Author Archives: Joel

Advent of Night Baseball

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2436-2453:

The concept of baseball played at night was nothing new; barnstorming teams had done so for years. There had been experiments with temporary lighting beginning in the late 1800s, including an exhibition held at Athletic Park in Los Angeles in 1893. In June 1927, two New England League teams played a seven-inning game at Lynn, Massachusetts, under temporary lights before several thousand people who were surprised at how well they could follow the action and noted that players seemed able to react quite well to the ball.

Lee Keyser, owner of the Des Moines Demons in the Western League, had attended a number of college and high school football games at night and was impressed with the quality of lighting at those events. Confident that a permanent set-up would work for baseball, he invested twenty thousand dollars to install 146 floodlights mounted atop a half-dozen ninety-foot-tall poles at the Demons’ stadium and then announced that Des Moines would open its 1930 home season on May 2 at night against Wichita. “If the game is successful … I look for most of the minor leagues to follow the example of Des Moines and install floodlights for night baseball,” said Keyser. “If it is unsuccessful, it will mean that sooner or later the minor league clubs will have to go out of business due to steady decrease in patronage.” Several major league executives made plans to attend the game and a national radio audience tuned in to the contest, which was carried by the National Broadcasting Company.

Twelve thousand fans crowded into the stadium, and while the game was a less-than-artistic Moines jumped out to a 12-0 lead after three general consensus was that the quality of baseball was as good as it would have been during the day. Problems remained to be solved, including dark spots along the foul lines, and a fielder lost one pop foul in the lights, but Lee Keyser was undeterred. He addressed the national radio audience between the sixth and seventh innings and declared, “My reaction to night baseball is that it is glorious and wonderful. The players are happy, the crowd perfectly satisfied, and it means that baseball in the minor leagues will now live.” The Chicago Tribune agreed with Keyser that night baseball might well be a “life saver” for the minor leagues.

Continuing to struggle in Sacramento, Lew Moreing took notice. He quickly ordered lights and had them installed. On the night of June 4, 1930, at precisely 8:31 P.M., Moreing flipped a switch, generating a buzz from forty banks of lights, each carrying a trio of sixty-thousand-watt bulbs. The lights slowly grew brighter, illuminating the playing field as hundreds of people in their automobiles, surrounding the stadium to witness the spectacle, began honking their horns in celebration.

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Early Days of Baseball Radio Broadcasts

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2224-2241:

Radio was becoming wildly popular, and in 1927 two important developments accelerated growth in the fledgling industry. First, radio manufacturers reached agreement with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to use company patents that were essential in mass production of radio sets. Second was the development of the alternating current radio tube, which made it possible to manufacture radios that could be plugged into a standard electrical outlet.

Mass broadcasting to the general public was on the horizon and sports were to be a major beneficiary of this new technology. Baseball had been broadcast on radio since 1921, and the New York Yankees had aired the World Series for several years, more or less in the same play-by-play fashion as today. However, most baseball coverage consisted of a simple recitation of wire accounts sent by telegraph to the local station, providing only the actual details of the game without commentary.

KHJ in Los Angeles broadcast play-by-play results of the World Series in 1925 to great fanfare, relaying results from three thousand miles away almost as they happened. By 1927 KPO radio in San Francisco was using a direct line from Recreation Park to provide play-by-play details of every game. In Oakland and Seattle, game accounts and scores were provided nearly every day except Sunday. William Wrigley, who had a direct telegraph wire into his home on Catalina Island so he could keep abreast of his Chicago Cubs, took notice of radio’s potential to promote the last-place Los Angeles Angels. Hoping broadcasts would drum up interest in an otherwise uninteresting team, Wrigley announced that KHJ would cover the Angels every day.

There would be lively debate about radio in the PCL [= Pacific Coast League] over the next few seasons – Bill Lane for one remained there was no turning back. At the league meeting following the 1928 season, a resolution was defeated that would have banned radio from the ballparks. Though yet in its infancy, radio would soon become as inseparable from baseball as newspapers were.

