GARY THE GREAT
Once upon a time, there was a road sign placed alongside Highway 70 which read: "Welcome to Oroville Home of Gary Nolan". Gary Nolan is the greatest and most successful pitcher in the history of Northern California baseball. He was born in the tiny little northeastern California town of Herlong before moving to Oroville, California at an early age where he won more than thirty games as a high school pitcher and led his Oroville Tigers to three straight Sierra Foothill League titles. One of his rare amateur loses came in an extra-inning relief role against powerful Christian Brothers High School of Sacramento when a suicide squeeze bunt landed in left field. Nolan was pitching with a cast on his left wrist. He also led his Oroville Post-95 American Legion team to three straight championships from 1964-1966, winning eighteen consecutive games at one time during that span. At age seventeen, he struck out 23 Red Bluff batters and the following year, 1966, he K'd a Northern California record 25 batters in eleven innings against Yuba-Sutter Post 42. A few days later Nolan was selected in the first round of Major League baseball's annual June draft, 13th pick overall by the Cincinnati Reds and reportedly signed a $65,000 contract. That same year, the hard-throwing Nolan was sent to the Sioux Falls Packers of the class A Northern League where he compiled a 7-3 record, striking out 163 batters in just 103 innings. He posted a 1.82 earned run average while issuing only 30 free passes. He led the Packers in Innings Pitched (104), Complete Games (9), Win % (.700), and Strikeouts (163). His 1.82 ERA was the team's 2nd best while his team-leading 14.1 K's/9inn was 2nd best in the league.
THE FAR WEST LEAGUE (1948-1951)
The initial season of the Far West League had all the earmarks of a Hollywood movie script with at least two Hollywood Stars listed on her rosters. The 1948 season included former and future major-league players, some famous, several ex Pacific Coast League players, a triple crown winner, a future Cy Young Award winner, an impostor, and a suicide. Year two included a couple of DiMaggios, a lesser and a major, and a couple of future Major League managers, one of which led his team to a World Series and was named Manager of the Year.
The Far West League, not to be confused with the collegiate Far West League or the Independent Far West League of modern-day, was an affiliated class D league which operated in Northern California and Southern Oregon from 1948 to 1951. Her charter members were the Redding Browns, Marysville Braves, Oroville Red Sox, Willows Cardinals, Santa Rosa Pirates, Pittsburg, (later Roseville) Diamonds, from California and the Medford Dodgers and Klamath Falls Gems of Oregon. With the exception of the Diamonds, all the other initial teams were owned by major league organizations. The independent Vallejo Chiefs entered the league in 1949, however, folded along with Santa Rosa towards the end of the season. The Reno Silver Sox and Eugene Larks replaced the two teams in 1950 and the Medford Dodgers became the locally owned Nuggets in 1949 before becoming the Medford Rogues for the 1950/'51 seasons. Marysville lost her affiliation with the Boston Braves after two seasons, however, remained in the league independently as the Marysville Peaches in 1950 before disbanding. Santa Rosa became the Cats in 1949.
Oroville won the league's initial pennant with a 67-51 record while Santa Rosa took home the President's Cup by winning the playoffs. The 84-43 Pittsburg Diamonds, who earlier had moved to Roseville and managed by Vince DiMaggio, won both the pennant and playoffs in 1949. DiMaggio, the Diamonds 36-year-old playing manager and older brother of Joe and Dom, hit .367 t(third-best in the league), with 37 home runs (second-most in the league(, and a .732 SLG. Klamath Falls with a record of 58-52 won the 1950 pennant while Redding took the league crown. In the league's last season, the Redding Browns recorded a league-best 76-55 record while Klamath Falls captured the league championship.
After Oroville won the league's initial pennant, the team folded after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Klamath Falls. If that weren't enough, the team's business manager committed suicide by downing a large sum of sleeping pills the night after the Red Sox were eliminated. William Wera, or whatever his real name was, got the job as business manager under the guise that he was Julian Wera, the 1927 New York Yankee third baseman once dubbed as "Flop Ears" by Babe Ruth. Supposedly, the alias Wera couldn't take it anymore after an earlier separation from his wife and that final loss to the Gems.
