GENE VALLA, SS
GEORGE VALINE, 2B
BERT BONOMI, C
BOB FREITAS, OF
FRANK FERRAIUOLA, LF
GIL URBANO, 1B
AL ANICICH, OF
GLENN DUFOUR, 3B/MGR
TONY AZEVEDO RF/P
DON TOWNSEND, P
BILL LOVELACE, P
RUSS KNIGHT, P
CARL HOBERG, P
1951 COLUSA PRUNERS-- A year earlier, George Valine, Bert Bonomi, and Gil Urbano were members of the Isleton Packers, winners of the lesser Sacramento Rural League and competitors in the Northern California National Baseball Congress semi-pro championship tournament. It's of little mystery as to why the Colusa Pruners won the 1951 Sacramento Valley League championship. The team was loaded with experienced former and future professional ballplayers. The 1951 Pruners were managed by Glenn Dufour, a member of the 1947 University of California Golden Bears who won college baseball's 1st collegiate World Series. Dufour managed the Carmichael Fireman in 1948 and later played 3rd base for Argonaut Liquors of the Sacramento Winter League. The Fireman had won the Calif. state semi-pro title in 1946 and was runners-up in the NBC World Series held in Wichita, Kansas. Shortstop Gene Valla from San Francisco, the Pruner's best player, averaged .301 over the course of five seasons in the minor leagues ('47-'51), mostly within the New York Yankee chain. He spent three seasons at the "AAA" level including batting .258 for the San Francisco Seals in 1951 before joining the Pruners. He hit .339 for the Ventura Yankees and was named MVP of the level-C California League in 1948. His father, Eugene Valla Sr., hit over .300 in four different seasons for the SF Seals during the 1920s. Catcher Bert Bonomi spent four years in the minors (1946-'49) where he hit .294 for his pro career including a .308 batting average with 14 home runs as playing/manager for the 1949 Willows Cardinals of the level-D Far West League. In 1947, Bonomi hit .325 with 10 HRs for the Fresno Cardinals of the "C" California League. First baseman Gil Urbano, who hit .625 for Christian Brothers High School of Sacramento in 1946, hit .293 for the Mexicali Aguilas of the "C" Sunset League in 1948.
Second baseman George Valine averaged .291 during his nine seasons in the minor leagues (1937-'42, '46, '48, and 1949). He advanced as high as level-B when he hit .320 for the Spokane Indians of the Western International League. His best year as a pro was 1940 when he hit .334 for the Springfield Cardinals of the "C" Western Association. Catcher Bobby Schang spent six seasons in the minor leagues, mostly at the "D" and "C" levels. He hit .300 in 73 games for the Monroe White Sox of the "C" Cotton State League in 1939 and co-managed the Visalia Cubs of the California League in 1946. He was named semi-pro All-American 2nd baseman at the Northern California United Baseball Congress state tournament in 1950. Twenty-year-old outfielder Al Anicich from Sacramento would sign a contract with the Sacramento Solons after the season and hit .185 for the 1952 season and .206 the next year for the "C" Idaho Falls Russets.
1952 COLUSA PRUNERS
The Sacramento Valley League was a premier semi-pro baseball league that began in 1923 and continued into the 1950s. It picked up where the Trolley League left off and was often referred to as the Sacramento Valley Trolley League. Although the SVL was considered semi-pro, players were paid on an after-expenses-gate-receipts bases (divvied up). At fifty cents a ticket during the 1920s, a player could earn $20-30 each Sunday, especially if the games were played in Marysville or Chico, which was pretty good considering laborers working in the woods or mines were making a buck per day. A summer playing baseball could bring in $400-500, the cost of a brand new Packard or Ford Model-T at that time.
