Marysville, California -- July 4th, 1908
I had never heard of Marysville, California; had no idea that this little town played such a major role in the founding and history of America’s thirty-first state, nor a clue that this little burg was once in line to become California’s capital. Sutter’s Mill is in the history books as the place where gold was discovered in 1848 that led to the great gold rush, but it was Marysville that became the gateway to the goldfields which lay just a few miles to the east, and most importantly, as far as baseball is concerned, I had nary a clue that Marysville played such an important role in the shaping of California baseball history.
There was something mischievous, something dubious about this quaint little gold-rush town called Marysville. I could feel it my bones and it was giving me the willies. It wasnʼt just the infrared cameras that seemed to be lurking at every street corner throughout town; nor the pond scum and dead carp that lay floating on top of the algae-laden waters of Ellis Lake. The small body of water needed to be drained and fresh river water pumped in, but that would take electricity to operate the pumps. Everything is expensive in California and Marysville was flat broke. The population had not grown in 160 years and the town was imprisoned by levees with no room to grow. Expansion could only be straight up but there were no high-rise condos or ten-story apartment complexes. City council made sure that this little nugget of a town would stay just as she was since her heydays of the nineteenth century. A vote for annexation into the Olivehurst-Linda area would be out of the question. The two areas hated each other. The only hope would be to raise taxes but the Yuba-Sutter area is conservative, so good luck with that. A gut-feeling was telling me that other skeletons were hanging in her closet. Time for a history lesson.
For centuries, the Maidu and a few other tribal Indians inhabited land along the banks of what is now known as the Yuba and Feather Rivers of Northern California. The Mediterranean climate and abundance of food in this area made for a kind of utopian paradise. Presumably, these first Northern Californians were of Asian descent who crossed a frozen Bering Straight some eight to thirty-thousand years ago while in search of food, while chasing herds of Caribou. Upon arrival, they would have dined on elk, deer, turtle, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, nuts and berries, seeds, trout, salmon, bass, clams, mussels, crab, crayfish, and acorns made into mush -- nearly all considered health foods. Hunger and starvation would have been non-issues. The rivers and lakes were pristine and the air was pure. There was no need for war. One might say that these natives of the Upper Sacramento Valley had it made ... that is ... had it made until the 1849 Gold Rush; had it made until the 49er cometh.
Before the California gold rush of 1849, approximately 250 people, mostly indigenous natives and a few Russian fur traders, lived in a location now known as the Yuba-Sutter area. Shortly after President Polkʻs announcement that gold had indeed been discovered, the area quickly swelled to more than ten thousand residents with Sacramento soon following suit. Within a few years, since its discovery in January of 1848, millions of dollars in gold were pulled from the goldfields of Northern California. The Mexican-American War ended a month later and California received a free ticket to statehood two years after that.
The gold rush was on, and the main destination lay just a few miles east of an area that would later become the town of Marysville -- “Gateway to the Goldfields.” With the arrival of the 49ers, the small hamlet quickly became a staging ground for prospectors and others with “get rich quick” on their minds. At first, there were merely clusters of tents, but within a few years, Marysville rapidly became Californiaʼs third-largest city, and for a brief time, considered for her first capital. She became a hub where the miners would buy their grub, whiskey, clothing, picks, pans and shovels, and anything else needed before setting out for the fifteen-to-thirty-mile trek up to the goldfields. Marysville was also the place where miners would return for more supplies, sell or trade their gold, and maybe rent a room at a hotel for a good nightʼs rest; maybe even a bath. Occasionally, they might attend church, but most likely, it was to stock up on food, go on a bender, and get lucky at a local brothel. In the year 1857, more than ten million dollars in gold was shipped from Marysville to the U.S. Mint in San Francisco.
A quick tour around town shows the historical significance of Marysville. Itʼs evidenced by her Gothic, Victorian, Queen Anne, Edwardian, Greek Revival, Italianate, Eastlake, and Art Deco architecture that dots the historic town. So too, does her cobblestone-lined Ellis Lake that was once a swampy slough that connected the Yuba and Feather Rivers before levees were built. The forested, pastoral landscape of giant redwoods and firs that surround the lake was created by John McLaren, once superintendent of San Franciscoʼs Golden Gate Park. One block to the north of the picturesque lake, sits Marysville Union High School, the second oldest public school in California. What a magnificent brick structure I thought as I pulled over to get a good look, somewhat awed by the architecture. Why such a grand piece of work for such a small town? It seemed as though Palladio himself had designed this public building with its giant Grecian portico of columns, capitals, archways, and decorated gabled eave. The rest of the brick structure resembles the great Basilica of SantʼAmbrogio in Milan, Italy. First Street, located at the southern edge of town and next to the Yuba River, is home to the Silver Dollar Saloon, a brothel during the second half of the nineteenth century, and a local hotspot today. The townʼs first street is also home to the Bok Kai Temple, headquarters of the Bok Kai parade, or Chinese bomb day as the locals call it. The Temple and celebrations date back to the 1850s, and supposedly, the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen conversed with local Chinese leaders in Marysville before returning to Asia and founding the Peopleʼs Republic of China.
