Editor's note: This story, by Scott Gourley, was originally published in the 2002 Crabs program. We are posting it here in his memory today.
For almost 50 years, Ned Barsuglia has been serving and preserving the Humboldt Crabs. Beginning his team participation as a community fund-raiser in the early 1950s, Barsuglia progressed through the roles of Board Member, Board President/General Manager and Team Scout. His vision for the last five decades has always been toward the future and the dream that he shared with team founder Lou Bonomini. In fact, as the 2002 team takes the field, Ned has already has already made initial recruiting trips and player contacts for the 2003 roster. The Humboldt Crabs are pleased to take this opportunity to honor his amazing commitment to the team and thank him for his decades of service to the entire community.
They were Bonomini and Barsuglia, known to college coaches across the western states as "The B&B Boys from Eureka." And for nearly half a century, Ned Barsuglia has shared and continued founder Lou Bonomini's vision for the Humboldt Crabs.
"Lou started the program," Ned explains. "His vision was to bring a good caliber summer collegiate baseball program to the people of Northern California. I supported Lou because he and I were pretty good close friends and it seemed we always thought along the same lines."
Born in Arcata on Easter Sunday, 1920, Ned Barsuglia moved to Korbel the following year when his father got a job on the Annie and Mary Railroad. Ned's first experiences with local baseball came as a batboy for the Korbel Volunteer Fire Department baseball team during the summer of 1928, just one year after Babe Ruth set his single-season record of 60 home runs with the New York Yankees.
Ned's family returned to Arcata in 1932. By the time he graduated from high school in 1938, Ned was back on the diamond, playing outfielder I manager for the Arcata Merchants.
"We won the championship two years in a row," he remembers. "We played in the Arcata Ballpark and we used to pass the hat for money. Pretty good. Four or five of the players went on to play with the Crabs when they started."
It was about this time that Ned got to know Lou Bonomini.
"I knew Lou when he played ball in the 30' s. I used to go watch him play when we had the old Redwood League here, which we had up till the war. That was a pretty darn good league: Scotia, Fortuna, Eureka, and Arcata I Samoa. Semi-pro teams. Scotia would bring in seven or eight players from Saint Mary's or Santa Clara, Eureka would bring in some players and we brought in some players. It used to be a 'Sunday League' and it was a good strong league before the war," he says.
Barsuglia got a job in the Arcata Barrel Factory following high school, saving enough to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall of 1940. Unfortunately, Ned's sophomore year studies were derailed by the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that prompted his military enlistment in January 1942.
On December 16, 1942, Ned married Dolly, his wife of nearly 60 years. Four days later he shipped out for three years of overseas duty that took him through North Africa, Italy and France. While Ned was serving as a supply sergeant and military recreation center manager in Europe, Dolly spent the war years welding liberty ships and serving in the WACs.
The couple returned to Arcata in 1945 where Barsuglia opened Ned's Men's Wear in June of the following year. Originally occupying shop space off the lobby of the Hotel Arcata, the shop moved around the Arcata Plaza to 875 H Street in 1952. Ned kept the store until May 1968 when he moved into real estate.
"I kept following the Crabs, going to the games from '45 on and got to know Lou Bonomini pretty darn good," Ned says. "He always would say, 'You've got to help, get on the board.' And I said, 'I'm not ready for it.' We're talking back in '48, '49, '50 and '51. But we were good close friends; actually like two brothers.''
Barsuglia shifted from Crabs fan to active participant in 1954, the year that the Arcata City Council forced the Crabs out of the Arcata Ballpark in favor of another team composed of local merchants.
"I went to the Arcata City Council and pleaded that we shouldn't cut the Crabs out. They debated it for a couple of months and finally, the third time I went, they had decided that they were going to let the local team use the field Saturday and Sunday. That's the time I made the statement that 'I hate to tell you this but I don't think they'll last till the Fourth of July.' And they were done by June the 25th. They just couldn't draw flies," he says.
With no weekend home, the Humboldt Crabs board energized local supporters to raise $15,000 to install lights on Eureka's Albee Stadium. The 1955 season opened at the Eureka venue with the Crabs playing under the stipulation that they would stay for 10 years. "
I became a board member in 1954," Barsuglia relates. "Back then we were going to the State Tournament in Atwater, California, and I would help to raise some dollars in the Arcata area from local businesses. Even though we weren't playing in Arcata we still had a lot of good followers that contributed to the Crabs. So that's mainly what I did from 1954 to '60, helped to raise money and helped to get some jobs for ballplayers."
It was about this time that Ned worked with local basketball standout and future Arcata High School Coach Jerry Paul, sponsoring "Ned's Men's Wear," a collegiate level team that played throughout Northern California during the late 50's and early 60's.
Their 10 year commitment fulfilled, the Crabs returned to play the Saturday night games in the Arcata Ballpark during the 1965 season, returning to Albee Stadium for their Sunday match-ups. 1966 saw all games played back in Arcata.
Reminiscing about the '65 season, Barsuglia relates that "We had this great pitcher from Stanford in those days, Sandy Vance. And listen to this, he threw 92 to 94 miles an hour. That first game he played he struck out 21 guys. But we still lost one to nothing. The problem was we had a local catcher here and he couldn't hold the heat. They scored on passed balls."
Vance and the 1965 Crabs went to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita where Vance was chosen as Most Valuable Player. He subsequently became one of many Crabs players who have gone on to professional baseball, working his way through the minor leagues and pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1970 and 1971 seasons.
