by Frank Norris
San Diego History Center 1983 Institute of History
For over a hundred years, the cry of baseball fever has echoed across the length and breadth of San Diego County. From Oceanside to Otay, from the neighborhood park to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, from hit-the-bat to the World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament, baseball has been an integral part of our popular culture, and has been ever since that fateful day, back in May of 1871, when the first seven-inning game was played out on the town plaza.1 Only the names have changed in our century-long love affair with the diamond game; while today we pay justifiable homage to the Terry Kennedys and the Steven Garveys of the hometown Padres, San Diego’s past heroes shone just as brightly in their own halcyon days. For example, have you heard of the Schiller and Murthas? Or the Pickwicks? Or perhaps the San Diego Electrics? These teams were famous in their day; their players excelled at their craft, and helped bring respect to their teams and to San Diego. Or have you been told about Luther “Dummy” Taylor, the amazing deaf mute who stunned the local baseball scene back in the winter of 1901 when he hurled a crucial, late season fifteen-inning shutout? Names and teams such as these were well known for years, and while most have been forgotten today, they are a proud part of our local heritage.
As popular as the game has been in our area over the years, San Diego’s love affair with the national pastime is best described as a series of fits and starts-of strong popularity at times, of a steady interest level at other times, and a few short periods when interest in baseball ceased almost completely. Baseball was almost exclusively a sandlot game for over sixty years before the minor league Padres began playing in 1936, and it was not until 1969 that the Padres of today’s National League blossomed into existence. Most present-day San Diegans know the major league Padres best, and many still have fond memories of its minor league predecessor. But to ignore the sixty-odd years before San Diego garnered a long-lasting league team is to ignore a major and highly entertaining part of the history of this city.
The first known baseball game played in San Diego took place in 1871. At the time, the city’s population stood at about 2300, and the county court house was still in Old Town. Baseball itself was still in its relative infancy, and the citizenry, on the whole, was blessedly ignorant of the game.2
Events began, humbly enough, with an announcement in the May 3, 1871 issue of the fledgling San Diego Union that there was ” a movement on foot to organize baseball” in the town.3 In the next two months, there was a veritable flurry of baseball activity. During that time, San Diego’s first three “base ball” clubs were organized; they were the Lone Star Club, the Old San Diego Club, and for the younger players, the Young Americans Club. A total of perhaps six games were played that first year.4 Most if not all games were played on Saturdays in Lockling Square, a downtown vacant lot bounded by C, D (Broadway), Sixth, and Seventh Streets.5 Unfortunately, detailed records of these earliest games do not now exist, if indeed they were ever recorded. Most of the players’ names appear in brief news accounts; unknown, however, are the specific rules they played under, the nature of the uniforms they wore (if any), and the size and spirit of the crowd.6 The last notice given of baseball that year was on July 13; After that date, the subject was forgotten until the following year.
Enthusiasm for the new sport generally lagged through the mid-1870s. Brief revivals of activity took place in March and December 1872, in June 1873, and in January and November 1874. As before, clubs were created fairly spontaneously, a game or series of games was played (New Town versus Old Town teams were natural rivalries), and then interest died out. Some clubs lasted only as long as a single series of games, and no mention was made during this period of playing teams from outside the immediate San Diego area.7
After a four-year hiatus, baseball reappeared in the summer of 1878. Highlights that year included a memorable series of six games between the Resolutes and the Bay City Club, the latter of which was organized by local retailer George Marston. The games, of which each team won three, were well attended and appear to have raised considerable interest in the sport.