Ironically, at the same time radio was becoming established, a new invention was being developed on the second floor of a warehouse at 202 Green Street in San Francisco, near Telegraph Hill. This new all-electric technology would further revolutionize broadcasting and the world of sports. In January 1927, Philo T. Farnsworth, the twenty-year-old son of an Idaho farmer, met with Crocker Bank vice president James J. Fagan and pitched his idea. Fagan, whose son would later own the San Francisco Seals, was able to convince W.W. Crocker, president of the bank, to invest in it. Nine months later, Farnsworth completed the first successful demonstration of his new technology at the Green Street warehouse. On that day in San Francisco, modern television was born.

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Grandfathering the Spitball, 1920–1934

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1520-1526:

In late October 1919, American League president Ban Johnson proposed that “trick” deliveries, such as the spitball and shine ball, be declared illegal. At the major league meetings in February 1920, both the American and National leagues adopted the proposal, allowing a one-year grace period to pitchers identified by their teams as those relying on the spitter for their livelihood.” The Pacific Coast League followed suit, ruling that players currently in the league could continue to throw the spitter, but that pitchers new to the PCL could not. At the end of that first year, St. Louis Cardinals spitballer Bill Doak was among those asserting that banning himself and fellow spitballers from using their best pitch would likely end their careers.

Doak’s argument carried the day and the spitball remained a legal pitch for seventeen men during the remainder of their careers, including Ray Fisher, who did not play after 1920. This group continued as an endangered species of sorts until 1934, when Burleigh Grimes threw the last legal spitter in the major leagues.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Baggywrinkle, 歃=Slurp

ARM Cuautémoc mainmast

ARM Cuautémoc mainmast

Baggywrinkle – The Mexican Navy’s training vessel ARM Cuauhtémoc visited Honolulu recently. It is a beautiful ship, a three-masted barque manufactured in Bilbao, Spain, in 1982, with steel hull, cables, and belaying pins, but teak deck and fine wooden railings and housings. The ship arrived and departed with most of the crew aloft, standing in the yards and shrouds, singing lively songs that carried far across the water as they set out to sea, bound for California. I was lucky enough to go aboard during its stay, to watch its theatrical departure, and to learn a new piece of nautical vocabulary from the encounter. Many of the thinner steel cables (stays) before the masts were covered with yellow baggywrinkle to prevent the sails from chafing against the metal. (Perhaps the baggywrinkle also helped ensure that no sailors would be sliced through if they fell from the rigging above—if they somehow slipped their harnesses and safety lines.)

susuru ‘slurp’ — One of my retirement hobbies is ramen research. This week I tried a new lunchtime ramen “pop-up” called Slurp on the premises of Vino wine bar at Restaurant Row (a.k.a. Waterfront Plaza) in downtown Honolulu. Their mazemen (‘mix noodles’ [not soupy]) was excellent, with Okinawan-style thick soba noodles, char siu, 5-minute egg, smoked bacon, ikura (salmon roe), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), and Tokyo negi (chopped leek).

kanji for slurp

Stylized kanji for Slurp

But their logo set me off on another episode of a lifelong hobby: kanji research. It’s a cleverly employed but relatively obscure (hyougai ‘unlisted’) kanji that I had to clip from the Unicode Unihan database, where its codepoint is U+6B43. The more common kanji for susuru ‘slurp’ in Japanese is 啜, as in 啜り上げる susuri-ageru ‘suck up’ or 啜り泣く susuri-naku ‘sob, sniffle’. (But when I first checked ‘slurp’ in Google Translate on my smartphone, all I got was 吸い込む sui-komu ‘suck in’ in Japanese and 思乐普 si-le-pu in Chinese, just a hanzi rendering of the sounds of the English word.) The regular kanji 啜 for susuru ‘slurp’ has the ‘mouth’ (口 kuchi) radical on its left and 4 little grasping hands (又) on the right. The restaurant Slurp has instead chosen to stylize the more obscure kanji for its logo. The kanji 歃 susuru ‘slurp’ has the ‘yawning’ (欠 akubi) radical on its right. It looks a bit like a person with shoulders and one arm hanging down, beneath which the logo has added a small bowl of steaming ramen. The left side of the kanji looks as if the top of a tongue (舌) is protruding from an open-mouthed mortar (臼) with jaws and teeth.

