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La Salle Club
Baseball Hall of Fame
Saturday, April 27

by Editor, Rick Cabral

Last night’s 2013 La Salle Club Baseball Hall of Fame Dinner held at the Fieldhouse at Christian Brothers High School was a huge success by all accounts.

First time chairman Joe McNamara instituted a few new wrinkles, including singing the National Anthem at the start of dinner. After the seventh of the nine speakers concluded his talk, the audience again rose, this time to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” played at ballparks across the land during the seventh inning stretch.

Many of the old timers were in attendance, including long-time scout Ronnie King (Christian Brothers 1946), Chicago Cubs catcher Cuno Barragan (Sacramento High 1950) and Harry Dunlop (Sacramento High 1951) who played, coached and managed more than 50 years in organized ball, including the 1984 National League champion San Diego Padres.

Last night, Dunlop was reunited with one of his former Padres’ players, Jerry Royster (Sacramento High 1970), who came to his first Hall of Fame dinner to support an old friend, and former major league pitcher, Fernando Arroyo (Burbank 1970).

Other notables seen in the audience swapping stories and other fabricated yarns were former major league pitcher Lowell Palmer (Notre Del Rio 1965), Randy Brown (McClatchy 1968) who played in the Montreal organization, Nick Johnson (McClatchy 1996) who retired this year after 10 seasons in MLB, and “Rusty” Mclain, president of Sacramento Men's Senior Baseball League, and long-time area high school and college coach.

Sacramento historian Alan O'Connor set up part of his fabulous collection of old Sacramento Solon jerseys and bats. He also proudly displayed a new addition: a poster promoting Opening Day at Cardinal Field April 2, 1938.

During the social hour we overheard one former Christian Brothers player remind Butch Metzger (Kennedy 1970) about a memory of hearing one of Metzger’s MLB-quality fastballs rocketing inches away from his head during a Metro League contest.

Upon being introduced to chairman McNamara, long time Cleveland Indians scout Don Lyle (Sacramento 1972) immediately told the story when he was working at Grodin’s Department Store at the old Florin Mall and sold a suit to Joe’s uncle, John McNamara, the famous big league manager who took the 1986 Boston Red Sox to the World Series against Lyle’s former organization, Cincinnati Reds.

Clay Sigg, a Hall of Famer at UC Davis (1972), recalled a winter league game at Renfree Field when 16-year-old slugger Leon Lee (Grant 1971) blasted a pitch over Sigg’s head in center field that traveled an estimated 450 feet into the bushes. “That was one where you just turned and watched. No chance,” Sigg said of his long-time friend, Lee.

Frivolity quickly took a backseat once the speeches began. McNamara paid homage to his uncle Jim McNamara, who passed away last year, and had guided the same organization for 13 years.

Joe Gill (Bishop Armstrong 1963), a 2013 inductee and a longtime Christian Brothers baseball coach, died this past February, and was represented by his wife Janet and four sons.

Another inductee, baseball writer Nick Peters, was unable to attend the event as he is battling a form of Parkinson's Disease. Peters, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his five decades of sports journalism, was represented by his wife, Lise, and fellow employee Sacramento Bee copy editor Steve Kennedy, who spoke on Peters’ behalf.

Toward the end of the program, however, things had loosened up.

During Leon Lee’s speech, he remembered “When I got to Double-A, I realized that the talent level there was finally equal to what I had been facing all those years in the Winter League, that’s how good the players from Sacramento were.”

Butch Metzger, who pitched parts of four seasons with five major league clubs and was selected Co-Rookie of the Year in 1976 as a closer for the San Diego Padres, recalled a time in Little League when he learned a valuable lesson. The umpire hadn’t arrived in time for the game, so Metzger’s father volunteered to umpire. At the end of the game, Butch came to bat. With two strikes he watched the next pitch go by and heard his father call “Strike three!”

After the game, Butch was a bit angry that his own father rung him up on the ballfield.

“Son,” Metzger told his son, “a strike is a strike.”

