Obituary: Larry Koentopp (1936-2019)

RIP to Larry Koentopp, the former owner of the AAA Las Vegas Stars and the man responsible for bringing minor-league baseball back to Vegas. He died on January 12 at the age of 82. He was also the head baseball coach and athletic director of Gonzaga University from 1970-77.

Koentopp was a former Gonzaga Bulldog player himself, though he never pursued baseball in the minor-leagues. As head coach of the Bulldogs, his teams compiled a 291-141 record, winning three Big Sky Conference titles and one Northern Pacific Conference Championship. Five of his players, most notably Lenn Sakata and Rick Sweet, went to the major leagues.

Koentopp left Gonzaga in 1977 for a year-long leave of absence to spend more time with his family. He did not return to the university but instead became the lead of a group of 13 local investors who purchased the Spokane Indians in late September 1978. He took over the role of general manager.

Spokane, an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, ran into financial difficulties in 1980. Not from the team’s poor performance or front office mis-management. They lost money because of a volcano. The rain and ash fall from the Mount St. Helens eruption led the Indians to cancel 18 of their home games. The team was able to remain in operations thanks to a $150,000 disaster loan from the Small Business Administration.

In 1982, the Indians — now a AAA affiliate of the Padres — announced that it was moving to Las Vegas and a brand-new stadium. It was the first time that minor-league baseball had been in Las Vegas since the 1950s. The team was renamed the Stars and was an immediate success, going 80-62 in its inaugural season.

Las Vegas won the Pacific Coast League championship in 1986 and 1988. Koentopp sold the team, which was renamed the 51s, to Mandalay Sports Entertainment before the 1993 season. The team is now known as the Las Vegas Aviators and is the AAA affiliate of the Oakland Athletics

“Larry brought Triple-A professional baseball to Southern Nevada,” Aviators President/COO Don Logan said in a news report on MiLB.com. “He gave me my first opportunity in professional baseball 35 years ago and I will be forever grateful to him. He was an outstanding baseball executive and we are all saddened today by the news of his death.”

Here is another report on his life from the Las Vegas Review-Journal: https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/aviatorsbaseball/larry-koentopp-who-brought-triple-a-baseball-to-las-vegas-dies-at-82-1572549/

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