The founding fathers of Marysville were lawyers, bankers, merchants, and wealthy landowners. The community was named after Meriam “Mary” Marjory Murphy Johnson Covillaud, a member of the famous Donner Party who outlived a brutal storm that stranded her and others on top of the Sierra Mountains near Truckee, California during the winter of 1849. Mary survived the storm and cannibalism, and eventually married Charles Covillaud, a man who struck it rich in the local gold industry, bought up all the townʼs property, and became a wealthy businessman and landowner.
Stephen Johnson Field was born in Connecticut, raised in Massachusetts, received a BA degree from Williams College and became a lawyer before moving to Marysville on December 28, 1849, to get in on the gold rush bonanza. Upon arrival at the new town, Field bought sixty-five plots of land with little or no money as a down payment. Fieldʼs legal practice boomed once Charles Covillaud hired him as his attorney to write land grant deeds. After being a resident for just three days, Field was elected alcalde -- judge, jury, and prosecutor of the law where he implicated the whipping post -- a pole where criminals would be whipped in public for convicted crimes. In 1857, Field was elected to the California Supreme Court where he served for six years before president Abe Lincoln appointed him to the newly created tenth U.S. Supreme Court in 1863. He held that post for forty years.
Isaac Sawyer Belcher was born in Stockbridge, Vermont and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1846. He practiced law at the offices of J.W.D. Parker, the county courts, and the Vermont Supreme Court before heading to California in 1853. Upon arrival, he immediately headed for the gold fields and continued to practice law. In 1855, Belcher settled in Marysville where he soon established a lucrative family practice. In 1863, he was elected judge of the Stateʼs tenth judicial district and was later appointed to the State Supreme Court. Belcherʼs son Richard, a sports fan, would join the family law firm, and in 1913, founded the Trolley Baseball League. The circuit was known as the Trolley League as players and fans traveled by trolley cars to and from the games.
As early as 1875, there were the Intrepids, a local base ball team from Marysville who competed against a few other local teams. In 1878, the Intrepids proclaimed themselves champions of Northern California and traveled to San Francisco to prove it. The result was a 10-0 shellacking at the hands of the Eagles Club. Twenty-year-old Marysville native Mike DePangher was a catcher for the 1879 Intrepids and later that year, joined the San Francisco Eagles of the Pacific League. In 1883, DePangher suited up with the Peoria Reds and the East Saginaw Grays, both of the Northwestern League. The following year, DePangher joined Harry Wrightʼs Philadelphia Quakers of the National League where he was one of twelve catchers and got into four games.
Baseball Almanac provided a list of professional ballplayers born in California; several thousand including more than a thousand that had made it to the major leagues, more than any other state. Marysville, which has fielded some top baseball teams during the past 135 years, has never produced a major-leaguer, not even a triple-A player unless one considers DePangher with his two singles in ten at-bats for the 1884 Quakers. In 1911, Marysville again proclaimed themselves Northern California champions when they defeated the Galt Tigers 5-4 in the second game of a best two-out-of-three series. Nineteen-year-old and future major-leaguer Bill James picked up the mound victory. James, from Iowa Hill, California, pitched for Oroville Union High School and St. Mary's College before pitching four seasons with the Boston Braves where he tallied a career 37-21 record with a 2.28 earned run average.
THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL -- There would be other teams with more victories and better winning percentages, but the competition would pale if compared to that faced by the 1916 Marysville Giants. Never, has the Yuba-Sutter area put together a team with more former and future professional ballplayers, including major-leaguers. The season began with Dolly Gray as Marysvilleʼs head coach. Gray had spent three seasons with the lowly Washington Senators (1909-1911) where he won 15 games while losing 51 with a 3.52 ERA. Twenty-year-old second baseman “Babe” Pinelli from San Francisco would spend eight years in the major leagues (1918 to 1927). He hit .305 for the 1922 Cincinnati Reds and averaged .276 during his MLB career. Nineteen-year-old outfielder Dewitt Bevo LeBourveau from Dana, California, would go on to spend 14 seasons in the minors with a career .349 average and average .275 during his five years in the majors. Bevo twice led the AA American Association in batting including his best year in 1926 when he hit .377 with 17 home runs and .562 slugging percentage for the Toledo Mud Hens. He again led the league in 1930 with his .380 mark and got into 12 games for the newly formed 1929 Philadelphia A's of the American League where he hit .313.
Trolley League action began with Marysville crushing Cack Henley and his Sacramento Demons at Sacramento's Buffalo Park in front of 2,000 fans, 1,000 of which were Giant loyalists headed by their Clampers Brass Band. The 31-year-old Henley had just finished his 11-year professional career (235-179) that included a 31-10 (1.56 ERA) season for the 1909 Pacific Coast League champion San Francisco Seals. His 24- inning shutout over the Oakland Oaks is a PCL record that still stands today. The Giants followed by hammering ex-Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bill Tozer and his Colusa Prune Pickers in the second game of the season which was dedicated to Marysville's new ball field -- Clamper's Park. Clampers, as in E Clampus Vitus, that fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of the history of the American West, especially the Mother Lode and gold mining regions including the goldfields just east of Marysville. The often wild and radical group with ties dating back to ancient Rome and beyond, has also been known as a historical drinking society with their motto being Credo quia absurdum est -- roughly translated from the Latin -- I believe because it is absurd.