Later that year, the first known match of intercity teams took place. On November 24, the Academy Baseball Club of Los Angeles arrived in town aboard the steamer Orizaba (there being no rail service to San Diego at the time) for the first of three games against a ” picked nine” of local talent.8
The way that this intercity series was played was typical of the early era of baseball in San Diego, an era which lasted until the mid-1880s. While the games, as today, were hard-fought contests of skill, the equipment was much more rudimentary; also, the customs surrounding baseball at that time were substantially different. Equipment, for instance, often consisted of nothing more than a ball and a wagon-tongue bat. Fielder’s gloves were considered unmasculine; therefore, the only personal equipment used was a cap and an identifying swatch of cloth pinned to the player’s shirt front.9
Socially, the most important difference was that the teams involved were actually clubs. The players, therefore, each possessed some degree of social respectability.10 To that end, players routinely dressed in starched collars and freshly boiled shirts, and the game itself was an exercise in politeness and pageantry. Both of the series of matches in 1878 featured elegant banquets sponsored by local supporters, and as the San Diego Union gaily intoned at the time, players displayed “utmost good feelings” amid “drinking, singing, wit and good humor.” Also, in keeping with the propriety of the game, the word of the umpire was sacred. There were arguments, of course, but as a rule he was as likely to be praised as criticized. Finally, the rules were different from those of today. One rule stated that if a player did not like the way a ball was pitched, he would receive a called ball and could request another more to his liking. Needless to say, such a rule promoted high scores; in the Los Angeles-San Diego series, for example, the three game tallies were 29-24, 34-9, and 35-14, all won by the “picked nine” from San Diego.11
Baseball continued on its stuttering way through the early 1880s. Between 1880 and 1884, at least three more series of games were played with teams from Los Angeles, and contests were also made against teams from Riverside and Poway. The period also witnessed the formation of the first local military team, called the Brayton’s; and San Diego’s first county fair, in 1880, featured at least one ball game.12 But no games whatsoever were reported in 1881, and they were rare indeed between September 1882 and October 1883.13
With the onset of the land boom of the late 1880s, San Diegans once again discovered baseball, and in fact, the sport became more popular than ever before. Symptomatic of this growth, the number of local teams dramatically expanded. While there were, as before, a number of purely social teams, clubs were also being organized by various San Diego businesses. The local commercial college, for example, fielded a team, as did the Horton House, the Hotel del Coronado, and the county courthouse. In addition, several communities organized teams; major clubs included Coronado, National City, Tia Juana and Otay, the Logan Baseball Club, and Escondido. Finally, San Diego itself boasted a team; it was an outgrowth of George Marston’s old Bay City Club. It attracted only a few opponents, however, and appears to have lasted only a short time. Several attempts were made to create a league from some of these teams, but most teams preferred the independence of choosing their own opponents.14
The pride of San Diego baseball, however, was represented by the commercial and semi-pro teams. Organized by local businessman W.W. Averell into a loose-knit league of six to nine members, they were the toast of San Diego during the late 1880’s.15 Much like volunteer firemen, team members were adorned in uniforms of sartorial splendor, and thus bedecked, they proudly marched in several city parades. Some teams were sponsored by major general merchandise, shoe or dry-goods stores; they included the Schiller and Murthas, the Llewelyns, and the Hamiltons, respectively. Others, such as the S. Whites, the Dorseys and the Shamrocks, were semipro clubs. These teams, it was reported, often attracted players because of the quality of their toggery, and in at least one instance, an otherwise unknown team adopted another club’s name so that it could obtain their uniforms. Joining a commercial or semi-pro team also implied minimal financial backing, with which regulation bats, balls, and other equipment could be obtained.16
With the onset of the 1880s boom period, the Lockling Square ball field was “improved” into a series of buildings which included a residence and social club.17 To take the place of the old square, a number of new playing areas sprang up, most of them little more than bare vacant lots. Ball fields used during the late 1880s and early 1890s were located at Third and A Street, Eleventh and J Street, Fourteenth and G Street, Fourteenth and N (Commercial) Street, at the San Diego Barracks Grounds (near the present police headquarters), along the cable car line near University and Normal Streets, over in Roseville on Point Loma, and on the beach in Coronado.18 The two most popular diamonds, however, were out in Pacific Beach at the Driving Park, and at Recreation Park, situated in the East End at the corner of South Twenty-Fifth (Evans) and Newton Street. Each of these playing fields was but slightly improved, and none were used after the early 1890s.19
The greatest interest in the game, of course, took place during championship games, or when out-of-town teams visited the area. Clubs from Los Angeles challenged local teams several times each year; games were also set against clubs from Colton, Anaheim, Sacramento, Oakland, and from as far afield as Philadelphia. For many of these matches, attendance would swell to between 200 and 800, and — if we are to believe the given report — one July 4th game attracted 2000 spectators. 20 Occasional charity games, in which some dignitaries played and others watched, also drew large crowds.21 Interest in the game was increased by news reports of games in other cities. Local newspapers reported the scores of most games in the National League, and also spotlighted reports of games between other California teams. These reports, however, were not regularly printed, and because baseball standings were not generally printed in those days, it was difficult for the average reader to follow the pennant races.
