. . . . . . by John Gilmore


Memorial Day 1957, decision time, the choices being: study for final exams; stroll down Bancroft to Edwards Field, Cal Bears v Oregon for the Pacific Coast Conference baseball championship; or pile into an aging but durable Merc sedan to motor across the Bay Bridge to 16th and Bryant Streets, Seals Stadium, Sacramento v San Francisco, Pacific Coast League doubleheader.

Since the newspapers buzzed about negotiations, approvals, objections, etc. regarding pending moves of the Giants and Dodgers to the west coast next season which, if effected, would end professional baseball as we knew it in the bay area and Los Angeles and this could be the final opportunity for some to attend a real PCL open classification game, we chose the later course.

Seated in the grandstand beyond first base for $1.25 per ticket (the price of a decent steak dinner at Berkeley’s renowned Varsity Lounge aka “The V”), we readied for games none of us played well by this stage of life but shared the passion fueled by sounds of batting practice, infield chatter, the nuances, good plays and bad.

Beautiful day, the home team took game one on homers supporting fine pitching, while the second turned on a single unforgettable play. Score tied, two out, bases loaded, drive to right, Seals rightfielder Albie Pearson took off, and while on a collision course with the concrete wall, snagged the ball, crashed headfirst into that unforgiving barrier and crumpled to the ground stunned. The ball remained tightly held in Pearson’s gloved right hand. Helluva play for a lefthanded fielder going to his left on a sinking drive, especially when the game’s savior was 145#, 5’6”. Inning over. Pearson, with assistance, arose and gradually eased into a trot to the dugout bathed in a standing ovation. “This was his town,” proclaimed the Examiner.

Twelve years before I was introduced to the PCL, Seals v Oaks. Then the San Francisco club, natty in pin stripes, led by manager Lefty O’Doul, righthander Larry Jansen (30-6) and firstsacker Ferris Fain (.301, ll2 rbis) won the pennant, besting Casey Stengel’s Oaks. Today the Seals, now a Red Sox farm team, looked like their parent. (They would take the PCL flag by three and one half games over Vancouver, nee Oakland.)

As for the bottom feeding Sacramento Solons there waddled rotund Tommy Heath, former Seals skipper guiding the visitors, a team of veterans and a few promising young guys: Leo Righetti (Dave’s dad), former Oaks favorites Artie Wilson and Milo Candini, ex Seal Jim Westlake, Jim Greengrass, Harry Bright, Al Heist, the gregarious Bud Watkins, Earl Harrist, Cuno Barragan, Stanford’s Roger Osenbaugh, Marshall Bridges and Nippy Jones.

Sacramentan Joe Gordon managed San Francisco including: Pearson and his fellow former southern California high school football star Marty Keough (Matt’s dad), Tom Umphlett, Bill Renna, Harry Malmberg, Jack Phillips, Grady Hatton, John (Windy) Mc Call, Ted Abernathy, Bob Di Pietro, Ken Aspromonte, Frank Kellert, Ed Sadowski, Harry Dorish, Leo Kiely, Jack Spring, and familiar Seals Nini Tornay and Sal Taormina. Taormina, 34, wore SF livery off and on during the post war years and is the only player on both pennant winners, 1946 and 1957. O’Doul now managed Seattle, a roster that included Jansen, finishing his playing career in the PCL after good National League years (9). Fain, two time American League batting champ, was last seen as a Solon coach a year ago. Perhaps Taormina is in the best position to compare the two Seals postwar flag carriers. I’ll take 1946.

San Francisco won both games. Pearson tripled and scored following his wall encounter. We returned to the books, analyze, memorize, compare and contrast, knowing the Coast League in its real form left us, like a chocolate chip cookie, wanting more.

Cleaning out the locker: Cal won the PCC crown that day, the regionals and the College World Series. O’Doul coached Giants hitters for a while. Jansen became the Giants pitching coach in 1961. Pearson had his best years with the expansion AL Angels. Taormina coached at the college level. Cookie Lavagetto, originally signed by the Oaks in 1933, took the managerial reins of the Washington Senators from the fired Chuck Dressen. Us? Most plus others returned to Seals Stadium April 15, 1958, Opening Day, Giants 8, Dodgers 0, viewed from Section R between home and the press box, arranged by a loyal Oaks fan.


