> LaSalle Club Hall of
(Logo design by Walt
Excerpt from 2011 Inductee
Gary Nolan's Speech:
Above: Mike Francesconi and Dennis Bertacchi. Right:
Inductee Bob Mathews introduces son Cooper to old friend Dan Piacentini at 57th Annual
Hall of Fame.
Inductee Byron Randolph of Winters High recalls how
his father helped him become a great pitcher.
Old Timers unite at the 2011 La Salle Club Hall of Fame
Dinner. Left to Right: Sam Kanelos,
Ron King, Gus Stathos, Inductee Tony
DeCristoforo, Larry Gunst and Rudy Rodoni.
Tony De Cristoforo
Cristoforo may not have played professional baseball, but he enjoyed his time on the diamond and
behind the scenes.
In 1947, Tony
played shortstop on a pair of Sacramento Recreation League champions: the Texas Division
(spring) and the 125 Pound Division (summer).
from Sacramento High in 1948, that summer Tony played shortstop on the Manhart Junior American
Legion ballclub. The team played a contest at Edmonds Field the day before the ballpark burned
to the ground (July 11, 1948). Manhart went on to claim the local title and went undefeated in
the Northern California Area playoffs. In the first game of the state semi-finals against
Oakland, De Cristoforo came up in the ninth inning and drove in Rudy Rodoni for the game's
winning run. Manhart lost a double-header the next day and was knocked out of the state
tournament. De Cristoforo came in second to Rodoni in team hitting with a .383 batting average
(Rodoni hit .559, best in the league that summer). Eight of his previous teammates at Sac Hi and
Manhart are members of the LaSalle Club Hall of Fame.
went on to the University of California, Berkeley, and briefly was coxswain on the Cal
crew. He won an inter-varsity race over boats which
had members of the 1948 Olympic Gold Medal winners, but decided to play baseball, and became
shortstop for Cal’s junior varsity in 1950. After graduating from Cal, he was drafted, served
two years in the U.S. Army with the Staff Judge Advocate in Austria and Italy and then earned
his law degree from Santa Clara University. As a
practicing attorney, he represented the Sacramento Solons Baseball Club in the 1970s until they
left for San Jose. Over the next 20 years,
DeCristoforo was frequently contacted by the President of the Pacific Coast League and several
franchises exploring the possible return of baseball to Sacramento. He led negotiations with Mayor Rudin and other city officials
and even carried construction plans for a new stadium in his car for several
months. However, none of those efforts
succeeded, until he was contacted by Bob Hemond and Warren Smith (minority owners in the
future River Cats with majority owner Art Savage). After many meetings, Tony was involved in
the eventual return of baseball to this area.
DeCristoforo was appointed Judge of the Superior Court. He retired formally in 1999, continued to sit on the bench for
several more years, and now engages in private mediation and arbitration.
In high school,
John Firenza had tall ambitions. Aspiring to becoming a pro baseball player, the
Sacramento High School junior had yet to make the varsity team. That
season he showed promise when he was elected Most Valuable Player on the Dragons' junior
Summer of 1959,
John enjoyed a lifetime experience by making the Manhart Post 391 American Legion baseball team,
which swept the District playoffs and claimed the state Legion crown.
In 1960, Firenza
made the Sac High varsity and that summer he was voted Manhart's MVP. The following season at
Sacramento City College, Firenza made the club which claimed the Big Eight Conference title. He
was the only invitee from the Sacramento area to play in the San Francisco Examiner sponsored
All-Star game, held in Golden Gate Park.
As a JC
sophomore in 1962, Firenza had an outstanding season at Sac City, batting .354 overall and .417
in league, and was selected to the Big Eight All-Conference team. That winter, he played for
Culjis, which won championships in the Winter League and Sacramento County League. Taking note
of Firenza's ascent scouts Bill Avila and Eddie Bockman signed him to a Philadelphia Phillies
19-year-old Firenza reported to the Phillies' Miami team in the Florida League (Single A) for
his first year of pro ball. That fall, he played for the Phillies' Peninsula League team, and
during a game at Candlestick Park against the Giants' club, John hit a grand slam over the
left-center field fence in the days when the wind really howled in that ballpark.
From 1964 to
1967, Firenza played for Phillies' minor league teams in Bakersfield, Spartanburg, Eugene and
Miami again. Each winter, John returned home and
played for Matt's Transfer, which won Winter League titles three straight years
John retired from pro baseball and began a career in law enforcement. He worked in the Sheriff's
Department for 30 years, and later served as President of the Law Enforcement Warrant Officers
Association. Additionally, he was a co-founder and player in the first Pig Bowl, the annual
football contest between the Sacramento Police and County Sheriff's Department. He played in the
next eight rivalry contests.