Brief as they may have been, these news accounts provided insight into both the changing lexicon of the sport, and the different attitude taken toward baseball in late nineteenth century America. Team members, for example, were called “base ballists,” who “touched bats” or “crossed bats” while “trying conclusions” (that is, while playing each other). Pitchers performed “slab work,” and curve-ball pitchers were known as “crooked flippers.” Teams who did well “put up good ball” and “had a soft snap” with their opponents, while those who lost were considered “the dead ones ” or they “had the hoodoo with them.” Also, the idea of team nicknames was virtually unknown before 1900; with the exception of occasionally calling a team from Los Angeles “the Angeles” or “the Seraphs, ” teams simply added an “s” to their given name (as in ” the Schiller and Murthas beat the San Diegos in a close one yesterday”). All in all, descriptions of local games in the contemporary press suggest that baseball at that time was a regal game, a robust yet gallant exercise that was at once populist and patrician.22
Along with many other activities, baseball in San Diego suffered from a lack of interest during the mid-1890s. Only the Schiller and Murthas from the commercial teams lasted after 1891, and most newly created clubs during this time were of fairly short duration. In the late 1890s, however, baseball once again exploded into popularity. Why this occurred is not precisely clear, but the upshot of the new-found interest was a new series of wintertime leagues, variously called the Southern California League, the California Winter League, and the Southern League.23 They were short-lived yet valiant endeavors that, for a time, put San Diego on the national baseball map.
These leagues, of which San Diego was a representative along with anywhere from three to five other teams, sprang onto the scene in December of 1897. They attained their popularity because they featured established, well-known stars. San Diego’s 1898 team, for example, welcomed two players (Luther “Dummy” Taylor and Jack Donlin) from the New York Giants of the National League, and several more from Oakland of the California League. They also featured such novel concepts as a set Saturday-Sunday schedule, advertising, an admission charge to the ballpark, and player compensation.24 These leagues were much like today’s Mexican and Caribbean Leagues; they provided a way for professional players to hone their skills, and also served as a training ground for developing local talent.
The popularity of the intercity leagues appears to have been strongest between 1898 and 1901. The high turnover of teams and players made the leagues appear unstable at times, but the lure of intercity baseball played by professionals drew large crowds to league games from November to March.25 Through 1901, most of these games were played at Bay View Park, located on Logan Avenue at South Twenty-Second (Beardsley) Street; after that date, however, most games took place at Athletic Park, also in the East End but a bit farther down the trolley car line.26
Contributing to the teams’ popularity, of course, was their success on the field. In 1898, the San Diegans won the Southern California League crown after defeating San Bernardino in a playoff series; the team appears to have been a contender in later years as well.27 Perhaps the biggest highlight of the brief winter league era came on March 3, 1901, when San Diego, with ace pitcher “Dummy” Taylor on the mound, beat San Bernardino 1 to 0 in a fifteen-inning duel at Bay View Park. The game, doubly amazing because no errors were committed by either side, was hailed as “the greatest game on record” at the time, and was recalled fondly by veteran fans decades after-wards.28
Perhaps due to the winter leagues, interest in local baseball peaked to levels equal to or greater than those enjoyed a decade earlier. Now, however, a broader cross-section of the population participated in the sport; while some players were fairly prominent in civic affairs, others were less known. The 1898 San Diego summertime team, for example, had on its roster Tom Works, a contractor and son of the local judge; Burt Treanor, a lumber company laborer; Sandy Barclay, another contractor; Jack Hartley, a realtor and later the founder of the North Park subdivision; Hugo Klauber, well-known member of the Klauber-Wangenheim wholesaling concern; Gene Williams, a railroad purchasing agent; Charles Williams, a carpenter; and Elmer Gibbs, a house painter. The team was managed by Jack Dodge, a longtime baseball supporter and a local theatre owner.29 Games during this period were played most Sundays from April to September; in addition, July 4th and Labor Day, as today, were particularly popular times for attending baseball games.