After a seesaw battle to determine a pennant winner, the 1916 Trolley League boiled down to two final games between the Colusa Prune Pickers and the Marysville Giants with both teams bolstering their lineups with professional players from the Northwest League, Pacific Coast League, and the Major Leagues. Colusa was the most active as they hired and fired 54 players throughout the 1916 season. In October, the Prune Pickers added Bill Leard as playing-manager, Billy Utschig, and Frank Arellanes of the PCL, Jack Killilay of the Northwestern League, and second baseman Joe Gedeon of the New York Yankees. Leard would spend twenty years in the minors including a .351 season at Seattle before making his MLB debut with the Brooklyn Robins. Arellanes, from Santa Cruz, California, attended Santa Clara University where he went 13-2 before joining the Boston Red Sox at midseason. He pitched for the BoSox from 1908 to 1910 with an MLB career 24-22 record and stellar 2.28 ERA including a one-hitter against the Philadelphia A's. In 1909, he replaced the legendary Cy Young and went 16-12 for the Red Sox with a 2.18 ERA and led the American League in games finished (15) and saves (8).
Jack Killilay was 8-6 with a 4.16 ERA while with the Great Falls Electrics of the level-B Northwest League before joining the Prune Pickers. In 1911, he won four games while losing two for the Boston Red Sox with a 3.54 ERA. Colusa also brought in Johnny Vann to handle the catching. Vann, from Fairfield, Oklahoma, attended the University of Arkansas before spending seventeen seasons in the minor leagues. His best year was 1913 when he hit .328 for the Sioux City Packers of the "A" Western League and got one at-bat as a pinch hitter for the National League St. Louis Cardinals.
Joe Gedeon, from Sacramento, California, hit .211 as the Yankees starting second baseman before joining the Prune Pickers late in the season. A year earlier, he hit .317 with 19 HR's for Salt Lake City of the "AA" Pacific Coast League and his 67 doubles was a new PCL record. He averaged .295 during his three years in the minors and .244 during his seven seasons in the majors including a .292 season while with the 1920 Washington Senators, his best year as a major leaguer. The Pickers also added San Francisco native and major-league infielder Sammy Bohne who would spend seven seasons in the majors with a career .261 average. He was born Samuel Cohen but changed his name to Sam Bohne due to biased religious reasons. He started the 1916 season with the San Francisco Seals before hitting .237 for the St. Louis Cardinals and joining the Prune Pickers.
Not to be outdone, Marysville reeled in a few big fish of their own. They brought in Tommy Fitzsimmons to replace Babe Pinelli who returned to the Bay Area and play for the Richmond Elks. Fitzsimmons got into four games with the 1919 NL Brooklyn Robins but went 0-4. The Giants also obtained pitcher-outfielder Carl Zamloch. The versatile Zamloch, from Oakland, California, pitched for the 1913 Detroit Tigers but won only once and lost six with a 2.45 ERA. Before suiting up for Marysville, he was hitting .464 for Spokane of the Northwest "B" League and later hit .320 for the 1920 Seattle Rainiers of the PCL. Brought in to play third base was Oscar “Ozzie” Vitt who just finished the 1916 season with the Detroit Tigers. He would spend ten years in the majors (.238 career average) and averaged .301 during his 10-year minor-league career.
Among Marysville's best acquisitions was catcher Walt Schmidt who had just spent his rookie season with the National League Pittsburgh Pirates and would go on to become the best catcher in all of baseball. The 29-year-old from London, Arkansas had previously spent five seasons with the San Francisco Seals (1911-1915) and would spend ten years in the majors, nine with the Pirates and one with the St. Louis Cardinals before ending his career back with the Seals at age 42. His best year as a major- leaguer was 1922 when he hit .329 for the Pirates.
In the next to last game of the regular Trolley schedule, Jack Killilay and his Prune Pickers got the best of ex-Chicago White Sox pitcher Ellis Johnson and the Giants in a 9-6 slugfest. The Colusa victory set up a final game that would decide the Trolley championship and both teams brought in new starting pitchers. Colusa brought in one- time Oroville Olive ace Frank Decanniere from Greeley, Kansas who had just completed the 1916 campaign with Vernon of the PCL where he was 16-13 with a 2.20 ERA. The Giants added lefty Billy Burns, who at age 36, had just gone 10-14 with a 2.42 ERA for the Oakland Oaks. Burns, from San Saba, Texas, had previously spent five years in the majors (1908-1912) with a career 30-52 record and 2.72 ERA. Twice, he carried no- hitters into the ninth inning with two outs and twice had to settle for one-hitters. The final game would feature nine major-league ballplayers as Marysville also brought in former Oroville Olive first baseman Louis Guisto who started the 1916 season with the Portland Beavers of the PCL (.286) before making his MLB debut with Cleveland. He would spend five seasons with the Indians and nine with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL where he averaged .295 for his minor league career.
Colusa clung to a 1-0 lead through six innings before Carl Zamlock unloaded with a three-run homer in the seventh and Marysville added five more runs in the eighth to secure an 8-1 victory and the Trolley League championship. Billy Burns picked up the complete-game victory while scattering nine hits with 13 strikeouts. Ozzie Vitt went 3-5 for the winners. Tommy Fitzsimmons belted two doubles and Walt Schmidt collected two hits in the Giants 13-hit attack. Carl Zamloch didnʼt just perform his magic on the ball field. In 1937, he published his 17 Simple but Mystifying Tricks to Entertain Your Friends under the pseudonym "The Great Zam.” Zamloch often assisted his father in vaudeville acts and later, when not coaching at Cal, toured the country performing his own magical acts.