Redding's player/manager Ray "Little Buffaloe" Perry was the FWL's "Mr. Everything". He was Redding's President, the league's acting Vice President, led his Brown's to a league championship in 1950, and won a pennant with his 76-55 Browns in 1951. Perry dominated the record books throughout the Far West League's brief history. The former San Francisco Seal won the FWL's triple crown in her first season by batting .411 with 36 home runs and 163 RBI's and led the league in homers and RBIs in each of the FWL's four seasons. The third baseman holds all-time league records for batting average (.411), Home runs (45), RBI's (170), Runs scored (162), Base on balls (180), and Total Bases (339).
Twenty-year-old catcher Darrell Johnson hit .276 with nine home runs for Ray Perry's 1949 Redding Browns. He had previously caught at Richmond High School in the San Francisco Bay area before attending the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Johnson climbed the ladder of the minor leagues before spending the better part of six years in the Majors including a trip to the World Series with the 1961 Reds. His best season as a pro at a high level was in 1956 when he hit .319 while with the Denver Bears of the AAA American Association. Johnson had a career average of .234 in the Majors but is most noted as a skipper. He began his managerial career in 1960 when he piloted the Cardinals of the Bay Area's Peninsula Winter League. A year earlier, Ray Perry had managed the Dodgers of that same league. After once again making his way through the minor's system, this time as a manager, Johnson finally landed the job as manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1974. A year later, he led the 95-65 BoSox to an American League pennant, a birth in the World Series, and was named Sporting News' American League Manager of the Year.
The Far West League was a hitter's league, however Medford pitcher Larry Shepard won 22 of 25 games (.880 Win %) with a 2.89 earned run average in 1948, sharing the all-time league record for wins (22) with Klamath Falls' Andy Sierra who also owns the league's single-season strikeout record with 258. Shepard spent 13 seasons pitching in the minor leagues compiling a 179-84 career record including two stints with the Pacific Coast League's Hollywood Stars where he won 10 of 16 games with a 3.61 ERA. He began his managerial career as a player/manager at Medford, Billings, and Charleston before ending his 21 years as a manager with the Major League's Pittsburgh Pirates in 1968 and '69.
Santa Rosa's pitcher/manager Hub Kittle recorded a 7-2 record in 1949, a 10-0 record in 1950, all in relief, and later became Whitey Herzog's pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinal's National League championship team in 1982. Kittle spent 21 seasons as a pitcher in the minor leagues with a combined 144-115 record. He also managed for 20 years in the minors, mostly for Yakima of the class B Northwest League.
In 1948, eighteen-year-old Latter Day Saint Vernon Law made his professional debut with the Santa Rosa Pirates. He finished his first pro season with an 8-5 record and 4.66 ERA striking out 126 batters in 110 innings. Just two years later, Law was pitching in the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Law spent 16 seasons with the Pirates edging the legendary Warren Spahn for the National League's Cy Young Award in 1960 with his 20-9 record and 3.08 ERA. He was nicknamed "The Deacon" by Pirate teammate Wally Westlake (from Gridley, Ca.) as Law became a Latter Day Saint deacon at age 12 and was later ordained a priest at age 17. Law was a National League All-Star in 1960 and recorded two wins for the World Series champion Pirates against the Yankees.
During the spring of 1967, Nolan, at age eighteen, made his major league debut by striking out the side in the first inning of a 7-3 victory over the Houston Astros. Later that season, against San Francisco with the bases loaded, Nolan consecutively struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Jimmie Ray Hart. He struck out Mays four times that game. That same year, as a rookie, Nolan set modern-day records for an eighteen-year-old major-leaguer with his 14-8 record, 2.58 ERA (4th best in the N.L.), five shutouts, and 206 strikeouts in 227 innings. He led the Reds pitching staff in Complete Games (8), Innings Pitched (226.2), Strikeouts (206), K's/9 inn. (8.2), and Shutouts (5, second-best in the N.L.). His 2.58 ERA and .636 Win % were the team's 2nd best. Nolan was runners-up to Tom Seaver for the 1968 National League Rookie of the Year Award while his 8.179 K's per nine innings was best in the National League. Instead of coddling the young pitching sensation, manager Dave Bristol and the Cincinnati Reds pitted the 18-year-old Nolan head-to-head against some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history where he out-dueled the likes of Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, and Jim Bunning.
