Winter League

Hal Perry (Grant) wasn’t an imposing figure in a baseball uniform.  He stood less than six feet tall and weighed 160 pounds soaking wet. Yet, he stood tall on the mound in the National Division of the Sacramento Winter League.

In the 1961-62 season, two years after a four-year minor league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 24-year-old right-hander pitched for Fellos Club and set all-time Winter League single-season records for wins with 13, strikeouts with 124, innings pitched with 137 and starts, appearances and complete games with 16.

Sacramento Bee 1962

Sacramento Bee 1962

“When you played in the Winter League, you were smart to leave your ego in the dugout because everybody on the field could play,” Perry said in a 2016 interview.

Sacramento Bee 1959

Sacramento Bee 1959

This is one of many stories about the Sacramento area’s oldest and most respected baseball league.
The Sacramento Winter League opened in 1913 and showcased the best amateur and professional talent from the Sacramento area.

“The Winter League was the icon of Sacramento baseball,” said Bill Enos (Christian Brothers), who played for the 1957-58 championship Julius team. “It was baseball as good as it gets around here, and was played the way baseball was meant to be played.

Alan O'Conner Collection

Alan O’Conner Collection
Ed Samcoff

The Winter League was a glimpse into the future for scouts and fans in the stands.

Pitching dominated the league. And, there was a reason for it.

Eight pitchers led the league in wins and graduated to the major leagues. They were Gordon Jones (Sacramento, Sacramento JC) in 1953-54, Bob Forsch (Johnson, Sacramento City) in 1971-72, Steve Brown (Davis, UC Davis) in 1980-81, Jay Robertson (Bella Vista, Sacramento City) in 1981-82, Butch Edge (El Camino) in 1982-83, Steve Senteney (Casa Roble) in 1984-85 and 1985-86 and Kurt Knudsen (Del Campo) and Butch Metzger (Kennedy) in 1988-89.

The most memorable pitching performance in Winter League history was turned in by Forsch. The St. Louis Cardinals product just completed his second year in the minor leagues, posting an 11-7 record with a 3.13 ERA at Cedar Rapids in the Class-A Midwest League.

For a three-Sunday stretch in 1971, he was untouchable.

On November 28, the Cal Loan right-hander threw a no-hitter against the House of Sports at William Land Park. He struck out eight and walked four.

The following Sunday, he threw a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts against Country Maid at Glenn Hall Park. Forsch was matched up against Pat Fall (McClatchy), who finished the season as the ERA leader at 2.25. Also in the Country Maid lineup was future major leaguer Larry Wolfe (Cordova, Sacramento City) and regulars Bobby Mathews (Johnson, Sacramento City, Sacramento State) and Fall’s personal catcher Dan Mirsky (Burbank.)

Forsch family photo

-Forsch family photo
Bob Forsch threw out the first pitch for Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

Seven days later, Forsch tossed a one-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts over Wismer & Becker at Harry Renfree Field to win the league title. The lone hit was by batting champion and future major leaguer Dave Revering (Bella Vista), who hit .500 (19×38.)

Forsch was selected the Winter League Pitcher of the Year with a 9-0 record, 78 strikeouts and 72 innings pitched.

Forsch made his major league debut on July 7, 1974. He won 168 games in a 16-year career and posted more victories than any pitcher in Sacramento-area history.

On November 4, 2011 at the age 61, Forsch, who was the third-winningest pitcher in franchise history and only Cardinal to pitch two no-hitters, died of an aneurysm at his home near Tampa, Fla., less than a week after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Game 7 of the World Series in St. Louis.

Forsch, who pitched in three World Series, is one of 30 players to throw two no-hit games. He and his brother Ken Forsch (Johnson, Sacramento City) are the only brother combination to throw a no-hitter.

In addition to the Forsch brothers, locals Chris Bosio (Cordova, Sacramento City) and Dallas Braden (American River) threw no-hitters. Braden’s was a perfect game.

In addition to Bob Forsch, professional players who threw no-hitters in Winter League play included Julius’ Jack Costa (Christian Brothers) in 1937, Julius’ Tony Stathos (McClatchy) in 1950, Cope Buick’s Dan Ahtipas (McClatchy) in 1954, Marash’s Giants Lowell Palmer (Norte Del Rio) in 1965 and French Electric’s Jack Price (Johnson) in 1965.

