Gold Sox May Fold After 17 Seasons
December 10, 2018

If you live in the Marysville-Yuba City area (I do) and follow sports, you are no doubt familiar with a baseball team called the Gold Sox. If you follow the team and read the paper (I don't), you know that the future of that franchise is in doubt. This news is more than a month old (but news to me). The team is up for sale, and the league that they played in has gone out of business.

Sadly, history seems to be repeating itself. The exact same thing happened in 2002. The Yuba-Sutter (named for the two counties that make up Marysville and Yuba City) Gold Sox were a professional team in the independent Western Baseball League. The league was hemorrhaging money, but its six teams were able to limp to the finish line and complete the season. Oddly, it was the WBL's most successful franchise, the Chico Heat, that pulled the plug on the league, announcing their withdrawal after winning the championship. The Gold Sox would need to come up with another plan.

I remember asking Bob Bavasi, a quasi president of baseball operations (the city of Marysville owned the team) during the '02 season about Marysville baseball future with the WBL's impending doom. “There are other options”, he said, and I had no idea what he could be possibly talking about. It turned out the other option was a collegiate wood-bat summer team. The players are amateurs, so you don't have to pay them, the travel schedule was minimal (44 home games and just 10 on the road that first year, with only one bus trip to Salinas and a night in a hotel), so you didn't have to pay for buses. It was beautiful. It was a gold mine. It was a license to print money.

Bavasi and local car dealer Don McCullough bought the club from the city in 2003, signed a lease to play in the ball park, built on a legendary site for pro baseball in 2000, and made a run. They originally competed in the California Coastal Collegiate League, but after two seasons and teams like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo upset that the Gold Sox weren't willing to travel, created their own setup. It was the brainchild of Bavasi called the Horizon Air Summer Series. It wasn't a league, but rather a comparison of win-loss records between the Gold Sox and the teams they played. Each team in a division would have the same number of games count as 'Summer Series' games, and standings were kept. There were no playoffs, but it gave the players something to play for. Despite all the home games, the Gold Sox only won their Summer Series division three times in eleven years.

Less than two months before the 2005 season, McCullough died suddenly. Bavasi brought in his brother Peter, who had been a major league general manager, to run the club. The Bavasis put the team up for sale in 2006, but promised to continue the local tradition that the Gold Sox created. Fair Oaks native, attorney, and big baseball fan Tom Lininger bought the club in 2007.

From 2007 to 2015, the Gold Sox flourished. They had the same manager, most of the same coaches, and a range of opponents from weekend teams of junior college players to comparable college teams to even a semi-pro team from Seattle that would come down one weekend a year. The fireworks nights drew fans, Lininger would schedule one road trip a summer which became an educational experience that you don't get in a classroom, the Summer Series formula, however imperfect, would continue, and the Gold Sox would win more than 70 percent of their games.

From 2003 to 2015, the team had exactly 300 players appear in at least one game. Over 50 of them ended up playing affiliated minor league baseball. Eight of those (Dallas Braden, Tommy Everidge, Curtis Partch, Anthony Bass, Max Stassi, Cody Anderson, Brock Stassi, and Justin Haley) made it to the big leagues (Bass also played in Japan on a championship team, and Haley just signed to play in Korea). About a dozen (ten from memory: Kevin Frandsen, Matt Garza, Bud Norris, C.J. Cron, Doug Fister, Josh Roenicke, David Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Kristopher Negron, and Kyle Barraclough) were members of an opposing team that made it to the majors, and one opposing player (Toby Gerhardt) even made it to the NFL. It's hard to thing of that time period as a golden age for local baseball, but in 2016, that all stopped.

Lininger sold the team to a group that was forming a new league. We watched his two sons grow up, and both played for the Gold Sox. The youngest was in college now, and the oldest was considering a post-baseball career. Perhaps that was the reason it was time to sell, or maybe these guys just made an offer that Lininger couldn't refuse. You can't blame him for cashing out, but he didn't do one thing that the Bavasis did. Peter Bavasi was extremely difficult to work for and often wasn't very well liked (I had my own rather public run-in with him over something very trivial, but at least he apologized to me later), but he kept his promise of keeping ownership local.

Lininger made no such promise, which is his right, but when it was announced in late summer 2015 that the team was sold, one of the new owners, who bought other teams and also owned minor league franchises, told me in a radio interview that he was pleased to add the Gold Sox to their list of “properties”. That seemed like a big 'uh oh' right there.