The SVL provided proving grounds for future professionals, a pasture for aging Major and Pacific Coast leaguers, and good competition for local players. Charter members included the Woodland Legionnaires (became the Oaks in 1930), the Colusa Prunepickers, the Willows Giants, the Orland Tigers, and town teams from Arbuckle, and Dunnigan. Williams entered the league a year later. The Marysville Giants and Chico Colts entered the league in 1925 and the Oroville Olives followed suit a year later, all mainstays of the SVL. Other early entrants during the 1920s were the Dixon Packers, Sacramento Wanderers, Sacramento Realtors, and Sacramento Dantes. New York Yankee Myril Hoag from Davis, California played part of the 1926 season with Woodland and hit .366.
NINETEEN-TWENTY-NINE marked the end of the Roaring Twenties, the stock market crash, and the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression. Not so for manager Bill James and his Colusa Prune Pickers. James, who later managed the Chico Colts and Oroville Olives, had spent four years in the major leagues with the Boston Braves. In 1914, his .788 winning % (26-7 record) led the National League as the 94-59 Braves swept the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. James won two games in the series including a 1-0 shutout. Bill James posted a career 37-21 record with a 2.28 earned run average. He also pitched the 1911 Marysville Giants to a 5-4 victory over the Galt Tigers as the Giants claimed themselves as Northern California champions.
The 1929 Pickers started the season by winning six of seven games before losing 4-2 to Elmer "Specs" Shea at Marysville. "Pop" Arlett returned to the Hub City but not as a pitcher. The former Marysville ace had previously led the Giants to the 1926 SVL title with his 14-3 record and had spent six years in the AA Pacific Coast League. Hall of Famer Harry Hooper ended his baseball career when he signed a one-game contract with the 1929 Marysville Giants and went 2-4 with a double. Hooper, who attended St. Mary's College during their infamous 1907 season, also owned peach orchards on the outskirts of Marysville which he lost due to the Great Depression and bank foreclosures. Also playing for Marysville in 1929 was nineteen-year-old outfielder Frank Demaree from Winters, California who was batting .425 at the midpoint of the SVL season. He would move on to spend 17 years as a pro including the next three seasons with the Sacramento Senators. He hit .364 with 12 HR's for Sacramento in 1932 and made his major league debut that same year with the Chicago Cubs at age 23. He averaged .332 for his minor league career and .299 with 72 homers during his 12 seasons in the majors. In 1934, Demaree captured the AA Pacific Coast League's Triple Crown by hitting .383 with 45 HR's and 173 RBI's as a member of the champion 137-50 Los Angeles Angels, often considered as the greatest minor league team of all-time. He also led the PCL in Runs (190), Hits (269), Total Bases (463), and SLG (.660) as a member of the 2nd place Los Angeles Angels. Demaree also stole 45 bases and was named the PCL's MVP. In 1936, he led the Chicago Cubs in batting (350), HR's (16), Hits (212, NL's 6th best), RBI's (96), and SLG (.496).
Colusa's burly left-handed pitcher Clyde "Tub" Perry from Sutter City, Ca. (now Sutter, Ca.) had reeled off 12 consecutive wins including a 2-1 victory over Oroville's Ralph "Sailor" Stroud. The 44-year-old Stroud from Ironia, NJ, had spent three years in the major leagues (1910, '15, '16) with an 18-20 record and stellar 2.92 ERA. He also recorded a 20-18 record with a 2.01 ERA for Sacramento/Mission of the PCL in 1921 and went 26-13 for Salt Lake City of the PCL in 1920. The "Sailor" logged a total of 16 seasons as a pro (171-136). On June the 30th, Perry hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th to defeat Joe Oeschger and the Chico Colts 4-3. The 37-year-old Oeschger from Ferndale, Calif. and St. Mary's College had spent 12 years in the major leagues with four different teams (1914-1925) with a career 82-116 record and 3.81 ERA. He went 15-14 with a 2.75 ERA and five shutouts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1917 and 20-14 with a 3.52 ERA for the Boston Braves in 1921.
