Presented by The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
The San Francisco Pacifics, circa 1869. Seated at the far right is Roger Connor. Mr. Connor retired from professional baseball in 1897. He had amassed 138 home runs in his 18-year career, a record which stood for 23 years after his retirement and was broken by Babe Ruth. The player seated to Mr. Connor’s right is proudly displaying the League Championship Bat, awarded to the champion club each year, and passed along to the new champion at the end of every season. The player sitting second from the left is holding the team’s only other bat.
On Tuesday, March 13th, The Social Ramble attended a lecture on the geography of Bay Area baseball since it’s arrival here about a century-and-a-half ago. The photo above, featuring the entire Pacifics ballclub, was probablytaken in January of 1869. This and many other rich images were on display during a detailed look back into 19th century base ball here in San Francisco.
I arrived at the Jewish Community Center early so I could register for the lecture and find a cup of coffee. I paid for a ticket and received a box of Cracker Jack (no “s”, sports fans) and mingled with a largely hairy, elderly crowd. Most in attendance were clad from horn to hoof in San Francisco Giants finery, though yours truly betrayed no affiliation. I spent fifteen minutes inspecting the bizzare elvish runes and symbols on the walls, (turns out they were Hebrew) and when the auditorium opened I found a seat near the middle of the room. “Excuse me young man, would you mind moving over one seat?” The yenta behind me was unimpressed with my six feet and four inches of height. I slid over to receive similar treatment from her exact double, and decided the answer was to slouch.
The room darkened and a man wearing a black Giants jersey took the stage. John Freeman, President of the Programs Committee for the SFM&HS and MOST BORING MAN IN THE WORLD introduced himself and blathered on for fifteen minutes. This guy was REALLY boring. Blah blah, donate some money.
Finally, Bay Area sports columnist Scott Ostler took the microphone from him…and blathered for another little while. There were some baseball jokes, some lawyer jokes, and some Dodgers jokes. And then the two-person panel was introduced.
Angus Macfarlane and Jim O’Connor, SABRmetricians both and members of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society, dove straightaway into the tale of West Coast baseball, beginning with the first mention of the sport in a newspaper:
The Daily Alta, February 4, 1851
Here, in it’s entirety, is the baseball news from that date:
Awesome. Unfortunately, journalists were only briefly interested, and it would be nine years before another ballgame was mentioned in print on the Left Coast.
Mr. Macfarlane then told the story of Recreation Grounds, at what is now Folsom and Cesar Chavez in San Francisco. His knowledge of the construction and life of the ballpark, and likewise it’s successors The Haight Street Grounds, Ewing Field, and Seals Stadium, was so detailed it sounded firsthand. Pictured above, Recreation Grounds opened on Thanksgiving, November 26, 1868. Also featured that afternoon were potato sack races and dancing. There was no charge for admission.
From FoundSF: 1906–After the Great Earthquake a new ball park, Recreation Park was built in the Mission on Valencia between 14th and 15th streets. A section of the bleachers, roped off with chicken wire became known as the “booze cage.” Admission price entitled the patron to a choice of either a sandwich or a shot of whiskey. Spectators who frequented the “cage” were said to be knowledgeable, loud and abusive.
Sounds like The Social Ramble’s kind of ballgame.
Panelists Macfarlane and O’Connor spent the next two hours blazing a trail through historical baseball in The Bay leading up to our recent World Champion Giants. They discussed the colorfully named clubs of the past, the Mission Reds, Vernon Taggers, SF Knickerbockers, and Troy Trojans, who also went by the “Gothams”, and in 1885 would become the New York Giants.
On display were ancient, battered, pre-earthquake San Francisco maps, showing playing diamonds all over the city. This included the sight of the first Pacific Coast League game in 1903, where there now stands a Bed Bath & Beyond.
Of particular interest to the assembly were tales of Babe Ruth’s three visits to The Bay, as well as the story of the demolition of Seals Stadium.
During game 4 of the 1959 World Series, while the Dodgers are beating the Chicago White Sox in Los Angeles, home plate is dug up at San Francisco’s Seals Stadium. The park would be demolished within a year.
Though many people here remember the Giants days at Candlestick park, few can claim to have attended a game during the Giants first season in San Francisco, 1958, at Seals Stadium. On Tuesday night, I chatted with a few old-timers who were there.
April 16, 1958, the first Giants-Dodgers game in California. 22,000 were in attendance for the Giants win. From 1901 to the present, the the two teams have met 2,189 times, with the Giants winning 1,094 of the contests. The Dodgers have won 1,078, with 17 games ending in a tie.
Using the Google-Earth overlay, we can see Seals Stadium resting on the Safeway and Office Depot.
From BurritoJustice.com, satellite positioning of Seals Stadium’s home plate inside Office Depot.
All in all, TSR’s visit to the JCCSF was informative and entertaining, despite the arrival of two booze-besotted geezers halfway through the lecture. Stumbling over my legs into the open seats next to me, they smelled of liquor and laughed a little too loudly throughout the remainder of the presentation. Between them, it was clear they’d forgotten more about the Grand Old Game than I may ever know. And while I was at first annoyed by their tardiness, their odor, and their general disposition, my ire quickly gave way to acceptance, and finally happiness, at their obvious enjoyment and interest in the affair. I would count myself very lucky in old age, to have a close buddy with whom to share a few drinks, a few laughs, a few memories of something older even than ourselves, and our tiny, tiny part in it.
The Social Ramble, March 16, 2012
Roger Connor, 1857-1931. A lifetime .317 hitter, Connor is still fifth on the all-time list for triples with 233. He is credited with the first Grand Slam hit in the Major Leagues. MLB debut: May 1, 1880 with the Troy Trojans. Last appearance: May 18, 1897 with the St. Louis Browns. Roger Connor was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.