The early 1960's also saw Barsuglia increase his Crabs board participation, joining Bonomini with the player recruiting chores for the 1965 season and assuming the recruiting role entirely two years later. It was the same year that Barsuglia became Board President/General Manager.
"In '67, when I took over the board and recruiting, I told Louie, 'We've got to go with all college kids.' And we did. I brought in the first ball players we ever had from Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, and Washington State. The coaches there were really good guys and we would also get players from Stanford and Cal. So in '67 we started with all college kids. And then we went on. We went on."
For the next 20 years, The B&B Boys split the Crabs workload between Bonomini on-field and Barsuglia off-field.
"We had a great rapport between the two of us," Barsuglia says. "Louie's wife and his daughters ran the concession stand and he ran the field. I did the hiring, firing, scheduling, and recruiting. And Louie would go with me when we'd go recruit."
It was an era that saw the introduction of an assistant coach, beginning in 1972 and youth baseball camps, beginning in 1981. The first Crabs Camps were held across the county in locations as spread out as Crescent City, Hoopa and Garberville.
One noteworthy team recruited by the B&B Boys during this era arrived in Humboldt County in 1985 and proceeded to win 45 straight games, garnering reporters and news coverage from the Bay Area to Portland. After beating "Oscars of Oakland" in a three game slaughter totaling 35 runs to 5, the winning streak was snapped by a 6 to 3 loss during Sunday's game.
"I think the kids partied all night before the game," Ned says. "That ended our streak but we went to Wichita and were rated one of the top teams to come there. We got to Wichita and won the first game – Mike Harkey won the first game and he later signed with the Cubs as their first round draft choice. But then we lost the next two. A real disappointment. A great experience. They were a great team but I think we were just base balled out. We ended up the season 51 and 3."
In addition to Harkey, the '85 Crabs launched two other pitchers and a third baseman all the way to Major League Baseball.
Barsuglia continues, "Then in '86 we got Tom Giacomini, the coach at College of the Redwoods, to come in and be Lou's assistant: a great person; a super guy. Lou retired at the end of '86 and Tom took over 1987 for the next five years. And Tom's wife and his two kids took over the concession stand. They were quite involved."
"Tom had a good record," he adds. "We had some good teams during those years."
Giacomini's last year was 1991, about the same time that Barsuglia says he began interviewing for his own replacement. "I was trying to find somebody who could take over the Crabs and interviewed different guys. But I just couldn't find the right guy."
Meanwhile, in addition to raising their four children (plus eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren at last count), Dolly was beginning her fourth decade of sharing Ned with the Crabs, a diverse role that ranged from laundering uniforms and feeding and housing players in their Arcata home to selling everything from tickets to candy bars at the ballpark. Things came to a head in 1994 when medical problems kept Ned away from the ballpark for several weeks.
"I was worried," he says. "But I came out of it and got down for the last three weeks or so. But, finding nobody to take over the team, I came up with a little personal solution. I was already looking for ball players for '95. But I thought, well, I'm just going to tell them that I'm gonna quit. So I let it be known, thinking 'This will stir up something.' And it did stir up something. I got calls from players 30 and 40 years ago who couldn't believe it- calls from Florida to Alaska; from Vermont to Southern California. After I made the announcement that I was going to quit, I figured that it might bring somebody out. And if it didn't, I'd just have to continue. It went over national wires. It was all over. It was big. I couldn't believe it. I heard from players who read it in their sport pages: Crabs after 50 years are going to hang it up on the oldest semi-pro team in the states."
Ned interviewed 12 or 13 people, but just couldn't find the right individual. "It had to be somebody that was a good businessman, had experience with money and knew something about baseball," he said. "And then Matt Nutter called. Out of the blue sky he called and said, 'You know Ned, I might have somebody that might be the man you're looking for.' And I said, 'Who?' And he said, 'My dad.'"
Nutter, a former Crabs pitcher, arranged for his dad, Jerry Nutter and Ned to meet. Ned remembers, "He came to the house and he sat here and we talked and he admitted 'I don't know a damn thing about baseball."
But Nutter had long been the head of the Orange County YMCA, handling a huge budget and staff of employees and volunteers. "You know, he impressed me very, very much," said Ned. "He's a great person, a great person. So he said, 'I would be interested in doing it but only if you stay with me and help me through it,' which I did for a couple of years."
Nutter formed a non-profit corporation and assembled a new volunteer Board of Directors to take the Humboldt Crabs into the 1995 season and beyond. "And that's where we are now," said Ned.
With the team safely in the hands of the new board, Ned returned his focus to recruiting quality players for the coming seasons.
"I start in the middle of September when school started," he explains. "But I already have an idea of which kids that are interested for next year already. You can't just wait until next year. You've got to talk to them this year for next year. You've got to plan a year in advance. You see, before Christmas we already had about 13 or 14 players signed- the imports."
Ned still takes three or four recruiting trips a year, tailored to catch a glimpse of players from between 12 and 18 schools.
"I kinda know the coaches," he says. "And when I talk to them and I ask, 'How about this kid? Have you got him placed?' 'I'm interested in him.' From the previous year I've seen him play and I've already talked to him. Hey, there are over 120 teams he can go to. And back in the 60s and 70s there were only about 25."
Reflecting on the strength of the country's oldest semi-pro team, Barsuglia observes that "It was always for the community and for the people; to bring them good baseball. And we're also here to help the players advance in baseball. We offer the players a chance to better themselves and to play some very good baseball."