Another life lesson came from Metzger’s high school coach, Don Naninni who appeared at the banquet last night. “(Naninni) was the first coach who treated us like we were men,” Metzger said. “But that also meant more responsibility, which sometimes was a hard thing to live up to.”

Fernando Arroyo (Burbank 1970), who pitched eight seasons for three different major league teams, had the most humorous anecdote of the night.

Arroyo recalled one of his first major league starts for the Detroit Tigers: September 10, 1975, Fenway Park in Boston, when he started the back end of a double header. Catcher Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star, had played the first game, so Arroyo’s batterymate in the nightcap was Detroit’s backup catcher.

Before the game, Tigers’ slugger Willie Horton approached Arroyo and said, “Don’t worry, rook. I’ve got your back.” In the top of the eighth inning the Red Sox led 3-2. Horton came up with a runner on base, “…and he made good on his promise,” Arroyo remembered. “He put us ahead with one swing of the bat.”

Freehan, a five-time Gold Glover, was reinserted into the lineup for defensive purposes. In the bottom of eighth inning, nursing a one-run lead, Tigers manager Ralph Houk stuck with his rookie pitcher, despite the batters Arroyo was slated to face: Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk. He got the first two outs, but Fisk singled, which brought Rico Petrocelli to the plate representing the winning run.

Freehan signaled for a slider. But Arroyo shook him off. Freehan again put down two fingers and again Arroyo rejected the pitch. Freehan called time and went to the mound. “Hey, rook, what're you doing? Petrocelli is a dead-red fastball hitter. Go with the slider.”

Arroyo, who had grown up in Sacramento in the sixties, countered, “I want to go with my fastball. I’m feelin’ the vibe.”

Freehan, a Michigan native who knew nothing about California culture, returned to his spot behind the plate, shaking his head as he signaled for the fastball. Arroyo delivered and got Petrocelli to ground out. Fred went on to finish the ninth inning. The Tigers won the game (5-3) and Arroyo claimed his second major league victory.

Later inside the clubhouse, Freehan spotted Arroyo and yelled across the room, “Hey, rook. Next time— don’t shake me off! And what the hell is a ‘vibe’?”

To read the biographies of all nine 2013 La Salle Club Hall of Fame inductees, see below.


All Biographies by Rick Cabral

~  ~  ~  ~ 

Fernando “Fred” Arroyo  


Fernando “Fred” Arroyo may have more passport stamps than any previous ballplayer in the La Salle Club Baseball Hall of Fame. Arroyo went from the Sacramento sandlots and Burbank High School to pitch eight seasons in the American League and had a long coaching career.

He was a standout athlete at the south Sacramento campus, playing football (quarterback), basketball (forward) and baseball (pitcher/infielder), while earning MVP in baseball and Athlete of the Year honors at Burbank High in 1970. Fernando also was named Metro League Co-Pitcher of the Year along with fellow inductee, Butch Metzger. In his junior season, the Titans took the Metro League title.

Taken in the 10th Round of the 1970 Amateur Draft by Detroit and signed by scout  Bernie De Viveros, Fernando debuted in a Tigers uniform in 1975. He pitched three more seasons for Detroit and split five years between Minnesota and Oakland. He also pitched 13 seasons in the Mexican Winter League.  

During his career, Arroyo played on six championship teams, including the 1975 Evansville Triplets (Detroit) and 1983 Denver Bears (Chicago White Sox), both in the Triple-A level American Association, plus three times in the Mexican League in the 1980s. Over 121 major league appearances, Fernando compiled a 24-37 career mark.

Highlights from his playing career include pitching a perfect game for the Lakeland Tigers in the 1971 Florida State League; making the 1983 All-Star team in the American Association while posting a 14-4 mark; and being named to the 1983 Rawlings Silver Glove Team. He also holds the Mexican Winter League mark of pitching the longest single game: 17-innings on November 2, 1975.

