Local legend Bonomini dead at 84

December 18, 2000

By Jack Rux
The Times-Standard

EUREKA -- Humboldt County lost a baseball legend Sunday when Lou Bonomini, 84, died.

Bonomini was the founder and manager of the Humboldt Crabs, the oldest continuously running semi-professional baseball club in the nation at 56 years.

The former Eureka High star was the manager of the Crabs' their first 42 years , retiring in 1986.

"The Crabs were pretty much his legacy, and he has left the Humboldt County community an incredible program," said Carl Del Grande, supervisor of Humboldt County football officials, superintendent of Ferndale schools and secretary of Humboldt Crabs, Inc.

"He was Mr. Baseball, Humboldt County," said Don Terbush, the retired longtime sports editor of the Times-Standard.

Bonomini compiled a record of 1,307 victories and 475 losses in his 42 seasons at the Crabs helm.

During that span, playing for the Crabs became a dream for almost every boy who grew up playing baseball in Humboldt County, and many of them did.

Some went on to play in the major leagues after that, as well, like Dane and Garth Iorg of McKinleyville. Dane played in the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980s, and Garth with the Toronto Blue Jays, among others, where he is now a coach.

Bonomini played for the Crabs himself for many seasons, winding up his playing career in 1953.

"He was a very good player and a very good hitter," recalls Ned Barsuglia, who was general manager of the team for last 20 years of Bonomini's tenure as manager and who carried on running the team for 10 years after Bonomini stepped down. "He was an excellent shortstop and outfielder but could play just about any position except pitcher. He even caught sometimes."

When Barsuglia decided to give up trying to operate the team, a local non-profit organization was formed in 1995 with a 21-member board.

Del Grande, a member of that board, noted, "It takes about 21 of us to do what those two did by themselves for four decades."

Bonomini "could pitch, too," recalled Terbush, who noted that while it wasn't Bonomini's best position, he posted a 7-0 record in one of Eureka High's championship seasons.

Bonomini led the Loggers to baseball championships three of the four years he played for them before graduating in 1935.

Even in high school, he played for a local semi-pro team and after graduation was signed to play professional baseball. But assigned to a Class D minor league team in Sioux Falls, Bonomini did not last long.

"My professional career was very short," Bonomini later recalled. "They only paid $35 a month, and even in those days, that wasn't very much."

Back in Humboldt County, Bonomini later was approached by the Oakland Acorns of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League with an offer of $425 a month, which was pretty good pay for the 1930s. The San Francisco Seals were also interested.

"But by then I had gotten into the grocery business and was making more money at that," Bonomini said. He and his family ran Bonomini Market in Eureka for many years.

In summers, however, baseball was not only the national pastime but a passion for him.

Before organizing the Crabs, Bonomini played for various area semi-pro teams, including Arcata-Samoa and Eureka Merchants among others. He also played for the Humboldt County All-Stars, who played the Pacific Coast League championship team for three or four years in a row.

A desire to continue to have a venue where he and others could play baseball drove him to organize in 1945 what became the Humboldt Crabs. More than a century, that legacy lives on.

Several sons grew up around the ballpark, and four went on to play for the Crabs, including his oldest son, Bob, Jimmy, Ken and David. Bob later became baseball coach at St. Bernard and later at Eureka High, where he has been athletic director for many years. Jimmy coaches high school baseball in Red Bluff.

On how Bonomini kept the Crabs summer program going through the years, Bonomini's longtime partner Barsuglia said, "You got to be crazy. Everybody has something they like to do."

And baseball in this county can be thankful that Bonomini could not resist.

Bonomini was a native of Blue Lake. He his survived by his wife, Elvira, and loving family.

Arrangements are under the direction of Chapel of the Ferns/Sanders Funeral Home.