Sam Kanelos

Posted on November 3, 2011 – 11:38 PM | by Admin
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By James W. Cameron  Photo by Scott Duncan

Vintage images courtesy Alan O’Connor

Sam Kanelos is in his monthly luncheon meeting with old high school and baseball buddies, some of whom he’s known for over sixty years.  Lunch is just coming to a close and in a few minutes he breaks away for our meeting. He greets me with a confident handshake, a winning smile, and a countenance which belies his years.  With well-trimmed, dark brown hair, a youthful countenance and abundant energy, the man looks a decade or more less than his age.  He quickly confirms that the record books are not in error –  the former Sacramento Solon is, indeed, eighty one.

For five years, Kanelos played minor league baseball, two of those years with the Sacramento Solons, performing at the three critical infield positions of second base, shortstop, and third.  The Solons, who played at Edmonds Field on the corner of Broadway and Riverside (currently the home of a Target),  were a part of baseball’s hierarchy as members of the AAA  Pacific Coast League, which spawned a legion of players who went on to the Bigs (read Joe DiMaggio).Formed as the Senators in 1903, the team was renamed Solons in 1936 and continued to compete as Sacramento’s entry in the PCL until the team moved to San Jose in 1976.  Sacramento’s current Triple A club is, of course, the River Cats, who have been a dominant force in minor league baseball for many years.

Kanelos, the product of an Italian mother and a Greek father,attended Elk Grove High School.  “I started to play baseball in a serious way in high school and we were league champions in my first three years,” he explains.  “I also played American Legion ball on the Florin team which beat San Diego for the state title but in my senior year in high school I opted to play semi-pro ball.”  A year later, at age eighteen, he opened the season with the Solons.  The following year, the Solons fired Manager Joe Marti (it’s “Marti”? not “Marty”?) and brought in Joe Gordon, a baseball legend with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, to manage the club and play the infield. Kanelos was traded to the Hollywood Stars. He returned to the Solons in 1951 and ended his career with the Tri-City Braves in 1954.

“I played with some fine players and had some good years myself.  In 1950, the year I was traded to Hollywood I went five for five on opening day but I screwed up my thumb and couldn’t play for a while.  Another year I hit over .290.” The record books reveal that it was in 1952, when Kanelos was with Spokane, that he played in 138 games and batted .294, hitting from both sides of the plate.  He did, indeed, have some fine years.

The year 1952 was a good year in many ways.  In that same year, Kanelos was married to his wife, Billie Jean, who has been his partner ever since.  “Yeah, it was a great year,” he says, “and four years later I decided to hang it up.  My wife’s father, Bill Bordisso, owned Old Ironsides and he brought us into the business.  It became our future.”

Old Ironsides was named for the historic warship which figured prominently in the American Revolution.  It opened in 1934 in a building built four years before the Civil War, the first establishment in Sacramento to serve liquor following the close of prohibition.  Billie Jean and Sam ran it successfully for many years and their son, Sam Jr., runs it now.  Daughters Janell, Kim and Marla have helped from time to time.  It continues to be a popular destination for Sacramento residents and out-of-towners looking for first rate musical entertainment and reasonably priced, quality lunches. 

Sam has seen Sacramento grow and change in his eighty one years and has seen some incredible things accruing from that growth.  “As a kid, I rode a horse to and from grammar and high school and I used to ride to the post office every day in World War Two to pick up letters from my two brothers who were with the armed forces overseas.  Elk Grove was a tiny place with only four hundred kids in the high school and now it’s one of the fastest growing communities in the country.  I hardly recognize Downtown and Midtown.”

Highlights of an eventful life?  Well, baseball of course.  “I always loved it and I was lucky enough to play professionally.  And my family. Family clearly is the thing that has meant the most.  Family and career….those are the important things in life.”


  1. 2 Responses to “Sam Kanelos”

  2. avatar

    By Old Ironsides Clarification on Mar 28, 2012 | Reply

    Historical Clarification:
    Bill Bordisso and his brother Louis Luke Bordisso were co-owners of the Old Ironsides. Bill Bordisso obtained the liq license and his brother Louis joined him in the business partnership after returning home from the War.

  3. avatar

    By Rocky on Nov 16, 2012 | Reply

    A real Sacramento legend

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