The baseballs were hand-me-downs from the local semipro team,
scuffed and sometimes lopsided, their seams torn so the leather
flapped like the tongue on one of those dogs that were always
slobbering happily at Bailey Santistevan's side. For as long as
he coached--and he coached until he became a small-town
legend--Santistevan never had the luxury of throwing away even
the most woebegone ball. Instead, he picked up needle and thread
and painstakingly sewed each ragged treasure back together until
it was ready for the miners' sons who could count on little
other than a game in the frying pan heat of a Utah summer.
They lived in Bingham Canyon, 28 miles southwest of, and a world
away from, Salt Lake City. Their fathers dug for the source of
other men's riches--silver, gold, lead and, most plentiful of
all, copper--but the boys knew this canyon in the Oquirrh
Mountains mainly for what it lacked. There were no lawns they
could mow to earn the price of a bike, and no level ground where
they could ride bikes if they actually got them. There was only
the old orange school bus that wheezed up Main Street on summer
mornings at eight and carried them to the field where
Santistevan waited with the baseballs that defined a place and
an era and him.
All three are permanently intertwined in the memories of the
old-timers from Bingham who will gather on the last Fourth of
July of this century, just as they have on more Fourths than
anybody can remember. They will turn out, as they always do, at
the annual pancake breakfast in a leafy park at the canyon's
mouth and breathe life back into a town officially out of
existence since 1971. They will talk about the avalanches that
leveled houses. And the daily 3 p.m. blasting in the world's
largest open-pit copper mine. And the games that were so vital
to the town that even the mine would shut down early for them.
Every conversation will hum with a sense of community as
indomitable as Bailey Santistevan himself. Yes, his name will
come up again and again, rising out of an ethnic stew that
proves what a melting pot the canyon was in a state otherwise so
blond and blue-eyed that it seemed like a Viking breeding ground.
Santistevan's teams left their mark on the town, and Santistevan
left his mark on the kids who played for him, whether it was at
Bingham High or in his summer school of baseball. He wasn't
loved by all, and he may have been hated by some, but in the end
he was too big a force for anyone to ignore. "Bailey wasn't
going to be your buddy," says Jimmy Brown, who cherishes the
memory of every ground ball Santistevan hit to him at second
base 55 years ago. "What Bailey did was influence your life. He
taught us that when you play the game, you play it only one way:
July 4, 1999
Santistevan expected a level of effort that had rewards far
beyond the high school championships his Bingham Miners kept
bringing back to the canyon. The players he coached from 1928 to
'54 learned what it took to survive in a world that would hand
them nothing, and the people who watched them play never forgot
their passion or their swagger.
Don Gust didn't realize just what an impression his teams had
made until a stranger approached him in 1970 and asked, "Aren't
you that little fart who used to play shortstop for Bailey
Santistevan?" Well, yes, Gust was, but little hardly described
him anymore. He was working on the potbelly that has since
become a front porch, and, more to the point, he was a grown
man, an ex-minor leaguer with a wife, four sons and a job as a
high school baseball coach. And here was this stranger who
remembered him from an American Legion tournament in 1946, the
one over in Colorado Springs in which Gust, at 14, had been the
youngest player and the hottest hitter. Admiring fans actually
had thrust handfuls of cash at him--and Santistevan had made the
kid give back every penny.
The stranger knew all about it because he had coached one of the
opposing teams. Now he was a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, and
he wanted Gust to work for him part time. Gust took the job, and
he's still at it, working himself into a lather at tryout camps
and proudly flashing his ring from the Reds' 1990 world
championship. But hardly a day passes that he doesn't remember
how it all started with those baseballs that anybody other than
Santistevan would have thrown away. Those balls made Gust,
always and forever, one of Bailey's boys.
Before anybody in Bingham heard of Little League, there was the
Eskimo Pie League. Surely no more appealing, evocative name ever
existed for anything involving boys and baseball. Santistevan
concocted it in the early 1930s without corporate benediction
and, so far as his old players can recall, without giving
anybody an ice-cream bar. All he wanted was something that would
lure boys onto the diamond when they turned six. They could keep
playing in his summer program until they were 16, but the older
they got, the more mundane the names of their leagues became:
Pee-Wee, Middle, Giant, Major. Only once in a lifetime could a
sister look at her big brother and think of him as an Eskimo Pie.
