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by Editor Rick Cabral

Larry Manuian 1920-2011

"End of An Era" 

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Larry Manuian, Manager, Sacramento Smokeys


Larry Manuian, who founded and managed the Sacramento Smokeys for 62 years, passed this week at age 90 of cancer.

Friends and former Smokeys players have spent the Fourth of July weekend fondly reminiscing about 'the ol' Skipper."

Manuian was a legend in Sacramento baseball circles for managing  the Smokeys, one of the " longest lasting independent semi-pro baseball teams in the world." The Smokeys battled teams from the Bay Area and Reno in the Western Baseball Association League.

He estimated that his club sent 30 players to the major leagues, including Butch Metzger, Fernando Vina, John McNamara, Woodie Held and F.P. Santangelo among others.

Steve Brown, who called Manuian "the most colorful character" and a dear friend, also credited him for shrewdly  building teams that were a hybrid of former professional players who wanted to maintain their baseball skills with top college prospects from the area.

Brown played in the mid-70s for the Smokeys. Following two seasons with the California Angels (1983-84), he was a fixture on the Smokeys pitched staff from 1989 to 2006.

"Larry didn't like to describe his team as 'semi-pro'," Brown remembers. "He preferred the term 'outlaw.'"

Gary Szackas, who played in the Phillies organization in the early 1970s, remembers Manuian with fondness. "He's done so much for baseball in Sacramento."

"Larry was the most lovable, generous guy to play for," said Szackas, who joined the Smokeys in the mid-70s and played through the early 199os. 

Szackas remembers going with Manuian to the batting cages at Scandia Park in North Highlands, and winning bets with bystanders who couldn't believe the 60-year-old could touch, let alone hit, the 90 mph speed coming out of the pitching machine. In games, the team manager would insert himself third in the lineup ahead of the power-hitting youngster; a testament to moxie more than skill.

Manuian often motivated his players with the promise of pizza after the games. Then, he if they won, he would take the Smokeys out to Luigi's on Stockton Blvd. "He would treat not just his players, but the player's girl friend, and her girl friend…he'd treat everyone to pizza and beer," Szackas said. "Truly, a great guy."

"The best part is we rarely ever lost," he recalls.

Besides the Smokeys, two things Manuian was proud of were his Armenian heritage and playing for the state championship Manhart Junior American Legion team in 1937.  

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Larry Manuian (center) with Manhart Junior American Legion teammates
Wally Westlake and Bill Wright. (courtesy of the Wally Westlake Collection)



Wally Westlake, who played 10 seasons in the big leagues, and drove in Manhart's winning run in the state championship game against Long Beach, remembers him well.

"He was a character," chuckles the 90-year-old Westlake. He recalls a game when Manuian got the bunt sign, but had his own ideas of what to do with the stick. "He would purposely bunt foul just so he could swing away!" Manuian played centerfield and batted fifth on the champion Manhart club.

"He wanted to play pro ball so bad he could hardly stand it," Westlake said.

Long-time scout Ron King also remembers that Manuian "sure liked to play."

During a 2010 interview, which can be viewed on YouTube, Manuian stated that the Smokeys were featured in national media like USA Today, Entertainment Tonight and David Letterman. "We don't get paid for that, we're just nobodys. But, then again, the Smokeys are a famous team."

"It keeps the guys off the streets," he added, in his colorful way.

Some like Brown suggest that comments like these were examples of Larry "being a natural showman." 

Last year, Gary Szackas and others helped organize a reunion to allow the Smokeys alumni to pay respects to Manuian who was battling cancer.  He's happy now that he did.

"His passing," Szackas adds whistfully, "represents an end of an era."

Services for Manuian will be held in Sacramento at 2 p.m. on July 7 at the North Sacramento Funeral Home at 725 El Camino Ave. A viewing will be held the previous evening.

He will be interred in Fresno where the Manuian family originated. 

 

 Updated 07/06/11
All contents © Rick Cabral, 2011

 

 

 

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