In 1903, San Diego’s baseball fortunes suffered a blow. In that year the Pacific Coast League – the same league which still exists today – was organized as a recognized minor league, and San Diego, which was one of the cities considered for charter membership. was not admitted. The city’s small population base may have been a factor; other reasons may have been its lack of experience in an intercity summer league, or its lack of a ballpark worthy of league play.30
For whatever reason, the city’s interest in baseball slumped after 1903. On the intercity level, a San Diego team, called the Pickwicks, competed in the summertime Southern State League until about 1908.31 Local leagues, however, languished for the next ten years or so following the formation of the Pacific Coast League, and no further mention was made of serious proposals for a professional team for over fifteen years after the Pickwicks stopped playing. Local baseball fans, therefore, had to be satisfied with following the exploits of Coast League teams. Scores from the National League and the newly-formed American League were available as well, but real interest in the major leagues did not develop until after World War I.
By 1915 or 1916, an active series of local leagues had been established which, to a greater or lesser extent, dominated the local scene for the next twenty years. A network of playing fields, which were adequate though limited in terms of seating capacity, had been established throughout the populated parts of the county by this time. Here the baseball wars were fought during the spring, summer and fall, usually on Saturdays or Sundays but occasionally during the week. The numerous teams represented busineses, Navy ships, neighborhoods or rural towns; as might be expected, a few teams remained intact for ten years or more, while countless others stayed together for only a single season if that long. The situation, therefore, was largely similar to the present system extant in the park leagues of San Diego and other nearby cities.32
The precise structure of the various leagues varied from year to year. In 1916, for example, three adult leagues appear to have existed – a twelve-team City League, a six-team league f or the town’s banks, and a North County League. Four years later, two leagues were operating; they included a six-team City League and the Carl Klindt’s Cycle and Arms League, the latter subdivided into three sections. By 1924, four leagues had sprung into being – an eight-team County League, a service league, a resurrected Bankers’ League, and a league made up entirely of gas company employees. Many of these leagues held championships – in 1924, for example, a Pacific Fleet Championship was held for the various service teams – but in others, playoffs were not recorded.33
A common theme observed through the 1915-1927 period was the desire for a local team to represent San Diego against other major competition. This was usually expressed publicly when a ballclub so dominated the local baseball wars that it began to seek out more difficult opponents elsewhere. In 1916, for example, the Cabrillo baseball club emerged as a clear leader among local teams, and as a result hosted several games against Los Angeles clubs. By the 1920s, the local railway company’s team, called the San Diego Electrics, had assumed the Cabrillo’s old role; games against Pasadena, therefore, and possibly other southern California clubs took place. No local team, however, in this or any other pre-1936 period, retained the San Diego name for more than a few short years.
A concurrent, even stronger theme noticed at this time was the community’s desire to join into a legitimate, intercity professional league. It was never far from the public’s consciousness. Ample evidence for enthusiasm about baseball, for instance, was seen in the widespread newspaper coverage devoted to the sport. The interest level for Pacific Coast League teams — and particularly for the nearby Los Angeles Angels — remained consistently high, and beginning about 1920, articles and other information about major league clubs began to dramatically increase.