In 1990, the Tigers asked Arroyo to join their minor league staff as a pitching coach where he worked two years. He coached in the  Florida Marlins organization from 1992 to ’94 including a stint with their Edmonton Trappers club in the Pacific Coast League.  

Fernando moved overseas and coached two seasons in the Taiwan Major League before joining the Oakland Athletics minor league staff from 1998-2001 and 2003-2004. Staying busy over the winter, Fred also coached in Venezuela, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and South Korea. He also worked for the Red Sox and Dodgers organizations before closing out a 15-year coaching career in 2006.

As he was coming up, Fred played for South Sacramento American Legion, plus several Sacramento semi-pro teams, including Culjis, La Fiesta, Country Maid and Cannery Union.

In retirement, Arroyo has started a new company called ARMTRAK that is developing a new teaching aid to show young baseball and softball players the proper throwing angle to improve command and avoid arm injuries. Fred resides in Florida with his wife Susan.


Tom Dicktakes


Tom Dicktakes played high school ball at Sacramento High (1954) and for Manhart American Legion (1950-1953) where he patrolled right field.

Like many from the local area at the time, following high school Tom played junior college baseball for the Sacramento City Panthers. There he held down the second base position.

Over the next three decades, Tom went on to play for several winter and county league teams. In 1955, he played for Kramers in the National Division of the Sacramento Winter League as well as Burgies the following year. In 1958 he joined up with the Smokies in Elk Grove in the County League.

In 1959, he played on two championship teams: Julius in the National Division of the Sacramento Winter League and Rio Vista, which took the County League crown. In 1960, he played for the 2nd U.S. Army Area baseball team based in Virginia.

The longtime Land Park groundskeeper was honored for 43 years of service by the city of Sacramento which named “Tom A. Dicktakes Field” in Land Park after him.

Dicktakes was still playing well into his mid-forties, when the Sacramento Smokeys claimed the Night League crown in 1981.

Tom also contributed his time by coaching East Sacramento Babe Ruth League from 1991-92.

Dicktakes is better known for building a high-powered overhead cam nitro dragster (it took him 43 years), which he has raced at the Sacramento Raceway and topped out at 240 miles per hour. Within the drag racing community he earned the nickname “Twin Cam” Tommy.

Tom lives by the credo “If you feel like you want to do something—even if you feel like it is impossible—just do it!”  

Joe Gill


Joe Gill was a key cog in the success of Bishop Armstrong High School and Southside American Legion two of the top teams in the Sacramento area in the early 1960s.

When Joe transferred from Christian Brothers (the lower division school) to Bishop Armstrong as a junior in 1962 he joined a lineup that would dominate high school baseball in the Central Valley. The Falcons that season defeated four conference champions en route to a 22-2 record. They were named State Team of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports retroactively. The core of that group led Southside to the American Legion state finals.

In Gill’s senior season, Bishop Armstrong again fielded a strong club, and he was the lone selection to the Sacramento Bee’s All-City team. That summer, Southside posted another strong showing in the state tournament, and the following year Joe led Southside in hitting.

University of San Francisco gave Gill a scholarship and he played four years of college ball with the Dons. Following his senior season, Gill was drafted in the 25th Round of the 1967 Amateur Draft by the New York Yankees. He was signed by Dolph Camilli, a longtime Solon and member of the Brooklyn Dodgers (and the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1941). Joe played the summer of 1967 for the Yankees Single-A Fort Lauderdale team in the Florida State League.

From 1966 through 1972, Gill kept his cleats sharp by playing for teams in the County League, Mexican-American League and Night League.

In the late 1960s, Joe coached local youth league teams in the East Sacramento area. Then in 1973 he took over Southside Legion and managed the club until 1998, taking several teams to the playoffs. In 1993, he became head coach at Christian Brothers. He led his teams—which usually featured one of Joe’s four sons—to many playoff tournaments until his retirement in 2006, including: CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Runner-up titles in Division II (2002 & 2004), Sierra Valley Conference championships 2002-2004 and Metro League champions in 1994.

