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History > LaSalle Club Hall of Fame

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Excerpt from 2011 Inductee Gary Nolan's Speech: 

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Above: Mike Francesconi and Dennis Bertacchi. Right: Inductee Bob Mathews introduces son Cooper to old friend Dan Piacentini at 57th Annual Hall of Fame.

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 Randolph
Inductee Byron Randolph of Winters High recalls how his father helped him become a great pitcher.

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   Old Timers unite at the 2011 La Salle Club Hall of Fame Dinner. Left to Right: Sam Kanelos,
Ron King, G
us Stathos, Inductee Tony DeCristoforo, Larry Gunst and Rudy Rodoni.

 

 

 

Tony De Cristoforo

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Tony De 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).

Having graduated 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.

DeCristoforo 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.

In 1985, 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.

 

John Firenza

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 varsity. 

 Firenza


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 contract.

In 1963, 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 (1964-1966).

Following 1967, 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.

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John Firenza (standing in back second from right) on the Championship City League team 1958

 

Johnny Gonzales

Johnny Gonzales accomplished a rare feat in the annals of Sacramento baseball. In 1959, the sho

 

 Gonzales


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.

In hindsight, 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 team.

In 1958, at age 13, John played second base on the Sydney (Nebraska) American Legion baseball team, along with boys aged 16-18.

Following the 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."

The diminutive 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.

After high 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.

Gonzales then 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 John's life.

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Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews may have played on more busher teams than anyone of his era. There's no

 

 Mathews


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.

College was 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 took off.

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 Player.

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 '71-73).

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.

After retiring from the diamond, Mathews coached Orangevale and Roseville Pony League baseball teams, and later coached the Oakmont High School frosh squad.

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Bobby Mathews is front left, smiling. Next to him is Bob Forsch, and standing behind him is older brother, Ken.

Gary Nolan

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.

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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 overmatched me."

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 voting.

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The following 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 together.

SIDEBAR

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 mound.

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 trouble.

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," Sperbeck asked.

"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 later.

By Editor, Rick Cabral

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Dick Nunes

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

 Nunes
 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.

He transferred 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.

Nunes played 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).

From 1963 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.

 

Byron Randolph

As California 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

 Randolph
 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 years).

An "aggressive 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.

After retiring, 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).

For twenty 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 State.

"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

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.

 Rushing


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 outfield.

Rushing realized 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.

His finest 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 award.

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  

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 players. 

 Soto


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 team. 

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.  

During this 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 row. 

Joe is retired and recently returned to Clarksburg High where he currently coaches girls basketball and boys baseball.  

 Updated 04/21/11

 

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