Mornings began with Bailey's boys rallying 'round the flagpole
where Joe Timothy, the one-legged bus driver, deposited them.
That was the way it was done at the all-dirt diamond called the
Brickyard, where Santistevan's troops first played, and at the
high school field that became their home in 1939: One of the
players would blow To the Colors on a dented trumpet (Gust and
his big brother, Russ, were among those who did the honors), and
as soon as Old Glory was flying high, Santistevan would hand out
equipment. Each game got one ball, one bat, one set of catcher's
gear and one set of bases, all well worn by the semipros who had
passed them along. The result looked like something Norman
Rockwell might have painted.
"You'd see young catchers, and their belly protectors would be
dragging on the ground," Don Gust remembers. "And the bats, why,
they'd been broken, and Bailey had nailed 'em back together and
taped 'em up. They were 34 or 35 inches long, so you had to
choke up on 'em, but you'd better be careful you didn't choke up
so far that you hit yourself in the stomach when you swung."
For all its apparent comedy, the scene was rich in passion, the
kind that made southpaw Billy Boren forget that his family was
so cash-strapped, he had to play with his righthanded brother's
mitt. The kids chose teams from their ethnic enclaves, made out
their own lineups and hustled local businessmen for uniforms, if
you can call a cap bearing a sponsor's name a uniform. "The
place you wanted," Gust says, "was the Elba Ruth Shop--you'd
call it a boutique today. It gave you a cap and a T-shirt." Even
the local brothel was good for a donation, but Daryl (Sonny)
Robertson, whose nine games with the 1962 Chicago Cubs made him
the only big leaguer Bingham ever produced, points out that the
team sponsored by an amiable madam discreetly called itself the
Main Street Boys. "Up in that town," he says with a sly smile,
"everybody pitched in."
Bailey's boys played three hours each morning as though they had
a moral obligation to repay the community with pure ferocity.
Every game was a donnybrook, and if the squirts in the Eskimo
Pie League rang up less than 40 runs, it was a bigger surprise
than Utah voting Democrat. There were always arguments and
sometimes fisticuffs, and, yes, you might say that letting the
kids umpire their own games contributed to the combative
atmosphere. A player from the team at bat stood behind the
pitcher and called balls, strikes and the bases. In turn, the
opposition called him everything it could think of.
When the hostilities raged out of control, Santistevan would
come running. "You kids quit your damn arguing!" he'd roar. "I
saw that last play--and the runner was safe!" It didn't matter
if Santistevan had seen the play. This was a world of his
making, and he was its ultimate arbiter.
He was also the only adult allowed anywhere near the field on
all but one day every summer. The exception was Parents Day,
when the mothers and fathers of Bingham were invited to watch
their sons wage war on the diamond. But they had to do it on
Santistevan's terms, which meant no interfering in any way. Half
a century ago and more, Santistevan knew what parents today have
forgotten. He knew that games belong to the kids.
Nary a word of protest could be heard from those hard-bitten
miners who were fathers and who saw Santistevan--or
Santistevens, as some still say it--devoting his life to their
sons. If he was grooming talent for himself in the process, if
he was building the foundation for the nine state high school
championships and five American Legion titles his teams won,
well, so be it. For he was showing his players a way they might
make a buck at something that had nothing to do with mining,
maybe by picking up $5 or $10 a game in the state's Industrial
League, maybe even by going pro. And something else: Santistevan
was delivering a lesson about what it meant to be from Bingham.
"We learned how to scrap, simple as that," Jimmy Brown says.
"There wasn't a white-collar kid in that canyon--it was all
blue-collar. And Bailey taught us to dig down and fight for
everything, because that's the way it was going to be all our
Everybody who played for Santistevan and got hit by a pitch knew
what he would hear if he was still standing: "Rub some dirt on
it!" Santistevan shouted the same prescription for every bump
and bruise that wasn't fatal. This was a man who knew from
personal experience what it was to have a fastball dent his
skull in the dark ages before batting helmets. It happened on
his wedding day, an inappropriate time to be crowding the plate,
much less getting hauled off to the hospital. But that was
Santistevan for you, living by a code that defied all logic but
He was a railroad man's son out of Jack Dempsey country in
southern Colorado, born and raised in a flyspeck of a town
called Los Animas, and the Utah Copper Co. brought him to
Bingham in 1926 to play second base. He got a job in the mine,
too, which offered more security than wandering from one minor
league outpost to another, the way he'd been doing since he
graduated from Colorado A&M that spring. The mine wasn't his
true calling, though. Neither was second base, as it turned out.
