Baseball in Early California, 5
The California League moved south to Los Angeles in 1892, but that wasn’t the save all it was cracked up to be, and owners constantly companied about the expense of traveling south. Los Angeles was not the big city it would become only a decade later. In 1892, the population still remained below 100,000. But the expense of travel was nothing compared to what would befall the league the following season.
The Panic of 1893 not only destroyed baseball in California, it destroyed the West. The Panic was the worst financial crisis the hit the United Sates up to that time. It was precipitated by tariff measures put in place in 1890, and a run on gold reserves. Over 500 banks went belly, up to 18% of the population (higher in the West) were unemployed at the height of the downturn.
The California League struggled through the first-half, but only got to mid-August be for disbanding. The players who were thrown into the street waited around for something to happen— and it did. A month later the Central California League reorganized and became the New Central California League, with two new clubs in San Francisco, another in Oakland, and a new team in San Jose to go along with the two strongest clubs in the old league, Santa Rosa and Petaluma. The new clubs were staffed primarily by out-of-work California League players.
The league finished out its season, and players looked forward to 1894 in hopes that the economy would recover. But it didn’t. It got worse, and those who could hook up with clubs in the East did, those who couldn’t remained sidelined. Even independent clubs ceased to exist.
In March, the Amateur Interathletic Baseball League was formed just to keep the game alive, but the 3-club league only survived a month. After week one, it was noted that some players were being paid, and the “Amatuer” was dropped.
Players who were stuck out here on the Pacific Slope waited for owners to put some sort of league together in 1894, even a Central California-type league, but nothing happed as April turned to May, and May to June, and so on… Finally, the players themselves, in early August put together their own league, patterned after the Players League of 1890. This new league they christened the California Players League, and began play on August 19, and struggled through September, and then died without a whimper after games played on October 10. Oakland and Sacramento dropped out after only one game.
The economy became so bad that even railroads failed, including the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific. It became so bad in 1895 that one would be hard pressed to find a game of baseball being played in the state.
By 1896 the economy began to pick up ever so slightly, and so did baseball. On June 8, The San Francisco City League played its first games. The games were fairly well attended, and that gave rise to the formation— under the guidance of former Oakland owner Col. Tom Robinson— of the 1896 version of the California League. Two of the San Francisco City League teams formed part of this new aggregation, and the City League folded. Even though only a Sunday-only league, the circuit was very unstable, with even the eventual pennant winner, Stockton, not quite making it to the finish.
California went baseball-mad in 1897, but not one league could be found in the state. The Hearst paper, the San Francisco Examiner organized a state baseball tournament, one that lasted months. Every city and town in the state sponsored at least one club. The tournament directly led to the return of processional baseball league in the state.
While the economy in 1898 was roaring, and by spring, entrepreneurs formed two six-team professional leagues, the California League and a league called the Pacific States League. While the Pacific Coast League of today doesn’t recognize it, the fact is that one can trace— very directly, I might add— the league’s roots back to these two leagues.
The California League began play on March 26, and the pacific States League began the next day. Two leagues with twelve teams could not be sustained in California at the time, and so after a month the two leagues combined to form the nine-club (Fresno replaced Watsonville in August) Pacific Coast League.
Even though the league survived its first season, everyone realized that it wouldn’t survive its second unless changes were made. Henry Harris, who managed the old Haverly Theater club, was brought into the league to reorganized the league for 1899. (It should be noted here that the PCL, until Alan Baum became president, regarded 1899 as the official founding of the league, and so stated in the baseball guides.)
Harris first lopped off a couple of clubs, brining the number down to six strong clubs, made the league a Saturday and Sunday league, and changed its name to the California League. At the end of August, San Jose disbanded, and so the league was forced to drop Watsonville for scheduling purposes, though the team did continue playing ball as an impendent club.
Baseball retuned to the central valley in 1899, with the revival of the San Joaquin Valley League, and Southern California had its first really organized league.
The Southern California League completed its 28-game schedule without a hitch, with San Bernardino edging the San Diego Fullers for the league title. The Jim Morely owned Los Angeles Angelinos would go on to join the California League two years later, and continue in the Coast League as the “Looloos” and eventually as the Los Angeles Angels.
Tomorrow I will write about how I got involved in this project of California baseball. And, then, if I’m still pissed off, I’ll review The Golden Game, The Story of California Baseball by Kevin Nelson.
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