons played at Edmonds Field where Target is today, and a three-bedroom home on Teneighth Way would cost the new owner $11,000.
As the second public high school in Sacramento, McClatchy was built for $800,000 in 1937 as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration.
The style was classicized modern and was named after the editor of the Sacramento Bee, C. K. McClatchy. The first prinicipal was Sam Pepper, a great sports fan, who truly bled “McClatchy red” for 25 years.
Notable graduates include Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Congressmen Bob Matsui and Xavier Becerra and judges Ron Tochterman, Morrison England, Art Scotland, and Tani Cantil-Sakauye as well as author Joan Didion.
As a new high school, it took about three years before the sports teams could compete with the powerful Sacramento High School Dragons who had dominated the valley for the previous 30 years.
But by the end of 1949, McClatchy High School and its great athletes would replace the Dragons as one of the truly great athletic high schools in California.
Thirteen Hall of Fame athletes and two coaches led the surge with baseball and track being the two strongest, while football and basketball peaked at the end of the decade.
Four outstanding coaches led the Lions: George Bican* (football), Chauncey Wilson (basketball) Cliff Perry (baseball), and Jack Mauger* (track).
Some of the early great athletes included Larry Manuian (Sacramento Smokies fame), Bob Libee, Ted Latona, Bob and Gene Geremia, Ted Forbes, Ernie Maskovitch, Burt Bonomi, Jack Burgess, Nick and George Stathos and golfer Billy Ogden, Jr.
Norm Greenslate*, a major league prospect in baseball, would head off to fight in World War II after being named all-city in 1941-42.
George Vernatchi, former long-time principal at Rio Linda High School was the first pitcher to beat Sac High 8-3 in 1942.
He talks about sitting in the library the day after the game, when the librarian, a notorious Dragon fan, came up to him and in an accusing tone, said, “Are you George Vernatchi? Mr. Pepper wants to see you immediately!”
All the way down to the office, Vernatchi kept thinking, what did I do now? When he got there, Pepper shook his hand, and said, “Congratulations, George. You are the first pitcher to ever beat the Dragons. Great job!”
The following year Vernatchi would pitch McClatchy’s first no hitter and lead the Lions to the championship game where he lost in 12 innings to Christian Brothers 1-0.
Early 40s football
Perhaps the greatest athlete of the early 40s was Fred Wristen, who excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track.
He scored a touchdown in McClatchy’s first victory over Sacramento by a score of 13-6 in 1939. Wristen went on to star in football at Nevada Reno and was all-conference.
George Bican arrived at McClatchy in 1943 as football coach and led the Lions to their first undefeated season in 1944.
The Lions were led by running back Roy Sules*. Ed Sprague, Darwin Farnsworth, Wes Busch, Don Aldrich, Charles Anderson and Ernie Johnson were other outstanding players.
In 1945, McClatchy again went undefeated in the north before losing to Modesto for the title. 1946 would be another strong year building to 1947 when McClatchy beat an undefeated Sacramento team on Thanksgiving Day 35-14 for the title.
Led by Del Rasmussen*, John Pappa*, Curtis Rowland, Leon King, Tony Geremia*, Vern Sampson*, Tiger Orr and Bill Burns*, the 1947 football team is considered one of McClatchy’s greatest teams ever.
When Cliff Perry arrived as baseball coach in 1946, McClatchy would begin a 10-year period of excellence topped off with 80 wins over four seasons, 1950-53.
In 1947, the Lions won 18 of 24, and the 1948 team led by Roger Osenbaugh*, Jim Westlake and Ray Nieto, beat Sac High 3-2 for the title.
Osenbaugh, the valedictorian, would go on to play at Stanford in 1951-52 and then with Westlake on the Sacramento Solons.
The decade ended when the 1949 baseball team led by Tony Stathos, Bud Farley, George Timme and Earl Rose had to share the Sac-Joaquin section title with the Dragons.
Basketball in the 1940’s was dominated by the defensive style of coach Chauncey Wilson.
In 1942, the team beat arch rivals Sacramento 21-16. Pete Peletta* would lead the area in scoring in 1945 as the champion Lions went 16-1.
The Lions were on their way to another great season in 1946 ending the first half with their sixth straight win over the Dragons 44-32.