Destiny beckoned two years later, when the principal at Bingham
High asked if Santistevan was interested in coaching. No sooner
did he say yes than he had two teams to call his own, baseball
and football. He never made a secret of which was his favorite
sport, but he never gave football short shrift, either. He
finagled his way into Knute Rockne's coaching clinics at Utah
State, and he made an annual ritual of lining up his team's
helmets in front of the school and painting them himself. By the
time his 26-year career at Bingham had run its course, he had
coached four state football champions and fathered a daughter
whose name was inspired by his favorite trick play, the Susie Q.
But just looking at Santistevan staring out of an old newspaper
photograph, you know that this was a man who thought most tricks
were beneath his dignity. There's a maximum-security aspect to
the hard line of his mouth, and what's left of his hair is cut
short, as if he wished he didn't have to bother with it at all.
Then there are his eyes. "Black, black eyes," says his
first-born daughter, Nanette Santistevan Noble. They were a gift
from his ancestors in Spain. They became a weapon that made him
seem far bigger than 5'8" and 160 pounds. They bore through you
even when you meet his gaze at the remove of time, and they bear
witness to all the stories you have heard about the hard line he
His players didn't drink water during practices or games, and
they didn't wave at their friends in the stands. They didn't
stay out past 10, and they didn't go to dances, because dances
could lead to the kind of scoring their coach considered a
distraction. "My dad kicked his two best players off the
football team one year because they'd gone to a dance at another
school," Bailey Santistevan Jr. says. "Rules were rules, even if
it cost him the championship." And it did.
The father was tougher still on his only son, the strapping kid
who became an entomologist and now, at 71, lives in retirement
in Murrieta, Calif. Bailey Sr. booted Bailey Jr. square in the
butt for not wearing socks to football practice, made him play
fullback with a dislocated shoulder and pulled him from a
baseball game in which it looked as if he would strike out every
batter. Their relationship finally boiled over when Bailey Jr.
heard his father say no to the New York Yankees' scout who
wanted to sign the boy in 1945.
"My dad wouldn't even look at the contract," Bailey Jr. recalls.
"He just said, 'This boy's going to college.' Well, I got upset
and joined the Marine Corps. I taught him a lesson." The sad
expression on Bailey Jr.'s face as he tells the story says it
was no lesson at all. His sister Nanette, a retired educator
back in Salt Lake Valley, finds the words to go with the memory:
"It broke my father's heart."
Bailey Santistevan the elder really did have a heart, no matter
how hard he drove his son and every other son of the canyon. His
heart was on display every time he sat down to mend a torn ball
or a broken bat, but it didn't stop with that. There were the
letters he wrote faithfully to the Bingham boys fighting World
War II, and the balls he gave to kids from all over, and the
50-cent pieces Bailey Jr. once saw him press into the hands of
two scared, penniless, not-so-tough guys fresh from Salt Lake's
juvenile detention center. "He never spanked his own kids,
either," Nanette says. "My mother did."
What's more, Santistevan had some very public moments of
vulnerability, usually when he got so wrapped up in coaching
that he forgot about his diabetes and went into insulin shock.
"He'd start acting like he was drunk," Gust says. "It scared the
hell out of you the first time you saw it happen." But after
that, his players knew what to do. They raced to his duplex next
to the school, where his wife, Edith, always kept a pitcher of
orange juice laced with sugar. As soon as he got that in him,
Santistevan would be back to normal. Normal by his standards,
So let's assume his insulin level was where it belonged that day
in 1950 when Bingham was down two runs in the state championship
baseball game, and Gust was coming to bat with the bases loaded.
Here was the perfect man for the situation: the Miners' cleanup
hitter, a slugging shortstop who would go on to sign with the
Detroit Tigers for $3,000 when that was a fat bonus. But
Santistevan called Gust over for a confab, and the first thing
he told his star was, "I don't think you want to hit today."
"Yes, I do," Gust said.
"No," Santistevan said, "I better get somebody out there who
wants to hit."