The Trolley League title gave Marysville the right to meet the Richmond Elks for the California State "Bushers" or so-called semi-pro championship. The Elks had previously toppled Martinez for the Bay Area title and picked up their ace pitcher "Pop" Arlett with his famous spitball before defeating the Merced Bears, winners of the South. Although a rather biased Oakland Tribune writer stated that the Marysville team was the best that money could buy, Richmond also added major-league stars "Dutch" Reuther, "Babe" Danzig, and Al Wolters of the New York Americans (later Yankees) to their lineup and future Chicago White Sox shortstop/pitcher "Swede" Risberg while Marysville's best pickup of the year proved to be Oroville Olive pitcher "Wiz" Meikle.
In the first game of the best-of-three semi-pro championship series, "The Wizzer" bested "Pop" Arlett by shutting out the Richmond Elks 5-0. Carl Zamloch and Harry Harper each doubled and singled for the Giants. In the final, Meikle hurled another shutout, this time a masterful 2-0 victory while again out-dueling the Elks' Arlett. Zamlock the magician continued his sorcery and was again the hitting hero. His home run in the sixth inning was the game-winner and his line drive in the eighth knocked Arlett out of the game with a broken hand. "Swede" Risberg finished the game by striking out three of the five batters he faced. The shutout was Meikle's fourth while in a Trolley League uniform and a perfect 7-0 record while only allowing five earned runs for a stellar 0.71 ERA. Fourteen years later, on November 22, 1930, an article in the Los Angeles Times reported that Meikle's body was found in Placer County with a bullet hole in it. A note left behind stated that he had planned the suicide for quite some time. The 1916 Marysville Giants are the Yuba-Sutter areaʼs greatest team of all-time.
1926 MARYSVILLE GIANTS--Ten years later, Marysville acquired Alexander "Pop" Arlett. The one-man wrecking crew hit and pitched the Giants to a Sacramento Valley League and Northern California championship. He pitched nearly every game for the Giants, compiling a 14-3 league record and 16-4 overall. The thirty-six-year-old spitball specialist from Elmhurst, California had previously spent eight years in the minor leagues with a career 46-43 record including parts of six years in the AA Pacific Coast League with the San Francisco Seals and Oakland Oaks. He also played the infield where he averaged .238 over the course of eight seasons. Arlett led the Giants in hitting at .403 for a club that hit .338 as a team. Marysville finished SVL play at 15-4 and 17-5 overall; third-best winning percentage in Yuba-Sutter semi-pro history. In the best-of-three Northern California championship called the Little World Series, Marysville defeated the Isleton Grasshoppers 5-4 in the opener, lost the second game 6-4, then won the championship with a 10-0 victory in the final.
1934 MARYSVILLE GIANTS--Manager Stan McLean and his 1934 Giants won the first half of SVL play with a 9-2 record, thus earning a spot in the leagues' championship series. The team was led by the pitching of lefty "Chub" Ohleyer and the hitting of center fielder Clyde "Tub" Perry. After a 15-8 loss to Roseville, the Giants improved to 12-3 with 17-5, 15-12, and 9-5 victories over Redding, Roseville, and Woodland. Marysville finished the second half with a 5-4 mark (14-6 overall) and met the Grass Valley Miners (second-half winners) in the playoffs. In game one, Perry homered and Ohleyer picked up the 4-3 mound victory in front on 1,500 Marysville onlookers. The Miners evened the series with a 4-2 win at Grass Valley with John Manger picking up the win and Elmer Newman taking the loss. In the final, Grass Valley took a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth before the Giants loaded the bases on an intentional walk to Perry with two outs. Number five hitter Babe Burdick singled in two runs to tie the game with the stocky Perry hustling his way to third base. Giant shortstop Barry, who led the SVL in hitting, then beat out a bunt driving in the winning run and Marysville claiming her second SVL championship. Newman got credit for the win after relieving Ohleyer in the ninth. Nineteen hundred fans saw the final with gate receipts at $664.85.
1936 MARYSVILLE GIANTS--Among the lone bright spots for the '36 Giants during the first half of SLV play was Sacramento native Norman Coad's 4-0 no-hitter against Grass Valley. The left-handed, 19-year-old's gem was the first no-no in SVL history. After losing five in a row, the Giants closed out the regular SVL season by winning eight of their next nine games including an 18-10 shellacking of the Yuba City Bears and Coad's 10-2 win over the Chico Colts. The Giants closed out the second half at 8-2 (12-8 overall) and earned a spot in the playoffs with Dion Coe's 5-2 win at Woodland. Four of the five Giant runs were scored on suicide squeeze bunts ordered by Marysville skipper Dolly Gray. In game one of the playoffs, Woodland's Deputy Sheriff Cliff Garrison shutout the Giants 2-0 before Coad and the Giants rebounded with a 4-2 win in game two. Marysville center fielder "Tub" Perry arrived at the game packing heat due to riotous conditions at Woodland and bad blood between the two teams. In the final, before a capacity crowd at Marysville, Jack Gaddy, Babe Burdick, and Lee Boylan each homered as the Giant's and Coad coasted to a 9-2 victory and Marysville's third SVL title.