However, top scorer Peletta graduated at mid-term and McClatchy ended up in second place.
Peletta would go on to coach at University of San Francisco and take the Dons to four consecutive NCAA appearances.
The 1948-49 teams were also hurt by midterm graduation, but the scoring and rebounding of Al Ricci* led the Lions over Sac.
Track and field
Track exploded during the 1940s under coach Jack Mauger, who started at McClatchy in 1937 when it opened.
He held the world record for left-handed pole vaulters for 26 years. The Lions started their remarkable run of victory years in 1943 with a conference title and second place at the Davis Picnic.
From 1943 thru 1949, the Lions were undefeated in dual meet competition and won the Sac Joaquin section title every year. During that period, they won the Lodi and Modesto Relays, the West Coast Relays in Fresno and the Davis Picnic.
Dick Balfour, whose 13-foot pole vault made him the best in California, and John Pappa* in the sprints, led the 1947 and 1948 teams to section titles and victories at the Modesto Relays.
The seven-year dual meet win streak was stopped in 1949 when the Lions lost a meet to El Cerrito.
Outstanding track athletes included Lou Montfort, Jerry Perich and Ed Casey in the pole vault, Bob Innis in the 110 hurdles, Ed Sprague in the 100m, Ray Schultz in the long jump, Ron Keskeys in the 200m, Nick Doudnik and Glenn Kingsley in the shot put, and Ray Biaggi Rudy Manriquez and Al Baeta in the distances.
John Pappa*, who went on to an outstanding coaching career, was unbeatable in the sprints.
“Jack Mauger was and remains truly the Dean of Track and Field in Sacramento,” said Al Baeta, former runner and one of the great track coaches in the Sacramento area. “Not only did he have success at the varsity level but with B and C teams as well. Statistically, he is the winningest coach of all time in Sacramento.”
The 1940s became the foundation for the 1950s and many more league championships in all four major sports.
The top 50 athletes and five teams from 1938 to 1962 will be recognized as part of McClatchy’s 75th anniversary celebration held on September 20 at the Riverside Elks Club.
All McClatchy graduates are invited to attend and be part of the tall tales about their excellence as students/athletes at McClatchy.
For information go to restoretheroar.org.
*Hall of Fame Inductees
In the late 1940’s and early 50’s high school baseball in Sacramento was at its zenith. McClatchy, Sacramento, and Christian Brothers all had outstanding teams and talent. Roger Osenbaugh and Jim Westlake of CKM signed pro contracts after the 1948 season followed by Woody Held (Sac), Richie Meyers (Elk Grove), Tony Stathos (CKM), John McNamara (CBS), and Harry Dunlap (Sac). Sacramento Junior College combined the city’s best baseball players to go for the state title for three straight years from, 51 to 53, winning the state title in 51 and 53 at the Edmonds Field.
Possibly the greatest high school baseball teams to ever play in Sacramento were the McClatchy teams of 1951 and 52. The 51 team won 22 without a loss and the section title, and the 52 team followed with 18 more wins before losing to CBS after McClatchy’s win streak reached 40 games.
With a McClatchy Athletic Hall of Fame starting this fall after 75 years, these two teams and their players were picked as one of the three greatest teams in McClatchy’s first 25 years. They will be honored on September 20, with a dinner at the Elk’s Club and on the 21st at half time of the McClatchy football game.
Led by the Rose brothers Earl (51) and Ralph (53), Peter Stathos (52), and Dick Traversi (52), six Lions made all-city in 51 and five made the all-city team in 52. Chris Chrstian, JC Masters, and Ralph Rose were the pitchers with Earl used in relief. Traversi played first, Stathos, second, and Earl Rose played in the outfield.
McClatchy hit .309 as a team with Earl Rose setting a school record getting 49 hits in 94 at bats for a .521 average. This record has never been broken. Junior Peter Stathos also broke the school record hitting .512. He had 42 hits and drove in 28 runs. Traversi was a unanimous choice for All City getting 28 hits and being an excellent glove man at first base. Traversi would go on in his senior year to lead the city in scoring for the McClatchy basketball team.
The pitching staff was led by seniors’ Chris Christian and JC Masters. Christian had eight wins and Masters had six. Bob Jones was the catcher and made all-city. Outfielder Jerry Pesavento and shortstop Bob Ayres made honorable mention.