"But I want to hit," Gust said. On and on they went, until Gust
was so cross-eyed with rage that he was ready to chew his bat
down to a toothpick. Then Santistevan walked away, and Gust hit
the triple that proved they had both done their jobs.
By now you don't need to be told who used to say that the
winners walk on Main Street and the losers walk in the alleys.
The credo exerted more than a little pressure on Bailey's boys
for the simple reason that the only street in the canyon was
Main Street. It snaked for three miles, from the French enclave
called Frogtown at the bottom to the copper mine at the top.
Main was scarcely more than 20 feet at its widest, just enough
for two cars to squeak past each other, and it was always fodder
for the wits who insisted that dogs in the canyon had to wag
their tails up and down.
As for alleys, there were none. Instead there were the gullies
and ravines where people settled even before the population
peaked at 15,000 in 1930, making living space on the only paved
street as tight as a pair of secondhand shoes. Residents
gravitated toward their own kind, in places with names no suburb
could ever have: Greeks in Greek Camp, Scandinavians in Carr
Fork, Slavs in Highland Boy, and so on. But when you hear that
Bingham High's class of 1950 counted 18 nationalities among its
55 graduates, you know there was no way all those ethnic groups
could have avoided each other. Squeezed together, they came to
realize that they were bound by their blue collars. Their hunger
fueled the fire that Santistevan lit in his ballplayers.
"People in Salt Lake Valley acted like they were afraid of us,"
says Billy Boren, a star tailback and centerfielder from the
Bingham class of '47 who grew up to become a prominent
businessman and a Mormon bishop. "We were from the other side of
the tracks, so they got it in their minds that we were almost
What they were, really, was poor kids whose parents rented
houses for $10 a month or bought them for $500. Kids who knew
what it was to use a dynamite box from the Hercules Company as a
chair. Kids who, even in winter, slept on porches with only a
sheet of canvas between them and the elements. Kids who watched
their fathers sign their paychecks over to the Bingham
Mercantile, knowing they would have to go to a clerk in that
many-splendored store if they wanted so much as a dime for the
movies. Kids who never heard their fathers plot an escape to a
better life. "All they talked about," says Brown, who grew up to
know success in sporting goods and graphic design, "was being a
track boss or a timekeeper. It was never a doctor or a lawyer.
They were blue-collar, and they never thought they could be
The promise of honest work brought them to this wedge of the
Oquirrhs, discovered in 1848 by two young Mormon settlers--the
Bingham brothers, Thomas and Sanford--and dominated first by the
Utah Copper Co. and then by Kennecott Copper. The fathers of
Santistevan's ballplayers were paid wages, often no more than a
dollar an hour, that kept them on a short leash and made them
thankful for small favors. "I remember when we got a raise to
$1.02," says Gust, who worked his way through the University of
Utah on the night shift. "I thought I was rich."
He was, but in ways that had nothing to do with the almighty
dollar, ways that he wouldn't recognize until he was older and
Bingham was no more. Then he, like so many of Bailey's boys,
would look back and remember how Santistevan brought that town
together with his teams, giving people a rooting interest in
something far more valuable than copper: their sons.
Bingham became a place where American Legion baseball games that
would have drawn 20 parents and friends in Salt Lake City were
good for throngs of 700. Come the high school football season,
the field would be ringed two and three deep with fans who
arrived early to avoid the crush in the bleachers. The Pastime
saloon ran a pool on every game that a Bingham team played, no
matter what the sport. When the Miners finally won a state
basketball championship, in 1960, the shopkeepers threw open
their doors for a bash to end them all. "The dads were offering
to get the Mormon kids drinks," says George Sluga, the former
Eskimo Pie Leaguer who led the champs in scoring and has since
coached Bingham to six more titles. "I think everybody was happy
because they'd won so much money betting on us."
To look at the old high school today, it's hard to believe it
could ever have housed the white-hot passion that Santistevan
ignited. The two-story brick edifice sits abandoned and forlorn,
its name now adorning a modern structure in nearby West Jordan,
in the thick of the upscale swirl that consumes Salt Lake Valley.
Behind that padlocked relic is an even sadder sight: the mammoth
field that the Miners used as diamond and gridiron and that
Santistevan held claim to every summer by running 10 or 12 kids'
baseball games at once. Time and weather have joined forces to
split home plate down the middle. The infield is so overgrown
with weeds that you can barely make it out. The concrete football
bleachers in rightfield are spider-webbed with cracks, and the
wooden baseball grandstand has vanished.