Prior to his passing on February 20th this year, Joe said as a coach he never worried about his team’s records. He also added “I would not have been able to coach for the many years I did without the support of my wife, Janet.” 

Mike Green


Mike Green, the wunderkind southpaw, led Bishop Armstrong and Southside Legion to more victories than any rival in the Valley from 1961 to 1962. At 6’ 0”, 150 pounds, Green didn’t scare competitors with his physique. But he terrorized defenses with his bat, speed and pitching prowess. 

In his junior year, Green posted a .446 batting average, second highest in the Sacramento area. He also sported one of the best pitching records in the area, going 6-1 with a 1.12 earned run average, tops among leading pitchers.

Along with three other Falcons teammates, he was selected to both Sacramento Union and Sacramento Bee All-City teams (Of those teammates, Larry Marietti and Bert Bonomi are recent inductees to this Hall of Fame).

Mike played basketball all four years in high school, earning All-City honors in 1962 after leading his team in points per game at 14.9 and rebounds with 222.

That spring, Green again led the Flying Falcons in baseball, this time to the Valley’s top record at 22-2. Bishop Armstrong, playing as an independent, defeated four future conference champions. Mike batted .416, good for fifth in the area. But no one was better on the mound than Green, who went 9-0 with a 0.28 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 75 innings—all area best stats.

Six players from the Falcons roster including Green made All-City at both papers. Years later, Cal-Hi Sports tabbed the ’62 Falcons as State Team of the Year (one of only five local teams to be so honored). Mike capped off the incredible season when the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce selected him Player of the Year in Baseball—the second year he received the award.

Unlike his Falcons teammates, Mike lived as a boarder on the Christian Brothers campus at 24th and Broadway (Brothers was the lower division all-boys school, while Armstrong served as the upper division co-educational Catholic high school). The Redding resident remembers his parents made a big sacrifice for their son's future. “They mortgaged everything they had to send me to CB with the hope that I was good enough to get an athletic scholarship to go on to college.”

Mike capped off the ’62 summer with an outstanding season for Southside American Legion which posted an 18-2 mark and represented District 6 in the Area 1 Tournament. In the championship game held at Edmonds Field, Green faced off against future major leaguer Tug McGraw and shut out Vallejo 2-0 (the second time he had defeated McGraw in a pitching duel). Mike was selected to the Area 1 Legion All Star Team, while Marietti took MVP honors.

Green fulfilled his parents’ hopes when he accepted a scholarship to play baseball at University of San Francisco. In his sophomore season at USF, however, he injured his throwing arm, ending a once-promising collegiate career.


Leon Lee  


One of Sacramento’s top preps in the 1960s-70s, Leon Lee played at Grant High School from 1969 to 1971. He naturally drew much attention coming up as the younger brother of Leron Lee, who in 1966 was the city’s first-ever first round draft pick (7th overall by St. Louis).

Leon made All-City his last two varsity seasons, batting over .400 his junior year and over .500 his senior season (replicated by Grant teammate Taylor Duncan). In 1969, Grant High went 17-2 and was voted State Team of the Year retroactively by Cal-Hi Sports. That core group led Haggin-Grant American Legion team to the state finals in Yountville.

As a 16-year-old, Leon began playing in the Sacramento Night League, and also competed in the Winter League each offseason, saying in hindsight “Winter League was more competitive than playing in the minor leagues.”

In the summer of 1971, Lee was picked to the prestigious California North-South All-Star game in Anaheim around the time the St. Louis Cardinals selected him in the ninth round of the Amateur Draft.

He played seven seasons in the Cardinals farm chain, including three productive seasons at the Triple-A level, where he batted .293. In 1978, his contract was sold to a team from Japan, where Leon would join up with Leron and form one of the most productive hitting combinations in the history of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB—also known as the Japanese League).