One hundred years ago the Pacific Coast League commenced play, Oakland vs Sacramento in Sacramento.

Both cities fielded competitive teams as baseball reached a popular level following the Civil War. Then members of the California League, Sacramento's Gilt Edge (named after locally brewed Ruhstaller's Gilt Edge beer) celebrated pennants 1898-1900 while Oakland won in 1902.

So the Coast League began its first century to play on through the phases of changing times.

Can those of us who followed the PCL in the post World War II years before the Giants and Dodgers arrived compare play then with current performances? Is there historical perspective unbiased by impressionable years of our youth vs wisdom supported observations of the present? We think so.

Four standout Oakland Oaks players dominate the prologue, epilogue and chapters in between: Billy Raimondi (now an active 90 year old), Dario Lodigiani (gregarious octagenerian still scouting for the Chicago White Sox), the late Billy Martin and Artie Wilson.

Mr. Raimondi and Mr. Lodigiani, catcher and infielder, were experienced, fundamentally sound ballplayers who, in effect, were on the field coaches performing well in both roles. We appreciated them as professionals which they still are.

The feisty Martin disrupted opponents' game plans. Intense to the core, he created or increased tension.

Wilson, with his trademark infectious smile, appeared to love the game. His slap hits to left field from the left side batters' box rivaled those of Tony Gwynn.

Mr. Raimondi and Mr. Wilson were popular with fans, rewarding that bond leading Oaks' pennant drives in 1948 and 1950, respectively.

Is anyone today fundamentally sound as these fellows? No. Anyone as tough, mean or disruptive as Martin, Ferris Fain of San Francisco or Jungle Jim Rivera of Seattle? No.

Anyone who can rocket the long ball as quick or as far as San Diego's Luke Easter? No. Mr. Easter flumoxed pitched balls like no other. What about all around play of a true game breaker like San Diego's Orestes (Minnie) Minoso? No current candidates. Any outfielders who crash into unpadded walls while holding onto fly balls like Oakland's Mel Duezabou? Some try, however, no one is blessed (or cursed) with the same elan. Has anyone produced seasons like Gene Woodling in 1948 at San Francisco or Mr. Rivera three years later leading Rogers Hornsby's Seattle club? Not yet.

What about pitchers? They show promise, are called up to the parent major league team (the modern PCL is part of a farm system) and learn on the job once there. Do any have Larry Jansen's slider that propelled San Francisco to the 1946 pennant or Oakland's Ralph (Pine Tar) Buxton's nasty approach to hitters? No.

What about managers? From an eight team league the majors took or reclaimed: Casey Stengel and Charley Dressen from Oakland; Fred Haney, Bobby Bragan and Jim Dykes from Hollywood; Stan Hack from Los Angeles and Paul Richards from Seattle.

Billy Martin became a skipper as did George (Sparky) Anderson and Bob Scheffing from Los Angeles; Jim Marshall (Oakland), and Joe Gordon (Sacramento and San Francisco) joined this group. Jim Turner (Portland) was Mr. Stengel's long time pitching coach.

Perhaps the best, certainly the most flamboyant, said no to the big leagues--the legendary Frank (Lefty) O'Doul.

Today's players probably are in better condition year around. From arthroscopic surgery to ibuprophen, medical advances lessen disability time and effect. The present day ballplayer, therefore should play longer and better than their counterparts of 50 or so years ago. ( The latter, many war veterans, were older on average and anchored teams sharing their knowledge of the game with kids like Martin who was part of a battle tested Oaks infield managed by the crafty Mr. Stengel in 1948 and Mr. Dressen the following season.)

Modern stadiums and training facilities stand out. Who, however, can forget Oaks Park at San Pablo and Park in Emeryville where we played out reality interspersed with fantasies and dreams? (Ironically, Pixar now spins its magic on those hallowed grounds.)

Are they better paid? Not on average unless they make the 2003 equivalent of mid four to low five figure salaries for PCL players in 1946. Many of them don't.

