Reprint from www.Times-Standard.com

 

Boys of summer

By Ted Sillanpaa

The Times-Standard

Selecting the best North Coast baseball players of the century is no more difficult than picking the prettiest star in the evening sky.

Still, as 2000 nears, it's worth taking the time to consider the best of the best who have been the region's "Boys of Summer" in the last many years.

While Major League Baseball has copious statistics going back to 1900, the process of selecting the all-time North Coast baseball team falls to recollections of former players and coaches or media members.

"There have been some great players here through the years," the Times-Standard's longtime sports editor Don Terbush said. "How can you compare them through the years with the change from wooden bats to aluminum? It's tough, but the great ones could have played in any era."

Players are honored here for what they did on the local scene, while considering what they accomplished outside the area, too. The majority of the stars of the last century played pro baseball, although some drew high praise simply for their excellence on the North Coast scene.

The team was chosen after polling local baseball players, baseball historians and media members who have watched this area's finest baseball stars through the century.

The late Carl Del Grande described the 1949 semi-professional Humboldt Crabs in a 1984 newspaper story.

"The club had intensity and brute strength," Del Grande said. "It also had finesse and skill."

Some things never change. That could describe any championship team from any era.

Here's a look at the Times-Standard All-Time North Coast Baseball Team:

First base: Two players who starred at Eureka High before becoming standouts at Stanford University and then enjoying careers in professional baseball earn the nod.

Mark Lucich, who graduated from Eureka in 1972, and Rick Lundblade, who starred in the late 1980s, both left their mark locally and then starred for the Cardinal.

"Mark was just a great hitter. He hit for average and with power," said former Alaska Summer League teammate Lee Iorg, who played against Lucich at Eureka High.

Lundblade, at one time, held the all-time Stanford career home run record.

Lucich spent time in the Cincinnati Reds organization while Lundblade was a Philadelphia Phillies farmhand.

Infielders: Although he's best known as a legendary Humboldt-Del Norte League coach, Bob Bonomini ranks among the greatest players in history. He was a superb player at St. Bernard High (Class of 1958) before shining at Fresno State and, then, for years as the second baseman for the Humboldt Crabs.

Wally Scott was a shortstop for Arcata High School and Humboldt State in the 1940s. He was a brilliant fielder with an outstanding bat. He wound up playing professional baseball.

"You can't pick an all-time team without Wally on it," Terbush said.

John Schlesinger (Eureka High, 1968) was among the first in a crop of standout Loggers to shine in the infield and then go on to play professionally. This Loggers grad spent years in the Yankees farm system.

One player stands head-and-shoulders above the rest at this position -- former Eureka and Humboldt Crabs sensation Reco Pastori. Pastori was a brilliant middle infielder in the 1940s for the early editions of the semi-pro baseball powerhouse. He played second base for the Crabs.

"Reco was our Ty Cobb," Del Grande recalled. "He was a good percentage hitter and could convert a walk or single into two bases with his exciting base running."

Garth Iorg was a shortstop for Arcata High from 1971-73, then moved on straight from high school to the minor leagues.
He spent a long, storied career as a third baseman for Toronto Blue Jays.

Once again, a player from years gone by is considered by many the best in North Coast history at the hot corner.

Former Arcata High star Eddie Oliveira was a brilliant third baseman for the Tigers in the 1940s and remains, in the opinion of many, the best at the hot corner in the history of the Humboldt Crabs.

"Oliveira had excellent bat control," Del Grande recalled. "He usually led our team in hitting. He was very good at the hit-and-run play. He was a great athlete."

Catchers: After a brilliant career at Eureka High and with the Humboldt Crabs, Carl Del Grande earns a spot on the all-time team as a catcher. He was power hitter in the 1940s here before playing professional baseball with the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations.

"Carl could play the infield, the outfield, and he was a catcher, too," Terbush remembered. "He could really hit the long ball."

Greg Kane was a home run-hitting sensation for Arcata High in the early 1970s before moving on to a professional career where he showed defensive prowess to go with a booming bat.

Outfielders: Dane Iorg was a star at Arcata High (1968), was a standout for the Humboldt Crabs and Brigham Young University and then had a long and successful big league career with the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. While with the Royals, he played against younger brother Garth, who was with the Blue Jays, in the American League Championship Series.

"I think Dane was the best all-around player ever to come out of this area," said Iorg's brother Lee.

Some would disagree.

"Lee Iorg was considered by many the best overall talent of the three Iorg brothers," Terbush said.