Palmer debuted in the big leagues in 1969 with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Palmer and Stathos hurled their no-hitters a year before they began their pro careers. Costa and Ahtipas had theirs after their pro careers.

Price, who had just completed his first season with the Cardinals in the Florida Rookie League and posted a 2-4 record and 3.93 ERA, threw the league’s only perfect game, a 1-0 victory against Gold Nugget.

As dominating as the pitching was in the league, the hitting was as impressive.

Sacramento Union 1965

-Sacramento Union 1965
Jack Price pitched the only perfect game in Winter League history.

Nine batting champions played in the major leagues — Jimmy O’Connell (Sacramento) 1917-18 and 1920-21, Earl McNeely (Christian Brothers) 1921-22, Bevo LeBourveau (Marysville) 1924-25, Stan Hack (Sacramento) 1930-31, Wally Westlake (Christian Brothers) 1941-42, Ed Samcoff (Woodland) 1956-57, Jim Nelson (Burbank) 1967-68, Curtis Brown (Grant) 1968-69 and Dave Revering (Bella Vista) 1971-72.

Hack was the only player not under contract at the time. Westlake and Hack, who twice led the National League in stolen bases with the Chicago Cubs, became National League All-Stars.

LeBourveau had the highest batting average in league history, when he hit .686 for Hippodrome in 1924-25.

Other highlights of the Winter League included:

In 1934, a charity doubleheader was played at Moreing Field to raise money for The Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Union Christmas Fund. Admission to the game was 25 cents. The double-dip pitted Julius Haberdashers against Rome Wine Company and Kimble-Epson versus Barrel Tavern. Players in uniform that day with minor league experience included Mike Bakarich (Sacramento, Grant Tech), George Lial (Christian Brothers), Hank Ness (Sacramento), Bud Hanna (Christian Brothers), Earl Wagner (Sacramento), George Matranga (Sacramento) and Henri Warren (Sacramento). The game also featured future minor leaguers Sylvester Gregory (McClatchy), Bob Casali (McClatchy) and Bobby Schang Jr. (Sacramento.) Barrel Tavern won 10-1 and Julius Haberdashers 10-4 in front of a crowd that raised $1,300.

The father-and-son combo of Frank and Jimmy Nelson made an impact in the league.Jim Nelson (Burbank), who pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970-71 and had a hit in his first major league at-bat, captured the 1967-68 batting title with a .500 average. His father, Frank Nelson (Elk Grove), was the leader in wins in 1940-41 and 1948-49 with eight.

Alex Kampouris (Sacramento), who played with the Cincinnati Reds from 1934-38, the New York Giants from 1938-39, the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1941-43 and the Washington Senators in 1944, was a sophomore in high school when he made his Winter League debut with the Eastern Outfitters club during the 1929-30 season.

Ben Salas (Sacramento) led the league in wins three times.  He won eight games in 1944-45, six games in 1945-46 and eight games in 1947-48. He also won the 1947-48 batting title with a .406 average.

Pitchers who played in the minor leagues and twice led the league in wins were Lloyd Snook (Sacramento) in 1915-16 and 1916-17, Leo Visintainer (Sacramento) in 1934-35 and 1935-36 and Pat Fall (McClatchy) in 1970-71 and 1972-73. Visintainer also won a batting title in 1934-35.

In addition to O’Connell, Earl Wagner (Sacramento) and Don Lumley (Grant) led the league in batting twice. Wagner did it in 1926-27 and 1932-33 and Lumley in 1958-59 and 1960-61.

Vince Stanich said in a 1960 “Behold the Bushers” article in the Sacramento Union that every member of the 1947 Solons Rookie club was signed to a pro contract within a year. Sam Kanelos (Elk Grove), Ritchie Myers (Elk Grove), Nick Smyrni (McClatchy), Gene Roenspie (Elk Grove), Walt Swedman (Sacramento), Ted Williams (Sacramento), Ron Grove (Sacramento, Sacramento JC) and Frank Mascaro (McClatchy) signed with the Sacramento Solons. Those who signed with other minor league teams were Jimmy Westlake (McClatchy, Sacramento JC), Norm Jurasin (Christian Brothers), Ripley Robinett (Sacramento) and Rick Ericson (Grant.) Five players on that Solons team inked contracts with major league teams. Gordon Jones (Sacramento, Sacramento JC) signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, Rudy Rodoni (Sacramento) with the Boston Red Sox, Jimmy McNamara (Christian Brothers) with the New York Giants, Dick Markham (Christian Brothers) with the Detroit Tigers and Joe Kirrene (Christian Brothers) with the Chicago White Sox for $30,000.Jones, Myers and Kirrene played in the major leagues.

