The Pacific Coast League of 1903-1957 – An Introduction
Published by Jerry Cohen, President, EFF
In the first half of the 20th Century, major league baseball could only be enjoyed in ten Eastern and Midwestern cities. St. Louis was the Western boundary of the American and National Leagues. Jet travel, expansion, and televised games were all in the future. The geographic isolation of the West Coast allowed an entirely unique baseball culture to emerge. Although technically a minor league for most of its existence, the PCL operated with a high degree of independence. Moderate weather meant that sometimes a 200-game schedule was played. Ballparks like Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field and San Francisco’s Seals Stadiums were big-league caliber. Rivalries like that of the Angels and Hollywood clubs in LA, and the Seals and Oakland Oaks in the Bay Area were every bit as fierce as their major league counterparts. The PCL teams even had their own farm systems! Players like Joe DiMaggio (San Francisco Seals) and Ted Williams (San Diego Padres) were stars in the Coast League before being lured to teams in the majors.
Baseball's virtual third major league
Although there were some franchise shifts, the league basically operated in Los Angeles (usually two teams), the San Francisco Bay Area (two or three teams), San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. Before Walter O’Malley and other MLB owners eyed the territory for possible relocation, it looked as if the league as a whole might obtain certification as a major league from organized baseball. The PCL lobbied hard for that plan, and in 1952 was granted “Open” classification (higher than AAA) with special rules that protected them and their players from MLB encroachment. (Take a look at this great color promotional film the league made in 1946.)
“When you played ball for Lefty, you got to realize what kind of a man he was, and it was like playing for your big brother.”
Dario Lodigiani on manager Lefty O’Doul
— Maksim Tourou
Remembered with fondness...keeping history alive
Ultimately of course, Brooklyn owner Walter O’Malley invaded California and dragged the Giants owner Horace Stoneham with him, thus ending the big league dreams of the PCL (the league reverted to AAA status in 1958 after losing their two prime territories). But it is fun to imagine what could have been had organized baseball “promoted” the league in its entirety instead of allowing the two major leagues to gradually grab all their territories (all but Portland, Sacramento, and Vancouver got major league ball by the end of the 60s).
When Lisa and I first started the company we were amazed at how well this legacy was remembered. Just as there are still Brooklyn fans who never got over losing the Dodgers, we met Seals and Angel fans who still mourned the loss of their teams, and were not placated by the substitution of the Dodgers and Giants. We discovered – retroactively – the joy of PCL ball by attending reunions and meeting the fans, players, and umpires who loved playing in and following this special league.
Now would be an ideal time for us to thank some of these fine folks who educated and encouraged us in those early days, and who are still keeping the flame burning: Jay Berman, Brian Neilson, Dick Dobbins, Richard Beverage, Doug McWilliams, Dave Eskenazi. These people shared stories, photographs, uniforms, and most importantly, their friendship. There were many others as well, too many to mention.
In the coming month, we are going to share not only great jerseys, caps, jackets, and t-shirts from the PCL, but some of those stories. You’ll learn about the teams, the players, the ballparks, and issues like integration of the PCL. We hope you enjoy learning about this great league as much as we have.
Jerry Cohen, Founder, EFF Inc.