Colusa claimed the SVL's 2nd-half title with a perfect 10-0 record after "Tub" Perry shutout Roseville 11-0. Chico duplicated the feat with a flawless 10-0 1st-half title, thus setting up a rare best-of-five SVL championship series. In game one, Oeschger and his Colts hammered Perry for 11 hits and 14 runs in the 1st five innings before coasting to a 17-2 victory. Perry and his Plumpickers returned the favor a week later in Colusa with a 16-1 drubbing of Oeschger and his Colts. Sam Stassi and Perry led the hitting attack. The onslaught began in the 4th inning when ex major-leaguer "Irish" Meusel, age 36, dropped a fly ball in the outfield. Emil Meusel from Oakland, Ca., spent 18 years as a professional (1913-1931) and averaged .310 with 106 HRs during his 11 seasons as a major leaguer (1918-1927). He hit .328 with 21 homers (.548 SLG) and 111 RBI's for John McGraw's NY Giants in 1925. His 125 RBI's in 1923 led the National League. In 1921 he hit .353 for the lowly Phillies before getting traded and hitting .329 in 62 games when his NY Giants won the World Series over Babe Ruth, his brother Bob Meusel, and the New York Yankees. "Irish" homered in game #6 and hit .345 for the Series. Before joining the Prunepickers, Muesel spent the 1st half of the year with the Sacramento Senators where he hit. 327 in 44 games.
In a wild game # three, "Tub" Perry started the game, homered, got knocked out of the box and was relieved by Frank Juney, only to return in the 9th to pick up the save. Juney got credit for the 10-7 victory. The 36-year-old Juney had spent three years in the Pacific Coast League with a career 4-11 record. He's better known as a cheater when the great Ty Cobb, in an off-season exhibition game in San Jose, refused to hit against Juney, claiming the "Bad Boy" from Willows, Calif. used an emery board to scuff the baseball. "Irish" Meusel homered in game #4 as Oeschger got the best of Perry with an 8-1 victory, setting the stage for a final to be played at Marysville's neutral 3rd Street ballpark. 2,500 fans watched as Chico's Les Sheehan homered in the 6th and Joe Oeschger took a 5-2 lead headed into the bottom of the 9th. Sheehan, from Sacramento, had spent 12 years in the minors including 10 in the PCL--one with the SF Seals (1916), four with Sacramento (1920-'22 and 1928), and two with the Hollywood Stars ('26, '27). He hit .338 with 36 HR's, .346 and 22 HR's, and .342 with 33 homers for Salt Lake City from 1923-'25. He averaged .297 with 120 HRs for his pro career. After "Tub" Perry homered in the 8th to close the gap, Colusa outfielder Eddie Manger launched a game-winning homer in the bottom of the 9th, sending the Prunepickers to their 3rd SVL championship in seven years. Clyde Perry finished the regular season with a 16-2 record and 17-4 overall, the most wins in a single season in the history of the SVL. Although the slugging pitcher tired at the end of the season, his efforts produced a contract with the 1930 San Francisco Seals. At age 24, he pitched in 39 games as a reliever winning seven and losing seven with a 6.02 ERA. He hit .327. The Pickers were crowned state champs when they defeated the winner of the Class-D California State League in a best-of-three series.
Baseball began to thrive in Northern California shortly after WWll. Old rivalries began to spring up again and attendances were at all-time highs. Major league baseball took advantage of the situation with the forming of the level-D Far West League placing affiliated teams with out-of-town players in Marysville, Oroville, Willows and Redding. In spite of competition from the FWL for ticket sales, the SVL nevertheless pushed on. In 1949, the Chico Colts won the Sacramento Valley League pennant with an 18-4 league record besting the second-place Yuba City Bears at 13-9. The Colts went on to sweep the Orland Tigers in the O'Shaunessy Playoff Series in two straight games and then won the President's Cup by defeating the Oroville Olives in two straight during the O'Shaunessy Finals. The Colts finished at 22-4 (.923 Win % and best ever in the SVL). The team was led by Fitzgerald at .396, Roberts (.381), Lyle Olsen (.373), Doug Sale (.346), and Bud Hanna (.341). Colt Pitcher Tony Saparovich from Sacramento went 7-1 with a league-leading 2.80 earned run average while Chico's Mel Dalrymple was 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA.