But on the Fourth of July last year, if you talked to the men
who played there as Bailey's boys, you came away believing that
this ragged wasteland is an illusion and that the men's memories
are the reality. They gathered beneath the cottonwood trees in
Copperton Park, and they ate the pancakes that the Lions Club
and the Volunteer Fire Department served up, and they remembered
everything as clearly as if the Eskimo Pie League were only
There was Kent Stillman, retired from the Navy, remembering how
he used to play for Santistevan all day, then rush off at
twilight to hang numbers on the scoreboard at the semipro games.
There was Sonny Robertson, retired from the Salt Lake County
Sheriff's Department, remembering how he drove his coach nuts by
trying to hit home runs over a leftfield fence that was 400 feet
away. (Of course, Santistevan always got even at the next
practice by hitting Sonny 100 extra grounders.) And there was
Gust, remembering the big brother who was among the first of
Russell Gust, 10 years Don's senior, lived his life as if
Santistevan had charted it: Went off to college in Ohio and had
John Glenn for a classmate. Played minor league ball even though
he had mangled his throwing hand in his father's printing press
when he was a kid. Earned a handsome living as a chemist in
Nevada. And made sure his kid brother had a baseball mitt, so he
too could be one of Bailey's boys and play the game that ruled
"Russ died in '94," Don said. "Heart just blew out on him." But
no sooner had the words left his mouth than Don realized they
were an insufficient tribute to a man who lived to be 72 and
always abided by the lessons that Santistevan taught him. "I'll
tell you something, though," Don added quickly. "He played golf
right up to the end on nothing but medication." There it was,
proof that Russ had stayed the course that began with the Eskimo
Pie League. Only one thing was allowed to stop him.
They still talk about Tommy Pazell as one of Bailey's boys who
could have made it, but when he graduated with the class of '37,
he looked like a better fit for someone's pocket than for the
big leagues. Stood 5'3", weighed 104 pounds, and here was the
kicker: He was barely 15. But Santistevan never did the easy
thing by writing him off as a shrimp. "He was real fair, just
like a coach should be," Pazell says all these years later. "If
you tried, you played." And when Pazell played, whether he was
lashing a base hit or chasing down a fly ball, he got bigger and
bigger, until he simply couldn't be ignored.
The fight to be noticed was force of habit with Tommy by then.
He had started kindergarten a year early because he didn't want
his four older brothers leaving him at home, and he had skipped
the sixth grade because he was as smart as he was small. Never
did he let his size beat him. He learned the virtue of
resourcefulness from his father, who kept whistles wet in
bone-dry Utah by bootlegging wine. "I stomped on so many
grapes," Tommy likes to joke, "that they called me Purple Toes
Pazell." But every laugh he found in Bingham seemed to be offset
by a lesson in life's hard edge. Why, at age five, he saw two
men killed because of mindless ethnic hatred.
Suffice it to say, his illusions were few when he became one of
Bailey's boys. Maybe that amplified all the good experiences
that lay ahead of him. Santistevan told Pazell he would play if
he busted his butt, and each held up his part of the bargain.
Santistevan also said Pazell might make some extra money playing
semipro ball after he graduated, and that proved true as well.
Pazell made $6 a day swinging a maul in the copper mine and $6
for every game he was in centerfield for Gemmell Club, the local
semipro team. He did that for four years, saving what he didn't
hand over to his mother and growing six inches and gaining 46
pounds. He still wasn't a monster, but he was big enough for a
Boston Red Sox scout to notice him.
"Kid got any power?" the scout asked Santistevan. As if on cue,
Pazell smote a home run. "Yeah, but can he run?" the scout
asked. His next time up, Pazell beat out a bunt for a single.
And that was how the Red Sox came to sign him, which was more
than even Santistevan had ever promised.
Pazell headed for Canton, Ohio, in the Class C Mid-Atlantic
League, with the glove he had paid for by shoveling snow, and,
as he puts it, "I did good." It's right there in his scrapbook:
the .293 batting average, the 17 stolen bases. He went to Double
A Scranton near the end of that season and could have stayed on
the next. Problem was, it was 1942.
