Photo by Courtesy of Stu Gordon

Stu Gordon: The Ultimate Bear Backer

February 3, 2020
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Stu Gordon grew up in Los Angeles and dreamed of pitching for the Dodgers.

Cal athletics and the Bears baseball program are grateful that he didn’t. Instead of joining Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax on the mound at Chavez Ravine, Gordon, a pretty fair left handed pitcher for the Bears in the 60s, went to law school. He eventually founded a firm successful enough to make him a wealthy benefactor for the Bear sports programs, particularly baseball. His biggest save was the sport itself. 

Gordon, a founder of what is now Bear Backers, has contributed millions and raised even more to support Cal athletics and it’s not hard to say what the baseball program would be without him: a memory.

When the team was one of four sports targeted for elimination by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and athletic director Sandy Barbour in 2011, Gordon led the successful drive to save it. He has since been the driving force behind the plan to keep it going into perpetuity.

“In addition to his own financial support, he has really been the sustainable energy behind it, which you’ve got to have,” said Jay John, Associate Athletics Director, Development. “There needs to be somebody who is just going to keep the fire burning, which he’s done.”

For his philanthropic work, involving not only Cal sports but many worthwhile charities, Gordon has won numerous awards. Twice he was given the Carl Van Heuit Cal Baseball Alumnus of the Year Award and the Cal baseball team’s Excellence in Leadership Award is named for him, 

That is all well and good, but not very important. At least not to him.

“I loved baseball, I loved playing baseball at Cal. It was a real breakout period of my life,” Gordon said in a recent interview.  “I loved (his Cal coach) George Wolfman. ...it seemed like a natural thing,... I do it not to win awards or accolades. I do it because I like to do everything well I possibly can.”

Gordon is not spending money inherited from his family. He alone is responsible for his wealth.

“I grew up in Los Angeles. My parents had very little money,” he said. “I started with a paper route at the age of 7.” 

Gordon later sold programs at Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars Triple-A baseball team. Showing he was far from avaricious, Gordon confesses that he spent as much time watching the games as he did hawking programs., 

“I loved sports,” he said. “My father was a really good softball pitcher and I used to go watch him.”

It was his concern for his father’s well-being that helped Gordon develop the control that became his trademark as a pitcher. 

“I would throw to my father in the driveway,” he said, “I tried to make sure the ball hit his mitt, because when I bounced it would hit him in the knees or the elbow, and he didn’t like that very much.”

Cal Athletics
Gordon as a pitcher

Gordon became a star athlete at Fairfax High School, not only in baseball but also basketball and track. He credits his baseball coach Frank Schafer with helping him develop his mound skills, but when it came time for college, the two diverged. Schafer had sent several of his players, particularly pitchers, to USC. He had that in mind for Gordon.

He seriously considered the Trojans and even UCLA. Cal was also in the picture, and when it came decision time: love conquered all.

“My girlfriend from high school -- for two or three years we were inseparable --  got a scholarship to go to Stanford,” he said. Berkeley is a lot closer to Palo Alto than L.A. is, so Gordon became a Bear.

“Cal wasn’t very expensive in those days. Cal paid for almost everything,” Gordon said. “My father sent me 20 dollars every month. We couldn’t tell my mother about that.

“I also had a janitorial job in Dwinelle Hall. Twenty hours a week, for which I was paid about $20. So I had a little extra money.”

On the freshman team, Gordon had a 4-0 record. He was ready for the varsity next year, but very early in the season sustained his first injury.

“I slid into second base and tore up my meniscus and had to have knee surgery,” he said. “That was the beginning of the many injuries I have had that have destroyed a lot of good opportunities but allowed a lot of other ones to occur.”

That became a redshirt year, The following season, 1961, Gordon pitched both as a starter and a reliever, going 7-0.

He was set for a big year in ‘62, when his sustained another injury, this one basically ending his pitching career.

Running out a sacrifice bunt, Gordon, all 6-4, 140 pounds of him, arrived at the bag simultaneously with the ball and the burly first baseman. “My shoulder was the loser,” Gordon said. “I tore my labrum, I tore the capsule and I tore the AC joint in my shoulder. I had reconstructive surgery. After that collision, my arm was numb for two or three weeks.”

He tried to pitch again, but it was no-go. Whatever professional aspirations he had were no longer feasible. Koufax and Drysdale carried on while Gordon went to law school at Boalt Hall.

