I recently joined the newly-relaunched Oral History Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. A slightly modified version of the following piece appears in the committee’s first newsletter.
I worked in an ice cream shop my senior year of high school, a few blocks from where Edmonds Field stood in Sacramento.
The home of the Sacramento Solons, Edmonds Field met the wrecking ball in 1964, but there are still remnants of its presence, still people who remember it as one of the nicer ballparks of the old Pacific Coast League.
One of the perks of working in food service is the chance to meet, or at least have brief interactions with a variety of interesting people. One day, an elderly customer told me she had lived beside Edmonds Field.
I was working at the time on a high school senior project about the Solons, and my interest piqued. I asked the woman if she would be up for an interview, handing her my phone number. One of my coworkers laughed, thinking I was trying to pick up on the old woman.
I didn’t get to interview the woman, but she went one better, getting me in contact with an 89-year-old man named Bud Beasley. A former pitcher for the Solons and a number of other minor league teams, Beasley had been opposing pitcher for the Seattle Rainers on a fateful night in Sacramento history, July 11, 1948.
On this night, hours after a game, old wooden, double-decked Edmonds Field caught fire, with the park being almost completely destroyed. The Solons played the rest of the 1948 season on the road.
No one was ever sure what caused the fire. Some speculated that a lit cigar had been left in the stands. Others suspected that the park was intentionally destroyed to collect insurance money. Whatever the case, the park was rebuilt, as a single-story concret structure the following year.
More than 50 years after the fire, Beasley told me of his train being stopped that night in nearby Davis while the blaze roared. Even 15 miles away, Beasley told me he could see the flames billowing from Edmonds Field.
Stories like Beasley’s motivate me to research and write about baseball history and to talk to old ballplayers. I’m of the belief as a writer that everyone has a story, and I’m always amazed at how many of them former players have.
There’s something of a historical imperative in talking to old players. Beasley died four years after our conversation, and while I’d imagine he told his stories to plenty of people, I fear that good stories often die or at least diminish in detail with the passing of old players.
I’m thankful for the times that someone publishes a brilliant interview with some old ballplayer 50 or 60 years after the fact, recounting some never-before-told story.
For instance, it’s been common knowledge for many years that the Boston Red Sox had a shot at Jackie Robinson before he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving him a sham tryout in 1945 with Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. The Red Sox, of course, were the last team in the majors to integrate, with Pumpsie Green in 1959.
A few years ago, a former player spoke of being at the Robinson tryout and said it almost didn’t happen.
I wonder how many of these types of stories never get told. I don’t believe magic interviews with former players are predestined. I think it’s up to a good interviewer to seek out players, listen to what they have to say, and preserve their stories.
In that respect, I’m proud to be a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and its oral history committee. I think we can do for oral histories what SABR’s landmark BioProject has done for compiling life stories on 2,000 former players.
The Solons quit playing in Sacramento after 1960, and the old Pacific Coast League more or less died with the Giants and Dodgers moving to California. Fewer and fewer veterans of the old PCL remain, gathering for annual reunions that shrink by the year.
That said, I suspect there are still great stories that haven’t been told. I’ve spoken over the years to several of these players. With SABR’s help, I intend to reach out to all of the remaining players in the Sacramento area where I live. Hopefully, other members of this committee who live elsewhere will do likewise.
As a baseball historian and fan, I live for chance meetings with the Bud Beasley’s of the world. I’m never sure what they’re going to say, but more times than not, it’s worth listening to.