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Ethnic Minorities in the Old Pacific Coast League

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1314-1328:

Although Asians were not welcome to play with or against whites on the Pacific Coast, mixed-blood Hawaiians could, provided they were of the right mix, unlike Lang Akana. Pitcher Barney Joy had been the first, joining the San Francisco Seals in 1907. “Honolulu” Johnnie Williams was a pitching sensation for Sacramento in 1913; the Detroit Tigers offered eleven thousand dollars for his contract and he played briefly for them the following year. Williams then returned to the Pacific Coast League until arm problems led to his release by Los Angeles during the first week of the 1916 season.

Latins had never been represented in numbers reflecting their interest in the game, although a few had been allowed to make their mark. Esteban Bellan, a native of Cuba, played in the National forerunner of the National 1871 to 1873. Sandy Nava caught Charlie Sweeney in the major leagues. Cuban Armando Marsans played in the majors even though he was fairly dark-skinned. Fellow countrymen Dolf Luque and Mike Gonzales had long careers in the major leagues. Pitchers Jose Acosta and Ignacio Rojas, outfielder Jacinto Calvo (whose father was a rich sugar planter in Havana) and infielder Louis Castro were among the few Latin-born players to appear in the Pacific Coast League during its first couple of decades. Pitchers Frank Arellanes and Sea Lion Hall (born Carlos Clolo [apparently not true; see note 27 at the link—J.]), also pitched in the PCL and were of Mexican heritage but born in the United States. Hall gained notoriety as one of the first relief pitchers in the major leagues and threw four no-hitters in the minors. He earned his nickname because of his loud, barking voice. He was also called “The Greaser” by those less genteel, who quickly learned those were fighting words.

Consistently derided about their racial heritage, Native Americans were nevertheless considered valuable drawing cards. Louis Sockalexis was one of the first, starring at both Holy Cross and Notre Dame and then with Cleveland in the National League in the late 1890s. The New York Giants employed catcher John “Chief” Meyers. Brooklyn’s star outfielder Zack Wheat was half-Cherokee, although he did not advertise that fact. Albert “Chief” Bender of the Philadelphia Athletics was one of the game’s best pitchers. The great Jim Thorpe was playing in the major leagues of both baseball and football. There had been several Indians in the PCL, most commonly pitchers, including Casey Smith, Ed Pinnance, Sammy Morris, Louis LeRoy and George “Chief” Johnson.

Because Indians enjoyed relative acceptance among the public and their teammates, there were occasional but almost universally unsuccessful attempts to masquerade black players as Native Americans.

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Salt Lake City Bees, 1915: “Godsend to the Pacific Coast League”

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1119-25, 1192-99:

A group of local speculators built a new stadium, called Majestic Park, on the site of the old Salt Palace, an amusement park that had been a major venue for bicycle racing. The Rotary Club handled the opening festivities and encouraged businesses to close for the day, or at least allow some of their employees to have the day off. Ten thousand fans attended the Pacific Coast League’s debut in Salt Lake City as the local citizenry celebrated “the transformation of a low swampy field covered with mud, snow and stones into one of the finest baseball fields in the United States.”

By the end of May the Bees were averaging three thousand fans per game. When the team was on the road, hundreds of people, including scores of enthusiastic children, gathered around an electronic scoreboard at the ballpark to watch results being posted. In other parts of the city, men with megaphones shouted out the scores. Although many considered it doubtful the level of interest would be maintained through the hot summer, Pacific Coast League owners were nonetheless delighted. [San Francisco Seals owner] Henry Berry said, “Salt Lake City is the salvation of the league.”