Bryant Field was constructed in 1937 at Marysville’s north end and was among Northern California's top ballparks. She was unique with her subterranean box seats that arced around home plate beneath her towering, canopied grandstand. Her twelve-foot, dark green monster stood as an obstacle standing atop a four-foot berm and 325 feet down the left-field line. It was 406 to dead center where her huge major-league scoreboard loomed. A blast over the right-field wall would splash into Ellis Lake which bordered the majestic park to the south and to the west. Once inside the main gates, you could hear the din from the crowd, the chatter of the players, and that distinct sound from the crack of the bat that echoed throughout the enclosed arena. Straight ahead, upon entering the ballpark, stood the concessions -- sodas were a dime and hot dogs a quarter--free if returning a foul ball. One could sense the stale air -- an atmosphere that reeked with the fumes of Lucky Strike cigarettes and sloshed Pabst Blue Ribbon. Other teams liked to play there while local players took the grand ol' park for granted. Bryant Field--named after long-time-running mayor Daniel E. Bryant--home to the Marysville Giants, Marysville Braves and Peaches, Yuba-Sutter Rebels, Twin Cities Giants, Yuba College 49ers, Marysville High School Indians, and American Legion Post 42 along with a few others.
The 1948 and 1949 Marysville Braves, owned by the Boston Braves of the National League, are the Yuba-Sutter areaʼs only teams affiliated with Major League Baseball when they were members of the all-professional Far West League. Marysville pitcher Herb Hamilt tossed the first no-hitter of the newly formed FWL when he defeated the Pittsburg Diamonds 14-1 on May 5, 1948. As noted in Sporting News, Hamilt walked nine in his no-hitter, and Pittsburgʼs run came when a man scored from second base on a wild pitch. Walks and wild pitches were a big part of Hamiltʼs brief professional career. As an 18-year-old rookie in 1948, he finished sixth in the league in ERA at 3.45 and held opponents to a .229 batting average, but also walked 132 men in 172 innings, with more walks than strikeouts. He also ranked second in wild pitches (15) and hit batsmen (14).
Marysville finished next to last in 1948 with a 59-63 record, ten games out of first place and out of the playoffs. Not much was mentioned in the local newspaper when Bravesʼ manager Jim Keller was fired and replaced by Spencer Harris late in the season, though Harris was minor leagueʼs all-time leader in hits, runs, doubles and total bases. He had spent three seasons in the majors with the White Sox and Senators and was once involved in a trade that sent the great Ted Williams to Boston after the 1937 season. The legendary Harris ended his career at Marysville by chipping in with a .364 batting average in twenty games at age forty-seven. The following year, the Braves wound up in fifth place with a 59-66 mark, twenty-four games behind the front-running 84-43 Pittsburg Diamonds managed by Vince DiMaggio. Marysville lost her affiliation with the Boston Braves due to poor attendance but still performed in the Far West League independently as the Marysville Peaches. The Peaches, not be confused with the 1941 Yuba City Peaches, although they often played like the womenʼs softball team, ending the 1950 season at 56-82 before disbanding. They finished a whopping thirty and a half games behind the pennant-winning Klamath Falls Gems.
FANTASTIC FREDDIE & THE 1953 MARYSVILLE GIANTS--Statistically, Manager Jim Perryʼs 1953 Giants would be considered as Yuba-Sutterʼs top team of all-time with their 33-5 record. The cast of characters hadnʼt changed much from the previous year: Vint Spencer at first, Merle Anthony at second, Glen Williams at third, Ken Galbraith at short, Wendell Moe or Jim Warren in left, Primo Santini in right, Garry Gledhill in center, and Al Seabrooke behind the plate. The difference was fireballing, left-handed pitcher Fred Besana. The tall, lanky, side-arming lefty first learned how to pitch by tossing rocks at the familyʼs barn. His father Cyril (Cedo) Besana, at age fifteen, pitched the Lincoln Cubs to the 1926 Placer-Nevada League championship.
After attending Lincoln High School and Placer Junior College, Besana signed a five- thousand-dollar contract with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and was sent to Texas where he pitched for the Sweetwater Swatters of the class-D Longhorn League. After winning three of four games, Besana was promoted to the class-C Albuquerque Dukes of the West Texas-New Mexico League and won fifteen games while losing eleven with a 5.23 earned run average. In his first full season of professional baseball, Fred Besana combined for an 18-12 record with a 5.14 ERA. He gave up 211 hits and walked 145 batters in 205 innings pitched. Fantastic Freddie had a blazing fastball but often couldnʼt hit the broad side of his fatherʼs barn as he averaged more than six free passes per every nine innings pitched. Besana joined the Air Force during the Korean Conflict, eventually winding up at Travis Air Base just outside Sacramento and resumed his baseball career with the semi-pro Marysville Giants. In 1956, Besana made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched in seven games giving up 11 earned runs in 17 innings (5.60 ERA) while allowing 22 hits and 14 walks with seven strikeouts.
