Auburn’s run to remember

Fifty years later, All-Stars’ World Series title-game trip remains fresh in players’ minds
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
-A +A
The photos are yellowed and faded, but many of the memories from the summer of 1959 remain sharp, especially for those who made them. Auburn’s Little League program was just three years old when manager Lloyd Beggs gathered the top players from the town’s four teams for the all-star campaign. The season began with little fanfare, but from early July through the middle of August, the underdogs from Auburn developed into one of the biggest story’s in Auburn sports history. “We had a strong team, but to say we were confident when we started out, I don’t even think I’d go that far,” said Larry Lipsmeyer, who played center field. The Little League World Series was a relatively obscure event 50 years ago. Now the tournament is shown on ESPN each year and a trip toWilliamsport, Pa. is the dream of thousands of players across the country each summer. Few teams have rallied the Auburn community like the ’59 All-Stars, whose unlikely journey began at the Section I Tournament with wins over Yuba City Peach Bowl, Redding National and Sacramento Oak Ridge. The win over Redding was the only serious challenge the Auburn club faced until reaching the World Series. Auburn trailed 9-6 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and final inning. Bill Epperson played hero with a walk-off grand slam to send Auburn to the section final. “I remember I was on deck and I don’t think I made contact against their pitcher all game,” said Mike Beggs, the son of manager Lloyd Beggs. “He hit the grand slam and I didn’t have to hit again. I don’t know if my dad would have sent me up there again.” At the NorCal Divisional Tournament in Santa Cruz, pitchers Bobby Sunada and Jim Arbogast were tremendous. Auburn beat Sherman Oaks 3-1 and rolled past Santa Cruz American 4-0. West Sacramento hosted the Western Regional and Auburn again had little trouble, beating La Jolla 10-4 and pounding Vancouver Alcoa (Wa.) 11-3. With little time for goodbyes, the Auburn Little Leaguers jumped on an airplane and took off for Pennsylvania to the World Series. Most of the players had never been on an airplane before. “We had our bags packed and went straight to the airport from the (regional) tournament,” Sunada said. “ It took a long time to fly to the East coast back then.” The wide-eyed Auburn players were greeted warmly in Williamsport, thoughthe steamy weather eventually took its toll. Auburn defeated Gadsden, Ala. 3-1 to open the tournament, despite being out-hit 6-4. The Auburn club earned a spot in the championship game by drubbing Shippensburg, Pa. 8-1, riding a seven-run first inning to the rout. In the title game, Hamtramck, Mich. pitcher Art Deras tossed a three-hit shutout as Auburn fell 12-0. Sunada, who was known as “Bobby the Bullet” for his devastating fastball, suffered the first Little League loss of his career on the mound against Hamtramck. But it wasn’t without controversy. Arbogast maintains the team from just outside Detroit used at least one ineligible player in the tournament. A coach from Hamtramck Little League made the claim while the all-stars were in Williamsport, but Little League administrators never investigated the matter. “It still bothers me,” Arbogast said. “One of their regular season coaches said they had two guys from out of their district that didn’t belong on that team. They cheated. But they didn’t want to give Little League a bad name, so no one was really interested in looking into it.” The loss in the championship game did little to squelch the enthusiasm of Auburn’s fans. The team got an escort from the Sacramento airport into Roseville, where thousands of fans awaited their arrival. An even bigger gathering awaited in Auburn as the streets were blocked off and the 12-year-olds were given the royal treatment. “It was amazing when we got back,” said Tony Harrington, who was the lone 11-year-old on the team. “I remember seeing some of the articles in the Journal from when we were there and it was big time. We didn’t really realize it until toward the end of the tournament what that accomplishment meant.” Harrington went on to star at Placer High and then played at Fresno State along with Mike Beggs. Arbogast was a standout at Placer as well and played semi-professional baseball for the Auburn Cubs. Sunada meanwhile ran into arm trouble when he got into high school. “I got burnt out on it,” said Sunada, who owns Maidu Cleaners in Auburn. Sunada’s Little League career is still legendary. “He’s the best all-around Little Leaguer I’ve ever seen,” Arbogast said. “He was unbelievable. He had big arms, big legs, he was really strong. He hit four home runs in one game.” “He was almost unhittable,” Lipsmeyer added. “Most guys didn’t want to go up to the plate when he was pitching.” Every player from the Auburn team is quick to credit coach Lloyd Beggs, whom Auburn’s Little League field is now named after. “I can’t say enough about him,” Arbogast said. “He could get the most talent out of any player.”