John Gonsalves spent nearly two decades as the head coach of the Long Beach State baseball program, leading the 49ers from 1970-88. Even before his time as head coach, he laid deep roots in the Long Beach baseball community as a player at St. Anthony High School, Long Beach City College, and at Long Beach State. Gonsalves passed away over the weekend at the age of 79.
Gonsalves was inducted in the Long Beach State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998, and has remained heavily engaged with his alma mater.
“I am saddened by the news of the passing of our friend and legendary baseball coach John Gonsalves,” commented Long Beach State Executive Athletic Director Andy Fee. “One of college baseball’s most innovative coaches, John had a profound impact on our baseball program by creating a culture of excellence on the diamond and in the classroom. His love and appreciation of the game was unparalleled.
“On a personal note, Coach Gonsalves was very kind to me when I first arrived at LBSU and I will always remember our conversations about our program and community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Gonsalves family.”
Coach Gonsalves served as a mentor to the coaches who succeeded him, and was a mainstay around the program. Prior to the 2021 campaign, Gonsalves was among the guest speakers during the Dirtbags’ virtual homecoming event to kick off the season. Current Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela has stewarded the program for two abbreviated seasons, but said that “Coach G” had a big influence on both him and the team.
“From day one he was a huge supporter and believer in what we’re about,” Valenzuela said of Gonsalves. “I was able to have great meetings, breakfasts and lunches with him when I got the job. I learned a lot from him and learned a lot about this program and the history. He was one of our mentors to one of our players, Isaac Ramirez. It’s sad to see him go.”
After graduating from St. Anthony High, Gonsalves played two seasons at LBCC in 1962-63 where he was an All-Metropolitan Conference selection as a second baseman. He would later become a member of LBCC’s Hall of Champions, inducted as a member of the 2007 class.
Following his two years with the Vikings, Gonsalves went on to play two seasons at LBSU under head coach Bob Wuesthoff. Gonsalves then spent three years in the New York Mets organization before returning to The Beach in 1969 as an assistant under his former coach.
Gonsalves took over for Wuesthoff as head coach prior to the 1970 season, and promptly led the 49ers to their third CCAA conference championship. Gonsalves had also helped lead the ‘Niners to a conference title in his first season as a player (1964) and his first as an assistant coach (1969). Coach G spent 19 seasons at the helm, making him the longest-tenured coach in program history.
“That was his life. Baseball was his mistress for sure,” said Gonsalves’s son, Johnny. “My dad was the kind of guy where if you do something, you do it 100 percent. I remember I tried to quit the seventh grade track team once. I was a long distance runner and I just wanted to play baseball, but he wouldn’t let me quit. He said ‘No. Once you’ve started something, you’ve gotta finish it.’ My dad was old school. You didn’t talk back or question your coach, you just fell in line and worked your butt off.”
His best season as head coach was in 1979, when he led Long Beach State to a 39-23-3 record, which represented the highest win total in program history at the time. Gonsalves’ teams won 20 or more games 13 times in his first 15 seasons. After racking up 460 career wins and ushering Long Beach State into the Big West era, he became one of just four individuals to have their number retired by LBSU Baseball.
In addition to his tenure as a coach, Gonsalves also spent 33 years as a kinesiology and physical education professor at LBSU. All told, his time on the Long Beach State campus spanned 40 years, from his arrival as a player in 1962 until his retirement from teaching in 2002.
John Gonsalves was more than just a great baseball man. He was a father, a husband, and a friend to many in the community. Down at the local bar, his buddies knew him as “Chico”, but his family will remember him as someone who dedicated his life to helping others.
“He was friendly and available to everybody, and he was a good friend to a lot of people,” Johnny said of his dad. “He always wanted to help people out and he’d take the time to give advice and share some of his knowledge and expertise. He had the knowledge and wasn’t scared to share it, and I don’t think you could get more accolades than he had, especially in the Long Beach baseball community.”
Coach Gonsalves was remembered with a moment of silence prior to the Dirtbags’ season finale last Sunday. The family is planning to hold a mass at St. Anthony Church, as well as a Celebration of Life at Glory Days in Seal Beach before the end of the month. Dates and times for the services are still pending.