It was no secret at the time, and later announced, that the Gold Sox would join a new league. The Great West League was created essentially to introduce Chico to the collegiate summer market, and also created places for that team, named the Heat like the 2002 club, to play. The commissioner of this new league lived in Portland, Oregon, which would also have a GWL franchise. They announced a team would play in Sacramento, even though they had no ownership or field to play on, and quickly went to the national media to announce they had created one of the 'premiere college wood-bat leagues in the country'--a phrase they would put on all their news releases, even though they hadn't played a game yet.

The idea was to operate with eight teams. They had seven that first year, including a 'Sacramento' team that played all its games on the road. The Gold Sox went 29-28, and had to win their final game of the year to post a winning record. In 2016, the league had six teams, and had to create a 'Yuba City' team, which shared the same field with the Gold Sox, in order to do it. To their credit, all six GWL teams played 60 games. The Gold Sox were 23-37, second worst only to the Yuba City Bears at 13-47. In 2018 (I didn't follow the league at all), they disbanded the Bears, absorbed a Bay Area team, and no team played 60 games. The Gold Sox finished in last place with a record of 15-41.

While the GWL Gold Sox were mostly fielding junior college players, losing games, and even having the general manager take over in the dugout to end this season, apparently there were bigger issues. On October 4, the league announced it would not operate next year. Still-Commisioner Ken Wilson said in a news release, “This was not an easy decision, but after deep consideration, evaluation and introspection, we have elected to suspend operations for the upcoming season.” The release concluded, “Several teams are expected to play an independent schedule in 2019, while some have expressed a desire to join other summer collegiate leagues.”

Reading this announcement (which I just saw this past week) would send you to other websites. The Chico newspaper reported that the team will not return. The Chico Heat, by the way, was the most successful franchise in the league, winning two championships in the league's three years (again, history repeating itself). The Medford Rogues say they are exploring their options, and the Lincoln Potters (nice field, close to Marysville, but artificial turf) already have announced their 2019 schedule, including 2018 GWL club Klamath Falls, and successful independent teams like the Humboldt Crabs and Redding Colt .45s.

As for the Gold Sox, on October 4, the day the league folded, it was announced that the team, would “explore competitive options”. On November 15, the team announced they would “cease operations effective November 30 unless a new ownership group, led by [the current Vice President/General Manager] could be formed.”

There are a lot of sentences here that could begin, “It's a shame that...”. It's a shame that that last sentence of the news release indicates that the current GM had to own the team for it to stay afloat. It's a shame that the team and the league, were completely mismanaged for three years. It's a shame that the team is going out with a whimper instead of a bang. And it's a shame that many fans don't have their community team any more. It's a shame that corporate ownership took over and thought this was minor league hockey. It's a shame, and it's too bad.

It seems likely the Gold Sox will not be on the field in 2019, but some version of them could come back. “There are other options”, Bob Bavasi said in 2002. I didn't know what they were then, and I don't know what they are now, but hopefully, for baseball fans in Yuba-Sutter, we'll learn about those other options sooner rather than later.

Baseball bits: Baseball's winter meetings are underway in Las Vegas, and while no mega-deal has been announced yet, the rumors are flying. ESPN's Jim Bowden predicts that somehow the Dodgers will end up with free agent Bryce Harper, although there's been no rumors flying around to that effect. There are rumors, however, linking LA to Cleveland pitcher Corey Kluber, and Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto... Other than the Cardinals, no one should be more excited about first baseman Paul Goldschmidt being traded from Arizona to St. Louis, than Dodger fans. Goldy has hit more home runs against the Dodgers than any other active player, and now he's no longer in the National League West... The first news out ot the winter meetings was speedster Billy Hamilton signing a one-year deal with Kansas City, and pitcher Tyson Ross agreeing to spend 2019 in Detroit.

Baseball player wins Heisman: In a little bit of an upset, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray beat out Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa for the Heisman Trophy Saturday night in New York City. Murray could be a top pick in the NFL draft in April, but was already a top pick, taken by the Oakland A's in the first round of the 2018 MLB draft. Murray says he'd like to pursue both sports, but his agent maintains he is a baseball player first.

This just in: We all know former UCLA/NBA star turned ESPN broadcaster Bill Walton is from another planet, but it was his play-by-play partner, charged with keeping him on Earth, that had the best line. During Wednesday's Washington-Gonzaga game, Walton was on one of his monologues about eastern philosophy or something, when Dave Pasch got the audience re-focused by saying, “in local news...”, and then described a missed three-point shot and a rebound.

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