The Obit For Jesse Gonder

Ball player, Oaklander Jesse Gonder, 68, dies

Oakland tribune Online Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - 6:53:11 AM PST

By Katherine Pfrommer, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND -- Jesse Gonder, a longtime Oaklander who spent 15 years playing professional baseball with the Cincinnati Reds and other teams, died Sunday after a brief illness. He was 68.
Memorial services are set for 3:30 p.m. Friday at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland.

"I always got a kick out of him. He was a great kid and a good catcher," said Sam Bercovich, who sponsored many of the youth teams on which Gonder played.

Born Jan. 20, 1936, in Monticello, Ark., Mr. Gonder moved to Oakland at age 14. An athletic youngster, it was evident even at that age that he would become a pro baseball player.

Mr. Gonder attended McClymonds High School with fellow future Cincinnati Reds player Vada Pinson and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

"Hitting came easy to Jesse. He was probably the best natural left-handed hitter to come out of the Bay Area," said Jethro McIntyre, who also played at McClymonds and became a pro ball player.

Mr. Gonder graduated from McClymonds in 1955 and signed with Cincinnati that same year, daughter Tanya Turner of Oakland said.

In addition to daughter Tanya, Mr. Gonder is survived by daughter Simone Gonder and grandchildren Jace and Danielle Turner.

He spent five years in the minors before coming up through the farm system, his daughter said. In 1960, he signed with the New York Yankees under manager Casey Stengel.

In 1962, he won the Pacific Coast League's Minor League Player of the Year award with the San Diego Padres. He posted a .342 batting average, hit 21 home runs and had 116 RBIs.

In 1962, he played with the Cincinnati Reds. At the beginning of the 1963 sea son, he moved to the New York Mets, where he had his best season in the majors with a .270 batting average in 131 games.

In 1966, he started a two-year stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His last season was in 1969 with the San Diego Padres.

"Daddy was extremely outspoken, and when he played baseball, that wasn't very popular," his daughter said. "He was honest and competitive, a straight shooter. You knew where you stood with him."

After retiring from baseball, Mr. Gonder embarked on a second career -- driving a bus for Golden Gate Transit for the next 20 years. Every so often, he'd come home with stories about riders recognizing him from the field, his daughter said. He retired in the mid-1990s.

"After retirement it was all bowling and poker," his daughter said. "He was a very good father, a devoted family man. His grandchildren were the apple of his eye."

In addition to daughter Tanya, Mr. Gonder is survived by daughter Simone Gonder and grandchildren Jace and Danielle Turner. His wife of 23 years, Helena Gonder, died in 1986.