Runs, Hits, and an Era: The Pacific Coast League, 1903-1958.
By Paul J. Zingg and Mark D. Medeiros. Published for the Oakland Museum by the University of Illinois Press, 1994. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 170 pages. $19.95. Buy this book.
Reviewed by Frank Kern, Curator, San Diego Hall of Champions.
The Pacific Coast League offered something for everyone: tight pennant races, heroic performances, zany characters, great ballparks, stable franchises, intense rivalries, dazzling pitching, and spectacular hitting. The league survived a devastating earthquake, two World Wars, a gambling scandal, and a severe depression. While officially classified as a minor league, knowledgeable fans and west coast sportswriters frequently referred to it as the “third major league” and derisively referred to the major leagues as the “Eastern League.” Formal efforts to secure official major league status for the Coast League were frustrated by the fact that the Commissioner’s office established requirements that were impractical or unattainable.
Runs, Hits, and an Era was published in connection with a major traveling exhibit which opened in April 1994 at the Oakland Museum. The book terminates with the 1958 season, when the move of the Dodgers and Giants to the west coast forced the relocation of such key franchises as the San Francisco Seals, Los Angeles Angels, and Hollywood Stars. Thus major league aspirations of the Coast League were buried completely. For San Diego readers, the Padre years at Lane Field are included in their entirety since the team moved to Westgate Park in 1958.
The authors provide a chronological treatment of every aspect of the game, including interviews. Statistical appendices are included. The opening chapter contains a history of the early traces of the game along the west coast. A brief history of the game in San Diego prior to the Padres’ arrival in 1936 is also covered.
The Coast League served as a launching pad in the careers of such major league stars as San Diego’s first major leaguer Gavy Cravath, Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. Their Coast League careers were relatively short because of their rapid rise to stardom. Fans, therefore, are more apt to readily identify with a group of excellent players whose major league careers were brief and flawed for one reason or another. Typical were Buzz Arlett, Jigger Statz, Smead Jolley, Steve Bilko, Lou Novifoff, and Tony Freitas. Padres players such as Dom Dallesandro, Max West, and Jack Graham also fit this category. It should be noted that the respected Society of American Baseball Research selected Buzz Arlett and Tony Freitas as the best player and pitcher, respectively, in minor league history.
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