Lee Iorg was not to be outshined as a center fielder from Arcata High (1970) with great speed, fine defensive skills and strong bat. He is considered by some baseball historians here as the most physically gifted of the brothers. He played in the New York Mets organization.

"Dane and I played different positions. I prided myself on my defense and my hitting," Lee said. "It's kind of nice that people remember you were a pretty decent player."

Buster Pidgeon was as outstanding a multisport athlete as the area has ever produced, starring for great Eureka High teams in the 1960s. It was as a baseball star at Eureka High, College of the Redwoods and then in the Philadelphia Phillies organization that he made his mark on North Coast history. He continues to leave his mark on area baseball with son Matthew pitching in the Florida Marlins organization and by Buster tutoring many young players -- on his own time out of his love for the sport and youngsters.

Paul Ziegler was another multisport hero for Fortuna High (1976). He was a mercurial center fielder who led many Humboldt Crabs teams to glory while starting in center field in a four-year career at the University of Southern California.

Greg Lorenzetti is another Fortuna grad who, like Ziegler, was a football quarterback and a basketball star, coming along in the 1980s. He went on to become a baseball standout at Stanford University, and played for the Crabs, before signing professionally with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Shane Zerlang is the third Fortuna High grad to crack this mythical squad. He was a superior lefty swinger with speed and power. He went on to play professionally in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in the mid-1980s.

Pitchers: Joe Oescheger came out Ferndale High to pitch for decades in the major leagues in the 1900s. The right-hander pitched in the longest game in major league history for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"He gained so much recognition nationally for the longest game that some people don't remember he pitched here," Terbush said.

Wade Hammond was named California's Medium School Player of the Year in 1956, leading Eureka High through a magical season in which he pitched five shutouts before signing a professional contract.

Greg Shanahan went from St. Bernard High (1968) to Humboldt State's now defunct baseball program. His career didn't end until he had worked his way through the Los Angeles Dodgers system and into the big leagues.

Bob Wilson was a versatile player at Eureka High (1969) but really earned his stripes as a pitcher in one of the most gifted groups of baseball players the area has ever produced. He signed and played pro ball for the Phillies.

"Bob Wilson just had a great fastball," Lee Iorg remembers. "Back then, we didn't know how hard guys threw without a radar gun to measure speed. We just knew it was hard to hit. Bob had a good curve, but you really respected his fastball."

Bobby Box was a dominating left-hander for Arcata High and still holds many College of the Redwoods pitching records. He had a long career in the Atlanta Braves farm system.

Randy Niemann is another lefty who had a long big league career, pitching for a number of teams.
He starred at Fortuna High (1973) and then headed to College of the Redwoods before signing first with the Yankees.

Burt Nordstrom pitched at Arcata High and for Humboldt State. The right-hander wound up his career playing professionally for the Cleveland Indians system.

"Burt was one of the best pitchers of the era I played in, for sure," Lee Iorg said of his former Arcata High teammate.

Gary Wilson, Arcata High's versatile righty, was a star in the 1980s who went to Sacramento City College and, eventually, found his way to a stint on the big league roster of the PIttsburgh Pirates.

Billy Olsen is remembered as one of the best high school pitchers ever here. He was a star at Eureka High School (1967), then jumped directly to be the No. 1 starter for the Humboldt Crabs where he dominated foes. He was signed by the New York Yankees before arm injuries cut short a brilliant career.

"Billy Olsen was the best pitching prospect I've seen," said Crabs chief scout and former general manager Ned Barsuglia last spring.

"Olsen was one of the best pitchers the Crabs ever had -- and that's saying something," Terbush said.

Gene Johnson, out of Eureka High, starred for the 1949 Crabs as one of the finest hurlers ever produced here.

"Gene had a variety of deliveries," said Del Grande in that 1984 story. "He had a good fastball and refused to be intimidated by batters."

Johnson reached the highest level of minor league baseball in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

Head coach: This was the easiest choice of all, with Humboldt Crabs founder Lou Bonomini the clear choice. Bonomini was a star player at Eureka High School in the 1930s and, rightfully, deserves a spot for his exploits as an infielder and pitcher before founding and managing one of the greatest semi-pro baseball organizations in America.

"Lou's philosophy was that a club that doesn't settle for less than victory will be a winner," Del Grande recalled 25 years ago. "That philosophy made winning a fetish for Lou and his teams. That makes for real enjoyment of the game. He wanted that effort from every player on the team."


1999 Times-Standard
Sunday, September 26, 1999 ; a 1