In the 78-year history of the Sacramento Winter League, which ended after the 1990-91 season, 80 players played in the major leagues.

PITCHING WINS

1913-14 – Doc Silva, DeLuxe Hatters, .4801946-47 – Jim Herrera, Golden State Dairy, .417
1914-15 – Guy Wright, HDGP, .4521947-48 – Ben Salas, Southside Legion, .406
1915-16 – Cack Henley, Cascades, .5561948-49 – Rudy Rodoni, Ed Sparks All-Stars, .500
1916-17 – Oscar Lomond, Wearn/Kimball-Upson, .479 1949-50 – Mike Sypnicki, AHEPA, .477
1917-18 – Jimmy O’Connell, YMI, .5001950-51 – Alex Muirhead, Paul Motors, .432
1918-19 – Frank Tobin, Kimball-Upson, .5001951-52 – Augie Amorena, Julius, .467
1919-20 – Robert White, Standard Oil/Heeseman, .4471952-53 – Joe Borich, Monte Carlo, .441
1920-21 – Jimmy O’Connell, Kimball Upson, .5141953-54 – Bob Jensen, Monte Carlo, .422
1921-22 – Earl McNeely, Lobner, .474 Dick Warner, Kramer Carton, .422
1922-23 – Billy Orr, Thomson-Diggs, .6051954-55 – Nino Spatafore, Matt’s, .417
1923-24 – Fred Mollwitz, Weinstock-Lubin, .5001955-56 – Don Saner, Kramer Carton, .514
1924-25 – DeWitt Lebourveau, Hippodrome, .4861956-57 – Ed Samcoff, Julius, .473
1925-26 – Johnny Clark, Hale Brothers, .4631957-58 – Wally Predovich, Longshoreman, 444
1926-27 – Earl Wagner, Zemanskys, .6101958-59 – Don Lumley, Matt’s, .476
1927-28 – Tony Boroja, Sacramento Bail Bonds, .441 Pete Vartarian, Pacific Warehouse, .476
1928-29 – Sam Stassi, Nevis-Carnie, .4721959-60 – Jim Leavitt, Aerojet, .475
1929-30 – Champ Alloway, Southern Pacific, .4901960-61 – Don Lumley, Aerojet, .453
1930-31 – Stan Hack, Kimball-Upson, .4551961-62 – Darrell McRorie, Julius, .397
1931-32 – Percy Gassoway, Mapes & Mordecai, .4671962-63 – Les Kuhmz, Dales, .468
1932-33 – Earl Wagner, Julius, .4361963-64 – Larry Marietta, Capitol Studebaker, .356
1933-34 – Henry Clark, Gene Hughes, .4131964-65 – Frank Williams, Del Paso Cafe, .457
1934-35 – Leo Visintainer, Gene Hughes, .4721965-66 – Darrell Allen, Marash, .435
1935-36 – Jack Costa, Julius, .5281966-67 – Bob Michael, CB, .395
1936-37 – Vernon Madan, Al’s Haberdashery, .4691967-68 – Jim Nelson, Julius, .514
1937-38 – Karl Reimer, Roma Wine, .4391968-69 – Curtis Brown, Gold Nugget, .457
1938-39 – Leroy Soost, Painters Union, .4151969-70 – Joe Wall, Cal Loan, .441
1939-40 - Lou Bordisso, Painters Union, .4391970-71 – Allen Simas Jr., Nicolaus, .395
1940-41 – Adora Martinez, Al’s Clothiers, .4411971-72 – Dave Revering, Wismer & Becker, .487
1941-42 – Wally Westlake, Al’s Clothiers, .5211972-73 – Gene Sackett, Plumbers Union, .517
1942-43 – Joe Massi, Weinstock-Lubin, .405 1973-74 – Jerry Reedy, Cal Loan, .429
1943-44 – Not available1974-75 – Not available
1944-45 – Not available1975-76 – Buster Attebery, Country Maid, .432
1945-46 – Paul Bowa, Muir Acme, .3971976-91 - Not available

