February 13, 2005
DEAN OF THE QUEEN CITY:
Edo Vanni is the dean of Seattle baseball (Larry Stone, 2/13/05, Seattle Times)
Edo Vanni is down in his basement on Queen Anne Hill, taking a walk down memory lane.Posted by Orrin Judd at February 13, 2005 6:51 PM
Check that — not a walk. More of a sprint, spikes blazing, just like in the glory days, when Vanni was front and center in that most splendid era of Seattle baseball, back when the Rainiers ruled the town.
"I like to come down here and meditate," he says.
Surrounded by a lifetime's worth of memorabilia, the stories flow as smoothly as the vino in his wine cellar around the corner. It's not hard to imagine, for just a second, that Vanni is back at Sicks' Stadium on a sun-dripped Sunday afternoon, playing a doubleheader with that powerhouse 1940 Rainiers team, his favorite of them all.
Or maybe he's in the cramped clubhouse at old Civic Stadium, where Vanni used to go as a teenager to clean spikes for Pacific Coast League players like Joe DiMaggio.
In the span of a two-hour chat, he's baiting an umpire in San Diego, brawling in San Francisco and trading barbs with his old buddy, Billy Martin, in Oakland.
"He's a 21-year-old man trapped in an 87-year-old man's body," said his son, also named Edo Vanni. "He still thinks he can spit in his glove and go play with the boys."
Edo Vanni, the elder, is the heart and soul of Seattle baseball, the one person still around who has seen and done it all, and can still tell you about it in intricate detail.
The heart is helped now by a pacemaker, and nearly stopped ticking four years ago when he was racked by a devastating infection. But the soul is untarnished, and it's imbued with infield dirt, foul-line chalk and the faint smell of hot dogs and popcorn.
"The key is to keep moving," said Vanni, whose longevity formula includes a daily walk, three glasses of wine, and the enduring love of his wife of 56 years, Margaret. "A guy told me a long time ago, always keep moving, or the undertaker will catch you."
He was a speedy outfielder, a fiery manager and a wheeling-dealing general manager. He was a great friend of Fred Hutchinson, coached for Lefty O'Doul, worked for Gene Autry, and knew just about every baseball player, from Ted Williams to Jay Johnstone, whoever came through the Pacific Northwest with a major-league dream.
Vanni played on the first Rainiers team in 1938, after beer magnate Emil Sick bought the old, decaying Seattle Indians. He also managed the last Rainiers club in 1964, just before they became the Seattle Angels.
"The Rainiers were king of the hill in summertime, and Edo was one of life's great characters," said Johnny O'Brien, another Seattle legend and Vanni crony.