Gus Stathos, spring training in 1947, and Jackie Robinson

I went to the Old Timers Lunch on Friday in Sacramento, to do interviews for my book on Joe Marty. It was a good day in my life. I did a couple of key interviews and also got to talk to a former Sacramento Solon named Gus Stathos.

Stathos, who I interviewed at the estate sale of former Solons owner Fred David in February, never played with Marty and was a career minor leaguer. The closest he came to making the show was when the Brooklyn Dodgers brought him to spring training at Vero Beach, Florida in 1947. Stathos played that spring with Jackie Robinson, who was weeks away from becoming the first black man in 83 years to play professional ball.

Stathos gave me a few minutes of his time on Friday, and I’ve provided excerpts from our talk below:

On how Robinson cleaned up at ping pong and horse shoes between workouts and games: “What he did, he used to sit around there with a bunch of guys and play horse shoes. You’d turn around, he beat everybody. Ping bong, he beat everybody. Basketball, he was great. Goodhearted guy, very nice, always spoke real good about everybody.”

On a story Robinson told that spring about treatment he got at a hotel in New Orleans: “He went in to check into the room. There was about fifty or sixty guys there, and the young kid who was behind the counter, he says, ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘We don’t take black people here for our hotel.’ So Pee Wee Reese says– he came forward, Pee Wee Reese– and Eddie Stanky came forward says, ‘Well, if he can’t stay here, we’re not going to stay here.’ So Jackie Robinson heard that, he came up, and he said, ‘Hey, you guys don’t worry about it, I’ll go to a black town and get a room, and I’ll see you guys at the ballpark.’ That’s the kind of a guy he was.”

On if he had a good idea if Robinson would break the color barrier that year: “He was a great guy and a great ballplayer. I thought he was great, I really did, I really liked him. Everybody loved him.”

On whether he had other conversations with Robinson: “Well, as soon as he knew I was from California, cause he was from LA you know….”

On whether Robinson had an opinion on Stathos’s hometown, Sacramento: “I don’t think he even knew where Sacramento was, to be honest with you.”

On Robinson as a player: “I just loved the way he ran. He was pigeon-toed, you know, and he could run– and he could run. He had a lot of guts. He’d steal every base there was and… I thought he was a great ballplayer, I really did. And I’m glad that he made the Hall of Fame, I’m glad he did what he did, and I can say that I was at spring training with him.”

Day 2 of the estate sale for Sacramento Solons owner Fred David


SACRAMENTO– It’s as if the old Solon has been transported back more than half a century to his clubhouse at Edmonds Field.

In front of Gus Stathos, in a cavernous warehouse downtown dubbed The Building lie some of the final baseball-related relics from the estate of former Sacramento Solons owner Fred David, who died in October at 100. It’s late on a Friday, the second day of a sale that was busier on its first, with items like the old pitching cage, ticket window and ballpark speakers already long gone.  Not much Solons gear remains: Some orphan field lights, some beat-up folding chairs that served as box seats, tickets from the final exhibition game before the park was torn down in 1964, a ripped stretcher, a heat box and the old whirlpool bath, priced at $200.  The vast majority of the items in stock come from David’s wholesale candy business that he ran for most of his life, up until his final weeks.

As a former Solon outfielder, a replica team hat on his head, the 82-year-old Stathos wants to know if he’s entitled to one of the chairs for free, perhaps so he can have it painted for his grandchildren.  He’ll leave with one within the hour.  First, he surveys the other items that once played a different role in his life as a player.  When asked, he says he remembers being in the whirlpool bath and that he also sat in the red leather heat box “a few times.”  Of the bath, which will sell to another former ballplayer shortly thereafter, Stathos remarks, “Tony Freitas used to say ‘Get in there’,” remembering the words of his former manager.

Memories of this kind are things cherished by Stathos and other Solons old-timers, who still gather frequently and whose ranks thin by the year.  For others who attended the sale, some came out of simple curiosity or to add to collections, others in hopes that the warehouse held their link to a bygone era.

Staff for Schiff Estate Services, who organized and ran the sale, reported their largest first day ever for a sale with the Thursday opening for the event.  The first customers arrived outside the warehouse around 5:30 that morning and lines to the cash register lasted for an hour-and-a-half, Schiff Estate Services owner Gary Schiff said.  Schiff refused to discuss profits from the sale, for the privacy of the David family, though he said this was one of his most-successful sales.

“I’ve done bigger dollar numbers on sales, but it’s been fun,” Schiff said.

Stathos was not the only ex-Solon to partake in the sale, and sales staff said that Alan O’Connor, the author of Solons team history Gold on the Diamond was in and out of the event over the first two days.  Friday, an autographed copy of his book sat on display at the front counter.

Some people left disappointed, though.  Some family members of former Solons players came in hopes they would find personal memorabilia.  Sales staff said, however, that the warehouse had already been picked through by collectors in the four decades since Edmonds Field was torn down, when David salvaged what he could and hauled it back to his storage.  (Editor’s Note: David also seemingly gave freely.  I say this because he gave me an old Solons program when he let me tour the warehouse in 2001.)

“A lot of the sexy baseball stuff wasn’t here,” Schiff said.

No members of David’s family were present either on Friday.  They left the sale to Schiff, who they contacted through a referral.  Only one family member of David’s helped in the planning, and she couldn’t bear to watch it carried out.

“She said this was pretty much his life and this was more emotional than him dying, seeing this get dismantled,” Schiff said.

A couple of waitresses from the Fox & Goose Restaurant, next door to the warehouse, were among the shoppers on Friday.  David owned the building that housed the warehouse and the restaurant.  One of the waitresses, Cindy Baker, said she served David for four years and that he preferred cream of broccoli with cheddar cheese soup.  She could only talk to him through the personal assistant always with him and said he would complain if his dish was wrong.  She said Friday marked the first time she’d been allowed in the warehouse.

Still, she said that people had nice things to say about David at a memorial that was held at the Fox & Goose late last year.

“People were being sincere and acknowledging his efforts for the city, but at the same time, it seemed like a lot of people knew him as a man,” Baker said.

Friday afternoon, in a warehouse due to be sold once finally vacated, the remnants of that life awaited new frontier.