11/10/23: Al Endriss, the man who not only gave birth to the Redwood baseball program but was the architect of its prolonged excellence, passed away at his home in San Rafael on Tuesday, November 7, 2023 at the age of 95.
As news of Endriss’ death spread amongst the hundreds of players he coached over 24 ground-breaking seasons at Redwood, tributes to the Hall of Fame coach poured out on social media.
“We were good, however not as good as (Endriss) made us believe we were,” Buddy Biancalana, who played shortstop on Redwood’s 1977 Mythical National Championship team and went on to play six seasons in the majors, wrote in a touching Facebook post that sparked more than 150 likes and nearly 80 comments. “There is nothing more important than our beliefs, as they are the foundation of our achievements. He made us feel like we couldn’t lose and we rarely did.”
Indeed, Endriss’ teams simply dominated the Marin County Athletic League. His career record at Redwood was 472-119, and his teams won 12 league titles – including an unprecedented stretch of eight consecutive championships.
The Sporting News christened Redwood its “Team of the Decade” for the 1970s, and in 1976 Endriss was named National High School Coach of the Year by his peers.
“When we were kids, Redwood was close a thing to a pro team as you could get,” said Mike Firenzi, who was a bat boy for some of those great Redwood teams and who Endriss would come to mentor as a coach. “They beat everybody year after year after year. My dad took me to nearly every single Redwood baseball game and they never lost.”
Firenzi never got the chance to play for Endriss, but he did get the opportunity to learn from him. In fact, Firenzi learned so well that he crafted a dominant stretch at Marin Catholic before coming to Redwood 10 years ago to resurrect the program that Endriss had built.
Not only did Firenzi return the Giants to glory, he went on to break Endriss’ all-time record for wins in Marin County baseball history. Throughout, Firenzi had the benefit of Endriss’ guidance and baseball acumen.
“I was just in awe of his understanding of the game, and that continued till the day he died,” said Firenzi, who added that Endriss attended many of his games and continued to help coach his players even into his 90s. “He called me after every game I coached at Redwood and mentioned things he saw in the game. And I was like, ‘Whoa, the knowledge of game, unbelievable.’”
When Endriss left Redwood in 1981 – crushing the dreams of so many young North Bay kids who hoped to play for him – he simply launched another dynasty, this time at College of Marin. There, he amassed 465 victories and led the Mariners to six league titles.
Endriss’ teams were defined by their discipline, focus on fundamentals and attention to detail; that included every player having his hair cropped above his ears, sporting no facial hair and wearing uniforms that were immaculate. Spikes had to be shined before every game.
Endriss’ teams reflected his essence – always the best-dressed man in the room, always in control, always confident.
Biancalana shared a story on Facebook that epitomized the coach that so many players came to know and respect:
“A few years ago he had a very bad ankle and we met at a coffee shop to play a few games of backgammon. He got there early for what I believe was not wanting me to see him walk in. When we were finished and began walking to our cars, I could see he was limping badly. I grabbed his arm to help him and he quickly said, “Don’t touch me.” I laughed because it was another example of how he felt he was invincible. I said, “You need a cane,” to which he replied, “I don’t need a cane, I’m Al Endriss.” That was the attitude he instilled in so many of his players.”
Said Steve Fainaru, who played for Endriss toward the end of his Redwood tenure: “Coach Endriss believed in me long before I believed in myself. It’s hard to describe how much that meant at the time. Like me, hundreds if not thousands of players live with the sound of his voice still rattling around in our heads. Looking back, I realize that it was through him that I first learned what excellence looks like.”
Endriss was, himself, an outstanding athlete before he turned to coaching. He grew up in Oakland and was a three-sport star at St. Elizabeth’s High School; he went onto to play baseball, football and basketball at San Francisco State, where he ultimately would be inducted into the school’s sports Hall of Fame.
In 1948, he was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers and played three seasons in the minor leagues. Soon after, he turned to football and had a brief stint with the 49ers before playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
But Endriss’ calling was coaching, and in 1954 he returned to his high school alma mater to coach baseball, football and basketball. Soon after, he went to St. Vincent’s in Vallejo, where he ended up coaching and briefly rooming with Stanlee Buchanan, who also soon would launch a Hall of Fame coaching career at Redwood.
In 1958, as Redwood High opened its doors for the first time, Endriss was part of the inaugural teaching and coaching crew. There, he would be joined by an epic cast of coaches – including Phil Roark, Dick Hart, Bob Troppman, Jess Payan, and Buchanan, among many others.
In a 2012 interview with Redwood alum Skip Corsini, who himself became a high school coach, Endriss talked about how he had to adapt from playing to coaching:
“What I didn’t realize is that I had to become a teacher to be a coach, just as any teacher in English or math at the high school level. I had to break down the game and teach the “hows” and the “whys” of what to do. That was an adjustment. What I wanted to do from that point onward is learn as much as I could about the teaching aspect of coaching, which Is why I was so adamant about attending every coaching clinic I could find, no matter where I had to go. I literally consumed knowledge at every opportunity and then tried to transfer it to my teams as best as I could.”
But beyond drills and details he taught his players, it was obvious Endriss provided them much more than an understanding how to play the game the right way.
“His impact on everyone he coached, taught & mentored will last long beyond all of our years,” Matt Morrison, a 1980 graduate who was a key member of Redwood’s 1978 North Coach Section championship team, wrote on Facebook. “He taught winning, in sports and more importantly in the game of life.”
Endriss is survived his wife Jackie, and his children Mark, Matt and Nicole.