McClatchy started the season with wins over Willows, San Juan, and Grass Valley. They reached nine straight when they beat Grant 11-2 and came closest to their only loss when their game with CBS was called for darkness after eight innings with the score 11 to 11. McClatchy had led 9-0 but four errors allowed the Pete Mikichich led CBS to tie the score and send it to extra innings.
Chris Christian next threw a one-hitter at Sac and the Lions won easily 11-2. Masters came back to beat the Dragons for their 15th straight 6-3. The Lions had to come from behind in this one as the Dragons scored two in the first. Stathos drove in two runs in the second and Ayres tripled home Masters to put the Lions ahead for good. Ralph Rose then threw a two-hitter to beat St Mary’s for their 16th straight. McClatchy beat Woodland 8-2 and came back for a close 6-5 win over Sacramento for their 22nd and final win of the season.
Coach Cliff Perry commented that, “This was the best team I have ever coached. Earl Rose was obviously the top senior with his .521 average, but seniors JC Masters, Chris Christian, Bob Jones, Dave Thomas (21 steals) , and Jerry Pesavento will be tough to replace.”
The 1952 season started up right where it left off with Ralph Rose, Roger Herscowitz, Don Deary, and Mike Toomey being the main pitchers. Sophomore Bill Werry handled the catching., Traversi played first, Stathos, second, Bob Ayres, short, and Bruce Parsons/ Hui Jackson third. Rose, Gene Huyrch, Jan Aitken, and Parsons were in the outfield.
All-city performers included: Aitken, Ayres, Stathos, Traversi, and Werry in the Sacramento Bee, and Aitken, Rose, Stathos, Traversi, and the Sacramento Union. Huyrch and Ayres made honorable mention. Peter Stathos led the team in hitting with a .438 average, Traversi hit .417 and Rose was .407. Werry .417 and Huyrch each hit four triples and Huyrch had six home runs. Stathos was chosen to play in the East-West All Star game in Oakland after the season.
The Lions started the 52 season fast with eighteen straight wins before falling for the first time at the end of the season They did win the city championship for the third straight year. Highlights included a 21-2 win over Rio Vista, 29-1 win over Turlock and their 35th straight win a 9-2 victory over St Mary’s of Stockton.
The streak finally came to an end in May when Dave Higgins (all-city) from Christian Brothers beat the Lions 11-4. McClatchy was never in the game as Higgins pitched six shutout innings before McClatchy scored twice in the 7th and 8th.
When asked about the McClatchy 51-52 baseball teams that won 40 straight games, Stathos commented, “We had a great coach, Cliff Perry, and great players, Traversi, Aitken, Ayres, and the Rose brothers. We had great pitching, JC and Chris in 51 and Ralph Rose, Herscowitz, and Deary, in 52. Werry and Hurych came out of nowhere to really help us in 52. Forty straight wins. Wow, nobody will ever do that again.”
This is the first in a series of articles as part of the McClatchy 75th year celebration, and the institution of a McClatchy Sports Hall of Fame. A banquet will be held on Sept. 20, at the Elks Clubs honoring 50 individuals and five teams from the first 25 years (1938-1962). All McClatchy graduates and family are invited to participate. For information: go to RestoretheRoar.org or contact Jim Coombs at (916) 422-9082 or Bob Sertih at (916) 441-0657.
Note: This is part two of a two-part series regarding Land Park resident Lou Coppola.
Land Park’s longtime resident Lou Coppola has certainly drawn much attention for his ongoing work with the Nor Cal Big Bands Preservation Society and his longtime career in radio. Another detail about his life was his involvement in sports, both on and off the radio airwaves.
Voice of the Solons
Many former fans of the Sacramento Solons – the Pacific Coast League baseball team that provided entertainment for local sports fans long before the 2000 debut of the Sacramento River Cats – remember Lou. Or they at least remember his voice.
It was Lou’s voice that was heard at Edmonds Field at Riverside Boulevard and Broadway during the Solons’ latter years in Sacramento.
The son of Italian immigrants Emilio and Rosa Coppola, Lou worked at the stadium as the Solons’ public address announcer from 1956 to 1958 and in 1960.
Obtaining the job was a self-motivated endeavor, Lou recalled.