Arm problems cropped up early the next year and Nolan began the season at Tampa in the Class-A Florida State League before rejoining the Reds later that spring. Although his arm ailments persisted, he still managed to record a 9-4 season (.692 Win%), 2.40 ERA, and 6.7 K's/9inn., all 2nd best on the '68 Reds pitching staff. During his 2nd start of the following season, Nolan pulled a muscle in his right forearm. The injury cost him three months of the 1969 major league season and a demotion to Indianapolis of the AAA American Association for rehab. There, he went 2-0 with a 2.90 ERA while logging only 31 innings before returning to the Reds where he finished with an 8-8 record, 3.56 ERA, and averaged a team-best 6.9 strikeouts per 9 innings.
In 1970, "The Big Red Machine" got rolling with new manager Sparky Anderson. Cincinnati won the National League with their 102-60 record only to fall 4 games to 1 in the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles. Nolan finished the regular season at 18-7 (.720 Win %), his 2nd-best as a major-leaguer and 3rd-best in the National League. He led the Reds in strikeouts with 181 and innings pitched with 250.2. Nolan was the Reds opening day starter in the 1970 World Series pitted against Baltimore's 20-10 Jim Palmer. In 1971, Nolan slipped to 12-15 with a 3.16 ERA before rebounding in 1972 by leading the National League with his .750 winning percentage (15-5). Nolan garnered 13 wins before the All-Star break but was scratched from the National League team and placed on the disabled list due to neck and back injuries. He returned to post a stellar 1.99 ERA, just two-hundredths of a point below Steve Carlton's National League-leading 1.97 ERA. The Reds again won the National League however fell to the Oakland A's in the World Series.
The injuries were adding up, but was told by Sparky Anderson that he had to pitch with pain. Nolan only appeared twice for the 1973 Reds and missed the entire '74 major league season after the removal of a calcium spur from his right shoulder. His K's/9inn. was down to 2.6. He no longer had the great fastball and had to rely on changing speeds and pitching savvy. After pitching only 45 innings in an Instructional League, Nolan returned to the majors in 1975 where he posted a 15-9 record and 3.16 ERA for the World Champion Reds. His 1.2 walks issued per nine innings was the best in the National League. He led Cincinnati's pitching staff with 210.2 innings pitched as the 108-54 Reds swept Pittsburgh in the NL Championship Series before topping Boston 4 games to 3 in the Fall Classic.
1976 was much the same. Nolan led the Reds with his 239.1 innings pitched while winning 15 of 24 games with a 3.46 ERA. He allowed only one walk per nine innings pitched, again leading the NL. He also led the NL by issuing 28 gopher balls. Cincinnati swept the Phillies in the NL Championship Series and then swept the New York Yankees in the World Series with Nolan getting the victory in the final. The arm problems returned in 1977 and all but ended his major league career. All toll, Nolan spent 10 years in the majors with a .611 winning % (110-70) while posting a career 3.08 earned run average. He struck out 1,030 batters in 1,674.2 innings pitched. In 1983, "Gary the Great" was enshrined into the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame. He would be considered, along with Hall of Fame pitcher "Lefty" Gomez of the 1930s as Northern California's greatest and most successful pitcher of all-time.
SEALS STADIUM, SAN FRANCISCO, BUILT IN 1939
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BASEBALL -- IN THE BEGINNING: They came to Alta California by the tens of thousands, initially on foot, horseback, and donkey. Some arrived from the East, making their way to Independence, Missouri, hoping to travel via wagon train across the great plains; then over the Sierras, and finally into what would just a few years later become the State of California. Still, others came by sea, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and into San Francisco Bay. From there, they could catch a steamer that chugged it's way up the Sacramento and Feather Rivers and finally dock at the future boomtown of Marysville, aka "Gateway to the Goldfields". The gold was to be found just a few miles to the east along the banks of the Yuba River and its tributaries. Most of these get-rich-quick seeking Argonauts were in search of the precious metal while others struck it rich as merchants, businessmen, lawyers, and landowners. One of these gold-seekers was Alexander Joy Cartwright, a New York City book dealer, bank teller, round-baller, and part-time fireman who some historians say founded base ball when he revised the rules of a game called "town ball" and in 1845, formed the sport's first organized base ball club -- the Knickerbockers of New York. According to Cartwright's disputed "new testament" of rules, no longer was a base runner ruled "out" when hit by a ball thrown by a fielder. The game was to be played on a diamond-shaped field including four bases spaced ninety feet apart with foul territory. Three-out innings, fixed batting orders, and nine-player line-ups were also instituted. In 1846, Cartwright and his Knickerbockers crossed the Hudson River and played base ball's first organized game on a grassy meadow known as Elysian Fields. Elysium or Elysian Fields comes from the ancient Greeks for blessed state or heavenly paradise where souls went after death. Pindar described his version of Elysian Fields as shady parks where music and athletic events were performed; as blissful reserves for those related to the gods and other heroes. It has been noted that players competed for the noble joy of the game even though the Knickerbockers were crushed by the New York Base Ball Club 23-1 in that first organized base ball game.
