This article was written by Bob Timmermann
This article was published in the The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California (2011)
One day in May 1973, on one large field out in the San Fernando Valley, four baseball games were played simultaneously. In those games, three future Hall of Famers were on the field, with seven other future major leaguers also taking part.
Since Southern California is one of the major sources of baseball talent today, few if any of the top prospects ever go unnoticed by the media now. But on one day in May 1973, on one large field out in the San Fernando Valley, four baseball games were played simultaneously. In those games, three future Hall of Famers were on the field, with seven other future major leaguers also taking part. Only one suburban newspaper took significant note of the goings-on, but even they could not have guessed at the significance of that day’s play.
May 29, 1973, the day of the quarterfinals of the Los Angeles City Section baseball tournament. The four games in this round all started at 2 p.m. at the Sepulveda Sports Center in suburban Encino. The center had four diamonds that shared an expansive outfield. Each diamond had an all-dirt infield and there were no pitching mounds. There were also no fixed seats for spectators, who could just roam the complex.
The headline event of the day was a matchup between Taft High of Woodland Hills and Monroe High of Sepulveda (now North Hills). Taft’s star was its shortstop, Robin Yount, although two newspapers covering the event, the Van Nuys News and Valley Green Sheet and the Los Angeles Times, barely mentioned Yount in its stories. The Times stories of the games were just brief summaries, while the Van Nuys News did not publish every day, so its game stories came out two days after the games were played.
Both teams had scratched across single runs before Monroe won it, 2–1, in the bottom of the seventh inning on a bloop double that just eluded Yount’s dive, and a game-ending single that the Taft left fielder lost in the sun. On another corner of the diamond, Locke High from South Central Los Angeles showed up with pitcher/catcher Eddie Murray and a little-known shortstop referred to in the papers as “Osburn” Smith. Locke faced John F. Kennedy High of Granada Hills, a school that was just two years old. Murray started on the mound in this one, but Kennedy had the better of him, winning 4–3. The winning run scored on an error by Smith on the rock-strewn infield. The third diamond matched defending champion Venice against Granada Hills High. Although there were no Hall of Famers in this one, future MLB pitcher Dave Schmidt (just a sophomore) was playing right field for Granada Hills. Venice won the game, 4–3.
In the fourth quarterfinal, Lincoln High from the city’s Eastside took on Sylmar High. Lincoln started Bobby Castillo, considered the best pitcher in L.A. Castillo was 12–0 for a team that was 18–1 overall entering the game. Castillo fanned 12 in the game, but Sylmar scored four runs in the sixth and seventh for a 4–2 win.
In addition to Hall of Famers Yount (who would be picked third in the amateur draft about a week later), Murray, and Smith, you could also see several other future major leaguers:
- Lincoln High: Castillo
- Granada Hills High: Schmidt
- Taft High: Kelly Paris
- Kennedy High: Jim Anderson, Darryl Cias
- Locke High: Rich Murray (Eddie’s brother), Darrell Jackson.
The championship (played at Dodger Stadium) would ultimately be won by Sylmar, a team which sent no players to the major leagues, although one player, Kevin Kopp, would spend a year in the minors.
High school baseball would start to change after this year. The seasons became longer as more preseason tournaments were held. (Champion Sylmar finished 1973 by playing 24 games. The 2010 champion, El CaminoReal, played 33 games.) Players would become better known. Darryl Stroh, who coached Granada Hills in 1973, said he never saw Yount play in high school, even though his school and Taft are fairly close together. They were in separate leagues, and there were few interleague matches outside of the playoffs. The Los Angeles Times did not mention Yount’s name in its main sports section until Yount’s high school career was over and he was earning Player of the Year awards as well as being the third overall pick in the draft. Murray’s name was consigned to the agate section, and his draft status was not immediately released to the public. (He was a third round pick of the Orioles.)
“Osburn” Smith, aka Osborne, would not be drafted out of high school, where he was better known for basketball than baseball. Instead, the future Wizard of Oz went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and would end up as a fourth round pick by the Padres in 1977 and make it to the majors the following year.
When Murray was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, he joined Smith (inducted the year before) as the only pair of high school teammates enshrined in Cooperstown. The high school baseball playoffs for Los Angeles are now played on far-better manicured fields. Numerous media representatives show up to track the best prospects. The bigger games get live blog updates. Scouts still find gems, but their gleam isn’t hidden as thoroughly as it was. You might find a gem of a player at one of these games now, but it most assuredly won’t be a diamond in the rough as it looked to be back in 1973.
BOB TIMMERMANN is a librarian who lives in South Pasadena, California. He has given research presentations at earlier SABR conventions on the life of Harry Kingman as well as Japanese baseball.
- Van Nuys News and Valley Green Sheet, 31 May 1973.
- Los Angeles Times, 30 May 1973 and 7 June 1973.
- Interview with Darryl Stroh.