To colleagues, he was "Moose" or the "King of Bluster." To locals, he was perhaps the most recognizable Sacramento sportscaster during a career that spanned four decades. Many knew him simply as "Creighton."
Creighton Sanders, a fixture on local television for more than 30 years with his assertive delivery and access to some of the major sports figures of his day, was found dead at his Sacramento home Sunday, a friend said. He was 85.
Sanders debuted on local airwaves in 1960 as the first full-time sports reporter at KXTV (Channel 10). He left to join KCRA (Channel 3) in 1980, first as sports director and as a full-time sportscaster until 1992, when he retired.
"Creighton was one of the best," former KCRA anchor Stan Atkinson said. "And a lot of it was because he had this blustery, old-dog, bull-in-a-china-shop kind of charm about him that really won people over especially sports guys. He was in every way a guy's man."
A Bee story from 1992 recounted how Sanders showed up at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City without a media credential only to be poolside interviewing swimmer Debbie Meyer after she won a gold medal; that he once brokered a deal for Roger Maris' 61st home run ball; that later he preferred high school sports to covering the pros.
Those who knew Sanders said he could be cantankerous or charming, a throwback to a time when sports reporters and the athletes they covered interacted after hours.
Willie Mays and Joe Montana were among those who "would have also claimed Creighton as a friend," Atkinson said.
One of "those outsized characters," Sanders could be seen in the KCRA newsroom typing out the sportscast with one finger, said former anchor Dave Walker. Sanders was said to have built his rapports through legwork and a reputation that approached legend for living as hard as he worked.
"He was as well-connected as any human being I'd ever seen," said Walt Gray, another former KCRA anchor. "He knew everybody; he drank with everybody. He was from that old age of television."
Gray came to KCRA in 1988 as the station's sports director. By then, Sanders was anchoring the noon sportscast and approaching the end of his career.
"He said, 'Look, here are the stories in this town you must cover these boxers, the history of the Solons baseball team,' " Gray said. "I was like, 'Absolutely,' (to) somebody who was there, who was willing to share that with me. I drank it all up."
After arm trouble ended his brief minor league pitching career in the 1950s, Sanders told The Bee in 1992, he returned to his hometown of Portland, Ore., where he took broadcasting classes and landed his first job at a radio station in Tillamook, Ore.
He moved to Sacramento in 1960 and, over time, acquired a public persona as something of a rabble-rouser. He told The Bee in 1992 that his work probably affected his private life, which included several marriages that ended in divorce.
That 1992 story recounted the oft-repeated tale of Sanders' return to Portland for a reception, where he was approached by a woman whom he couldn't quite place an ex-wife.
In recent years, Sanders had been a regular at Saturday afternoon masses at the Holy Spirit Church in Land Park. Father Dan Looney, a church pastor, said Sanders usually missed the service only when his health kept him away.
"His big sadness, I think, was his children, his family, and that he probably wasn't there for them to the extent that he wanted to be," Looney said. "He had developed a deep spiritual approach to life. It was genuine and heartfelt."
On weekends, Sanders had breakfast at the Riverside Clubhouse, where manager Tim Ramirez kept his seat at the bar. They usually kept sports on the TV. When it was golf, Ramirez said, Sanders pulled for Sacramento native Nick Watney.
" 'He's our local guy, Tim,' " Ramirez recalled Sanders saying. "We've got to root for him."