The Pacific Coast League was organized in 1903, growing out of roots in the California State League dating back to 1886. From the beginning, the “Coast League” was unique in the baseball world, with weather permitting season schedules which sometimes exceeded two hundred games and a self-proclaimed “open classification” which defied major league attempts to label its caliber of play.
Before the moves in 1958 of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco, the PCL offered “big league” baseball to generations of Westerners. At the heart of the game was the players, many of whom made their careers in the league and some of whom chose it over major league opportunities in the East.
In 1936, former miner Bill Lane, who for two decades in Salt Lake City and Hollywood had been a PCL owner, brought his franchise to San Diego. Over the next quarter-century, before the arrival of the Dodgers and Giants changed the face of the Coast League forever, the “Padres” played a vital role its life and lore. Championships were won by the 1937 team (featuring Ted Williams) and the 1954 club (led by Lefty O’Doul). Lane Field fell to termites and Westgate Park rose on grazing land in Mission Valley.
This era is best described by the players themselves. The following article offers an oral history of life with the PCL San Diego Padres between 1936 and 1958. The persons interviewed cover every year and occupied each of the ball club’s positions– including owner, manager, and coach. Presented are selections from longer interviews, edited only for length and topical clarity. We hope you will “listen” with pleasure, for these voices speak not only of baseball but of a growing San Diego and the varieties of life in “paradise.”
Bill Swank played American Legion and high school baseball in Farmington, Minnesota. Unable to hit the curve ball, he signed with the San Diego County Probations Department. He retired in 1994 after a thirty-one year career as a supervising probation officer. Mr. Swank has a B.S. degree in Business Administration from San Diego State College with a minor in history. He is a member of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society and has campaigned for years to get deadball era slugger, Gavy Cravath of Escondido, elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Jim Smith, a native San Diegan, is pastor of Clairemont Emmanuel Baptist Church and has served as adjunct professor at Bethel Theological Seminary-West and the University of San Diego. He has a doctorate in church history from Harvard University, and is a member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) and the Pacific Coast League Historical Society. He has published articles on baseball history in Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, The National Pastime, and Baseball Research Journal.