Saturday, December 24, 2005

Baseball in Early California, 4

Baseball in Early California, 4

After the successful 1887 season, the California League expanded its schedule to run from March 31 through December 2.  Stockton replaced Sacramento in the league, with the new Banner Island Park serving as the Stockton venue.  The league’s other entrants were all Bay Area clubs, though the Oakland club never played any games on the East Bay. Some games, however, were played in Sacramento and Santa Cruz during the new, longer season. The league also expanded its games played to nearly 70 per club, up from the scheduled 45 of the previous season.  Games on Saturdays began to be played.

At the end of April, the Cal League got a challenge from yet another upstart California State League, but after seven weeks the State leaguers folded.  But what was noteworthy was the first incarnation of the San Joaquin Valley League, which existed off and on until World War II changed the face of independent ball in the United States.

For the following season, the California League continued to add games to its schedule, with Oakland and San Francisco playing 94 games, and the two “country teams” playing 92 games.  More important than the number of games was the steep increase in batting that took place in 1889.  The California League generally had been a pitchers’ league, with league batting averages below .200, sometimes well-below the .200 mark.  In 1887, the league batting average jumped up to .246, but dropped in 1888 to a paltry .190 BA.  In 1889, not only did the batting average of the league increase to .247, but home runs increased from 15 to 73.

I have found one game played by a league called the California Sate League— between San Juan Missions and Santa Cruz— but so far have not investigated it further.  The same is true for the Northern California League of that season.

The California League, for 1890, found itself almost alone in the state, yet the popularity of the game in the areas where the league played was so great that it let the league expand its schedule to over a 140 games per season.  The weekly schedule ran from Thursday through Sunday.  

In the Central Valley, a league by that name was formed, and completed its season, but did not return the follow year.  A new Central California League took the name and formed an unwieldy alliance in and around the Bay Area that turned out to be popular enough to continue the next season.

In the meantime, the California League continued its steady progress, and for the first time in its history came back with the same compliment of clubs, and a schedule only slightly increased.  League batting averages continued high in 1891 (.235) and coverage in the papers (indication strong attendance) increased.

The Central California League came back in 1892 as a much more compact six-team circuit, and finished its season on a very successful note.
The California League experimented with a split schedule in 1892 for the first time, and increased its schedule to 174 and 177 games.  The San Jose Dukes finished the first season by edging the Los Angeles Angels by a percentage point, but fell to last in the second season, some 14½ game off the pace.  Los Angeles won the second half by 3½.

This brings us to the downfall of baseball in the state, and I will deal with that in my next post.

Click on Image to Enlarge League Chart


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