WINS LEADERS

1913-14 – Wally McGee, DeLuxe Hatters, 51954-55 – Gene Roenspie, Matt’s, 6
1914-15 – Reese Peek, DeLuxe Hatters, 41955-56 – Ronnie King, Julius, 10
Lyle Gage, Oak Park, 41956-57 – Don Cutler, Julius, 8
1915-16 – Lloyd Snook, Lavensons, 31957-58 – Buzz Berriesford, Julius, 7
Ed Rooney, Rooney O’Neils, 31958-59 – Hal Perry, Pacific Warehouse, 5
1916-17 – Lloyd Snook, Kimball-Upson, 71959-60 – Roger Roy, Matt’s, 8
1917-18 – George Gibson, Heeseman Clothiers, 41960-61 – Ralph Schwamb, Bob Les, 10
1918-19 – Amil Shaney, Kimball-Upson, 21961-62 – Hal Perry Fellos Club, 13
Jim Daily, Dodge Brothers, 21962-63 – Dick Bach, Dales, 12
1919-20 –Earl Kunz, Heeseman, 81963-64 – Don Hammitt, Matt’s, 11
1920-21 – George Gibson, Heeseman, 41964-65 – Wayne Silva, French Electrics, 7
1921-22 – Geary O’Brien, Lobner, 51965-66 – Spider Thomas, Gold Nugget, 8
Ed Rooney, Rooney-O’Neils, 51966-67 – Carl Boyer, Nicolaus, 5
1922-23 – Adolph Bertero, Thomson-Diggs,6 Don Semon, Matt’s, 5
1923-24 – Lloyd Ricker, Heeseman, 81967-68 – David Block, Barry’s, 6
1924-25 – Bill Lillard, Heeseman, 71968-69 – Don Paxton, Gold Nugget, 5
Harry Hampton, Kimball-Upson, 71969-70 – Bobby Mathews, Culjis, 8
1925-26 – Lloyd Ricker, Heeseman, 41970-71 – Pat Fall, Carmichael Merchants, 7
Earl Smart, Elks, 41971-72 – Bob Forsch, Cal Loan, 9
Julius Pappa, Zemanskys, 41972-73 – Pat Fall, Cal Loan, 9
1926-27 – Tony Boroja, Zembanskys, 81973-74 – Bob Del Chiaro, Country Maid, 5
1927-28 – Maurice Deponai, Dante Club, 61974-75 –Mike Furtado, Capitol Mall Realty, 3
George Dom, Eastern Outfitters, 6 Ken Rushing, Culjis, 3
1928-29 – Maurice Deponai, Dante Club, 51975-76 – Dave Lanfair, Country Maid, 5
1929-30 – Elmer Shea, Great Western Power, 8 Rich Jamieson, Country Maid, 5
1930-31 – Joe Rooney, Ed Dell Stars, 9 Don Paxton, Cal Loan, 5
1931-32 – Elmer Shea, Julius, 71976-77 – Rich Jamieson, Sacramento Stars, 4
1932-33 – Andy House, ESS & RG, 8 Randu Brown, Murphy Cardinal, 4
1933-34 – Lou Heinzer, Kimball-Upson, 81977-78 – Randy Brown, Crystal, 4
1934-35 – Leo Visintainer, Gene Hughes, .8 Harry Green, A-Spray, 4
1935-36 – Leo Visintainer, Roma Wine, 71978-79 – Bob Kammeyer, Crystal, 7
1936-37 – Norman Coad, Julius, 6 Fritz Lund, Ellis, 7
1937-38 – Stan Steely, Roma Wine, 61979-80 – Steve Conroy, Julius, 6
1938-39 – Norman Coad, Julius, 61980-81 – Steve Brown, Western Athletics, 8
1939-40 – John Weiderman, Teamsters Union, 91981-82 – Jay Robertson, Tom’s Athletics, 4
1940-41 – Frank Nelson, Al’s Clothiers, 8 Ron Whyte, Crystal Creamery, 4
1941-42 – Malcolm Silva, Teamsters Union, 61982-83 – Butch Edge, Pepsi Cola, 5
1942-43 – Bill Schmidt, McClellan Field, 71983-84 – Kris Bankowski, Stars, 3
1943-44 – Wes Bailey, Muir Athletic Club, 12 Mike Dixon, Arcade, 3
1944-45 – Ben Salas, Muir Athletic Club, 8 Love, Steve’s Place, 3
1945-46 – Ben Salas, Argonaut Liquor, 6 Mike Schields, Lobos, 3
1946-47 – Babe Perry, Muir-Acme, 91984-85 – Steve Senteney, Pepsi Cola, 7
1947-48 – Ben Salas, Southside Legion, 81985-86 – Steve Senteney, Pepsi Cola, 5
1948-49 – Frank Nelson, Matts, 81986-87 – Not available
Gene Babbitt, Ed Sparks, 81987 88 – Not available
1949-50 – George Allison, Matt’s, 71988-89 – Kurt Knudsen, House of Sports, 3
1950-51 – Tony Stathos, Julius, 8 Butch Metzger, Paragary’s, 3
1951-52 – Jim McCarthy, Cannery Union, 7 Troy Watkins, Sacramento Knee, 3
1952-53 – Chris Christin, Julius, 81989-90 – Not available
1953-54 – Pat Hubert, Kramer Carton, 81990-91 – Eric Bates, KZ Pork, 3
Gordon Jones, Matt’s, 8 Scott Halverstad, Pepsi 33

