Sacramento’s baseball history runs deep, going back to 1899 when a team named after a local brewery, known as Ruhstaller played in the Capital City. Today you can taste Ruhstaller beer while drinking in stories about local legends at the Limelight, where Sacramento’s baseball history comes alive on Alhambra Boulevard.
A new baseball exhibit at the Limelight is drawing patrons hungry for a place to talk about Sacramento’s rich roots in hardball that date back to the 19th century. Owner John Mikacich has added dozens of vintage photographs and artworks celebrating Sacramento’s baseball origins.
Sacramento baseball history comes to life at the Limelight
Mikacich collaborated with his good friend and baseball buddy Joe McNamara in launching the baseball exhibit. Both of their fathers loved to play baseball while growing up in Sacramento. Joe McNamara has a strong personal connection to the game – his uncle John McNamara, a Sacramento native, was a big league manager for sixteen years.
“He managed six different teams,” McNamara told me over a delicious lunch of Snapper tacos at the Limelight.
Angels skipper John McNamara with Reggie Jackson
“And he sums up to me what baseball’s all about. Baseball’s about heartbreak,” McNamara said. “You know only one team wins in the end. And my uncle for all his success is remembered chiefly for one play.”
That play is one of the most infamous in baseball history – an episode that Red Sox fans, despite winning three World Series championships this century, still curse to this day.
“He was managing the Boston Red Sox in 1986,” McNamara explained. “They were one strike away from winning the World Series (against the New York Mets). One strike away – foul ball, foul ball, ground ball, wild pitch – before you know it the ball’s going through (Bill) Buckner’s legs and they lose Game 6.”
Red Sox fans are all too familiar with what happened next. “They go on to lose Game 7 as well,” McNamara added. “But everyone remembered that play. And most baseball people believe that John should have taken Buckner out and put a defensive player in as he had done in the past.”
But of course, that’s not what happened. “He didn’t do it for a number of reasons,
McNamara told me. “And he’s always going to be remembered for that and that’s sad.”
But baseball fans can hear a different story at the Limelight. “So part of what we want to do at the Limelight is to show that huge career he had,” McNamara said passionately. “And the impact he had on so many people coming up playing baseball.”
At the Limelight you’ll find a 1968 photograph of John McNamara in an Oakland A’s uniform, along with the legendary Joe DiMaggio, who served as a consultant to the team, in order to remain eligible for Major League Baseball’s maximum pension.
Oakland A’s Manager John McNamara with Joe DiMaggio
It’s part of the baseball history that McNamara and Mikacich are hoping to share with Sacramento. “If you come into the cafe side of the room, “McNamara noted, “you can take an entire tour of the history of Sacramento baseball, going back to 1899. The first team was actually named after a brewery, so it fits that you’re in a bar like this. And they even sell Ruhstaller beer in her too.”
McNamara pointed to the vintage photos on the wall.
Vintage photos of Sacramento’s baseball history
“So you can walk around and see all the incredible legends that played for the Solons,” he said. “And remember the Solons had different versions of the team over the years. They were the Cardinals for a while, then the Solons, and then they were even playing at Hughes Stadium, if you recall in the 70’s and they wore shorts.”
And inside the cafe room are the “amazing artifacts that exist – baseball cards, programs,” McNamara said. “Back in the day when people took the time to do stuff correctly because they loved it. And it really manifests itself in the beautiful artifacts and the art.”
Baseball programs and other artifacts
“And I have to say that Jane Mikacich, who is John’s sister, is also a local artist,” McNamara said. “She did an amazing job putting together these (programs), which were originals – she made copies of them but actually made them better. And they all tell stories about Sacramento baseball.”
A big part of the Limelight’s transformation involves baseball writers. The goal is invite them in for book signings and have them tell stories about baseball. Baseball writer Andrew Baggarly was the Limelight’s guest speaker last Friday, May 8 and he entertained more than 100 fans who were enthralled by his inside story of the 2010 San Francisco Giants, the team that won it all. His book, “A Band of Misfits: Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants”, chronicles the team’s unlikely ascent to baseball’s top spot (see link to book here): A Band of Misfits
Baggarly ended up selling about 70 books. “He wanted to say thank you too,” McNamara said. “Because a lot of those Giants people really appreciate the support they get from Sacramento. And that’s part of it.”
As it turns out, Baggarly’s timing was perfect because two Giants – Hunter Pence and Travis Ishikawa were playing with the River Cats that night – on rehab assignments.
Baggarly is the Giants beat writer for the Bay Area News Group. “It’s his day off,” McNamara told me. “He comes to Sacramento to sign books. Hunter Pence gets a start at Raley Field and Travis Ishikawa. So it’s great timing for him – meant to be.”
Storytelling is just part of the Limelight magic that McNamara and Mikacich are trying to recreate. “It is an historic joint,” McNamara stated. “This place has been here since prohibition. It was across the street from the great Alhambra Theatre. It was actually called the Alhambra Café at one time and another connection – Larry Bowa, the baseball player – his uncle owned this place before Pete and Barbara (Mikacich) bought it in the 1970’s.”
McNamara added, “The food is tremendous. It’s terrific and it’s always being revised. It’s a good place to have a beer because it’s right on the cusp between downtown and East Sacramento. It’s very classy when you come in here. A lot of people used to call it ‘The Slimelight’. And it had a bad reputation for a while. But no longer. It’s as clean as a whistle and it’s almost like eating in a museum. But people can come down here and feel a connection to Sacramento. A connection by – instead of just having a picture of the Capitol on the wall – stories about Sacramentans. So you really feel you’re in a Sacramento joint. And if people are visiting they feel like they are in a Sacramento place.”
The Limelight has invited me to be a guest speaker next month and do a book signing for “Baseball Between Us,” just in time for Father’s Day: Baseball Between Us.
Hope you can join me at the Limelight in June (tentative date Friday, June 12) for a chance to talk baseball.