The Pacific Coast League 1903-1957

The Pacific Coast League 1903-1957

Baseball’s “Third Major League"

Imagine a time when the nearest major league team was 2000 miles away, when there were no telecasts of MLB games. A place where the temperate climate allowed a season stretching two hundred games a year, and where local professional ballclubs sometimes outdrew their major league rivals. Where the lifestyle and pay made it appealing for local stars to stay home rather than join one of the sixteen MLB teams in the East and Midwest. This was the Pacific Coast League of 1903 to 1957.

The PCL had it all: Home-grown talent and personalities like Lefty O’Doul. Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams; majestic modern ballparks like Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and Seals Stadium in San Francisco; loyal fanbases; great weather (particularly in California) and its own post-season playoff series. By 1946 being recognized as the equal of the American and National Leagues seemed like the logical next step.

Although formally classified as a top-tier minor league for most of its existence, the PCL had higher ambitions, particularly after the postwar boom in the late 1940s when fans had money to spend and there simply wasn’t enough major league baseball product to meet the demand. The PCL lobbied for certification as “major” (check out the color promotional film made by the league here), and were finally granted “Open” classification in 1952 (above AAA and exempt from the MLB draft). The idea was that the league would take a few years for all its teams and ballparks to be  up to major league standards before being formally welcomed as a “major” league.

Obviously history took a different path. Why? One answer is greed. Rather than welcome a competitor to the major league ranks, it was more profitable and easier for the current major league owners to simply absorb the Coast League’s top territories, starting with the move West of the two New York-based National League teams in 1958. This gutting of the PCL’s two largest territories displaced three of its franchises, and forced the PCL back to the status of a mere “regular” minor league. Other factors played a part as well. Ironically at the same time the PCL received its “Open” classification, televised MLB games into PCL territories massively reduced attendance at the same time this was happening across the minor leagues.

In a way the PCL did achieve its major league dreams, just in a different form. The PCL territories of 1903-1957 are now home to seven MLB franchises.

So let’s take a step back and celebrate the unique “Grand Minor League” of the Seals, Oaks, Rainiers, and Beavers. Of Wrigley Field and Seals Stadium. Of Casey Stengel, youthful Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, Lefty O’Doul, Jigger Statz, and Steve Bilko. The great Pacific Coast League of 1903 to 1957. And what a better way to salute the PCL than with our great caps, jerseys, and jackets from these legendary teams.


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