The old PCL spawned and ended careers. Oaks Augie Galan, Ernie Lombardi and Cookie Lavagetto came home to play credibly in their twilight. So did Sam Chapman. Future Hall of Famers Billy Herman and Ray Dandridge completed their playing days scrapbooks in Oakland uniforms. World Series vet Tommy Bridges pitched at Portland in his early 40's. Following nine productive big league seasons Mr. Jansen and Mr. Fain came back to Seattle and Portland and Sacramento, respectively. Joe Marty, Tony Frietas and Bob Dillinger extended their playing days at Sacramento.

Baseball by nature is a nomadic occupation now fueled by economic forces. Then PCL teams kept players, traded them within the league, released some, brought others up from lower minor league farm teams, added some via major league option or working agreements and sold a number to the big leagues for cash and players. At times the bigs took talent via the hated draft where talent could be bought for $10,000 versus its true worth of many times more.

Many players lived at home as neighbors and friends. They held offseason jobs, signed autographs without charge and acted as normal citizens. That is, they were ordinary people, part of an extraordinary generation, enjoying a game they and we loved.

It was, for us as fans and the players as professionals, a different time, era and game. With respect to the then and the now, there is no comparison. The old PCL on the field product was better.


Major League baseball offficially recognized life beyond St. Louis Tuesday, April 15, 1958, Dodgers vs Giants, Seals Stadium, 16th and Bryant Streets, San Francisco.

Over 20 of us, described as "Spirited Collegians" by Life Magazine, occupied pews in Section R behind home plate halfway between the field and press box this gorgeous afternoon. Beyond the euphoria and excitement of a trumpeted historic event, lest we forget, were conscious/subconscious comparisons with Pacific Coast League players observed since 1946.

Willie Mays was, as Russ Hodges properly analyzed, "incomparable." That is defined as the best all around player any of us ever saw. He is, therefore, several light years beyond this review.

Giants Manager Bill Rigney, who started his long career with the Oakland Oaks, used the minimum nine players (including three rookies) in an eight to zero eleven hit, seven walk rout. Dodger starter Don Drysdale was ko'd by the fourth inning and celebrating commenced early.

San Francisco's catcher Valmy Thomas proved typical of many PCL backstops like the Oaks Billy Raimondi, Frank Kerr, Don Padgett and Rafael Noble. The SF Seals could counter with Bruce Ogrodowski or Will Leonard. None of these competent fellows could hit a ball as far or as hard as Ernie Lombardi who completed his Hall of Fame career with the Oaks on their fabled 1948 pennant winners managed by the redoubtable Casey Stengel.

Rueben Gomez, a tough journeyman, went the route scattering six singles, walking six while striking out six. At this stage he probably would be a third, fourth or fifth starter for most Coast League teams. Fooling future Hall of Fame inductees Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Mr. Drysdale plus familiar names like Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Jim Gilliam managed by Walter Alston (who would join Mr. Stengel as a HOF skipper) was not an easy task. Mr. Gomez had the right stuff this day but didn't show the consistency to last and became part of a trade with Mr. Thomas the following year to the Phillies for righthander Jack Sanford as the Giants added value to what would become a World Series club in 1962.

Jumpstarting a 17 year HOF career, rookie Orlando Cepeda opened at first base. Mr.Cepeda clearly overshadowed: Les Scarsella and Nick Etten of the Oaks; Mickey Rocco and Les Fleming of the Seals; Hollywood's Tony Lupien, Irv Noren and Chuck Stevens; Chuck (The Rifleman) Connors and Steve Bilko of Los Angeles' Angels; Earl Torgeson of Seattle; and San Diego's Jack Graham. Comparison with San Francisco's Ferris Fain, twice the American League batting champion and rugged competitor, is difficult. Both would play.

What about San Diego's Luke Easter? Mr. Easter reached the majors at age 35 to play two partial years and four full seasons with Cleveland. His numbers and relative mobility with knee problems at the same ages are better. Mr. Cepeda reached the conclusion of his career when Mr. Easter (who started late in the game at any level and so called "organized baseball" because of the curse of prejudice) began drawing fans with his authoritative hitting and good play in the field. Mr. Cepeda made several admirable comebacks over the years. Mr. Easter was given only one chance. He grabbed the brass ring with gusto.

