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Marin sports history: Remembering the Redwood High baseball team 30 years later
Date of Review: 
May.27.2007
Reviewer: 
BRUCE MACGOWAN
Source: 
MARIN I.J.

ORDS of coach Al Endriss set the tone for the 1977 Redwood High baseball team: "This is not a democracy É it's a dictatorship!" The Marin Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame baseball coach lived by those words while fashioning a baseball dynasty during 17 years at Redwood.
Endriss, who learned his lessons well while playing in the farm system of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, brought with him a unique approach to coaching.

It paid off as his Giants' teams dominated the MCAL, particularly in the 1970s when they won the league title every spring. But it is the 1977 Giants' edition that is best remembered in these parts.

"I think it's going to be a long time before a Marin high school baseball team equals what we did," said Endriss, who coaches golf at the Branson School these days.

What Redwood did was not only to win 33 of 36 games, but also earn immortality by winning the mythical national championship of high school baseball.

The Giants of 1977 were chock full of talent, with seven players earning scholarships to major colleges while five went on to play pro ball. The most notable of those five was Buddy Biancalana, who became a major-league cult hero in 1985 when he came out of practically nowhere to spark the Kansas City Royals to a stunning World Series title at the expense of the St. Louis Cardinals. Biancalana, who had the game-winning single in the critical fifth game of that series went on to an appearance on "Late Night with David

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Letterman."
But Biancalana says his high school career - particularly the brilliant 1977 season - remains his favorite sports memory.

"Al Endriss made us believe we were a better team than we were," Biancalana said.

To be sure, the Giants were going to be a solid team in 1977 anyway, as they had just come off a terrific 1976 season, and were ranked seventh in the country by a national publication. They won the '76 MCAL title in impressive fashion by shutting out rival San Marin 10-0 in the championship playoff game.

But Endriss believed his '77 club could be even better, and his goal was to not only be the best in the state, but the best team in the country, quite a lofty aspiration. Endriss however had reason for optimism. In addition to the slick-fielding Biancalana, who could play shortstop and outfield, the Giants featured third baseman Greg Zunino and outfielder Steve Hoffmire, who would both later go on to play at Cal. Center fielder Jim Connor, who went on to play at USC, was flanked by standout outfielders Jim Jones and Mike Long. The pitching rotation included David Hoffmeister, Steve Travers and Mickey Meister (the latter two also played at USC).

There were other players who also contributed, like Cam Garrett and catcher Howard Gibian, and with this kind of talent stalking the lines, it's no wonder Endriss was brimming with confidence.

In addition to their personnel, the Giants had some other unusual qualities. Endriss required all of his players to wear short hair, a throwback look considering this was the mid-1970s, and a time when long hair was the norm on high school and college campuses.

"I remember I had long hair that frizzed out, and the day before the first practice I used to put it in a ponytail," Hoffmire said.

The next day, however, Hoffmire like the rest of his teammates submitted to the military style buzz cut ordered by his coach. The Giants also wore their uniforms in immaculate fashion, their stirrup socks at

The 1977 Redwood High baseball squad was named the top team in the nation by the Easton Bat Company.
always the same length, as there were no variations on how each player dressed.
Coach Endriss had no assistants, but he believed in building unity, so the freshman and JV teams and their coaches would work out with the varsity squad in an effort to integrate them into his system. Endriss also conducted athletic reliability tests to measure each players "coachability" and honesty, and during infield practice the Giants would get their opponent's attention by having two balls going at the same time. He also set up different stations on the field and then gave the players the responsibility of policing themselves as he roamed around, supervising the action.

"I always told the players, practice belongs to me but the games belong to you," Endriss explained.

To the casual observer, it might have seemed as though Endriss was creating a factory for baseball robots, but the players bought into his philosophy and loved the experience.

"We had a bunch of rough-and-tumble guys," Hoffmire said. "But we vowed not to get too emotional. We were mentally strong and were going to beat the other team, but we weren't going to beat them up afterward in a fight in the parking lot."

The Giants stressed strong defense, pitching and speed. The result was a well-rounded ball club that could win a game in any fashion. Redwood loved to steal bases, so opposing pitchers threw Giant hitters a steady diet of fastballs, many of which were hit over the fence for home runs. The Giants set a school record with 38 homers that year, but the wins they racked up were more impressive.

Redwood had an advantage on their league opponents because they had a great support system in the immediate community. The Tri-Cities Little League program in Larkspur was a great feeder system, and a local booster club supplied funds for trips to tournaments in San Diego and San Luis Obispo, where the four best teams from Northern California and the four best from Southern California would play in a round-robin event. The Giants dominated the SLO tournament in the mid-1970s, winning every single game in which they played from 1975 through 1978.

Endriss was also able to lure top-notch teams to Larkspur such as Jackson High of Portland, which featured future major-league star Dale Murphy, and Auburn High, the Washington state champs.

In 1977, the Giants lost only three games, two of which were in league play to rival Terra Linda. In one of those rare instances, Trojans pitcher Pat Lee, the brother of Red Sox star Bill Lee, shut out Redwood over the last five innings of a 7-5 decision at Albert Park.

But even more noteworthy was a game against the Taiwan national team, an exhibition that is still considered, to this day, the most significant high school baseball game in Marin history. The team from Taiwan was finishing up a 10-game tour against American schools that had seen them score in double figures while racking up win after win.

"It might have been the only time that traffic stopped in downtown Larkspur," Endriss said.

An estimated 4,000 fans lined the Giants' diamond on the outskirts of the Redwood campus to watch this compelling matchup. The score was tied 1-1 after seven innings, and the Taiwanese, many of whom had been members of the Little League World Series championship team of 1972, wanted to call it a day. Endriss and his players however, insisted that the game go on, and Taiwan ended up scratching out a run in the ninth for a narrow 2-1 win.

"They had a great group of pitchers, big guys who threw college-quality sliders," Hoffmire said.

The Giants then went on to defeat Hayward in a wild 12-11 slugfest to win the North Coast Section final, and although El Camino of South San Francisco and Edgewood High in West Covina were considered at the top of the rankings with Redwood, the Easton Bat Company named the Giants national champions.

"I had a great experience with the Royals, but those years at Redwood shaped my life," says Biancalana, who now manages an independent-league team in Texas and also works as a consultant to major-league teams.

Hoffmire, who has a successful painting contract business locally, says he is organizing a reunion for his old teammates in September. He plans to get everyone together for dinner at Marin Joe's, and after 30 years, the group that shows up will probably have plenty of good stories to tell.

For Endriss, his 1977 champion Redwood squad represents the pinnacle of a distinguished coaching career. And the longtime coach probably put it best when he said:

"I've always felt that the greatest thing about sports is that it reveals character."

Bruce Macgowan, a Marin native living in Fairfax, is a broadcast journalist covering professional and college sports in the Bay Area for 25 years. Macgowan's Marin history column appears monthly. Contact him by e-mail at brucemacgowan@comcast.net. Check out Macgowan's blog in sports at marinij.com.

REDWOOD BASEBALL