Firenza also was
featured in four episodes of the television program, American Detective.
Firenza (standing in back second from right) on the Championship City League
accomplished a rare feat in the annals of Sacramento baseball. In 1959, the sho
rtstop for the Jerry Conway-led state champion Manhart
Post 391 American Legion baseball team was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the state
tournament at Long Beach—at the tender age of 15.
maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise that he could play with "the big boys." John began his
baseball career at Southside Park Little League and made the majors at age nine. He played on
the Pirates for four years and each year was selected to Southside's Little League All-Star
In 1958, at age
13, John played second base on the Sydney (Nebraska) American Legion baseball team, along with
boys aged 16-18.
1959 California state championship, John and the Manhart nine traveled to Chandler, Arizona
where they competed in the Regional Baseball Playoffs. Although Manhart was eliminated, as a
result of his flashy play, Gonzales was chosen for the Tournament's "All-Star Nine."
shortstop, known as "the Lil Bandito," played three more years for Manhart. In 1963, after
finishing his third year on the Sacramento High varsity, he was chosen team MVP, and was
selected to the All-City teams picked by The Sacramento
Union and Sacramento Bee/KFBK.
school, John played for Reno in the National Division of the Winter League in 1964 and 1965,
when the club claimed the League Championship. Gonzales competed in the Mexican-American
Baseball League until age 35, and continued to play at lower levels until he was 45.
turned to playing and coaching church league softball, which he has done for the past 20 years.
He and his wife Caroline recently celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. His
induction in to the LaSalle Club Baseball Hall of Fame "completes a lifetime of baseball" in
may have played on more busher teams than anyone of his era. There's no
disputing that he saved his best for last.
Mathews was an
infielder at Hiram Johnson 1964 and played infield and pitched for Fort Sutter Junior American
Legion team 1964-65. In winter 1965 he got his first taste of semi-pro ball, playing for Julius
in the Winter League and C and C Club of the Mexican-American League.
postponed, as Bobby entered the Army in May 1966. While in the military, he made the 5th Army
Baseball All Star Team in 1966. His exploits on the diamond took a backseat to his
accomplishments on the battlefield. For his service in Viet Nam, Mathews was awarded the Silver
Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Viet Namese Cross Of Gallantry.
Upon his release
from the Army in 1968, Mathews enrolled at Sacramento City College, and returned to a rotation
of Winter League (Culjis) and Mexican-American League (Reno Café). The following spring, he
played shortstop and pitched for Del Bandy's Panthers. From this point, Mathews' baseball career
In 1970, Bob
pitched for Cal Boyes at Sacramento State and led the Far West Conference in ERA. The following
season he culminated his college career by making All-Far West Conference as a Utility
In 1970, he
played on championship teams in the Sacramento Night League (Culjis), Mexican-American League
(Gold Nugget), and National Division Winter League (Carmichael). From 1969-1973, he played on
four Winter League championship teams (Culjis '69, Carmichael '70, California Loan
In 1969 and 1970
he twice led the Night League in wins and strikeouts, and once claimed the ERA title. In 1970,
he led the Winter League in wins and strikeouts. Equally adept with the bat, from 1971-74 Bobby
finished in the top five in Night League and Winter League batting average and twice led the
Winter League in RBI.
from the diamond, Mathews coached Orangevale and Roseville Pony League baseball teams, and later
coached the Oakmont High School frosh squad.
Bobby Mathews is
front left, smiling. Next to him is Bob Forsch, and standing behind him is older brother,
Gary Nolan starred at Oroville
High School in the mid-1960's as a flame-throwing pitcher and shortstop
on a team that won four consecutive championships (1963-66) in the Sierra Foothill League.
Individually, Gary says he winning 40+ high school games and threw three no-hitters. He enjoyed a
similar dominant record with the Oroville Legion ballclub.
Joe Gordon (Yankees/Indians
/Solons) scouted Nolan in high school and came away impressed. "That kid could pitch in the majors
right now," he told Harry Dunlop, who was managing in the minors system at the time.
Following Gary's senior season,
the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the first round (13th overall) of the 1966 Major
League Baseball June Amateur Draft. The Reds sent him to their Class A Sioux Falls team in the
Northern League. In 12 starts, Gary pitched 104 innings, compiled a 7-3 record with 163 strikeouts
and an eye-popping 1.83 ERA.