From 1978-1987, Leon played with the Lotte Orions, Yokohama Taiyo Whales and Yakult Swallows. Three times he was voted to the “Best Nine,” or league All-Star teams. His had his best season in 1980 batting .340 with 41 home runs and 116 RBI. In Japan, Lee posted a lifetime average of .308 with 268 HR and 884 RBI over 10 seasons.

Following retirement, Leon served as the Montreal Expos Roving Hitting Instructor for two years. In 1990 he became a consultant for Major League Baseball Players Association in Japan, including promotions for the Major League All-Star tour to Japan. The following year he worked as technical advisor on the motion picture Mr. Baseball, starring Tom Selleck and Dennis Haysbert. From 1997 to 2002 he was Pacific Rim Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs.

In 2003, Lee became the first African American to hold a managerial post in Japan when he managed the Orix Blue Wave.

A well-known instructor in Sacramento when he wasn’t occupied overseas, Lee has established a baseball academy in Sacramento and is still active in developing international relations in baseball.

He is the father of Derrek Lee, who was drafted in 1993 out of El Camino High in the first round by the San Diego Padres, led the Florida Marlins to the 2003 World Series victory and retired last year after 15 MLB seasons.

Clarence Edward “Butch” Metzger  


As a hard throwing right-hander from Kennedy High and Southside Legion, “Butch” Metzger twice made All-City (1969 and 1970) in both the Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Union. In his senior season, Kennedy tied McClatchy for the Metro League crown. Metzger also played football in high school, but baseball was always his main sport.

In 1970, Butch was drafted in the second round by San Francisco and signed by Ed Montague Sr. He played in the Giants farm system four years before making his major league debut. On September 21, 1974 Metzger was brought in to relieve against the Reds in the 10th inning (Jim Barr started the game). Butch allowed no hits or runs, getting Ken Griffey Sr. to end the inning. In the bottom half of the 10th, the Giants won the contest on a home run, giving Metzger his first major league victory.

The following fall San Francisco traded Metzger to San Diego. In 1975, they sent him to their Triple-A Hawaii Islanders club, where he went 15-7 with a 3.62 ERA as a starter, and the Islanders took the Pacific Coast League crown. He earned a late season call-up and won one game for the Padres.

The following season the Padres promoted Metzger to the parent club, where he went 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA and 16 saves as reliever/closer. Pitching against Atlanta must have felt like a Metro League reunion, as he faced Rowland Office (McClatchy) and Jerry Royster (Sacramento High) in the Braves lineup. Metzger tied a major league record by winning 12 consecutive games without a loss (continuing from 1975). In 1976 he made more appearances (77) than any National League rookie pitcher previously. For his work that season, Butch won the National League Co-Rookie of the Year award (along with Pat Zachry of Cincinnati). Also, The Sporting News tabbed him 1976 Rookie Pitcher of the Year.

Metzger pitched three more major league seasons for the Padres, Cardinals and Mets. In 1979, he played for Caracas in the Inter-American league, and in 1980 concluded his professional career with the Richmond Braves, Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate.

Active in the local semi-pro leagues since high school, Butch played in the Sacramento Night League for Culjis, Paragary’s, the Stars and Sacramento Cardinals, and in the Winter League for Pepsi and Culjis. He pitched in the Men’s Senior League for the Giants (along with Barr) and was still throwing smoke for the Sacramento Smokeys when he hung up his spikes at age 43.

A West Sacramento firefighter for 23 years, in 2006 Metzger became a full-time scout for the Texas Rangers where he has responsibility for the Northern California and Northern Nevada territory.  


Nick Peters 

(condensed from Spotlight feature by Rick Cabral, 1/21/12)


As a native San Franciscan who grew up in “Greek town” and covered sports his entire life, Nick Peters has seen just about every athletic milestone or hero involving Bay Area baseball, basketball or football.

Not many Northern California sports writers of the past fifty years could lay claim to covering the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 and 2002 World Series, the first Super Bowl, the Warriors NBA championship, the Raiders two Super Bowl victories, and then cap off such a career with the penultimate achievement: induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Peters, who worked most of his sports career for Bay Area newspapers, also covered the Giants for the Sacramento Bee from 1988 to 2007 during which time he and his wife Lise made Elk Grove their home.