“I had heard that (Solons co-owner) Fred David was not happy with the guy who was doing the PA, so I went over there and I said, ‘Hey, I do PA, no problem. I’m at home and I’ve done it at all these places. I’ve done radio in Korea and I’ve done radio in Pittsburg and in Oroville and I’ve covered every sport.’ He said, ‘Would you like to go to work?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘I’ll pay you $10 a night.’ That was a smile. Boy, $10 a night to do the PA!’”
Lou noted that that amount of money was a large upgrade from his former days of being paid $2 per night as the PA man for city softball games in Concord.
He added, “To get the $2 a night, I had to drag the field and line it for the games. In those days, $2 just went so far.”
Lou’s career also included providing play-by-play radio coverage for Sacramento State College (today’s Sacramento State University) and Christian Brothers, El Camino and Woodland high school sports, promoter J. C. Agajanian’s 200-Miler at the old State Fairgrounds, an LPGA tournament at Valley Hi Country Club and local tennis and boxing competitions. He also interviewed many Major League Baseball players during spring trainings in Tucson, Ariz.
Crafting an image
In 1959, Lou helped create mental images for many radio listeners who tuned into KCRA’s AM radio station for Solons home and away games. KCRA later added the FM station, KCTC.
During one of his recent interviews with this publication, Lou described his memories of that year.
“Only one year did (KCRA owners, the) Kellys decide, ‘We want to take (Solons radio broadcasts) away from KFBK,’ and they made a bid and got it,” Lou said. “I think they paid $32,000. (At Edmonds Field,) I did the engineering, but (Stu Nahan) would do the play-by-play for maybe the first six innings and then he’d have to leave to go do the 10:30 (p.m.) sports on (KCRA) Channel 3 for the TV side. I continued (the play-by-play) by myself, finishing up the game. I also was the official scorekeeper at the same time. I had to score while Stu did the play-by-play and then I did the play-by-play and continued scoring.”
Lou also shared his memories about providing re-creations of Solons away games for the KCRA radio station.
“The re-creations were fun,” Lou recalled. “We borrowed a lot of the things that we heard from other people doing re-creations and the fact that you had to have a certain kind of crowd noise there to emphasize whether it was an important play during the course of the game. We would have to make it sound special that the ball hit the bat and it was going to be a good hit. You had to make that sound. And you would have a little mallet and the mallet would make the sound of the ball hitting the bat. We would have a little hanging bat with a flat surface and one side had been shaved, so when you hit it, it wouldn’t bounce off. The catcher was so close to our microphone – we pretended he was – ball one, outside, ball two. We wouldn’t call curve balls. We could say, high and inside, we could say high and outside, we could say low. From our vantage point, we couldn’t tell really what were the breaking pitches. We could only tell by the speed of the pitch which was a fast ball, which was a breaking pitch. And there weren’t too many pitches in the dirt. The pitchers for the Solons were all very, very accurate. I don’t think they gave a lot of walks, as I remember.”
And in recently re-creating one of his often-used re-creations, Lou slapped the inside of one of his thighs. He then explained that the sound made by this action was used to simulate the sound of a hardball hitting a catcher’s glove.
Although Lou and Nahan provided radio play-by-play in 1959, the most notable play-by-play Solons game announcer was KFBK’s Tony Koester, who spent about 20 years working in that role.
During the Solons’ final season in 1960, Lou returned to his former position as the Solons’ public address announcer.
Met Solons players
Lou said that he had the opportunity to see many notable Solons players, including infielders Harry Bright, Milt Smith, Nippy Jones and Leo Righetti, catchers Cuno Barragan and Bob Roselli, centerfielder Al Heist and pitchers, Bud Beasley, Marshall Bridges, Roger Osenbaugh and Bud Watkins.
These players played under the managerial direction of the rotund and jovial Tommy Heath.
Unique baseball memory
Although Lou has a great number of baseball-related memories regarding Edmonds Field, when asked to describe one of his favorite moments at the old ballpark, he shared a memory that was not directly associated with the game itself or anyone on the playing field.
