Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Note on Researching California Baseball Leagues

A Note on Researching California Baseball Leagues

Only within the last couple of years did I decide to research California baseball in depth. When I began my project of compiling a PCL encyclopedia some fifteen years ago, I kept coming across references to other leagues that were playing ball throughout the state. At first I’d make a metal note of the leagues, then I began to note it down on what ever sheet of paper I had in front of me at the time. Still later I began writing the leagues down on pieces of paper, and tossing them into a file folder.

Then, about two years ago, I began to get serious, and started going through papers like the Sacramento Bee to photocopy standings of leagues. I expanded that to other papers throughout the state. And so, along with the pieces of paper in the file folder, I began to compile a spreadsheet listing every league I came across in the state. Every time I traveled up to the state library in Sacramento, I’d take whatever time I had left at the end of my trip to concentrate on a different area of the state.

Gradually, I expanded the spreadsheets to look like the below sample from the 1920s. Some of you out there, in looking over the chart, might sneer that “they’re only semi-pro leagues!” I view them as independent leagues. Some were better than others, and some paid their players better than D leagues in O. B., and for many years served as feeder leagues for the PCL, when the PCL was virtually independent of the major leagues.

During the 1920s, the San Francisco Seals had a club for its young recruits in the Humboldt County/Redwood League. Players who spent time there included Jimmie Reese and Gus Suhr. The club was managed by future Seals manager Nick Williams.

The 1928-36 California State League in northern California was considered semi pro, but they New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Red had farm clubs in the league for several seasons. Players on the way up (like Tiny Bonham) played in the league; players whose O. B. careers had finished (Harry Hooper and Justin Fitzgerald) spent several years in the league; players between gigs (Vince DiMaggio come to mind) appeared in the league. The league over time created its own stars, like Gene Camozzi and Jerry Coleman, Sr. (the father of the former Yankee infielder and broadcaster). These were leagues where the young player could hone his skills against hardened veterans, and the place where those veterans could have a few last hurrahs.

Many of these leagues continued for years, in some cases a couple of decades, like the Placer-Nevada League.

In my compilation, I have not included city leagues save for two instances: The 1896 San Francisco City League, because it pretty much became the 1896 California League; and the 1927 San Francisco City League, because it was singled out as an "outlaw league" by baseball commisioner Judge Landis.

From the late 1800s through the mid-1950s pro baseball in California you could find anywhere and everywhere, and that was the primary reason the state produced so many major league players during those years. Now, largely, that breeding ground has shifted to Latin America.

Click on Images to Enlarge League Charts


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