He was president of the class his first two years at Boalt and eventually president of the student body. “Then I went on to become a lawyer, sort of worked my way up,” he said in a massive understatement.

By 1974 he felt confident enough to start a firm with partner Don Rees. “It was just the two of us,” Gordon said. “Our office was the size of a small conference room.

Today  “Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP has offices in every state and employs more than 900 lawyers.

All the while he was not only following the Bears but lending a generous hand. In the late 60s, he and a small group realized the fact there was no organized system of fundraising for athletics. They started the Golden Bear Athletic Fund. 

The first year they raised more than $400,000 and within a few years were annually producing in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. 

“Dave Maggard (the athletic director) said it was so big the department had to take it over,” Gordon said. “They renamed it Bear Backers.”

And he was also making individual donations. He wrote big checks for Haas Pavillion and the high-performance center in Memorial Stadium.

“Think how rich I would have been if I had spent my money on other things, “ he says with a laugh, obviously not regretting a penny of the money he contributed. He also helped the baseball team level the playing field, literally.

“Edwards field was so wavy when you stood in center field you couldn’t see home plate,” Gordon said. “I put together the fund to even the whole field and put in the irrigation system.”

Along with that, he led the drive tp put lights in Evans Diamond so the Bears could play night games. 

And then came the stunning announcement eight years ago that baseball was on the chopping block.

A group of donors not including Gordon initially raised $2.5 million. That was not nearly enough according to Birgenau, who met with Gordon on Feb. 22, 2011. “He told me it would take $10 million to save the program and the budget was due April 1,” Gordon said. “That gave me five weeks.”

Gordon got right to work. He canceled a long-planned trip to Africa and hit the phone lines.

“Doug Goldman stepped up and gave a million so I only had nine million to go,” he said. “And then I just called everybody associated with Cal baseball. And I kept calling and calling. My wife said, ‘You are like those people who call you during dinner and bug you for political causes and stuff.’

“Well by April 1, I had raised 10 million,”

Gordon exhibited the same stubbornness and determination as a player. His one-time catcher at Cal, Bob Milano, who went on to coach the team for 22 years, vouches for that, recalling one particular game when Gordon was uncharacteristically ineffective.

“After three or four innings I go to the mound and I say, ‘Stu, stop shaking me (off). Your slider is not moving today, that’s the only ball they’re hitting,’ Milano said in a phone interview. “ ‘Why don’t you throw your fastball, it’s sinking like a sunofabuck. And the guy behind me (the umpire) loves the low pitch.’

“He said, ‘No I like my slider.  I said, ‘Stu, if you don’t do it I’ll tell Wolfman.’ And then he threw it and starts getting strikeouts and ground balls. But that was Stu, he believed he had good stuff and I had to debate with him.”

Milano recalls Gordon as not only a fine pitcher but a great teammate.

“He was quiet in the dugout, but he would always give a big clap when a guy made a great play,” Milano said. “And the best thing, he told me a long time ago, ‘Someday I’m going to help this program.’

“And he’s done it.”

Other stories:

Baseball and Oakland A’s: The Trend Continues

Bear Insider Podcast: UnderArmour Exec and Former Cal Hoopster Ryan Drew

Discussion from...

Stu Gordon: The Ultimate Bear Backer

2,437 Views | 5 Replies | Last: 1 mo ago by Looperbear
Sebastabear
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Very nice article on Stu. Thanks for sharing. He's a great friend of Cal Athletics and, for purposes of this board, the football team. I don't think I've ever gone to an away game Stu wasn't also in attendance. I still remember our bus getting lost after the Minnesota game and Stu yelling into the phone at Dave Rosselli (who was the head of Development at the time and wasn't on our bus) trying to get him to figure out where the heck we were: "Dave, Dave, what is going on? Oh my God the driver just took a turn into an empty field. Dave, we are going around in circles now . . . ?"

I also remember him basically losing his mind at the Cheez-It Bowl, which would have been funny if I hadn't been in the same boat. Think he was with us at Ole Miss as well, but these interactions start to blur together. Anyway, Stu desperately wants Cal to succeed and his given a big chunk of his life and his fortune to making that happen. His passion is an inspiration and he sets an example for us all.

Well done Stu.
Bobodeluxe
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So, they canned the Shocky piece for this?
82gradDLSdad
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Nice article. Thank you.
wallyball2003
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Thanks for all you've done Stu.
Looperbear
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Bump. Great article about a great Bear.
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