San Jose Giants honor life of Minors devotee Lampe

August 25th, 2023
Chris Lampe became a minority owner in the San Jose club in 1987. He'd been a fan since the '50s.Photos: Barry Colla and Shelly Valenzuela; Graphic: Tom Forget

There are a lot of ways to love baseball. Chris Lampe practiced just about all of them.

A passionate fan since he was a kid, he grew up to become part-owner of a Minor League team, then a front office employee and the California League’s official historian -- all on the strength of his love of the game and its intricacies. He visited over 180 Major League, Minor League and independent ballparks in every nook and cranny of the continent.

“That shows his love and dedication to baseball,” said Charlie Blaney, president of the Cal League from 2010-21. “He was a great person, a wonderful friend and a terrific historian.”

Lampe, who died of cardiac arrest at age 78 on June 24, will be honored by the Single-A San Jose Giants at Excite Ballpark before Sunday’s game.

The historic WPA-built stadium is a perfect site for a tribute to Lampe, who listened to San Jose Red Sox games on the radio as a boy in the 1950s and became a minority owner of the franchise from 1987-2007 and served as its chief operating officer from 2003-07. He was named the Cal League’s official historian in 2005 and wrote and maintained its record book through 2022.

"I've spent 40 years in baseball," said Mark Wilson, the San Jose Giants' general manager for 30 years until he retired in late 2020. "Nobody I've ever met was more passionate about it than Chris."

The celebration of his life will include the unveiling of a mural that will be on display at the stadium alongside murals featuring the likes of George Brett and 11-year Major League veteran Lenn Sakata, who managed San Jose’s club to three league titles during Lampe’s association with the franchise. Lampe’s mural will be placed next to a list of San Jose players who have reached the Majors -- a nod to his careful tracking of every Cal League player to accomplish that feat.

“He had just a tremendous amount of knowledge of the league," said current San Jose GM Ben Taylor. "He absolutely loved everything Minor League Baseball represents for the communities it’s in, in addition to the player development pieces.”

His lifelong love affair with the Minors began a couple years after his family’s relocation from the Washington, D.C. area to the Bay Area in 1953, when Lampe was eight. Having beaten the Giants in moving West, Lampe discovered the San Francisco Seals of the old Pacific Coast League. He found, too, the San Jose club of the Cal League.

Throughout a career as a salesman for the Pacific Bell Telephone Company’s Yellow Pages, Lampe never let his relationship with baseball go stale. He kept working for Pac Bell when his childhood friend -- Time Warner executive Dick Beahrs -- spearheaded a group in purchasing the San Jose franchise and offered Lampe the chance to acquire a small piece (“third base,” he reportedly used to joke). Lampe spent the vacation time he accrued at Pac Bell between 1967 and his retirement in 2003 on Minor League road trips.

"Because of my seniority at work, I was getting six weeks paid vacation a year,” he told in 2006. “My last big trip in 2002, I took six weeks and drove 13,000 miles. We visited 30 parks in 36 days.”

Wilson remembered that Lampe "always rented a car in San Jose" for those trips.

"I just laugh at the thought of the attendant who had to check one of those cars in, and Chris had put 10,000 miles on it," Wilson said.

Those experiences -- and the passion that fueled them -- were an instant basis for friendship with other people who love baseball. When Blaney became president of the Cal League, he and Lampe initially connected in a professional capacity. But their conversations about the game made them fast friends. Every time Blaney came to the park at San Jose (at least twice per season), the pair would share dinner from the Giants' World Famous Turkey Mike’s BBQ stand and talk baseball for hours. Throughout the year, Lampe’s daily routine included swimming a mile, and he kept Blaney up to date on his personal bests.

“It’s a tremendous loss. He was everything you could want in a friend,” Blaney said. “I just love someone who loves what they’re doing. It’s infectious.

"That was Chris, because of his passion for the game and the history of the Cal League.”

And the San Jose team is making his place in it permanent.

"He'll be missed." Wilson said, "But I'm glad everybody will get to see him, walking by that mural and learning about his contributions to the San Jose Giants and the league."