Specific articles suggesting the possibility of a minor league team appeared as early as April of 1916.34 Midway through the 1924 season moreover, a proposal to move the Coast League’s Salt Lake City club was offered to San Diego’s civic and business community. League rules required each city to have “covered stands to seat 2500 or so fans, with additional bleachers and a grass playing field.” The city’s best facility at the time, however, was “the stadium” (Balboa Stadium), which fell short of the above requirements in several respects. The city could neither generate interest in a new stadium, nor could it provide a required financial guarantee to other league teams. Therefore, no further action was taken on the proposal.35
San Diego’s baseball structure remained much the same from World War I into the mid-1930s. A major difference after the mid-1920s, however, was that most teams were organized through the San Diego County Baseball Managers’ Association, a loose confederation of local baseball leaders. This organization appears to have been more visible in some years than in others, but spare as it was, the association provided a semblance of self-government and hence stability to the local sport. Under its aegis a county championship was organized; during some years, it also organized the leagues themselves, and served as a booking agent for future games.36
Riding the crest of the national baseball wave, local baseball thrived in the twenties and thirties. Twenty teams, from the North County area as well as metropolitan San Diego, were league members in 1928, and in 1932, there were eighteen teams, organized into the City, Bay, Mountain and County Leagues. In 1935, three leagues existed — the County, Independent, and Junior Exposition Leagues — and at least twenty-four clubs were represented, including several Civilian Conservation Corps teams. Not all clubs, however, were organized into leagues during this period, and some league teams played clubs from outside their assigned league.37
Local baseball offered some new twists during this period. For example, two well-known “colored teams” played in San Diego; they included the Detroit Colored Giants of the national Negro League in July of 1934, and the Creole Palace Cubs softball team, which was composed of the best black local talent.38 A more spectacular exhibition took place soon after the 1927 World Series, when the legendary sluggers “Babe” Ruth and Lou Gehrig barnstormed through town as part of a nationwide tour. As part of the visit, each Yankee headed up a team (called the “Bustin’ Babes” and the “Larrupin’ Lous,” respectively) and solicited the best local players to fill the team rosters. Their visit attracted over 3500 fans to the stadium, and many youngsters were reportedly the lucky recipients of long fly balls that day.39
Lacking a professional team of its own, San Diego continued to search for ways to obtain some form of intercity baseball. As the city grew, a number of healthy alternatives appeared. San Diego High School, for example, had showed its prowess by consistently playing local City League teams ever since World War I, and owing to the lack of competitive local high schools occasionally played teams from other California communities. By the late 1920s, San Diego State Teachers’ College had joined a league with opponents such as Whittier, Pomona, and Redlands Colleges. In 1930, the San Diego All-Stars, a semi-pro team, won the southern California championship. By the early 1930s, American Legion ball had begun in San Diego, and through their well-organized system, San Diego players competed against teams from Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Finally, local fans began to see a limited amount of professional action when the Coast League’s Salt Lake City team came to San Diego for spring training games.40
As before, a number of local sandlot teams attempted to assert themselves as San Diego’s chosen baseball team, but none had much success. In 1928, a “San Diego Baseball Team” played a company team from Los Angeles, but spent much of its time mired in inactivity, “looking for a decently strong opponent.”41 The Bay League in 1932 featured the San Diego Giants, and one of the 1935 Independent League teams was the San Diego Cubs, but it is doubtful if either team played out-of-town opponents.
In 1936, San Diego finally obtained a long-lasting professional team when the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood club moved south to become the San Diego Padres. Twelve years after refusing a previous Coast League request, the city agreed to build an adequate stadium. Lane Field, as the new facility was called, was constructed on tidelands property at the foot of Broadway, and served as the home of the minor league Padres for twenty-two years. The club afterwards played in Mission Valley’s Westgate Park, and during their last year of existence competed in San Diego Stadium. The Padres, ironically enough, had never been a nickname for a local team before; it came about as the result of a newspaper contest. The old Padres won several Coast League championships, produced a number of notables (including Ted Williams), and in 1969 ushered in our present-day, major league Padres.42
The Padres, however, are another story. The history of the major- or minor-league Padres needs to be told, but in no event should the telling of that story outshine the contributions of the early sandlot clubs. Baseball in its early days is valuable to us today because it represents sport in its truest sense. People competed, and watched, for the sheer love of the game, and as one of our city’s biggest spectator sports, baseball helped bring the city closer together. While it may be argued that many early teams played “with more spirit than skill,” as one source has stated, they reflect well on our local heritage.43 Sandlot teams and players filled a critical niche in early San Diego society. Let us not forget them.
1. San Diego Union, May 5, 1871.
2. Harold Seymour, Baseball: The Early Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 32.
3. San Diego Union, May 3, 1871. Actually, the first notice about local baseball appeared in a Union advertisement on September 8, 1870, soliciting help in organizing a team. No recorded response, however, is known to that ad.
4. San Diego Union, May 5, May 28, June 1, July 4, July 6, and July 13, 1871.
5. San Diego Union, June 3, 1871. Other sources have incorrectly suggested that Lockling Square was located a block south or a block west of the stated location.