In 1967, he made the Reds starting
rotation as an 18-year-old rookie. On that team were veterans Pete Rose and Tony Perez, and rookie
catcher, Johnny Bench. Together with Nolan, they would form the
nucleus of the now-famous Big Red Machine of the 1970s.
On opening day, a writer asked
Nolan if he was nervous about his upcoming first start in the majors. "Nothing to be nervous
about,"he told the writer. "There's no difference pitching up here and in the minor leagues. You
throw good pitches down there, you get them out. You throw good pitches up here, you get them out."
On April 15, Nolan took the mound at Crosley Field and pitched seven strong innings against the
Houston Astros. He won his first game 7-3. Later in the season in a game against the Giants at
home, Nolan struck out Willie Mays in four consecutive at bats. The next day, Mays called Nolan over and said, "I've never been struck out four times in one game in the big leagues. You
By the end of his
phenomenal first major league season Gary Nolan had posted a 14-8 win-loss record, a 2.58 ERA, four
shutouts and 206 strikeouts in 227 innings. He placed third in Rookie of the Year
spring, Gary developed elbow problems and the Reds sent him down to the minors. The arm injury
continued to plague him, but Nolan continued to pitch when called on by the Reds. In 1970, Gary
returned to form and won 18 games, the most of his career. In the championship playoffs against the
Pirates, Nolan won his only start, but lost in the World Series, as Baltimore trumped Cincinnati.
In 1972, he compiled the highest winning percentage of his career, with a 15-5 mark and a 1.99 ERA.
He was voted to start the All-Star game that year, but didn't attend due to a shoulder injury.
Again, the Reds beat the Pirates in the playoffs, and Nolan and his team lost in the World Series,
this time to the Oakland A's.
Gary pitched only 10
innings in 1973 and none in 1974 due to a rotator cuff injury. At his insistence, the Reds sent him
to orthopedic specialist Dr. Frank Jobe, who repaired his shoulder. Jobe, who later became famous
for developing "Tommy John surgery" procedure admitted to Nolan, “I have no idea how you pitched in
that sort of pain. You must have been in agony.” Gary rebounded in 1975 with 210 innings and a 15-9
record, and the Reds met the Red Sox in the World Series. Gary started Games 3 and 6, but didn't
factor in either decision, as Cincinnati won the World Series in seven games, its first World
Championship since 1940.
In 1976, Gary
equaled the previous year's record of 15-9, and the Reds repeated as National League Champions.
Nolan won his first World Series game—and the series clincher— as Cincinnati defeated the Yankees
in four games. Gary pitched 10 seasons with Cincinnati, helping
the Reds win four National League pennants and two World Series championships before finishing his
career in 1977 with the California Angels. Nolan wound up with a career 110-70 record, a .611
winning percentage, and a 3.08 ERA. He struck out 1,039 batters and
yielded only 413 walks in 1,675 innings pitched.
In 1978, Gary Nolan
began a new career by working as a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas. Eleven years later, he'd been
promoted to executive casino host at the famous Mirage Resort and Casino. Nolan, who now resides in
Oroville, has assisted the Oroville Eagles as a pitching coach and a fundraiser via the annual Gary
Nolan Golf Tournament. This past year, Nolan paired up with former Reds teammate Pete Rose for a
personal appearance that generated money to benefit the Oroville Junior American Legion baseball
program. Gary and his wife Carol have raised four children
Gary Nolan honestly cannot remember his high school record, but he does recall
losing a couple of games in his senior season at Oroville High (1966). One of those
losses came here in Sacramento to Bishop Armstrong High (now Christian Brothers).
The game was played at Armstrong's home field, William Land Park Diamond #1,
where some of the biggest games in Sacramento sandlot and school competition have
been held. Nolan, as Joe Gordon was reported to have said, was a big, strong country
boy, who was ready for the majors before he collected his diploma. Radar guns hadn't yet
found their way into every scout's bag, but it's commonly held that the teenager Gary Nolan
probably threw in the mid-90s, some have speculated. Just ask Willie Mays.