At age 29, Cartwright caught gold fever and left for San Francisco in January of 1849, leaving behind his job, wife, four children, and the rest of the Knickerbockers. The journey took more than five months and by the time Cartwright arrived in San Francisco, it was too late, as the easy pickin's, or surface gold was gone. It's doubtful that Cartwright planted the first seeds of modern baseball in California as he arrived suffering from dysentery and only stuck around for about a week while recuperating from the nasty ailment. Not accustomed to pick and shovel work, he decided to pack up his bat, ball, book of rules and set sail for a more realistic Elysian Field -- Hawaii, where he spent the rest of his life. It's most likely that other ball-playing Knickerbockers, who came to Northern California a few years later seeking their own fortunes, initiated the game in California using Cartwright’s new rules. Still, the game was more similar to a friendly game of slo-pitch softball. There were no gloves and the ball was delivered underhand. If the batter didn’t like the pitch, he could ask for another one in a place more to his liking.
Entertainer Bing Crosby was part of the group that bought the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1946 (at about the same time his frequent film partner Bob Hope bought into the Cleveland Indians as part of Bill Veeck’s group). Crosby was a vice president of the Pirates and played a key role in the team’s signing of 18-year-old pitcher Vernon Law in 1948.
Local Northern California players who performed in the Far West League included Woodland native Don Masterson and Sacramento's Sam Stassi. Masterson played in 67 games for the 1949 Redding Tigers where he hit .259 while Stassi batted .248 for the 1950 Reno Silver Sox.
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA'S TOP PITCHERS (CAREER in MLB)
PITCHER ERA WIN % WHIP K/9 INN YRS
GARY NOLAN .
1869 CINCINNATI RED
AND BING CROSBY
A HISTORY OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BASEBALL
PRO, SEMI-PRO & COLLEGE --- TEAMS, RECORDS, BIOGRAPHIES & STATS
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DiMAGGIO & PERRY
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BASEBALL CALIFORNIA BASEBALL HISTORY
The first active California base ball team, according to author Kevin Nelson in The Golden Game, was the Sacramento Base Ball Club, formed in Sacramento in 1859. Shortly thereafter, California’s second team was formed -- the San Francisco Base Ball Club. The city of San Francisco would dominate the game in California for the next several years. The first organized game of base ball in California was played on Feb. 22nd, 1860 when the San Francisco Base Ball Club defeated another Bay area club known as the Red Rovers. Later that same day, in Sacramento, the Sacramento Base Ball Club battled a local team called the Unions to a 33-33 tie. Also in 1860, the first State tournament took place when the Eagles of San Francisco beat the Sacramento Base Ball Club in two straight games and thus became dubbed as the best base ball team west of the Mississippi.
More teams began to crop up with exhibition games being played mostly in Sacramento and San Francisco. In 1869, after the linking of the Union and Pacific Railroads, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, a team of paid professionals, steamed into San Francisco for a series of exhibition games pitted against the Bay Area’s best teams. The Stockings crushed the Eagles 35-4, humiliated them a second time before annihilating the Pacifics, and were leading the Atlantics 76-5 before the game was mercifully halted after five innings. The beatings were part of the Red Stockings 81 game winning streak, longest in professional baseball history.