6. Women and children, as well as men, were avid baseball fans from its earliest days. A few segments of society thought it improper for women to attend baseball games, even after the turn of the century (see San Diego Union, May 28, 1916), but no records have been encountered of women being either absent or excluded from watching any games.
7. San Diego Union microfiche index, “Baseball,” various entries, 1872-1878.
8. Herbert Lockwood, Skeleton’s Closet, San Diego Independent, January 25, 1970, p. A-4.
9. Herbert Hensley, Memoirs (San Diego History Center manuscript), p. 229
10. Many players were members of long-standing pioneer families. Typical early names of ballplayers included Gregg, Parsons, Aguirre, Hayes, Donahue, Choate, and Smith. Winifred Davidson, Old Tales of the Southwest, SDHC manuscript collection.
11. Hensley, Memoirs, pp. 229-232; Lockwood, Skeleton’s closet.
12. San Diego Union, June 26, 1880; San Diego Union, September 23, 1880.
13. San Diego Union index, 1880-1885; San Diego Independent, October 2, 1969.
14. San Diego Union index, 1887-1890.
15. Hensley, Memoirs, p. 233.
16. San Diego Union index, 1887-1892.
17. Hensley, Memoirs, p. 231.
18. Robert Barclay memorandum, March 5, 1974, SDHC manuscript collection; Hensley, Memoirs, passim.
19. San Diego Union index, 1887-1891. Actually, there were two Recreation Parks. The one staled above, in the East End, was known to exist from 1887 to 1890, while the other, on the cable car line near the corner of present-day University and Normal Street, probably functioned only from the fall of 1891 to the fall of 1892.
20. San Diego Union index, 1887-1891.
21. For examples, see San Diego Sun, issues of April 19, 1890 or July 15, 1892.
22. San Diego Union index, 1886-1901.
23. Ted Steinmann, Veteran Fans Recall “Greatest Ball Game, ” San Diego Union, October 29, 1933; Frank Haven, ” Local Ball Began with Jack Dodge,” SDHC manuscript collection; Klauber-Wangenheim News, December, 1968.
24. Winifred Davidson, 1935 Notes, SDHC manuscript collection; Jerry MacMullen, Baseball Had Gala Start Here, SDHC manuscript collection. Despite the preponderance of outside talent, local players were not excluded. Two or three appeared in each starting lineup, and others were available as late-game replacements.
25. New Year’s Day proved to be a popular day for baseball during the heyday of the winter leagues. Crowds were also drawn to occasional barnstorming major league teams. In addition, at least one ” colored” club, the Trilbys, visited from Los Angeles during this time; they played, and defeated, two local clubs.
26. MacMuIlen, Baseball; Barclay memorandum.
27. Davidson, 1935 Notes; San Diego Union index, 1898-1903.
28. San Diego Union, March 4, 1901; Steinmann, Veteran Fans.
29. Haven, Local Ball; San Diego Union, October 29, 1945; San Diego City Directory, 1898-99 edition.
30. Pacific Coast Baseball League, Pacific Coast Baseball League Records, 1903-1947 (Los Angeles, Pacific Coast League, 1947), vol. 1.
31. Winifred Davidson, Yesteryears in San Diego, San Diego Tribune, July 5, 1936; San Diego Union, March 3, 1907; San Diego Independent, October 2, 1969.
32. San Diego Union, various issues, 1915-1927.
33.San Diego Tribune, May 8,1936; San Diego Union, various issues, April-August 1916, April-August 1920, and April-August 1924.
34. San Diego Union, April 3, 1916.
35. Ibid., July 6, 1924.
36. Ibid., various issues, 1927-1935.
37. Ibid., various issues, April-August 1928, April-August 1932, and April-August 1935.
38. Ibid., July 26, 1934; Ibid., May 5, 1935.
39. Ibid., October 29, 1927.
40. Arthur R. Ribbel, Baseball Began in San Diego as a Diamond in the Rough, San Diego Union, April 4, 1982; San Diego Union, issues of May 7, 1928; July 31, 1934; and October 7, 1937.
41. Ibid., May 12, 1928.
42. Pennant Pinching Padres, Union-Title Trust Topics, March-April 1955, pp. 14-15.
43. Ibid., p. 14.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS are from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.