In Memoriam: Jim Sandoval

By Jacob Pomrenke

Jim Sandoval devoted many years to chronicling the lives of baseball’s unsung heroes: the scouts. His crowning achievement was a comprehensive book on the hard-working men and women who, as he wrote in his introduction, “dig through tons of coal to find a single diamond … always asking the question: Can He Play?” Can He Play? A Look At Baseball Scouts And Their Profession, which Sandoval co-edited with Bill Nowlin, was published by SABR in 2011.

Sandoval, 54, the longtime co-chair of SABR’s Scouts Committee and a SABR member since 1996, was found dead on December 27, 2012, at his home in Harvest, Alabama. Family members and the Madison County (Ala.) Coroner’s Office said a heart attack was believed to be the cause.

Sandoval, a private man with a quiet voice but an unbridled passion for baseball and the people in it, was the driving force behind the “Who-Signed-Whom” database, an ongoing compilation that he led with committee co-chair Rod Nelson. The ambition is to build a complete roster of biographical information on scouts and a listing of the major league ballplayers they signed.

“Jim passionately loved SABR and was a real evangelist in his way, doing whatever he could to try to bring more people in,” Nelson said. “I am really proud of him for completing his ambition (Can He Play?), which is a major contribution to the scouting community.”

Sandoval was a regular presence at SABR conventions and regional meetings, and an expert on the 1919 Cincinnati Reds. He wrote biographies on Edd Roush and Ivey Wingo for Deadball Stars of the National League (Brassey’s, 2004). He also contributed a biography of Black Sox ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte for the American League companion book of Deadball Stars (Potomac, 2006) and later wrote SABR biographies on former Reds stars, scouts and other baseball figures.

In recent years, Sandoval served as an Associate Scout for the Minnesota Twins in Alabama and Tennessee, and could frequently be found behind the plate, usually with a radar gun and stopwatch, at Huntsville Stars minor league games. He also wrote articles on scouting and other baseball topics for many publications, including and the Madison County Record.

Born November 25, 1958, in Orange, California, Jim was the fourth of five children to Rodolfo and Rosalie Sandoval. His father, a Mexican native who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the late 1920s, worked for the California Department of Transportation for many years. Jim and his brothers, Joe and David, were Dodgers fans growing up in La Habra.

“We grew up as a baseball family,” recalled Joe Sandoval, Jim’s older brother. “We were always into sports. You name it, we played it.”

Jim played shortstop for Sonora High School before matriculating to California Baptist University in Riverside. Jim also played baseball in college for the Lancers until, in his own words, he realized he was “more of a prospect writing about the game than playing it.”

He graduated from Cal Baptist in 1984 with bachelor’s degrees in History and Physical Education and began working as a middle-school history teacher in Perris, California, in 1985.

“He liked teaching kids that age,” Joe Sandoval said. ” ‘You can still help them develop then,’ he said, ‘but by the time they get to high school …’ “

In 1996, a colleague who was about to start a teaching job in Alabama talked Jim into coming out from California for an interview. He was hired on the spot by the Madison County school district.

“He had nothing but the clothes on his back and a lesson plan,” Joe Sandoval said. “And that was that.”

Jim worked in Madison County for 15 years and was a respected history teacher at Monrovia Middle School at the time of his death. He was listed in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2000, 2004 and 2005.

Outside the classroom, he cultivated a love of early human culture while co-authoring EMPIRES: A Simulation Exploring the First Civilizations of the Fertile Crescent (2000), a classroom simulation; and Ancient History Activators: Brief, Engaging Historical Experiences (2009).

Jim is survived by his mother Rosalie Sandoval, of Canby, Oregon; two brothers Joe Sandoval, of Canby, Oregon; and David (Amber) Sandoval, of Sonoma, California; and sister Barbara Sandoval, of Gresham, Oregon; and several nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his father, Rodolfo Sandoval; and sister Carmen Garcia.

No memorial service is planned. The family suggests that donations be made in Jim’s memory “to baseball-related causes, which was his love.”


Originally published: January 4, 2013. Last Updated: January 4, 2013.