<
>

California's all time winningest baseball coach John Stevenson is dead at 76

1/12/2010

Long time El Segundo coach John Stevenson died from an apparent heart attack on Tuesday night. He was 76. This story originally appeared in the 2009 CalHiSports.com State Record Book and Almanac.

When you think of prep sports in California, football and basketball remain in the public conscience in large part due to the television and media coverage its stars receive.

The Golden State, however, is ripe with baseball players. In fact, at various times during the past 30 years, an estimated 20 percent of all Major Leaguers attended a California high school.

If you were to land at Los Angeles International Airport and travel five minutes South you find yourself in El Segundo, a small beach side town on the Santa Monica Bay known for the Chevron refinery and many large aerospace companies. Travel down Main Street and you will find El Segundo High, a school that looks trapped in time.

Over the past 50 years baseball coaches in the South Bay region of Los Angeles have come and gone. New schools have been built and population has increased, but one thing has remained the same.

John Stevenson has been the baseball coach for the Eagles.

He started his head coaching tenure at El Segundo back in 1960, at the youthful age of 26. He's coached the game from the height of its popularity, when it was America's pastime, to where the sport at the high school level gets little ink in the sports pages of America's ever-shrinking newspapers.

The last time the CalHiSports.com State Record Book was published, Stevenson ranked No. 1 in all time career wins with 973, which at the time was 200 wins ahead of another California coaching icon, Guy Anderson of Cordova High School in Rancho Cordova. And at that time, he had over 300 more wins than the next South Bay coach on the all-time state list, Harry Jenkins (Redondo Union and West Torrance), who had 651.

Keep reading the CalHiSports.com State Record Book and you will find Stevenson's name in the category for most varsity seasons coached. Back in 2005, when the last book was published, Stevenson had coached 46 consecutive seasons, which at the time was ranked No. 2 behind Bob Brian, who coached at Gustine and South San Francisco. As you read the pages of this book, Stevenson sits atop that list as well.

Over his tenure at El Segundo, Stevenson has coached two Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball State Players of the Year. The late Ken Brett was the first during the 1966 season. The second came in 1972 and was another pitcher, Scott McGregor.

McGregor went on to become a 20-game winner in the big leagues but Brett will always hold a special place in Stevenson's heart.

When Brett passed away, losing a fight with cancer, Stevenson was quoted in the South Bay Daily Breeze saying, "I'm prejudiced, but if you go back to his era, 1964, '65, '66, he was the most devastating high school baseball player I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot of them."

"I've never seen a guy who could do it so many different ways," he added.

The El Segundo skipper would later coach Ken's younger brother, George, who actually played with McGregor. He wasn't quite as dominant a prep as his older brother or McGregor, but was enshrined in Cooperstown back in 1999.

Six of Stevenson's former players made it to the Majors: the Brett brothers, McGregor, Bobby Floyd, Billy Traber and Zak Shinall. Coaching six future Big Leaguers is not unprecedented, but you can count on one hand the number of Hall of Famers whose high school coach is still going strong a decade after their enshrinement.

Stevenson earned his 1000th career win in March of 2007. It came against Beverly Hills in the El Segundo Tournament, a game in which the Eagles came out on top, 7-1.
After the game Stevenson told the Daily Breeze, "I am glad it's over so we can now get on with the rest of the season."

Although he was the first coach in the annals of California prep baseball to reach that milestone, Stevenson's professionalism, approach and respect for the game keeps him chugging along while his program remains formidable.

In 2006, El Segundo made it to the CIF Southern Section Div. IV Finals where they topped Charter Oak, 3-0, to capture the program's seventh section title under Stevenson. The Eagles followed up that season with a return trip to the finals, but fell to Palos Verdes High School 7-1.

Going into his 50th season as El Segundo's skipper, Stevenson has secured all the accolades possible of a prep baseball coach but is still looking forward to another spring teaching the game. About the only difference when he turns in his lineup card now than it was a half century ago is the name of El Segundo's field, which now bears his name.