Meanwhile, the surprising Salt Lake City Bees, which had charged from last place in late July to finish second, reaped the financial rewards Henry Berry must have thought rightfully belonged to him as league champion. The week prior to Berry’s bankruptcy court date, the directors of the Bees declared a ten percent dividend for their stockholders. The team was so successful it had not been necessary to issue all of the authorized stock. The Bees drew more than two hundred thousand fans with total gate receipts of $105,000; even after paying out the dividend and purchasing Majestic Park, the team still had $14,000 cash on hand and was debt-free.

It had been another rough season financially for the Pacific Coast League, but the team in the Great Salt Desert had been invaluable in helping the circuit survive another year. Henry Berry had been absolutely correct when he hailed Salt Lake City as the league’s savior, especially following the disaster of 1914. [Portland Beavers manager] Walter McCredie called Salt Lake “a godsend to the Pacific Coast League,” while league President Baum declared that Salt Lake City ranked with any minor league city in the country. It was impossible to over-emphasize the city’s role in the league’s survival.

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Pacific Coast Baseball, 1890

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 80-98:

The crowd began congregating on a gray, drizzly December morning in 1890 at San Francisco’s Clay Street Wharf. Bracing themselves against the cold wind and brisk dampness of the seafront, people from all walks of society had assembled in response to the arrival of the U.S. Navy flagship Charleston, which sat anchored in the bay. Undaunted by the dreary weather, the throng waited patiently in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Charleston and its famous passenger, David Kalakaua, the King of Hawaii. The King disembarked at fifteen minutes to four o’clock in the afternoon and, accompanied by Admiral George Brown, boarded a twelve-oar barge that rowed him ashore. Shouts went up as royal salutes were fired from other ships in the harbor, and smoke enveloped the entire scene. Emerging from the smokescreen, the barge reached the gangplank and the coxswain shouted, “Way enough! Toss oars!” King Kalakaua, cutting an impressive figure in his Prince Albert coat and a black, chimney pot hat, stepped onto the wharf and was greeted warmly by General John Gibbon and the Fourth United States Cavalry. The King acknowledged his crowd of admirers and was escorted to one of twelve carriages waiting to transport the dignitaries up Market Street to the Palace Hotel.

Numerous events were held in the King’s honor, including an all-star baseball game staged five days before Christmas at Haight Street Grounds between a team of native Californians who played in the eastern professional leagues and a group of locals from the California State League.’ The King, whose attendance made him the first monarch to attend a baseball game on American soil, was quite familiar with the sport thanks to his financial advisor, Alexander same Alexander Cartwright often credited with creating the modern game. The King’s presence was a measure of how far Cartwright’s favorite game had progressed.

The story goes that baseball was introduced in the West during Cartwright’s journey to California via wagon train during the Gold Rush. Whether true or not, it is almost certain that he or some other veteran of East Coast “base ball” planted the seed, and by the early 1850s there were accounts of people playing “town ball” in the streets of San Francisco. Cartwright did not linger, instead sailing on to Hawaii where he sent for his family and became a prominent citizen. By the time of his death in 1892, Cartwright’s connection to baseball was forgotten, even in his native New York. Nearly a half-century would pass before the ex-bank clerk/volunteer fireman and his Knickerbockers teammates received credit for their contributions to the game. By that point, the Abner Doubleday myth was entrenched and Cooperstown had the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although Cartwright may have been forgotten, the game he promoted was not. It developed, thrived and spread everywhere, including the West. Teams were soon being established all over California, although they initially functioned as social clubs requiring little physical activity beyond drinking and exaggerated storytelling. That began to change by 1860 when players from Sacramento and San Francisco met in a state championship series. The San Francisco team, the Eagles, captured the silver ball engraved “For The Best Base Ball Playing, September 25, 1860.”

For more about the earliest baseball in the Hawaiian Islands, see Punahou and Baseball in the Hawaiian Kingdom.

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