1923 Colusa Prune Pickers 11-3
1924 Willows Tigers 14-6
1925 Woodland 15-5
1926 Marysville Giants (17-7)** 15-6
1927 Colusa Prune Pickers
1928 Oroville Olives
1929 Colusa Prune Pickers
1930 Chico Colts (15-5) 18-5
1931 Woodland Oaks (14-6) Woodland
Colusa (14-6) wins title
1932 Woodland Oaks
1933 Grass Valley Braves (9-10) 11-12
1934 Marysville Giants (15-6) 17-7
1935 Colusa Pruners (13-5) 15-6
1936 Marysville Giants (12-8) 14-9
1939 Grass Valley Miners
1940 Grass Valley Miners** GVM
1948 Yuba City Bears (16-5) 19-6
1949 Chico Colts (16-4) 18-4
1951 Colusa Pruners Colusa
1952 Colusa Pruners (18-7) Colusa
1953 Willows Cardinals Willows
1954 Glen County Cardinals
**Northern Calif. Champs
1952 LEAGUE STANDINGS TOP HITTERS AVG.
COLUSA PRUNERS 23-7 DON MARTIN, GIANTS .380
CHICO COLTS 15-15 TOM AGOSTA, PRUNERS .277
GLEN CO. CARDINALS 15-15 KEN FITZGERALD, COLTS .364
YUBA CITY BEARS 13-17 BILL WRIGHT, PRUNERS .349
MARYSVILLE GIANTS 12-18 VINCE CASTINO, OLIVES .333
OROVILLE OLIVES 12-18 GENE VALLA, CARDINALS .327
BOB SCHANG, PRUNERS .321
SAM STASSI, GIANTS .313
TOP PITCHERS RECORD K'S ERA
J. LESLIE, PRUNERS 10-1 73 1.96
TOWNSEND, PRUNERS 5-0 31 2.47
CARPENDER, OLIVES 5-1 31 2.76
MICHAEL, CARDINALS 7-2 30 2.18
BANDY, COLTS 7-4 52 2.56
ASHE, BEARS 8-6 71 2.19
The 1952 Sacramento Valley league featured two major league catchers. Oroville's Vince Castino hit .333 for the 1952 Olives, 5th best in the SVL. He had previously spent 16 seasons in professional baseball (1936-1951) including three years in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox where he combined to hit .228 with no home runs in 88 games. He hit .270 during his 14 years as a minor-leaguer including a .207 average during his four seasons at the "AAA" level. He began his pro career at age 18 with the 1936 Portsmouth Pirates of the "C" Middle Atlantic League where he hit .190 in 10 games and ended his career at Colorado Springs of the "A" Western League with a .268 average for the 1951 Sky Sox. In 1948, Castino hit .229 for the "AAA" Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League.
Cuno Barragan hit .333 with four home runs (3rd best in the SVL) in only 12 games while with the Glen County (Willows) Cardinals. The Sacramento native joined the Cardinals after catching at Sacramento City College and Sacramento State. A year later, in 1953, Barragan signed a professional contract with Idaho Falls of the "C" Pioneer League and hit .269 for the Russets where he was a teammate with fellow Sacromentan and SVL pitcher Delbert Bandy. Bandy was 7-4 with a 2.56 ERA for the 1952 Chico Colts and 10-9 with a 4.24 ERA for the Russets. Barragan moved on and spent nine years as a professional including parts of three seasons in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs where he hit .202 in 69 games (1961-1963). Barragan hit .251 over the course of seven seasons in the minor leagues including a .270 average during four years at the "AAA" level. In 1957 he hit .193 for the Sacramento Solons of the "Open" Pacific Coast League and .318 in 80 games (his best season) for the 1960 "AAA" Solons. He ended his pro career at Salt Lake City by hitting .284 for the "AAA" Bees of the PCL.
