December 05, 2013
This fall, the San Francisco Forty-Niners will play their final games at Candlestick Park, which will be torn down. Few will mourn. But there’s a Nevada connection to Candlestick we’d like to talk about—and it isn’t Colin Kaepernick, the Nevada-Reno graduate and quarterback, or Matt Williams, the former UNLV student who played for the Giants.
We’re talking about Lon Simmons. When he turned ninety this year, the San Francisco Giants honored him by letting him throw out the first pitch at a game. They should. In 1958, when the Giants moved west, he became one of their broadcasters. He ended up doing their games for 25 years. He also did the Oakland A’s games for 15 years and the San Francisco Forty-Niners for 25 years. So, especially if you are interested in those teams, you should know his name. But he also intersects in some odd ways with Nevada.
Before he became a broadcaster, Simmons was a pitcher. He ended his brief career by pitching in four games with the El Centro Imperials of the Class C Sunset League in 1947. He didn’t do too well, since he was 0-3. He had hurt his back, and that finished his career. That was the first season in the Sunset League for the Las Vegas Wranglers. The box scores don’t show him pitching against Las Vegas, but he was with the team when it played here and stayed at the Boulder Dam Hotel.
Simmons got into radio in 1952 in Elko. He later went on to Fresno, where he did Fresno State university sports, including basketball. In 1954 and 1955, while he did their games, the Fresno State basketball team had a guard named Jerry Tarkanian.
After that, he went to KSFO in San Francisco and broadcast a variety of sports and programs. He maintained an old Elko County connection and may not have realized it. Enzo Bianucci, an immigrant whose family settled in Carlin in 1928, graduated from high school there. He owned a delicatessen in Millbrae and would send sandwiches to Simmons and Russ Hodges in the Giants broadcast booth. The Bianuccis were part of a group of Italian immigrants who settled in Carlin, owned ranches, and worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Simmons didn’t just do baseball and football. During the off-season from doing the Giants and Forty-Niners in 1960, he got another assignment: to broadcast hockey. Specifically, Olympic hockey in Squaw Valley, an event held in California. But it was close enough to Nevada for Reno to be a key transportation point and Lake Tahoe to attract a lot of Olympic tourists. The 1960 U.S. hockey team won the gold medal, and Simmons still ranks it as one of the most exciting events he ever broadcast.
After the Giants changed radio stations, Simmons worked for the Oakland A’s on radio and television. By 1995, Simmons didn’t want to keep broadcasting full-time and semi-retired. The A’s had to choose a successor. They hired Ken Korack, the longtime broadcaster for the Las Vegas Stars, now the 51s, and the UNLV Rebels. Korach is still doing A’s games.
There’s a belief that all roads lead to Las Vegas, or at least to Nevada. Whether or not that’s accurate, it appears that a lot of Lon Simmons’ roads have led him to Nevada.
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