I grew up in Sacramento, not far from the Old City Cemetery and a parking lot across the street where a Pacific Coast League ballpark once stood. Both places have long since stoked my imagination, so I was excited to hear the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research would be sponsoring a baseball-themed cemetery tour on July 24. In fact, I looked forward to it for much of the summer. I expected tons of anecdotes and the chance for me to wax poetic about a graveyard with headstones dating to 1850. But the most interesting things I heard Saturday were among the living.
While we stood under the glaring sun that turns Sacramento into a microwave every summer, listening to a couple of our own talk about 19th century ballplayers buried nearby, a well-dressed woman approached. It was Susan Fornoff, our scheduled speaker for a luncheon to follow the tour. Fornoff covered the Oakland A’s for the Sacramento Bee and is most known for being the first female reporter admitted into locker rooms after games. She wrote a book some years ago, Lady in the Locker Room and said Saturday that a Hollywood producer and screenwriter are developing it and are interested in Katherine Heigl for the lead role. They’re thinking a baseball version of The Devil Wears Prada.
Before Fornoff spoke of this and more, we had the tour. The highlight for me was seeing a new headstone that Sacramento chapter member Alan O’Connor purchased for Billy Newbert, a former California League ballplayer. Newbert played for the Sacramento Altas in the 1880s, later ran a hardware store at 17th and J Street (where a record store stands today) and died in 1944. In researching his 2008 book on Sacramento baseball history, Gold on the Diamond, O’Connor discovered that Newbert lay in an unmarked Old City Cemetery grave. He paid $280 for a flat marble headstone and was later reimbursed by SABR.
Beyond that, I didn’t get much into the tour, which proved short because of our 1 p.m. deadline to be at the restaurant. I’ve been in the cemetery many times, and between the historic section and an adjoining modern half, it can be easy to lose one’s self there. We barely scratched the surface. No one mentioned the most interesting baseball anecdote I know regarding the cemetery: The old ballpark across the street, Edmonds Field was so close that children used to gather amidst the headstones to catch foul balls.
Thereafter, we adjourned to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet walking distance from the cemetery, and Fornoff spoke. She fielded the obligatory questions about being a woman in the locker room, recounting how a man once asked her which player was most-endowed (for contrast, imagine that question being asked to a male beat reporter.) Fornoff said she refused to answer besides to say Reggie Jackson thought he was.
I noticed Fornoff seemed uneasy talking about the locker room in general, so I went in a different direction. In April 2008, I interviewed Jose Canseco, and the former A’s slugger told me his oft-repeated assertion that he was blackballed from baseball. It sounded a little improbable, so I asked Fornoff what she thought. She agreed with Canseco and said Dave Kingman was blackballed, too. Kingman was with Oakland in 1986 when he sent Fornoff a rat in the press box. The A’s let him go thereafter, no team picked him up, and he later won money in a suit against Major League Baseball. Fornoff’s take: “I think baseball can collude pretty easily.”
I asked Fornoff if she’d do an interview here if I read her book. She said she would. I have a stack of baseball books to conquer but will add this one to the queue. In a perfect world, it leads to an interview with Heigl.