Although the name Tony Tonelli is not a familiar name for the majority of local baseball fans of this era, those who attended baseball games at this local stadium at just about any time during the years 1939 to 1941, likely have at least a vague recollection of seeing Tony.
This is a certainty when considering that Tony was a regular at these games, as he called balls and strikes from behind home plate, which was located at what is now the northwest corner of the Target parking lot.
At 88 years old, Tony admits that many of his memories of his days of working as a Pacific Coast League umpire have faded with time.
Love of the game
But that does not take away his love for this part of his life or his place in the grand history of baseball in Sacramento.
As a baseball city, Sacramento was once home to a large, 10,000-seat, mostly wooden stadium that was home to the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Senators or Solons, depending upon the era.
Originally known as Moreing Field and later receiving the name Sacramento Ball Park, then Cardinal Field, Doubleday Park and lastly Edmonds Field, the stadium stood at the corner of Riverside Boulevard and Broadway from 1922 to 1948. A second Edmonds Field opened at the same Land Park site in 1949.
The PCL years
It was the first Edmonds Field, however, where Tony spent three seasons working behind the plate.
As a PCL umpire, Tony never resided in Sacramento, as he instead lived in Oakland, which was one of the six California cities that were home to PCL teams.
Although the league consisted of eight teams, including teams in Portland and Seattle, Tony said that he only umpired games in California.
In addition to its teams in Sacramento, Oakland, Portland and Seattle, the league, during this time, included teams from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Diego.
Among the Sacramento players who Tony recently recalled from his years of umpiring were: Art Garibaldi, Gene Handley, Robert “Buddy” Blattner, Walker Cooper, Al Sherer, George “Red” Munger, Max “Milo” Marshall, Herman Franks and Averett “Tommy” Thompson.
Tony, who was born and raised in Cottonwood, Ariz. by his parents, northern Italy immigrants Peter Tonelli and Julia (Arigoni) Tonelli, also recalled Pepper Martin, the former Major League All-Star who became Sacramento’s manager in 1941.
Although Tony does not immediately recall the names of former Sacramento players and managers, he was certainly quick to name Dominic “Dom” DiMaggio as his all-time favorite baseball player.
Dom DiMaggio, who was the brother of the legendary New York Yankees slugger Joe Dimaggio, played for the PCL’s San Francisco Seals from 1937 to 1939. He later had a lengthy Major League Baseball career with the Boston Red Sox.
Despite maintaining a longtime involvement in baseball, Tony said that he did not play baseball during his childhood.
“I was probably 19 when I first started playing baseball,” Tony said. “I was a catcher. My father passed away when he was 42 in 1932 and I was the only boy. I was 10 years old at the time. I had two sisters, Margaret and Mary, and one half-sister, Eleanor. We owned a motel – we called them cabins back then – so, I had to help my mother out with the business.”
Tony said that his road to becoming an umpire included his coaching of a youth team in Southern California.
“There were about three complexes in the area and all the kids had one team and we were undefeated for two years,” Tony said. “I wish I could remember the name of the kid that was on the team, but he ended up playing on, I think it was the San Diego Padres. His (batting) average in Major League Baseball was about .280.”
Pre-WWII ump in Japan
Tony said that his time as an umpire began through his friendship with a man, named Chris, whose last name, to the best of Tony’s knowledge, is spelled, “Peliciutus.”
“(Chris) asked me to be an official at a baseball game at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo,” Tony said. “He said, ‘I have letters from people over there who would like to see an American umpire.’ So, we went to Japan. I was (umpiring) behind the plate and (Chris) was (umpiring) at first base. That was something. There were probably 10,000 people there. I naturally got butterflies and so did Chris, but we thought it was great.”
Tony said that Chris wanted him to work as the home plate umpire due to his ability to speak Japanese.
“I spoke enough Japanese to get by, so that’s why I went behind the plate,” Tony said.
In addition to learning English and Italian in his childhood home, Tony developed a fascination with languages at a young age and he eventually learned Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese.
Although he was only working as a guest umpire for one game, Tony said that there was nonetheless added pressure to be accurate on his calling of balls and strikes.
“Japanese are very fanatic about being precise on their calls and umpires are considered upper class in Japan,” Tony said.
Due to his friendship and baseball experience with Chris, Tony, who also umpired community baseball games in Southern California, was asked by Chris to be a PCL umpire. And to become qualified for this position, he spent six weeks attending an umpire school in Florida.
World War II
Tony’s time as a PCL umpire ended with the U.S. involvement in World War II.
Having joined the Navy on June 6, 1939, Tony said that he was called to sea in 1942.
“I had orders (from the Navy) to go to sea,” Tony recalled. “I went aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, CV-3, which went from Long Beach to the Pacific, between the states and Hawaii. I was aboard the ship for two and a half years.”
Tony’s subsequent duties included assignments on the USS Midway, USS Coral Sea, USS Ticonderoga and a converted carrier, known as USS Salvo Island.
Altogether Tony spent 42 years in the Navy and also worked as an attorney at law and was a dedicated parliamentarian.
Today, Tony enjoys spending time with his wife Dorothy, participating in USS Saratoga Association and Fleet Reserve Association of the West Coast Region gatherings and annually donating funds to Easter Seals.
Reminiscing about his many experiences in life, Tony said, “In knowing what I did, I’d do it all over again. That’s how much I loved the work that I did.”