Baseball: From South Gate to Wrigley

Today the Chicago Cubs named former South Gate High School standout Rick Renteria as its manager.

He’s the latest in a long line of Major League skippers who attended a California high school and one of the last links to a golden era of baseball in Los Angeles, particularly the L.A. City Section.

In the 1960s and 1970s, LA. Section City schools were an oasis of baseball talent. Future Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Eddie Murray were teammates at Locke of Los Angeles in the early 1970s, Hall of Famer Robin Yount broke in the majors from Taft of Woodland Hills at age 18 in 1974 and nine players off L.A. Crenshaw’s 1979 team were drafted by professional teams. One of those players, outfielder Darryl Strawberry, was considered the finest left-handed hitting prospect in two generations when the New York Mets made him the No. 1 pick of the 1980 MLB Amateur Draft.

Amazingly, nine of the 26 players drafted in the 1980 first round, and five of the first eight picks, were California high school players. Among them were two-sport star Darnell Coles (Eisenhower, Rialto) at No. 6 and Renteria, a contact hitter and All-L.A. City shortstop for South Gate, at No. 20.

“Man, we were all amazed when he got drafted in the first round by Pittsburgh (Pirates),” said Willie Arroyo, who played catcher for the Rams and graduated with the new Cubs skipper from South Gate. “I was at Bell and was recruited by him to come over to South Gate after we played in a winter league together. That year there were ball players like Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis (Fremont) and a lot of other talent.”

Renteria broke into the big leagues in September of 1986, but never became an everyday third basemen. Wherever he went, there was always a high-priced, up-and-comer at his position such as Bobby Bonilla (Pirates) and Edgar Martinez (Mariners).

“He never got a fair shot in the bigs because there was always someone making way more money than him, so you’re not going to keep that high dollar player on the bench,” said Arroyo, who played pro ball in Sonora, Mexico for a time while his eventual brother-in-law toiled in between the Majors and the Mexican League, where Renteria was named 1991 Player of the Year. “He always had to prove himself to the team he played with.”

Renteria finished his playing career with the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993 and 1994, where he was dubbed the “Secret Weapon” for his versatility and timely pinch hitting. After retiring as a player, he’s been a coach ever since, finally getting his shot to manage a big league club 20 years after taking his last-at bat for the Marlins.

The Cubs, who inked Renteria to a three-year deal, wanted to hire a manager and/or coaches of Latin-American descent, according to ESPN.com. The organization has several key Spanish-speaking players.

“He fought through because he wasn’t going to let it (business decisions) stop him from getting where he wanted to be in the bigs, and sure enough he did get there,” Arroyo said. “I remember when he hung up the spikes, boy, you could see he wasn’t ready for it.

“Seattle gave him his chance at coaching and now look where he is at. He’s a true story of determination.”

For an in-depth look at California’s baseball history and its position as the best in the world, please buy our Cal-Hi Sports’ e-book, “California: The Baseball Capital of the World.” It’s just $3.99. CLICK HERE  for the link to buy it today on Amazon.com.


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