Starting in 1958, Peters saw the Giants play their first home game on the West Coast at Seals Stadium and never missed a home opener for five decades.

In baseball, as a rookie reporter he covered San Francisco’s first World Series against the Yankees in 1962 and vividly  recalls the dramatic ending to Game Seven when New York second baseman Bobby Richardson snagged Willie McCovey’s line drive. “There wasn’t much heartache,” Peters offers in hindsight, “because we thought the Giants would win (the pennant) every year.”  

He was present in ’65 for the Dodgers game when Juan Marichal instigated one of the worst brawls in major league history. He watched all the greats of the Golden Era of Baseball from the press box, but he was too late to catch the career of his favorite player, Ted Williams.

But in 1969, Williams, then the first-year manager of the Washington Senators, spoke with Peters for a half hour. “That was the best interview I ever had,” Peters remembers, saying it topped those with coaching legends Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden.

Nick Peters covered 5,000 San Francisco Giants games, more than any other sportswriter; one of the few with the unique vantage of watching Mays and his godson Barry Bonds on a daily basis. Asked to compare the all-time home run career leader, Peters rates him “Below the best of those sixties’ guys (Mays, Clemente, Robinson). But he was damn good.” Peters also maintains that Bonds deserves a spot in Cooperstown.

On the topic of the all-time greats to come out of Sacramento, Peters agreed with the committee formed by two years ago that Stan Hack was the greatest. He also couldn’t argue with the next two choices, Dusty Baker and Larry Bowa.

Although baseball was his first love, Peters covered most of the major sports. In 1966, he wrote about the first NFL-AFL Championship game (before it was called the “Super Bowl”) in Los Angeles between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. He covered the Oakland A’s three World Series championships in the early 1970s. And he wrote about the Golden State Warriors 1975 NBA championship.

Peters was rewarded for his nearly five decades of excellent baseball coverage when he received  the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” Peters was the sixth West Coast recipient and just the second from northern California to win the award (the Chronicle’s Bob Stevens being the first) and enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame


Peters is battling a rare disease,  cortical-basal ganglionic degeneration (CBGD), a member of the Parkinson’s family of neurological disorders. Lise, his wife of 40 years, says in hindsight the early signs were present when Nick made his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in Cooperstown. 

Nick Peters looks back with great fondness and appreciation for having grown up and worked in the Bay Area during what he calls the “Glory Years” of sports. Given the opportunity to report on some of the greatest athletes of all time, including Mays, Koufax, Clemente, McCovey, Juan Marichal, Rick Barry, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Bonds among the elite stars of his time gives him great pride and satisfaction.  

Gene Sackett  


Gene Sackett is one of those who grew up on the sandlots of William Land Park playing in local youth leagues, high school and Sacramento City College.

From 1967 to 1969 Gene was the backstop for McClatchy, a local powerhouse among Sacramento high schools. In his senior season, he was voted the Lions Most Valuable Player and that summer captured the same award for Post 61 American Legion. During those years, Gene also caught for the Sacramento Cardinals in the Night League.

In summer ’69, at the recommendation of Pirates’ scout Ron King, Pittsburgh drafted Sackett. Instead, Gene opted to play for Sacramento City College in 1970 which earned him a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1971, Gene caught for Daytona Beach, the Dodgers Single-A team in the Florida State League.

From 1971 through 1975, Sackett caught for the Sacramento Smokeys, which then played in the Mexican-American League. During the 1970s, he caught in the Night League, first for Johnny’s Time Out (1972-75), and for Klumps (1976 to ’79). In 1972, Gene won the Winter League batting championship when he hit .483 for the Plumbers.

From 1982 through ’89 when Sackett was the Assistant Varsity Baseball Coach under Ron Limeberger, Christian Brothers earned a trip to the playoffs each of the eight seasons. Sackett handled the pitching and hitting. In 1986, he was given the Metro League Assistant Varsity Coach of the Year award. Christian Brothers took the Metro League championship in 1988 and 1989, and secured its only North Section championship in ’88.