World War II was getting uglier by the minute, and Bailey's boys
were tripping over each other in their eagerness to fight the
Axis powers. Pazell wasn't about to be left behind. He ended up
in Patton's Third Army as a tech sergeant who got a battlefield
promotion to second lieutenant. "It wasn't because of bravery,"
he says. "I just knew what I was doing." His specialty was
artillery. So there he was, in France, lobbing howitzer shells
at the Germans, when they answered in kind. The shrapnel from
the blast knocked Pazell's left knee out from under him and sent
his baseball career to an early grave.
He could have had it worse, of course. He could have been one of
the 15 sons of Bingham who died in the Good War. He could have
been as dead as Ernie Sheen, the good-natured galoot who hit so
many homers for Santistevan that the whole town thought he was
the next Babe Ruth. But Pazell lived, and so he had to face what
he would never be. He would never be a big leaguer.
The bitterness of that disappointment could have eaten at him
for the rest of his days. But that wasn't how Bailey's boys were
taught to get along. They were taught to pick themselves up and
move on as best they could, which is why Pazell would spend 29
years as a teacher and finally vice principal at Bingham High.
He wasn't just doing what Santistevan taught him. He was doing
what Santistevan did. It was a good life.
The canyon stands behind a gate now, off-limits to the
unauthorized. If you want to see where the town of Bingham used
to be, you have to drive four miles south and follow a new road
up to the visitors' center at the copper mine. It's not a trip
that many of the old-timers take. You could understand why when
you saw Gust peer hopefully over the rim of the canyon for the
first time in maybe a decade, then pull back with a stunned look.
"They filled in the whole damn thing," he said, his voice little
more than a whisper. For a long moment he was silent, and
silence is rare for this live wire with laughing blue eyes. But
nothing could have prepared Gust for the sight of his boyhood
home buried beneath the tons of earth that have been moved as
the mine has expanded. "They always told us it would happen," he
said finally, "but holy cow...."
His world had shifted, and yet no matter what age and experience
had taught him, he didn't want to accept it any more than he
wanted to remember the way the town looked at the end, with only
1,500 residents hanging on. He wanted there to be something
about Bingham that endured, something that would carry its
memory into the next century and remind people that such places
once gave the nation its foundation and its backbone. Hearing
Gust talk about Bailey Santistevan, you can't help thinking of
the coach as the perfect champion of that long-gone canyon's
glory. For one thing, a lot of the glory was of his making. For
another, he seemed too tough to cave in to anything as ephemeral
But the truth arrived on a June day in 1954, when Santistevan
was just back from fishing in Mexico with the son who had turned
from adversary to buddy. He had been out in the garden, and then
he had walked into the house. "My mother saw him go inside,"
says Nanette. "When she went in a little later, he was dead."
His heart had stopped him at 53, worn out from the battle with
Santistevan lay in state in the teachers' lounge at the high
school, and the crowd lined up for blocks to pay its last
respects. Then so many people filed into the auditorium for the
funeral service that there weren't any seats left. Those who
couldn't find one had to gather on the front lawn. When there
was no more room on the lawn, they spilled into the street.
Of all the people who turned out that day, the first to come to
Nanette's mind is one of those sweet, sad souls every small town
seems to have. His name was Reggie, and he shook a lot and
stuttered, and he loved Bingham's teams more than the mountain
air he breathed. He never missed a game, home or away, and
sometimes, when Reggie would be out hitchhiking to keep his
streak intact, Santistevan would stop the team bus and give him
a ride. Now Reggie had come to repay the kindness. "He knew my
father always carried hard candy for his diabetes," Nanette
says, "so that's what he brought to the funeral service. He
wanted us to put it in his pocket before they closed the casket."
Reggie got his wish. And the story became a treasure worthy of
telling in the century ahead. Pass it on.
Bailey's boys played three hours each morning as though they had
a moral obligation to repay the community with pure ferocity.
Players learned to survive in a world that would hand them
nothing, and people who saw them play never forgot their swagger.
Main Street was scarcely more than 20 feet wide, and wits
insisted that dogs had to wag their tails up and down.
Admiring fans actually thrust handfuls of cash at Gust--and
Santistevan made the kid give back every penny.
For as long as Santistevan coached, he never had the luxury of
throwing away even the most woebegone ball.