One for the team

Alan O’Connor

Photo By Larry Dalton

Long before the River Cats called a capital-city diamond home, the Sacramento Solons went to bat for this town’s baseball fans. And before the Solons, the Senators. And before them, the Gilt Edge and the Altas. Sacramento, it turns out, has a rich baseball history. And Alan O’Connor is an expert. The local historian is writing a book on professional baseball’s Sacramento roots. He also collects memorabilia, much of which is on display at the Discovery Museum’s Gold Rush History Center in Old Sacramento through January 1. Recently, O’Connor took SN&R on a tour of his cigarette cards, bats, uniforms and game programs.

So, how far back can Sacramento trace its professional-baseball roots?

The very first club is the Altas. It’s not Atlas; it’s Altas. Alta California. … In 1886 we joined the California League. We played two teams in San Francisco and one in Oakland. That was the league. … Back in the 1880s, L.A. was too small, too far away. Baseball was Northern California.

And then we had a team briefly; they were the Senators in the early 1890s.

The late 1890s—1898, 1899 and 1900—the Gilt Edge won the California League three years in a row—a threepeat!

People kind of think now there’s the River Cats, and that’s the history of our baseball. It’s not. Baseball goes back to the—you know, there’s an article, I think it was in the 1869 Union, that talks about a championship game being played at the state fair. It wasn’t professional, but the guys were really passionate about it. So, it’s been here since it came over with the gold rush.

What’s Gilt Edge mean?

It was a local brewery’s beer. The Gilt Edge. See that glass there? See the edge of the glass? It’s gilt. That was a damn fine glass of beer. You know, they spoke different back then.

If you read in the papers in those days, they’d say the Gilt Edge won, or lost, and they’d call ’em the Brewers. We had one of the original Brewers here. That’s why I put in some of the beer products, like the bottle and the glass and the label off the beer.

Then, what is a Solon?

Well, in those days, you also called any legislator a solon. If you look back in the Bee … even as late as the ‘60s—I do a lot of paper searching for information, but I have to pass the political section. “Solons pass law to dam river.” A solon is a term for a legislator. In the Greek, it originally means “wise person.” So, I’m not too sure how that works today.

When you’d read the papers back then, they’d say, “Senators win.” Well, guys just, they don’t want to write ‘Senators’ all the time, so they’d say Solons. So, they started becoming the Solons, from about—earliest record, I’d say, is about 1911 up to ‘35, they interchangeably said Solon and Senators.

Why did you begin collecting this stuff?

You know where Target is? The area south of there? Hollywood Park, Land Park? I grew up there. And a lot of the ballplayers, I went to school with—I was good friends with two of the ballplayers’ sons. I used to go get into games. It wasn’t too far.

I had a few things, and then I just started. I had accumulated things. When the River Cats came back in 2000—and there was that Ken Burns documentary Baseball—I kind of exploded.

Did you ever play baseball?

Nah. I wish I had. My dad wouldn’t let me. It was the Little League syndrome. Yeah, my dad wouldn’t let me. He let me wrestle and play rugby, though. … He thought Little League parents were not a good thing. Go to a game, they yell at the kids—that whole syndrome of the parents being too involved. It existed even then.

Do you have a favorite item?

The championship ring. On eBay, this ring came up on eBay. … Another friend of mine from Oakland calls me and says that ring’s on there. … He says it’s got Herschel’s name inside of it. We both know Herschel [Walker]. So, he calls Herschel and goes, “Your ring’s on eBay. Is it stolen or something?” Hercshel goes, “My ring’s on my hand; it’s not on eBay. You guys bid on it. You go ahead.” So, and there’s one other ring up in Seattle of another player, so that would be the three rings that exist: the one on eBay, the one on Herschel’s hand and the one up in Seattle. So, I got this one … well, this one had never been worn. … So I went to the Coast League reunion in May. … He shows up. … So, we swapped rings, and he says, “My name is on that ring.” “But it’s not on your ring.” He says, “Well, shit, they gave me the wrong ring.” You know, they always have one sample made. They gave him the wrong ring.