Danny O'Connell started at second base. The question lingers whether he played to his talent level with the Giants. Was he better than quintessential PCL infielders with experience and steady play like Dario Lodigiani and Hugh Luby who served both Bay Area teams? Oakland's Billy Martin he was not. Nor did Mr. O'Connell demonstrate the skills of the Oaks Billy Herman or Pirate farmhand Bill Mazeroski at Hollywood or Sacramento's Joe Gordon.

The first Giants homer was struck by shortstop Daryl Spencer to left field, shortened by the Giants to accomodate additional fan seating. Spencer's blow, off Mr. Drysdale, would have been a double under PCL dimensions (365' down the line to 400' plus in center to a 20' unpadded wall). Oaks and Seals shortstops Ray Hamrick, Merrill Combs, Roy Nicely and Don Trower fielded superbly without great distinction at the plate. The Oaks Artie Wilson fielded and hit well, though demonstrated little power. Gene Baker of Los Angeles produced a better average, fewer homers though covered more ground in the field. Mr. Spencer, like six other San Francisco starters that wonderful day, was gone within several years not to taste the sweet 1962 pennant race and bitter conclusion of the World Series. Perhaps that is the answer, a tautology.

Former Mississippi State quarterback Jim Davenport anchored third base, a keeper. He had no PCL peers (with the possible exception of Oakland's Cookie Lavagetto).

The two other outfielders, Jim King and rookie Willie Kirkland take a back seat (Mr. Kirkland had power, not average) to many such as: former Cal All American halfback Jack Jensen or George Metkovich or Loyd Christopher or Earl Rapp or Wally Westlake with the Oaks (and others); Gene Woodling or Albie Pearson of the Seals; Jim Rivera of Seattle; Gus Zernial, Lee Walls or Jim Delsing with Hollywood; Orestes (Minnie) Minoso and Harry (Suitcase) Simpson of San Diego; or Sam Chapman, former Cal All American halfback, and infielder/outfielder Augie Galan who completed successful careers with Oakland. Since the great Mr. Mays consumed centerfield, why not team him with with PCL veterans Joe Brovia, Dino Restelli, Clarence Maddern, Joe Marty, Frank Kelleher (the pride of Hollywood) or Max West (who homered early and often in San Diego and LA)?

The party started several hours before the first pitch to SF native Gino Cimoli leading off for the Dodgers shortly after 1:30 pm. It proved so much fun, vendors ran out of beer by the seventh inning. We thanked the Oaks fan who arranged for our seats (so loyal his dog was named "Ralph Buxton"), and left the stadium with indelible memories.


I have yet to witness a no hitter, triple play or one to nothing extra inning game where a starting pitcher goes the distance. Throw in a successful squeeze bunt in the last inning for the win makes four in absentia lasting memories portrayed by radio and/or newspaper account.

On Sunday, April 20, 1947 Tommy Bridges, following a 16 year major league career with Detroit, no hit the San Francisco Seals while wearing Portland Beaver home white flannels, 2-0. Mr.Bridges turned 40 the previous December. He was several years older than my dad.

Bob Stevens of the S.F. Chronicle reported: he threw 92 pitches to 27 batters, striking out five, walking one; Seals first baseman Battle Malone "Bones" Sanders walked on four pitches to open the top of the eighth and was promptly erased on a double play to the delight of about 14,000 customers; and this game (all one hour forty-four minutes of it) provided Mr. Bridges with a measure of redemption for three no hitters ruined by ninth inning singles in Detroit.

San Francisco took the second game of a doubleheader for their lone victory of the week. The Seals found their compass, reversed course and tied Los Angeles for first place in the regular season. Powered by a Clarence Maddern homer. the Angels captured the flag in a one game playoff, described for those of us listening at home to Jack McDonald's play by play.

A bottom of the ninth squeeze bunt worked for the Seals against Oakland, Tuesday night August 23, 1949. Crafty lefthander Al Lien and burly Earl Jones dueled the distance for their respective clubs, tied at one and one. Lefty O'Doul's lay it down strategy succeeded for the fourth time as catcher Roy Partee brought Mickey Rocco home from third to end it, presenting Mr. Lien his 16th victory and fifth in a row.

Five days later on Sunday evening the 28th, the surging Sacramento Solons solidified their hold on third place as third sacker Jim Tabor personally took Portland apart in both ends of a doubleheader.

