PCL helped propel baseball to its destiny
And that would lead to the formation of a league in 1903, which for nearly a half-century would rival and – in some cases – outshine the established big leagues that had set up shop east of the Mississippi.
The Pacific Coast League eventually would be regarded by many as “the third major league,” and prompt MLB to finally realize in 1958 that there was a geographic void to be filled, resulting in the relocation of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and the Giants from Upper Manhattan to San Francisco.
Sponsor a Page
Online Collection Page Sponsorship
For only $5 a year, you can have your name displayed on an artifact page within our online collection. You can even add a message – a note about the item, a favorite baseball memory or a tribute to a family member or friend.
Like Statz, Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri holds a prominent place in the PCL record books. As a 21-year-old playing for the Salt Lake City Bees in 1925, he became the first player in professional baseball to slug 60 homers in a season. He also drove in 222 runs and scored an additional 202 while playing in 197 games that season. The Bees would sell his contract to the Yankees in 1925, and two years later Lazzeri would have a front-row seat as Babe Ruth became the first MLB player to smack 60 in a season. The Bambino almost had a PCL tie, too. Following the 1943 season, Ruth reportedly turned down the Oaks’ offer of $15,000 to manage their team, standing firm on his demand for $25,000.
DiMaggio was another Yankee legend who left his mark on the PCL. In his three full seasons with the San Francisco Seals, he batted .340, .341 and .398, respectively, and past would become prologue during the 1933 season when he hit safely in 61 consecutive games. Known as “Deadpan Joe” because his face remained expressionless under pressure, DiMaggio would admit to feeling a great sense of relief when the streak finally ended. Two years later, he would sign with the Bronx Bombers, and in 1941 he would captivate the nation while hitting safely in 56 consecutive games.
Despite his impressive minor league streak, DiMaggio was not considered the best PCL hitter of that era. That distinction belonged to Ox Eckhardt, a raw-boned Texan, who still holds the league record with his .414 batting average in 1933. He batted .369, .371, .378 and .399 in four other seasons in the PCL, but his magic wand wasn’t magical in the big leagues, as he finished with a career .192 average in parts of two seasons. Still, his combined average of .366 is the best in professional baseball history, fractionally ahead of MLB record-holder Ty Cobb.
Slugger Steve Bilko also compiled scintillating PCL stats that didn’t translate into MLB stardom. From 1955-57, he crushed 148 homers and drove in 428 runs for the Angels while winning three consecutive league MVP awards, but he managed only 76 homers in 600 MLB games over 10 seasons.
Lefty O’Doul would win two National League batting titles and finish his 11 MLB seasons with a career .349 batting average, trailing only Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Shoeless Joe Jackson on the all-time list. But the man who helped popularize baseball in Japan also proved his mettle as the PCL’s all-time winningest manager, posting a 2,094-1,970 record while piloting clubs in San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, Vancouver and Seattle.
If owner and league president Pants Rowland had his way, the PCL would have leaped its “major” hurdle, but the American and National leagues were intent on maintaining a two-league setup. The best MLB would do was grant the PCL “open classification,” which gave the league the highest status ever accorded a minor league – a step above the Triple-A ranking of the International League and American Association, but a step below the bigs.
The relocation of the Dodgers and Giants put an end to any more talk about the PCL joining the big leagues. Several of its cities would be usurped by MLB, but the PCL would continue on at the highest level of the minor leagues – a distinction it still holds today.
Scott Pitoniak is a freelance writer from Pittsford, N.Y.