In 1990, Sackett took over as head coach from Limeberger and led the Falcons the next three seasons. He coached once more at the high school level at Sheldon High, where he was the Assistant Varsity Coach in 1998.

Gene coached youth baseball leagues locally from 1993 to 2007.  

Gary Szakacs 


One of the top prepsters to come along in the late 1960s, Gary Szakacs made All-City as a senior infielder at Mira Loma in 1969. He also pitched during his three years on the Matadors varsity, which took the Capital Valley Conference crown in his senior year. He was selected to play in the first annual California North-South All-Star Game held in 1969 at Candlestick Park.

During summers he played for North Sacramento Post 447 American Legion, where he was tabbed Most Valuable Player each year (1967-69). Szakacs was selected in the 13th round by Baltimore in the 1969 Amateur Draft. In 1970, while in the Air Force Reserve, he was twice drafted by Philadelphia (January and June supplemental drafts) and signed and played that summer.

He played two minor league seasons in the Phillies system. The Sporting News/Topps selected Szakacs as their minor league player of the month for July 1971. In 1974, he returned to pro ball and his Eugene Emeralds took the Northwest League championship. During that time he also played in the Sacramento Winter League, Mexican-American League and Night League for Culjis, Cal Loan, Solons and Klumps.

“I was very fortunate to play on many championship teams,” Szakacs said. “It was always nice to be surrounded by so many good teammates.”

From 1973 through the early 1990s he was a mainstay on the Sacramento Smokeys team which competed in the Western Baseball Association and was coached by the legendary Larry Manuian.

Gary remained in the Sacramento area and has stayed active in baseball by coaching his son’s Little League and Big League teams in Roseville.

~ ~ ~ ~


Gene Sackett, 1971,
Daytona Beach Dodgers


Gene Sackett (McClatchy ’69) was one of the area’s finest backstops in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He will be inducted in the La Salle Club Baseball Hall of Fame next month along with seven other area players. Over lunch at Espanol Restaurant he told several funny stories, two of which can be repeated here.

Gene was raised in the Freeport Blvd. part of town just south of William Land Park. He played at Pacific Little League and Land Park Colt League before starting for the Lions for three seasons. He grew up with Pat Fall (McClatchy ’66), who has been mentioned in these pages with frequency. Sackett says that the fireballin' Fall thought nothing of putting batters on their backside, even in the local bush leagues.

In one Winter League game at McKinley Park, Sackett faced his long-time friend on the mound (Fall’s father coached the opposing team). During one at bat, Fall knocked Sackett on his keister. On the next pitch, Sackett drilled the ball over the equipment shed in right field. As Geno rounded second base he could hear Fall senior screaming at the pitcher from the sideline. “I told you, (Sackett’s) the one sonnuvabitch on that team you can’t knock down!”

Then he spun one that represented the flipside of the brushback theory.

While playing for the Daytona Beach Dodgers in a Florida League contest, Sackett faced former McClatchy Lion, lefthander Randy Brown, who hurled for West Palm Beach Expos. Brown had just given up a home run when Sackett stepped in the batter’s box. In an era when pitchers frequently knocked down “the next guy” following a home run, Sackett watched as Brown threw inside four straight pitches, narrowly missing him each time before issuing the base on balls.

That night, over dinner, the two laughed about the incident, but Brown explained he was $50 lighter because the Expos manager had fined him for not plunking Sackett. Gene offered to intercede. The next day before the game, Sackett approached the opposing skipper and explained that he and Brown had grown up together, played on the same teams from youth ball through community college, and the southpaw couldn’t hit his lifelong friend. Gene persuaded the manager to reverse Brown’s fine, which was no small matter.

“When you’re making $650 a month in low minors,” Sackett said between slurps of minestrone soup, “fifty bucks is a lot of money.”

Uploaded 03/27/13