Bill Conlin of the Union described how "Ol Rawhide" initiated a triple play. Manager Del Baker ordered a walk to load the bases with Beavers on second and third. Dick Wenner lined to Tabor who promptly stepped on third to double up temporary resident Vince Shupe. Without delay Tabor fired to firstbaseman Walt Dropo, catching Johnny Rucker way off base for the final out. Mr. Tabor also knocked in two and scored a pair as the Solons won 6-4.

The second game featured Mr. Tabor's 14th home run in a 3-2 victory over Tommy Bridges.

The ancient Mr. Bridges, winner of 194 major league games, posted records of 7-3 (ERA 1.64) in 1947, 15-11 with seven shutouts in 1948 and 12-11 in 1949. Those were amazing feats at the time as the PCL boasted some good hitting clubs particularily at Oakland, Hollywood and San Diego.

Also on August 28 Oakland collected their revenge, whipping San Francisco 5-2 in the morning game at Oaks Park and scored six runs in the ninth, fueled by four successful pinch hitters-including a pitcher, to take the afternoon tilt at Seals Stadium, 7-5.

The Chronicle's future Hall of Fame writer Bob Stevens described the Seals 17 inning 1-0 win over Hollywood, Sunday, September 10, 1950 as "pulsating," "one of the greatest games in the history of the league."

The "gallant though weary" Al Lien probably pitched his best game as a professional, giving up 10 hits and a lone walk, while striking out four in slightly over three hours of work.

Two great plays won it. Brooks Holder allowed a catchable flyball to drop foul with a Star on third and less than two outs, preventing a run from scoring in the tenth. In the bottom of the seventeenth, Jack Tobin doubled off Mill Valley's Art Shallock and eventually got to third. Rookie Harry Eastwood flied to left and reliable ex-Yankee Johnny Lindell. Tobin tagged and roared home, crashing into catcher Jack Paepke for the game's only score. "One of the most fantastic ball games played in the last 20 years," observed Mr. Stevens.

In Los Angeles Oakland's pennant jugernaught steamrolled the Angels twice in a twin bill behind George Bamberger and Hank Behrman. For the Acorns it would their second flag in three years, two different skippers (Casey Stengel and Chuck Dressen), two different styled uniforms and two different but fundamentally sound teams. Good baseball? You betcha.


Monday, September 20, 1948, 12:01 a.m.-One week remains in the Pacific Coast League season and Lefty O'Doul's San Francisco Seals pulled into a first place tie with Casey Stengel's Oakland Oaks, 107 wins and 73 losses.

Consistently outperforming the pack (third place Los Angeles lags 11 games behind), SF thrashed Portland in six of eight games the previous week while the Acorns took San Diego in five of seven.

Cellar dwelling Sacramento, 33 1/2 games out at 74-107, will arrive in Oakland following a successful four win three loss week in Hollywood for the showdown finale. The star crossed, singed road weary Solons have followed a nomadic existence dictated by a grandstand destroying blaze earlier in the season at Edmonds Field. Originally scheduled to close in the capital city, they will be the "home" team at Oaks Park this week.

While I didn't see any of these games, they were well described by Bud Foster on radio and reported in the hometown Berkeley Gazette. What follows is assembled from memory, box scores and commentary of professionals and peers. It was a significant seven autumn day span producing an event that had escaped the east bay for 21 years.

Monday, September 20, 1948, 11:59 p.m.-Oakland, behind warhorse Jack Salveson, beat Sacramento 6-1 fueled by key hits from Mel Duezabou and Cookie Lavagetto before a surprisingly sparse crowd of 1933. Advantage Oaks.

Tuesday, September 21, 1948, 6:00 p.m.-I've read the paper. Oakland and Sacramento don't play tonight.

On August 14, leading 4-3 in the ninth inning the Oaks Ralph Buxton was accused by Mr. O'Doul of using pine tar to add stuff to his already nasty pitches. That stuff was found on his glove. The "pine tar" incident became a heated verbal battle. Protest allowed, the game was to resume in progress tonight before the Seals regularily scheduled contest with visiting Seattle at Seals Stadium.

