Richard "Richie" Myers, a former Sacramento Solon who was a fan favorite as one of the best shortstops in baseball, died Friday of complications from a recent fall, his family said. He was 81 and had lived in Yreka since 2006.
A Sacramento native, Mr. Myers lived his boyhood dream of playing baseball for the hometown team.
Less than a month after graduating as a star pitcher from Elk Grove High School in 1948, he received a $1,000 signing bonus from the Solons and took the mound in front of cheering crowds at Edmonds Field.
Several hours after playing in his third game in the Pacific Coast League, he stood with fans watching in stunned disbelief on July 11, 1948, as a huge fire leveled the wooden grandstands at Riverside Boulevard and Broadway.
He played for the Solons and minor league teams in Twin Falls, Idaho; Wenatchee, Wash.; and Salem, Ore., according to Solons historian Alan O'Connor. He eventually switched to shortstop and fielded for the Solons with speed and a strong throwing arm that made him "one of the top glovemen in the league," O'Connor said.
Mr. Myers played briefly in 1956 with the Chicago Cubs, where his major league aspirations stalled when future Hall of Fame player Ernie Banks was placed at shortstop. He returned to the Pacific Coast League and earned a championship ring with the Los Angeles Angels.
He retired in 1956 with a career .261 batting average and 45 home runs in 937 games and a .964 fielding percentage at shortstop, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Mr. Myers was born in 1930 and raised in a family of six children in the Florin neighborhood. He grew up playing baseball in school, recreation leagues and the American Legion. In 1944, he pitched for a youth team that beat every opponent in its division.
"He threw so hard that the ball just flew by us," said boyhood friend Cuno Barragan, who played for the Solons and Cubs. "I always used to accuse of him of being 18 and playing in a 100-pound league."
After leaving baseball, Mr. Myers worked for the city of Sacramento as a street maintenance supervisor. He was married for 57 years and had two children with his wife, Loretta, who died in 2007. They were predeceased by their son, Richard, in 1985.
Mr. Myers stayed active bowling, hunting and fishing. He golfed for many years and had a 6 handicap at age 72. He enjoyed catching up with former teammates and signing autographs for fans at public appearances.
"Richie was a hell of a good shortstop and a great human being," former teammate Lee Winter said. "He got along well with people and never said a bad word about anybody."
Cheerful and easygoing, Mr. Myers spoke about his baseball days with boyish enthusiasm. In a 1973 interview, he said his biggest thrills were starting in his first game at Edmonds Field and "making it to the big leagues."
"It was quite a sensation just associating with guys like Banks, Willie Mays and Stan Musial," he said. "I still get goose bumps when I attend a professional game. And I still get an itch to play around spring training time."