California’s first organized baseball league was the Pacific Base Ball League of 1878 which involved four teams: the Eagles, Californias, Athletics, and San Francisco Reno, all from San Francisco. The games were played at the Recreation Grounds with the final championship game being played across the bay in front of 5,000 fans at the Oakland racetrack (ponies). The following year, the Athletics and Californias jumped to the rival and newly formed California League which also included the San Francisco Mutuals and the Oakland Pioneers. The San Francisco Knickerbockers of the Pacific League topped the Californias 6-5 to claim the unified state title.
Among the earliest organized baseball leagues formed in California was the 1883 California State League with teams from Marysville, Sacramento, Napa, and a club from San Francisco known as S.F. Woonsocket. Intercollegiate base ball also began as early as 1883 when the St. Mary's College Phoenix, then located in San Francisco, and Santa Clara College began a rivalry that has lasted for more than 130 years. St. Marys won the initial meeting and dominated all of college baseball in the West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries while the Broncos have reigned over the rivalry during the modern era since WWll.
The Pacific Coast League or the PCL began in 1887 with four teams--Oakland, San Francisco, the San Francisco A&G’s, and the San Francisco Damianas. The Los Angeles Seraphs became California’s first professional team when they competed against the Oakland Colonels, San Francisco Metropolitans, and San Jose Dukes of the 1892 California League.
In 1903, the PCL became the West's and California's crown jewel until 1958. It first operated as an independent league consisting of the Los Angeles Angels (often referred to as the Looloos), Oakland Oaks, Portland Browns, Sacramento Senators (also known as the Blues because of their uniform color), San Francisco Seals (known as the Wasps in 1902), and the Seattle Siwashes. The Angels won the league's inaugural pennant finishing twenty-seven and a half games ahead of second-place Sacramento.
From 1904-1911, the PCL operated with class A status (highest minor league level at that time) and competed with the major leagues for top talent. For the next thirty-four years, the league performed at the AA level remaining independent until chewing gum mogul Philip Wrigley and his Los Angeles Angels became affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and the Portland Beavers who struck up a deal with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932. The Sacramento Senators followed suit by teaming up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935 before switching to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1936 and changing their name to the Solons. Being affiliated meant that their parent major league partner would assist in providing uniforms, equipment, players, and even cash in exchange for the development of players at the minor league level. It appeared as an advantage for both organizations. As late as 1958, the PCL had little competition from Major League baseball. Until then, there were no major league teams west of St. Louis. Allowing Major League baseball to get a foot in the door was the first nail in the PCL’s coffin as far as becoming a third Major League, which the league applied for but was rejected in 1945. The final nails were hammered in when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers moved to the West Coast in 1958, forcing the San Francisco Seals, Los Angeles Angels, and Hollywood Stars to relocate into smaller markets. The PCL operated at the Open status (just below major league and higher than the AAA level) from 1952 to 1957. The PCL is the only league ever granted Open status. From 1946 to ’51 and from 1958 to this day, the PCL has been rated AAA. The heart of the PCL during it’s early existence included mainstays such as the Hollywood Stars, Mission Reds of San Francisco’s Mission district, the San Diego Padres, Vernon Tigers ( later the Tacoma Tigers), Seattle Indians (eventually becoming the Rainiers), Salt Lake City Bees, Hawaii Islanders, Vancouver Mounties, and the Sacramento Senators (later becoming the Solons).
The PCL’s two most celebrated players are San Diego native Ted Williams and the Bay Area's Joe DiMaggio. Williams began his professional career at age 17 as a backup outfielder behind Vince DiMaggio while with the San Diego Padres. Vince and Joe were both born in the small oil refining town of Martinez, California, located on the southern shores of Carquinez Strait in the San Francisco Bay area. Like Williams, Joe also began his pro career at age 17. He played four seasons with the San Francisco Seals before signing a contract with the New York Yankees. At age 20, in 1935, he led the Seals to the PCL championship by hitting .398 with 34 homers and 48 doubles. He was crowned league MVP. In 1933, he hit safely in 61 consecutive games, a minor league record and a prelude to his much-heralded 56-game hitting streak which still stands today as a major league record.
1864 N.Y. KNICKERBOCKERS
SAM STASSI--1944 STOCKTON FLYERS
WILLIAMS & DIMAGGIO
HALL OF FAMER CARTWRIGHT IN HAWAII