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Story of the Week
THE PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
For those of us who lived in L.A. in the early-50’s, this article will be nostalgic. (And even if you didn’t live in L.A. way back when, I think you’ll find this article on the old PCL interesting; it was something special.) We had the Pacific Coast League prior to major league baseball in 1958. We had two teams, the Los Angeles Angels, a Chicago Cubs farm team, and the Hollywood Stars, a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team. I lived close to Gilmore Field, home of the Stars, so the latter was my team.
2003 marked the PCL’s 100th. anniversary. Tradition and longevity are two of the biggest reasons the PCL became synonymous with minor-league baseball. The Angels rolled up 14 league pennants during their PCL years; the 1934 Angels won 134 games, and are generally recognized as the finest team in minor league baseball history. In fact, the talent and quality of play was so good that the PCL was often called the "third major league."
The two greatest stars to come out of the PCL were Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. DiMaggio played for the San Francisco Seals on his way to the Yankees, and Ted Williams played for the San Diego Padres prior to the Red Sox. In addition to DiMaggio and Williams, the list of other notable major leaguers who put in their time in the PCL includes a who’s-who directory of future Hall-of-Famers too long indeed to print here.
There is one who didn’t make it to Cooperstown, but was as major a PCL marquee player as any who ever played in the league. Steve Bilko, a slugging first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels, hit .360 with 55 home runs and 160 RBI’s in 1956, and was so popular in L.A. that a hit TV series, "Sgt. Bilko and His Gang," was named after him. Along the lines of TV, Chuck Connors became far more recognized as "the Rifleman" than he was as the first baseman of the Hollywood Stars.
And there is no way to overlook Gus Zernial, who parlayed a couple of outstanding seasons with the Hollywood Stars in the late 40’s into an 11-year major league career. Zernial loved the PCL; as he pointed out more than once, the weather was great, and the salaries were even better. Zernial was right; believe it or not, many PCL players made more money than did major leaguers in those days.
The post-World War II Pacific Coast League was ostensibly based in eight cities; Los Angeles, Hollywood, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and Portland. It became a different league after the Dodgers and Giants moved west in 1958. Much of its glamour was lost when L.A. and Hollywood left the old PCL, as you can readily imagine. The PCL was never quite the same after that.
Actually, major league baseball almost moved to Los Angeles long before 1958. In 1941, the owner of the St. Louis Browns, Don Barnes, agreed to buy the Los Angeles Angels from P. K. Wrigley for a million dollars, and move the Browns to L.A. for the 1942 season. But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the move was voted down because it was uncertain that the 1942 season would be played. Major league expansion to the West Coast would be delayed for 16 years.
The old Pacific Coast League will always occupy a special place in my baseball heart.
Last Week’s Trivia
The major league record for consecutive shutout innings pitched is 59, and is owned by Orel Hershiser. He did it in 1988, the Dodgers’ last championship season. The way they’re going, it may well be their last.
Trivia Question of the Week
These three famous QB’s were on the same NFL team for only one season. Two of them are in the NFL Hall of Fame. The other won the Heisman Trophy, but did not make it to Canton. Name them, the team, and the year. Hint; their surnames all start with the same letter. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.