The only other Giant with professional experience was Merle “The Rabbit” Anthony. Anthony, a Marysville native who played second base at Yuba College, spent 1946 with the Ogdensburg Maples of the level-C Border League where he hit .252. In 1948, he combined to hit .204 for two teams: the Eau Claire Bears of the "C" Northern League and the Pawtucket Slaters of the "B" New England League. He later became an umpire in the California and Pacific Coast leagues (1960-'69) and a major-league ump in the American League from 1969 to 1975. He umpired the American League Championship Series in 1973 and MLB's All-Star game in 1974.
Marysville management opted for playing an independent schedule for the 1953 season competing against most other top semi-professional teams from Northern California. The Giants started 1953 with ten consecutive wins, scoring sixty-seven runs while allowing only seven with five shutouts including Besanaʼs 4-0, one-hit shutout over Northern California powerhouse Lodi Wine Guild. By mid-season, Fantastic Freddie was 11-0 including five shutouts while racking up 159 Kʼs in just 91 innings with a 0.40 ERA.
Nineteen fifty-three marked the first and only year that a team from the Yuba-Sutter area has qualified for a National Baseball Congress Northern California semi-pro tournament. After receiving an at-large bid based on the teamʼs record, the Giants bolstered their lineup with Yuba City Bear pitcher Chet Ashe and two ex-minor-leaguers -- Don Van Buskirk and Oroville Olive catcher Vince Castino.
Besana Sets Record: Marysville opened the NBC tournament with a 7-4 win over the district champion Atwater Plumbers and Besana breaking an all-time tournament record with his 17 strikeouts. On July 20, the headlines of the Appeal Democrat read: BESANA HAS SORE ARM and two days later, the powerful Fort Ord Warriors crushed Besana and the Giants 12-0. Besana allowed eight runs in seven innings pitched. Chet Ashe pitched a complete game in the next round with a 6-4 win over the Humboldt Crabs and followed it up with an 8-7 triumph in the semifinals over the potent Atwater Packers, setting up a rematch with Ford Ord in the Finals.
The Fort Ord Warriors were the defending California semi-pro state champions and were laden with major-league and top minor-league professionals including outfielder J.W. Porter who spent six years in the majors and catcher Joe Hannah who spent thirteen years as a pro, mostly at class AAA. Outfielder Bill Pinckard spent twelve years as a pro including two in Japanʼs Pacific League and briefly with the Minot Mallards of the Independent ManDak League where hit .348. Warrior ace pitcher, Bob Thollander had spent seven years as a professional while pitcher Bob Ross pitched briefly with the Washington Senators in 1950 and ʼ51. Shortstop Bobby Winkles enjoyed a seven-year career in the minor leagues before managing four years in the majors with the Angels and Aʼs. Joe Hannah, Bill Pinckard, and J.W. Porter all homered as Ford Ord defeated the Marysville Giants 6-1 to capture the UBC Northern California title. Besana wasnʼt allowed to play as he was restricted to Travis Air Force Base where he was stationed. Odd, that Besana was restricted but the entire Ford Ord team was not. Fort Ord went on to defeat the Southern California champion San Diego Air Station Skyraiders 2-1 in a twenty-inning marathon to capture the UBC California State semi-pro championship.
On August 14, Besana, obviously in need of rest, suffered his first loss of the regular season by allowing nine runs in seven innings as the Giants got pasted 10-4 by the prestigious, long-haired and bearded, barnstorming House of David. House of David was a touring semi-pro team that hired professionals which at one time included major- league Hall of Famers Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige, and Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown. The Giants lost two in a row when Charlie Becker got bested 8-6 by Folsom ... then, on August 22, Basana fired a no-hitter against the Sacramento Solons Rookies. The 5-0 shutout was his sixth whitewashing of the year and most no- noʼs in a single season; most in the history of Yuba-Sutter baseball.
Fred Besana pitched the last two games of the 1953 season. The workhorse took a tough 2-0 loss at the hands of the Mather Air Base Flyers and concluded the year by defeating the Yuba City Bears 8-4. The hard-throwing lefty compiled a 23-2 record for the 1953 Giants and 24-3 overall. His 23 victories while pitching for a single team are the most ever by a Yuba-Sutter pitcher. He averaged just over thirteen strikeouts a game, also an all-time Yuba-Sutter milestone, as is his single-season .920 winning percentage for a Yuba-Sutter semi-pro team. As a team, the 1953 Giants finished with a 33-5 record, statistically the greatest team in Yuba-Sutter history.
The following year, 1954, the Marysville Giants and Yuba City Bears combined forces to become the Yuba-Sutter Rebels and re-entered the Sacramento Valley League. The Rebels finished the year at 31-9-1 overall (third-best record in Yuba-Sutter semi-pro history) and 21-9-1 in league play to finish in second place behind the SVL champion Glen County Cardinals -- a testament to the strength of the SVL. After the breakup of the SVL in the late 1950s, Yuba-Sutter baseball formed the 1959 Twin Cities Giants and entered the tough Placer-Nevada League which included the Grass Valley Braves, Auburn Cubs, Roseville Merchants, Lincoln Potters, Placerville Bartletts, Nevada City Lumberjacks, and the Chico Colts.
