Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Swede Johnson Basks in the Glory of 1950s Baseball

The Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame held its 52nd annual dinner Thursday, November 4 at the Fresno Convention Center.

Inductees this year included Dennis Janzen, coach of Fresno Pacific's five-time national champion volleyball program; his former player Tracy Ainger-Schulte, coach of Fresno City's powerhouse team in the Central Valley League; and snippets on ex-Fresno State track and field coach Red Estes; former Roosevelt High and USC hurdling star Jerry Wilson; and Bill Woodward, the long-time voice of Fresno State sports who's retired and living with wife Sheila in Lakeland Village, Wash. Other inductees were four-time NHRA drag-racing champion Gary Scelzi; and the 1950 Sanger Valley championship baseball team led by Swede Johnson, plus the 1955 Fresno City state champion basketball team.

According to published online reports, nearly 100 fans from Sanger were among the crowd. Several Sanger baseball team members were in attendance, including Johnson.

As I have read, the 1950 Sanger baseball team, a school of 600 and with a roster of only 15 players, won the 1950 Central Valley championship. The Apaches rallied to win the County championship against Roosevelt 11-9, then came back from an early 5-run deficit early to beat Visalia High 9-8 for the Valley title on Swede’s winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth before a crowd of 1,200 on their home field. That’s a lot of people for a high school baseball game then and now.

I recently had the chance to chat with Swede at a recent Christmas function where he and I talked about the team's big night, his high school days and sports in general in today’s world. publisher and editor Sheldon Baker (r) with Swede Johnson, former Sanger High School baseball star and recent Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame inductee. (Photo by Karena K. Dillon)

Johnson credited the entry of Japanese players into the baseball program after WW II as a key element of that championship season. He also that mentioned four members of the ‘50 baseball team signed pro contracts including Gene Green, who played seven seasons in the major leagues.

"Of course Green's contract was a lot different than it is today for professional athletes," said Johnson as he watched the Christmas Day Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat game on ABC-TV that featured all those highly paid players. Incidentally, the game also marked the introduction of a new line of basketball shoes by Lakers' start Kobe Bryant. The Laker players and many fan notables in attendance were wearing them. You can't beat co-branding on national television. learned that during the dinner, commemorative medallions were awarded to each player and survivor’s representative. The team received praise from California and U.S. legislators in the form of a framed proclamation from the U.S. House of Representatives signed by Congressman Devin Nunes, and a California Assembly Resolution commending the accomplishments of the team, signed by Assemblymen Michael Villines and Dave Cogdill.

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