"End of An
Larry Manuian, Manager, Sacramento Smokeys
Larry Manuian, who founded
and managed the Sacramento Smokeys for 62 years, passed this week at age 90 of
Friends and former Smokeys
players have spent the Fourth of July weekend fondly reminiscing about 'the ol'
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,
John McNamara, Woodie Held and
F.P. Santangelo among
Steve Brown, who called Manuian "the most
colorful character" and a dear friend, also credited him for
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
Szackas, who played in the Phillies organization in the early
1970s, remembers Manuian with fondness. "He's done so much for baseball in
"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
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.
Larry Manuian (center) with Manhart
Junior American Legion teammates
Wally Westlake and Bill Wright. (courtesy of the
Wally Westlake Collection)
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
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.
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.
Brown suggest that comments like these were examples of Larry "being a
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.