1959 TWIN CITIES GIANTS--After a 2-1 preseason, the Giants began league play by winning twelve straight Placer-Nevada League contests, sweeping the first-half 7-0, thus, guaranteeing them a spot in the championship playoff series at the end of the season. Manager Sam Stassi and his 1959 Giants began the second half of league play with five more wins before losing the last two, setting the stage for a best-of-three championship series with the Grass Valley Braves. Before the playoffs began, the Giants posted five players with averages topping the three hundred mark. Mickey Riseberg led the way with his .425 average followed by Ken Gailbreath at .367, Brud Perry at .350, Garry Gledhill at .318, and Bob Gallagher at .307. Shortstop Clyde “Brud” Perry had just concluded an eight-year career in professional baseball including five years at the AA level.
While local pitcher Charlie Becker handled the bulk of Twin Cities' pitching during the first half of the season, it was all Vic Acebo down the stretch. Acebo, from Beale Air Force Base, won his last four starts including both wins against the Grass Valley Braves during the PNL championship series. In the Giant's 5-3 first-game win over the Braves, Mickey Risberg drove in four runs with a home run and bases-loaded single while going 3-4. Risberg had earlier led his 13-1 Shasta Seals to a Northern California Baseball League pennant in 1956 and an NCBL championship a year later which also included MVP honors. In 1950, Risberg, while playing for the NCBLʼs Sons Of Italy, was suspended for five years after punching out an umpire over a called third strike. The temperamental Risberg, son of the famous “Swede” Risberg of Chicago Black Sox fame, never got a shot at professional baseball. Acebo's 4-3 victory in game two clinched the title. The Giants finished the '59 season at 18-12 overall after taking a tough 4-3 loss to the 21-10 Falstaff Brewers from San Jose.
1965 TWIN CITIES GIANTS--First-year manager Harold "Hap" Richie and his Giants reeled off 10 consecutive victories to begin the 1965 season, bested only by the 1953 Marysville Giants who started with 11 straight wins. The 1965 Giants began by out- slugging Lodi Guild Wine 13-10 as ex-major leaguer Ray Webster blasted a three-run homer while going 3-4 at the plate. Twin Cities followed by edging the Elk Grove Smokies of the Sacramento Rural League 9-8 and crushing Yuba College 15-4. Webster blasted a grand slam during the team's 7-0 whitewashing of the Fallon Merchants, four-time Nevada State champion. Jerry Vick tossed a five-hitter for the shutout as the Giants ended the preseason schedule with an unblemished 4-0 record.
The Giants began Placer-Nevada League play by besting the Lincoln Tigers 12-2 before topping the Grass Valley Braves 6-3. Charlie Becker picked up his third win without a loss, all in relief, while Dave Francis went 3x4. Francis tripled and Webster doubled in the Giants 6-1 win over the Roseville Merchants. Jerry Vick, the team's ace pitcher, logged his third win of the year. During the week, the Lincoln Tigers quit the league after claiming that Grass Valley was bringing in illegal players from out of their region. On June the fifth, Hap Ritchie homered and went 3-3 as newcomer Bob Aaberg shutout the undefeated Placerville Outlaws 10-0. Twin Cities ended the first half of PNL action with a perfect 6-0 record and 10-0 overall after their 9-5 victory over the Roseville Merchants. Jerry Vick picked up his fifth win without a loss while John Rice and Hap Ritchie went 3x5. The win guaranteed the Giants a spot in the league's best-of-three championship series.
The hot streak came to halt when the Galt Rebels tagged Charlie Becker for 14 hits and a 12-7 non-league loss. After Vick upped his record to 6-0 with a 4-3 win over the Sacramento Rural League Chuckers, the 11-1 Giants went on to lose five of their next ten regular-season games including a 12-12 tie with Jerry Vick absorbing four of the loses. Pitching became the main problem with 8-6, 11-3, 7-6 and 5-3 PNL losses. Manager Hap Ritchie provided some pitching relief with a 2-1 win over the Lodi Guild Wine and a 9-2 victory versus the Concord Rebels. He also went 4-5 at the plate against Concord.
Jerry Vick started the first game of the PNL Championship Series with the defending champion Placerville Outlaws but needed relief help from Bob Aaberg to preserve a 9-8 victory in a game that featured hitting displays by former major-leaguers Ray Webster and Placerville's Jim Westlake. Both drove in four runs apiece. Webster and "AAA" star Hap Richie each collected three hits for the Giants with Al Montna driving in what proved to be the winning run. In the final, Bob Aaberg pitched a masterful three-hitter without allowing an earned run in Twin Cities' 4-2 clincher. John Rice drove two runs with a 2-4 performance including a triple. The Giants finished the year at 9-4-1 in league play (including the playoffs) and 16-6-1 overall with a .727 winning percentage, fifth-best in Yuba-Sutter semi-pro history.
1967 YUBA SUTTER TWINS--Manager Ray Webster's '67 Twins began their non- league exhibition season with a 4-2 loss to Lodi Guild Wine before rebounding with a 4-3 win over Yuba College and ace pitcher Danny Wright. Wright, 5-5 with a 2.30 ERA at Yuba, set a school record for most strikeouts in a season when he struck out 107 batters (5th-best in school history) in just 88.67 innings pitched or 10.86 per nine innings (second-best in school history). Yuba-Sutter winning pitcher Jim Whisman had just completed his first year at the University of Nevada at Reno where he went 7-2 with a 2.0 ERA. He had spent the 1966 season at Yuba College where he set a school record for most wins in a season when he won eight games while losing two with a 2.02 ERA.