When the Oroville Eagles came to town, Nolan was recovering from an injury. He
had fractured his left wrist while sliding into second base and he was still wearing the
cast, Nolan remembers. He knows he didn't start the game at pitcher. But when Armstrong came
to bat in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied, Nolan was summoned to the
Mike Francesconi, Bishop Armstrong's catcher remembers that Nolan was "a man
among kids." Watching him warm up, everyone from Sacramento recognized this was
someone special. First up for the Armstrong Falcons was Bobby Alonzo, the number-three
hitter. The junior outfielder got behind on a Nolan fastball, but found a gap
in right center and wound up on third base with a triple. Standing behind the
Brothers' bench fans were hootin' and hollerin' as Nolan was quickly in
Francesconi, a junior, was next up. Head Coach Dick Sperbeck called time out
and waved the stocky Yogi Berra-lookalike toward the bench. "Think you can bunt this guy,"
"You want to squeeze?" Francesconi asked.
"Yeah, let's squeeze," the erudite English teacher said simply.
Francesconi squared around and the ball flew in so fast, he could barely
see it in the shadows cast by the tall Elm trees surrounding the Land Park
diamond. Recognizing the squeeze attempt, the Oroville third baseman came
charging hard like a 3-inch T-Bone was waiting for him at home plate. Francesconi
saw the ball just enough to get the barrel on it. But instead of driving it into the
turf, the ball came flying off his bat so hard that it flew over the head of the
charging third baseman, landing safely for an easy single. By the time the fleet-footed
Francesconi had touched the first base bag, Armstrong's bench had erupted in celebration
around Alonzo at home.
Months later, Armstrong players were still reveling in the story,
which has since grown into a legend. "We beat a guy who struck out Willie Mays four times in
one game. Unbelievable," Francesconi says, still relishing the moment 45 years
By Editor, Rick Cabral
# # # #
Dick Nunes, who
attended Rio Vista High from 1951-1955, could have been called "the Jim
Thorpe of his generation." Dick played on four varsity baseball
championship teams at Rio Vista High School (1952-1955) and made All-League three times in the
Solano County Athletic League. In 1954, his football team went
undefeated and he scored 42 touchdowns, a state record that
still stands for an eight-game schedule. As a three-sport athlete, he was voted League Most
Valuable Player in football, basketball and baseball his senior season. Cal-Hi Sports tabbed him
Small Schools All-Sport Athlete of the Year for 1954-1955. He also played two years of Junior
American Legion ball in Fairfield.
Dick played one
year of junior college baseball for Delta College and was selected team MVP.
to Sacramento State where he played shortstop from 1957-1959, and the Hornets won the conference
each year. Dick was selected All-League shortstop his senior year.
semi-pro baseball from his junior year in high school through 1966, including stints in the
County League and Rural League. He played on Sal Gomez' La Fiesta County League teams, which won
the championship in 1963.
In 1960, Nunes
signed his first baseball contract with the Orioles at Foster's Bighorn Bar in Rio Vista (He
doesn't indicate who bought the beers). Baltimore assigned him to the Tri-City Braves of the
Northwest League, where he batted a respectable .285 his first pro season. The following year he
played for the Stockton Ports (Class C, California League), which was managed by Sacramento's
Harry Dunlop. In 1962, Nunes signed with the expansion team New York Mets, which assigned him to
their Santa Barbara club in the California League (Class C).
through 2005, Dick taught school and coached football, basketball, baseball and golf at Isleton
Junior High and Rio Vista High and Solano College.
He has been
active in the Rio Vista High School Boosters Club, Little League, and has served as the
President of the Rio Vista Golf Club for the past 30 years.
high school pitchers go, few compare to Byron Randolph of Winters
High. In his senior year he pitched five no-hitters (one of
which was a perfect game), four of them consecutive, setting the state record, which stood
for 47 years until it was tied last year (2010). His 34 consecutive no-hit innings is a state
record he holds alone. He finished his senior year with a record 10-1 record and was chosen
as a National Baseball
Congress All-State Player. Over four varsity seasons
(1961-1964), the southpaw pitched 15 no-hit games, posting an amazing 42-3 record with a 0.58 ERA,
as Winters High won the Superior California Athletic League title 1962, '63 and '64. The versatile
athlete also made All-League SCAL in varsity football (3 years) and basketball (2
fast ball pitcher with a quick arm," Randolph also led the Woodland Post 77 Junior American
Legion team, winning 17 games in three years. In 1963, a year in which they won the District,
Byron posted an 8-1 record and gave up only two earned runs in 81 innings.