LEAGUE CHAMPIONS

1913-14 -- DeLuxe Hatters1939-40 -- Al’s Clothiers1965-66 – Matts
1914-15 -- Oak Park1940-41 -- Al’s Clothiers1966-67 -- Nicolaus
1915-16 -- Rooney-O’Neils1941-42 -- Al’s Clothiers1967-68 -- Julius Style Shop
1916-17 -- Kimball-Upson 1942-43 -- Argonaut Liquor Store1968-69 -- Gold Nuggets
1917-18 -- Young Men’s Institute 1943-44 -- Muir Athletic Club1969-70 -- Culjis Chapel
1918-19 -- Dodge Brothers1944-45 -- George Klumpp1970-71 -- Carmichael
1919-20 -- Heeseman’s1945-46 -- Argonaut Liquor Store1971-72 -- California Loan
1920-21 -- Clark-Lobner1946-47 -- Muir Athletic Club1972-73 -- California Loan
1921-22 -- Leo Lobner Clothiers1947-48 -- Southside Legion1973-74 -- California Loan
1922-23 -- Leo Lobner Clothiers1948-49 -- Matt Draying1974-75 -- Capitol Mall Realty
1923-24 -- Heeseman’s1949-50 -- Matt Draying1975-76 -- Country Maid
1924-25 -- Kimball-Upson1950-51 -- Julius Style Shop1976-77 -- Sacramento Stars
1925-26 -- Zemansky Jewelers1951-52 -- Cannery Union1977-78 -- Crystal Creamery
1926-27 -- Zemansky Jewelers1952-53 -- Julius Style Shop1978-79 -- Crystal Creamery
1927-28 -- Eastern Outfitting1953-54 -- Kramer Cartons1979-80 -- Culjis Chapel
1928-29 -- Dante Club1954-55 -- Matt Draying1980-81 -- Western Athletics
1929-30 -- Great Western Power1955-56 -- Julius Style Shop1981-82 – Crystal Creamery
1930-31 -- Central Outfitting1956-57 -- Julius Style Shop1982-83 -- Pepsi
1931-32 -- Julius Style Shop1957-58 -- Julius Style Shop1983-84 -- Sacramento Stars
1932-33 -- Kimball-Upson1958-59 -- Julius Style Shop1984-85 -- Pepsi
1933-34 -- Kimball-Upson1959-60 -- Matts1985-86 -- Pepsi
1934-35 -- Julius Style Shop1960-61 -- Matts1986-87 -- Pepsi
1935-36 -- Julius Style Shop1961-62 -- Fellos Club1987-88 -- Pepsi
1936-37 -- Julius Style Shop1962-63 -- Dales1988-89 – Paragary’s
1937-38 -- Al’s Clothiers1963-64 -- Matts1989-90 -- Pepsi
1938-39 -- Julius Style Shop1964-65 -- Matts1990-91 – Pepsi

Statistics/Standings compiled by Tom Crisp