Tuesday, September 21, 1948, 11:59 p.m.-Disaster struck at 16th and Bryant. The Seals dropped two. Floyd " Hummingbird" Speer (12-3) dispatched the home team 1-2-3. Oakland silenced its critics. To rub salt or some other substance in O'Doul's wounds, "Grumpy" Guy Fletcher shut SF out 6-0 on seven hits, five strikeouts without a walk before 8780 disappointed souls.

Wednesday, September 22, 1948, 6:00 p.m.-President Harry S. Truman's campaign train visited Sacramento yesterday. Speaking before an estimated crowd of 6000, he railed against "big business and power monopolies." Was his opponent, New York Governor Dewey, paying attention? Perhaps.

Wednesday, September 22, 1948, 11:59 p.m.-Acorn lefty Earl Jones five hit the Solons with perfect one inning relief from Mr. Buxton, 4-1. Jones (13-6) benefited from timely bat work of Dario Lodigiani, Eddie Fernandes and pinch hitter Will Hafey in besting Marv Grissom.

San Francisco dropped another, 4-3, though league leading hitter Gene Woodling stroked four for five.

Thursday, September 23, 1948, 11:59 p.m.-Sacramento tied and won a 2-0 game in the eighth inning off Jim "Nothing Ball" Tobin, winning 3-2. Across the bay Seattle fell victim to a 17 hit Seals attack as Bill Werle closed out a 17-7 season in celebration of his purchase by the Pirates, 9-1. Mr. Woodling went three for four. There was life in the bewiskered marine mammal.

Friday, September 24, 1948, 11:59 p.m.-Soon to be deposed Solon manager Joe Orengo protested a "wild, edge battle" won by Oakland 8-6 with three runs in the eighth. Five Sacramento errors didn't help. A crowd of 6809 witnessed Solon bats connect. Pitcher Manny Salvo homered. Bill Wilson tripled. Steady Joe Marty knocked in a pair. Solon starter Ken Holcombe was ko'd in the first and the Oaks outplayed their opponents to grab a crucial victory.

San Francisco kept pace two games back, 1-0 behind Al Lien (15-8). Oakland needs two wins in the final three games.

Saturday, September 25, 1948, early afternoon-By midday coast time the Cal Bears have beaten Navy 21-7 at Baltimore with future Oak outfielder Jackie Jensen contributing from the fullback position.

Two veterans are set to go at it in Oaks Park, Rex Cecil for Sacramento and Mr. Salveson for the faux visitors.

Saturday, September 25, 1948, 6:00 p.m.-Oakland won 2-1 via homers from Loyd Christopher (13) and Nick Etten (43). Both pitchers went the distance, each giving up seven hits. The Seals beat Seattle 6-5 via two runs in the eighth. Mr. Woodling collected four for five.

Sunday double headers will decide the race. The Oaks had two chances to get the magic one.

Sunday, September 26, 1948, midafternoon-San Francisco triumphed 2-1 behind Cliff "Mountain Music" Melton (16th victory) in their first game. Oakland and Sacramento are in a punch out before a turnaway crowd of 12,386. According to reports the firecracker toting customers were not allowed to overflow onto the field because management feared unruly behavior could fuel protests and perhaps forfeited games.

O.K., you know the Oaks stumbled across the finish line 10-8 to take the pennant after 21 years of waiting. That is, they employed four pitchers who surrendered three Solon home runs (Jim Warner, pitcher Edgar Smith and Mr. Marty's three run blow in the fifth). Mr. Buxton, in relief of Messrs Jones and Speer, got the win (12-3). It was, however, a late career highlight from Mr. Tobin ascending from rubble to engineer the last three innings ensuring history for Mr. Stengel and his "nine old men."

Mr. Lavagetto stroked two doubles several weeks shy of the anniversary of his immortal two bagger to scuttle Yankee Bill Bevans bid for a no hitter in the 1947 World Series. Mr. Christopher homered again. Mr. Etten's 156th rbi sealed the result.

Both contenders swept their twin bills. Oakland finished at 114-74, the Seals at 112-76 following what must have been a week of adrenaline, guts, linament and the exhilaration of meaningful competition.

Hopes and results intersected, becoming one. The Oaks had defined the east bay.


Copyright © 2000. William B. Shubb.