In summer 1964,
Byron signed with the world champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and he pitched for their Single-A
league clubs in Santa Barbara, Pocatello and Salem. While the Dodgers designated him for
Triple-A the following season, he was sold to Baltimore and reported to the Orioles' spring
training in 1965. From 1965-1967, Randolph pitched for the Orioles' Single-A team, Stockton
Ports, which won the California League title in 1966. An arm injury resulted in Randolph's
release in 1968.
Randolph pitched on two semi-pro teams: Sacramento Gold Nuggets 1969-1970 (both Mexican-American
League and Night League teams) and the Chico Colts (1971-1975).
years, Byron coached high school and college. He led Marysville High to four league titles and
one state title (Division II) and was named Coach of the Year three times during his tenure
there (1974-1989). He also served as pitching coach for Yuba Community College and Chico
"I had the
privilege and advantage of having a great father, Hugh Randolph, as my coach, role model and
friend!" Byron recalls about a legendary playing career.
Gary Rushing was
among a select few local athletes to letter three years in the Big
3—football, basketball and baseball— and captained those squads
his senior year at Sacramento High. In 1955, he led Manhart Junior American Legion team to the
state finals, hitting .539.
In summer 1956,
following his senior season at Sac High (when he made All-City for the second year, batting
.398), the hometown Solons signed him to a contract. The Solons told the Sacramento Bee they considered Rushing "to be the best young
prospect to come out of Sacramento in many years," and felt lucky to beat out five big league
clubs in signing him. The Solons sent him to Visalia in the Class C California League. Although
he started out as a catcher, an arm injury prompted his move to first base, and later the
his dream of playing for the hometown Solons in 1957 (for only a brief nine games), after which
they moved him to Fresno where he batted .299 with 105 RBI and made the California League
All-Star team. In 1959, while playing for Lewiston in 90 games, he hit .350 with 19 home runs
and 91 RBI, and made the Northwest League All-Star team.
season came in 1961, with Asheville of the Sally League, when he batted .310 and led the league
in runs (108), home runs (25) and RBI (99). His play earned him the league Most Valuable Player
In 1962, the
Pirates promoted him to their Triple-A level club (Columbus, International League) where he
played until 1963. Pittsburgh loaned Gary to Oklahoma City, the Pacific Coast League Triple-A
affiliate of the expansion Houston Colt .45s. He finished his career with a lifetime .283
average and an OPS (On Base Average Plus Slugging) of .853. In nine seasons of pro baseball,
Rushing batted over .300 five times.
After baseball, Gary moved his family to Livermore where he worked as a carpenter on jobs in the
Bay Area, eventually retiring as a superintendent.
Joe Soto grew up
in the river town of Clarksburg on the Yolo County side of the
Sacramento River. Despite living "under the radar"
geographically, his baseball accomplishments landed him on an exclusive list of local
Joe played three
sports at Clarksburg High, excelling on the hardcourt and the diamond (the latter as a shortstop
and pitcher). In his junior in basketball season he was selected All-Superior California
Athletic League and voted the Most Valuable Player. In Joe's senior season (1966) he again made
All-League in basketball. That spring he hit .400 and went 8-0 on the mound while helping the
Clarksburg Comets win a League championship. It earned him a spot on the All-League baseball
Soto took his
talents to Sacramento City College, where he played both sports for two years. At Sac City, the
baseball teams won the Big Eight Conference both years Joe played shortstop, coming in second
both times in the state finals. Joe transferred to Sac State, which won the Far West Conference
both years he played there. After hitting .330 his senior year (1970), Joe was selected to the
1970 College Division All-American Squad at shortstop. For these accomplishments, the Sacramento Bee ranked Soto #68 on its list of the Top 100
Baseball Players from the greater Sacramento area. "Smart, crafty, versatile; he could play,"
said the Bee about Soto.
When Joe began a
career as a fireman it provided him the necessary flexibility in his schedule to coach youth
league sports. From 1982-1991, Soto coached the Delta High boys basketball team. He moved over
to Christian Brothers High, where he coached girls softball from 1991-2004, girls golf from 2003
to 2007 and girls basketball from 1992 to 2007.
time, Soto played in the semi-pro leagues for Nicolaus Optical, La Fiesta, Culjis and Gold
Nugget. He was a mainstay in the Men's Night League until joining the Sacramento Men's Senior
Baseball League in 1994, where he continues to play to this day. Sacramento MSBL each year sends
teams from different age brackets to Phoenix to compete in a national World Series. During his
time in the SMSBL, Soto has played on five World Series Championship teams, including four in a
Joe is retired
and recently returned to Clarksburg High where he currently coaches girls basketball and boys