“One of the best things that I can say about Edmonds Field is that my son attended a lot of ballgames (at the stadium) – actually before he was born,” Lou said. “The year was 1957 and it was my second year at the PA. I had a box seat for my wife (Betty) given to me by Fred David along the first base line and she was allowed to sit there with Charlie slowly growing inside (of her). And on the night of July the 4th, 1957, Mrs. Coppola, Betty, was saying, ‘I don’t feel good and will you tell Lou, I’m going home?’ And she told the usher to tell me that and he said, ‘She’ll see you at home.’ She got home and I had to do an extra inning ballgame that kept me up past midnight. So, when I got home, it was about 12:15 (a.m.) – we lived in Hollywood Park then – and about a half an hour later, she said, ‘I think we’ve got to go to the hospital. I think the time has come.’ We got over in about 15 minutes to Sutter Memorial (Hospital) and we had in 35 or 40 minutes a new boy, a new son, Charles Christopher Coppola.”
And as a sort of icing on the cake, Lou added that the Solons won the extra inning affair, 2-1.
Unfortunately for the baseball city of Sacramento, after the 1960 departure of the Solons, it was without a professional ballclub until 1974, when another PCL team, which was also known as the Sacramento Solons, began the first of its three years playing at Hughes Stadium.
Another professional baseball drought followed until the arrival of the River Cats.
Lou, who also played as the catcher for the Concord Athletic Club’s traveling team from 1947 to 1950 and spent 19 years playing on a Golden Seniors Softball Club of Sacramento team, said that he fondly looks back on his days of working for the Solons.
“It was low key, compact and kind of challenging (working in the PA box), but it was just enriching,” Lou said. “For a baseball guy who played in high school and semipro for about 10 years in the Bay Area, it was a great experience working for the so-called ‘open league.’ It gave me thrills galore. It was good baseball, good offense and defense and good guys.”
In the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, the Solons played ball at a storied old wooden ballpark named Edmonds Field located at the intersection of Riverside Blvd. and Broadway.
Unlike the Kings, the Solons actually won a Pacific Coast League title in 1942.
Back then, Hall of Fame players with names like Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider and Ted Williams took their first cuts in the Pacific Coast League. So, when I was growing up in the 1950s, attending a Solons game at Edmonds Field with my dad was always a memorable experience.
The structure itself stood out like a sore thumb on little old Broadway. At full capacity it accommodated about 10,000 fans, a pretty big venue for its time. Fans attending the Solon games parked for free all along the north and west sides of the park and entered the stadium from a main gate located on its northwest corner.
Vendors lined the underbelly of the park, selling hot dogs, sodas, Cracker Jack and peanuts: all the traditional baseball fare.
From there, fans proceeded up through arches lining both sides of the field to the stands. From home plate, the right and left field lines stretched out 330 feet to an 18 foot high fence. The center field fence stood 400 feet away from the plate, so a home run hit to that part of the field had to carry about 450 feet.
Some of the home runs I saw hit at Edmonds Field were memorable, towering blasts. I can remember the sounds of the fans cheering as if it were yesterday.
Going to the games at Edmonds Field with my father was memorable for other reasons.
My dad grew up in Sacramento and because he was a policeman, he always encountered lots of friends from all walks of life at the ballpark. People with monikers like Izzy, Tiny and Lefty.
He always started his conversation with them by saying, “This is my oldest son Marty, you remember him.” The guys would reply, “He’s grown up a lot since the last time I saw him Mart,” and I would swell up to my tallest possible height. Then we headed up to the stands to watch the game.
During their whole tenure, the Solons won only one championship, but they always competed and fought hard for every victory. I remember the outstanding center fielder, Al Heist, injuring his knee, making a diving catch to save a no-hitter for his pitcher.
In this modern day of cash-register sports, you don’t often see that kind of effort anymore.
My dad actually played several games in Edmonds Field with the Sacramento Police Department baseball team. They competed once every year in a charity game with the San Francisco Police Department team.
I served as a mascot for the local police team. One year as the teams played, I did a dance atop the dugout like good mascots do. In doing that, my enthusiasm got the best of me, and I fell off the roof down to the floor of the dugout. Fortunately, I fell right into the open arms of my dad’s good friend, Lefty Rogers who shrugged and said, “What are you doing here, Marty.”
That might have been the best catch Lefty ever made.
The days of Edmonds Field and the Sacramento Solons are a long forgotten memory now. They leveled the field and built a grocery store at the site almost 50 years ago. But I, for one, have not forgotten the old ballpark. Now it’s another inspirational Janey Way memory.