Don Saner, a retired insurance executive and Sacramento sports figure who played baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization, died March 18 of Lewy body dementia, his family said. He was 78.
Mr. Saner's early years in professional baseball gave him a strong work ethic and name recognition that followed him into business. A top quarterback at Elk Grove High School and Sacramento City College, he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1953 and spent several seasons as a hard-hitting first baseman with minor league teams in Spartanburg, S.C., Mobile, Ala., New Orleans and Little Rock, Ark.
He led the Southern Association League in 1961 with a .349 average and was named to the Minor League All-Stars. Sent by the Little Rock Travelers to the new Houston Colts now the Astros he went to spring training in 1962 and made three hits in an exhibition game. Told that he would have to spend a month in the minors before going back to the big league, he opted to hang up his spikes and focus on a budding business career.
"Well, I'd been bounced around and maybe was disillusioned," he told The Bee in 1974. "Also, I'd entered the insurance field. So I quit."
Mr. Saner went on to spend 45 years in the insurance industry, starting as a top seller for State Mutual. He climbed the corporate ranks at US Life and Programmed Marketing Insurance before starting his own firm, FIS Financial Insurance Services. He was a chartered life underwriter and president of the Sacramento Life Underwriters.
He was active in the community as president of South Sacramento Rotary and the 1975-76 exalted ruler of Elks Lodge No. 6. He led the Sacramento Bushers Baseball Players Association which named him the city's outstanding baseball player in 1961 and organized annual dinners for former Northern California players. He also served on the board of regents of Christian Brothers High School.
Donald Arnold Saner Sr. was born in 1933 in Sacramento. His parents, Godfrey and Josephine Saner, raised him and a daughter in Sutter Creek and Sloughhouse, where his father was foreman on a ranch that had previously belonged to his family.
Mr. Saner married his high school sweetheart, Joyce, in 1954 and they spent two years together in Germany while he served in the Army. They adopted two children and lived in the South Land Park neighborhood since 1968.
Mr. Saner was well known in the sports and business communities. He was a regular at gatherings of baseball personalities and was inducted into the 2000 LaSalle Club Hall of Fame. He traveled with his wife to many places on business and took his family to San Francisco 49ers games as a season-ticket holder for 37 years.
"He probably wished he had not given up baseball, but he and my mom had decided to adopt my brother and myself, and he wanted to stay home and have a stable life," said his daughter Kimbra. "He was a very good family man."