Yuba Sutter opened Placer-Nevada League play with a 5-2 win over the Marysville Giants with Whisman tossing a three-hitter and again getting the best of Danny Wright, now the ace of the Giants. Yuba-Sutter upped her record to 6-2 and 3-0 in league play before Auburn Cub pitcher Eddie George stopped Whisman and the Twins 1-0. In a rematch with Marysville on June 21, Harold "Hap" Richie homered and Jim Whisman upped his record to 5-2 by tossing a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts as he bested Dan Wright for the third time. William Daniel Wright would later get drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the thirty-eighth round of the 1967 MLB Amateur June Draft but did not sign. Yuba-Sutter ended the first half of the PNL action with a 6-1 record (tied with the Auburn Cubs) by adding University of the Pacific pitcher John Strohmayer who promptly shutout the Oroville Olives 6-0.
The Twins wrapped up the second half of PNL play with a 5-2 record (11-3 for both halves) and 14-6 overall. In a playoff match to determine a first-half champion, John Strohmayer bested Auburn's Freddie George 5-4 to set up a best-of-three PNL championship series against the same Cubs who won the second half with a 6-1 record. In game one, Auburn's George defeated Yuba-Sutter 2-1 even though Strohmayer didn't allow an earned run. In game two, Strohmayer pitched a complete game, 7-1 victory as the Twins pounded out 15 hits. Center-fielder John Rice led the attack with a 3-6 performance while playing-manager Ray Webster drove in three runs. Yuba-Sutter won the championship with a 5-2 win and Strohmayer pitching all three games in the series. The Twins ended PNL league play with an 11-4 record, 2-1 for the playoffs, and 18-7 overall. Ray Webster led the 1967 Twins in batting with his .371 average. Jim Whisman compiled a 6-3 record while Strohmayer posted a 5-2 record with a 1.80 earned run average. He struck out 64 batters in 49 innings pitched. The league championship was the Yuba-Sutter area's third PNL title.
Jim Whisman, born in Claremore, Oklahoma, signed a contract with the KC Royals organization in 1969. He spent five years in the minors posting a career 34-34 record with a 3.02 ERA. In 1970, he led the San Jose Bees of the Class-A California League in victories (13-8) including a fine 2.65 ERA. A year later, Whisman went 9-9 with a 2.38 ERA for the AA Elmira Royal of the Eastern League. A shoulder injury ended his career. John Strohmayer, originally from Belle Fourche, S.D., attended Central Valley High School in Shasta Lake, Ca., before pitching for the Tigers of the University of the Pacific. After a 4-5 season in 1967, Strohmayer won 8 of 14 games for the 1968 Tigers. He struck out 114 batters (seventh-best in school history) and his team-leading 2.13 ERA remains as UOP's sixth-best all-time. The 32-15 Tigers enjoyed one of their best seasons in school history. A month later, Strohmayer was taken in the twenty-sixth round of the 1968 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Oakland A's and was sent to the Rookie Gulf Coast League where he was 5-0 with a minuscule 0.66 ERA. That summer, Strohmayer posted a 3-3 record with a 1.85 ERA for the Peninsula Grays of the Class- A Carolina League.
Strohmayer made his major league debut in 1970 and won three of four games with a 4.86 ERA for the Montreal Expos after stints with the Lodi Crushers of the A-level California League (2-3, 1.36 ERA) and the Birmingham A's (3-3, 3.63 ERA) of the AA Southern League in 1969. He spent four years at the minor league level with a combined 17-13 record and stellar 2.15 ERA. He spent the better part of five seasons in the majors with the Expos and Mets (11-9 career mark and 4.47 ERA) with his rookie year being his best when he averaged 8.8 K's per nine innings pitched.
NINETEEN-SIXTY-NINE marked the end of the Placer-Nevada League and the beginning of the Mexican-American League which included the Twin Cities Giants and six of Sacramentoʼs top semi-pro teams. The year also marked the last time that a Yuba-Sutter semi-pro team vied for a league championship during the twentieth century. The Giants finished the season at 25-9, third-most wins in Yuba-Sutter history at the time, and tied with the Gold Nuggets of Sacramento for the leagueʼs second-half title with identical 5-1 records. Nineteen-year-old Davie Van Roth led the league in winning percentage, ERA, and shutouts. He led his teamʼs pitching staff with his 7-1 record (4-0, league), 1.44 ERA (0.84, league), and two shutouts. He also hit .324. A year later, he pitched three games for Twin Cities, winning all three without allowing an earned run while averaging better than fifteen strikeouts per nine innings pitched (best strikeout ratio in Yuba-Sutter baseball history). Van Roth concluded his Twin Cities Giants' career with a .901 winning percentage, 1.39 ERA, and 11.4 K's/9innings -- all Yuba-Sutter career records at the semi-pro level ... then he disappeared ... whereabouts unknown.
HISTORIC MARYSVILLE -- LAND OF GIANTS & GATEWAY TO THE GOLDFIELDS