By John Hernandez
San Manuel Miner
In the spring of 1963, the senior class of San Manuel High School was beginning to think about what they would be doing after graduation. Some would be going on to college after summer break; others would be joining the military, while many of the Class of 1963 would be looking for work, some of them with Magma Copper in San Manuel. The early 1960s was still a time of innocence for the younger generation. The Eisenhower years had been prosperous for the country including the 10 year old town of San Manuel as well as Mammoth and Oracle. Although the Civil Rights movement was heating up and we were beginning to hear more in the news about a place called Vietnam, the overall feeling was one of optimism. The Cuban missile crisis was over and although the threat of nuclear war still loomed over the world, there was some hope with a young President John F. Kennedy sitting in the White House. For the group of young men on the San Manuel High School baseball team there was another kind of optimism as they began practicing for the 1963 season.
The 1963 Miners baseball team had a reason to be optimistic. Seven of nine starters were returning for the defending conference champions. The 1962 team that won the conference championship only had two seniors on the team and was not expected to do so well due to their youth and inexperience. Thanks to a talented group of underclassmen, the pitching of Bud Culp and the coaching skills of a future Hall of Fame coach, the team exceeded expectations. Coach Hal Eustice began getting his team ready physically and mentally for the upcoming season. To understand some of Coach Eustice’s philosophy on coaching, a quote of his found in the Miner newspaper at the end of the 1962 season said “No one ever drowned in sweat”.
San Manuel started the season with a game against Class AA Salpointe. Lee Neal pitched the opener, with the Miners winning 12 – 6. They then defeated Eloy, Globe and Casa Grande. Against Palo Verde another Class AA school, Ralph Ramsey hit a three run homer in the seventh inning to force the game into extra innings. The game would be called a tie in the 8th inning due to darkness. There first loss would be to Coolidge 4 to 3.
Towards the end of April, the Miners found themselves tied with Globe for first place in conference. Their conference record was 7 – 2 with three ball games left. They traveled to Ajo sweeping both games. The Miners then clinched the conference championship routing the Miami Vandals 15 – 2. They were headed to state.
The Miners opened up the state playoffs against Winslow. Ralph Ramsey set the pace pitching a one hit shutout. The game was scoreless until the top of the seventh inning. The Miners had only managed four hits and had left eleven men on base. Gary Knight singled and went to second on an error. He then stole third base and scored on a wild pitch. San Manuel was now in the championship game.
The state championship game was played at the University of Arizona. The Miners faced the Agua Fria Owls. In the second inning Ronnie Clements singled with two outs. Lee Neal singled advancing Ronnie to third. Ronnie then scored on an error by the shortstop. Miners led 1 – 0. In the third inning Ralph Ramsey walked and Gary Knight singled. Bob Hamlett was walked intentionally to load the bases. Robert Newton singled to centerfield bringing in Ramsey and Knight to make the score 3 – 0. In the top of the 4th inning, Agua Fria had runners on base but failed to score thanks to the pitching of Lee Neal and the Miner defensive play. In the fifth inning the Miners scored two more runs on a drag bunt infield single by Doug Swanson. Ralph Ramsey made it to first on a fielder’s choice. The hot hitting Gary Knight then doubled bringing in both runners. In the 6th the Miners scored again on an infield single by Swanson. Swanson stole second base and went to third on an error. Ralph Ramsey then singled Swanson home. Going in to the bottom of the 7th and final inning the Miners led 6 – 0. Lee Neal had held the Agua Fria batters hitless for six innings. In the seventh he shut them down. Neal had pitched a no hitter and San Manuel had won its first state baseball championship, in fact their first ever state championship in any team sport.
The 1963 baseball team finished the season with 16 wins 3 losses and 1 tie. Ralph Ramsey finished with 7 wins and 2 losses and an earned run average of .9996. He struck out 64 batters while pitching 63 innings. Lee Neal was 7 – 1 and had an ERA of 3.60 with 61 strike outs in 54 innings. Besides good pitching and defense, their offense was outstanding. The team had three hitters batting over .400, Gary Knight lead the team with a .452 average. Charles “Junie” Johnson hit .404 and Ralph Ramsey .403. They also had four more of their lineup hitting over .300.
The baseball teams coached by Hal Eustice are considered the teams that created the winning tradition of San Manuel baseball, the 1963 team being one of the best in San Manuel history. This winning tradition would be carried on by future Hall of Fame coaches John Bunch and Don Payne. Their teams would go on to win numerous conference and state championships. It has been 50 years since that first championship and some of those players and Coach Eustice are no longer with us having passed away, but their legacy will live on.
Ernest “Buzzy” Granillo, a member of the ’63 baseball team shared some memories of the team:
I was a member of the 1963 baseball state championship team and that season was a highlight in my life.
Harold Lawrence Eustice came to San Manuel High School in the fall of 1960. In his debut as a baseball coach he orchestrated a conference championship, repeated the same feat in 1962 and in 1963 a state championship. He coached at SMHS two additional seasons and won his fourth and fifth consecutive conference championships. At the time of his death, Mrs. Eustice referred to their years in San Manuel as the glory years.
The 1963 season, as memorable as it was, culminated in the state championship tournament with four Class A conference champions, Winslow, Agua Fria, Douglas and SMHS vying for the state championship. On the first day Agua Fria beat Douglas and Ralph pitched a one hitter leading us to a 1 – 0 win over Winslow.
The championship game pitted us against Agua Fria and as I recall we were leading 6 – 0 going into the seventh inning and Lee was pitching a no-hitter. In Agua Fria’s last at bat the first two outs went quickly. Just one out away from the championship, getting that last out seems to have taken forever. With two outs the Agua Fria batter comes to the plate, Coach and Vanegas are sitting at the opposite end of the dugout from me and my back is to the outfield. Not wanting to make Coach aware, Vanegas gets my attention and motions me to look into center field. I turned and I see our center fielder stuffing his mitt into his back pocket. (In his defense our center fielder was as skilled at catching fly balls with his bare hands as with his mitt) With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I turned to watch Lee deliver the next pitch to the batter. At the crack of the bat I saw the ball go over Lee’s head as it headed toward center field. I couldn’t watch, but I did see Noche stand up, take off his mask and watch the ball as it made its way. After what seemed a long pause, we were the state champs.
On several occasions I have had conversations with others who experienced playing for Coach Eustice, about the abundance of baseball talent that had always been at our school, and if you were in and around San Manuel during this time you know who they were. But, for the lack of someone who could recognize and properly use their talents, lead, and motivate them, it is possible 1963 would not have been the first state championship team.
The ’63 team owes a great deal of gratitude to the teams of ’61 and ’62, for setting the bar at the most challenging height. Some of the memorable individuals that come to mind are Charlie Benaglio, Richard Valenzuela, Pat Cramer, Hoppy Patterson, Bud Culp. Juan Cervantez, Bob Kent and of course the rest whose names I do not readily recall.
The members of the 1963 Class A State Champions were: Coach Hal Eustice, Lee Neal, Ralph Ramsey, Robert Newton, Ernest “Buzzy” Granillo, Bob Hamlett, Charles “Junie” Johnson, Gary “Noche” Knight, Greg Parker, Ronnie Clement, Luciano Torres, Doug Swanson, Nick Besich, Doug Mirich, Rosendo Casillas, Bob Vanegas, Frank Gonzales, and Robert Stroud.
Note: The 1963 baseball team was planning a 50th reunion this year, unfortunately the chief organizer Bob Hamlett passed away. This article is dedicated to his memory.
Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, Glory days