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1952 COLUSA PRUNERS: Colusa lost the services of ss George Valla, first baseman Gil Urbono, and outfielder Bob Freitas. They were replaced with three players from Sacramento--Tom Agosta, Gene Petralli, and Bill Wright. The eighteen-year-old Agosta attended Sacramento High School and Sacramento Junior College before joining the Pruners during the summer of 1952. He led the SVL in triples with six and finished second in the league in batting average (.377), hits (43), runs scored (29), and stolen bases (12). A year later, he was with the Sacramento Solons before being drafted into the army during the Korean Conflict. He returned to the Solons in 1955 and was quickly sent to the Salem Senators of the "B" Northwest League. There, the 21- year-old Agosta led the team in hitting (.357, 4th-best in league), triples (18, best in league), and his 24 doubles was the Senators' 2nd best. Agosta spent a total of seven years in the minor leagues including parts of four seasons with Sacramento of the "Open" Pacific Coast League. In 1958, he led the Eugene Emeralds in hitting with his .340 average and a year later, led the Raleigh Capitals of the "B" Carolina League with his .314 average. Agosta ended his pro career in 1960 with his fourth batting title by leading the Tri-City Braves and the Northwest League in hitting with his .384 average and .616 slugging percentage. He finished 2nd in the league in double (32), triples (13), on-base % (.473), and 3rd in the league with 108 RBI's.
Infielder Gene Petralli hit .452 with four home runs and five doubles in only half a season (10 games). His amazing .857 SLG was the league's best and his four HRs were 3rd-best in the SVL. "Gino" had played for 12 different professional teams before joining the Pruners in 1952. At age 18, he hit .272 for the Spokane Indians of the level-B Western International League. In 1949, Petralli suited up with four separate teams advancing as high as the "AAA" Pacific Coast League where he hit .250 in 19 games with the Sacramento Solons. That same year, Petralli led the level-C San Bernardino Pioneers in hitting (.347) and Slugging Percentage (.545). His eight HR's were the team's 2nd best. All toll, Gene Petralli spent five years in the minor leagues and hit .273 in 506 games. He hit 42 home runs, 27 triples, and 107 doubles in 1,773 at-bats with a .435 SLG.
First baseman Bill Wright hit .349 (4th best in the SVL) and drove in 29 runs (2nd best in the SVL) for the Colusa Pruners in 1952. He had previously spent six seasons in the minor leagues (1940-'42 and '46-'48) including two unsuccessful at-bats for the "AAA" Los Angeles Angels in 1946. He began his professional career at age 19 with the D-level Danville-Schoolfield Leafs of the Bi-State League by hitting .318 in 68 games. Wright spent most of his pro career with the Vancouver Capilanos of the level-B Western International League. There, he hit .292 with 10 homers in 1941, .295 with 11 HR's in 1942, .462 in 26 at-bats in 1946, and .306 in 1947. He averaged .315 over the course of his minor league career. He also played for the Marysville Giants.
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OROVILLE'S MITCHELL FIELD--HOME OF THE OLIVES
The 1952 Pruners also possessed the league's top pitchers. Twenty-three-year-old John Leslie gained the league's triple crown of pitching by leading the SVL in victories (10), strikeouts (72), and ERA (1.96). Leslie had previously spent three seasons (1948-'50) in the minor leagues at the "D" and "C" levels where he won 18 games while losing 24 with a combined 4.29 earned run average. His best season was 1949 when he went 9-12 with a 4.31 ERA for the Carthage Cubs of the "D" Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League. #2 Colusa pitcher Townsend led the SVL in winning % with his 5-0 record while Yuba City Bears' pitcher Chet Ashe finished 2nd in the league in victories (8) and strikeouts (71) while leading the league in innings pitched (148). His 2.19 ERA was the SVL's 3rd best. Marysville's D. Martin led the league hitting with his .380 average. Glen County's Bob Freitas led the SVL in home runs with eight and RBI's with 31 while teammate George Valla led the league in runs scored (31) and doubles (10).
DOLLY GRAY JOE OESCHGER LES SHEEHAN "POP" ARLETT "IRISH" MEUSEL RALPH STROUD FRANK DEMAREE MYRIL HOAG
SACRAMENTO VALLEY LEAGUE
CALIFORNIA BASEBALL HISTORY-----NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BASEBALL