great Sonny Estes, ultimate team player, dies at 75
When it came to pure athletic ability, there were few who compared to Sonny Estes when it came to picking the best all-around in R.A. Long history.
"Sonny ranked up there with Gary Earnest, Bob Gambold, Bernard Donahue in his era, and Adam Perry in recent years," RAL graduate and local historian Whitey Nelmark said. "If you talked to him, you'd never know how good he was because he never talked stats. He was a team player who went out to win whatever he played."
Estes, who later signed a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs, died at his home in Scappoose on May 26. He was 75.
Millard "Sonny" Monroe Estes Jr. was the youngest of two children born to Millard Monroe Estes Sr., and Ruth Louise (Byrum) Estes. He attended RAL, where he was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball, and was also part of the track team prior to graduation in 1955.
"Sonny could do about anything," Nelmark said. "If he could've participated in track he would've been a hurdler and pole vaulter. He was probably the second-best swimmer in school, but swim season took place during basketball."
Estes was a two-time all-conference and all-state fullback in football and was invited to participate in the All-State Game. He also garnered all-conference honors in basketball and baseball. Shortly after graduation, Estes married high school sweetheart Virginia Kay Bryan. They celebrated their 56th anniversary in 2011.
"Sonny was offered scholarships to most of the northwest colleges and many on the east coast," Nelmark recalled. "He went down to Corvallis to work for the summer after he graduated, but came back and enrolled at Lower Columbia (Junior College)."
Estes hit .380 and led LCJC in RBIs as a sophomore. After the 1957 season, he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs which garnered him a $1,000 signing bonus and $200 a month.
"Sonny was sent to the team in the Arizona State League in Carlsbad, New Mexico coached by former Major Leaguer Rudy York," Nelmark said. "He was relegated to the bench, but when York found out how good of a hitter he was, Sonny was moved to right field."
Nelmark remembered a particular doubleheader where Estes' bat shined.
"Sonny sent me a news clipping when he hit two home runs in a doubleheader," he said. "One of the balls traveled 450 feet, and the other went 475."
Estes was eventually released by the Cubs and was offered a contract by the then-Kansas City Athletics, but he declined the opportunity.
"Sonny was too mad with baseball, so he came home and I helped him get a job in the plywood mill at Weyerhaeuser," Nelmark said. "Most of the guys who worked in the plywood mill also played baseball on a team in the old Portland City League."
Estes wasn't in the league for long before he was approached by the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League.
"When he got to Seattle, he asked the team about their intentions," Nelmark said. "Sonny had been out of organized baseball for awhile, and they said they were going to send him to a farm team in Wenatchee. He asked what he was going to get because he'd been messed over before. The money they offered was the same he was making at the plywood mill, so he walked out and came home."
Estes also worked at International Paper and Summit Timber in Darrington, Wash. as a maintenance supervisor, and retired after a 37-year career in 1998. After retirement, Estes and his wife, Kay, moved to Scappoose, Ore. to be closer to their daughter, Lynda.
Estes is a two-time inductee into the R.A. Long Hall of Fame, placing as an individual in 2006 and as a member of the 1952 football team earlier this year. In 2009, he was also named to the Lower Columbia Area All-Century Team.
He is survived by his wife, Kay; daughter and son-in-law Lynda and Rick Stenlund of Sauvie Island, Ore.; and grandchildren Andrea Lundin and Casey Stenlund. Estes is preceded in death by daughters Deborah and Sandra Estes; and a sister, Barbara Louise Sims.
A Celebration of Life will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. June 9 at the Shamrock Tavern, 1131 15th Ave. in Longview.