Fresno Grizzlies

Fresno Grizzlies founder Carbray dies, led charge to bring Triple-A baseball to town

Former Fresno Grizzlies president John Carbray, who led the charge to bring Triple-A baseball to Fresno in 1998, died Saturday at 80 years old. Carbray headed the Grizzlies’ day-to-day operations during the minor league baseball franchise’s first five years.
Former Fresno Grizzlies president John Carbray, who led the charge to bring Triple-A baseball to Fresno in 1998, died Saturday at 80 years old. Carbray headed the Grizzlies’ day-to-day operations during the minor league baseball franchise’s first five years. THE FRESNO BEE

Former Fresno Grizzlies president John Carbray, who spearheaded the efforts to bring minor league baseball back to town, died Saturday. He was 80.

Carbray had been battling Alzheimer’s for the past few years with the help of his wife Diane.

Carbray headed the Grizzlies’ day-to-day operations during the franchise’s first five years.

And though the baseball club has scrapped many ideas and the original look that the Grizzlies had when they debuted in purple and black uniforms in 1998, the Fresno club has maintained a semblance of the original slashed F logo that Carbray introduced.

“John and Diane had a vision for this community to pursue a Triple-A franchise,” Grizzlies president Derek Franks said. “They are forever part of our history.

“We wouldn’t be here without their grit and determination to Fresno. We’re forever grateful for their efforts. This is obviously a very sad day for the Grizzlies organization and this community.”

Fresno had been without minor league baseball for 10 years after the Class-A Fresno franchise was bought and relocated in 1988 to Salinas.

Carbray pushed and politicked investors and city leaders not only to bring minor league baseball back to Fresno, but to commit to a stadium that would support Triple-A baseball, the highest level of the minor leagues.

Carbray pushed for a baseball stadium downtown, which initially was devised to be a multipurpose venue to accommodate football games and other sporting events, as well as concerts.

The Grizzlies played their first four seasons at Fresno State’s Beiden Field until Grizzlies Stadium, which was eventually renamed Chukchansi Park, opened in May 2002.

“He loved people, and his love of the fans always showed through,” Carbray’s son David wrote in a message to The Bee. “He really treated the parking lot attendant, ticket taker, salesman, and investor with the same respect.

“He had a personal relationship with everyone he came across. I have always been proud to be his son.”

Carbray’s leadership stint with the Grizzlies ended tumultuously. As financial losses mounted, the baseball franchise’s original ownership group stripped him of his daily power and sued him for breach of contract. That suit was eventually dismissed.

Nonetheless, Carbray often returned to Grizzlies games as a fan over the years and took pride in seeing people fill the stadium. He also was often invited to the Grizzlies’ Hot Stove event during the offseasons.

In 2005 when the Grizzlies were up for sale, Carbray said he tried to get a group of investors together to buy majority ownership of the Grizzlies and return to power. But the idea was dropped after he was unable to find more investors.

Carbray went on to work for the Boys and Girls Club and other nonprofit organizations in town after his time as a baseball executive ended.

Carbray was honored as Pacific Coast League Executive of the Year in 2002, the year that the downtown stadium opened.

In 2018, Cabrary was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame for his efforts with the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies plan to hold a moment of silence in honor of Carbray in the coming days.

Carbray is survived by his wife Diane and his sons David and Kyle. The family said he left behind a faithful dog, Tuxedo.

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