A History of Baseball In California

Clayton Valley of Concord players celebrate after winning a game played several years ago at the Oakland Coliseum. Photo by David Chin.

Legend has it that a man named Abner Doubleday invented the sport of baseball sometime in the summer of 1839 while living in Cooperstown, New York. The story goes that Doubleday later became a hero of the American Civil War, leaving a double legacy of a veteran and the inventor of one of America’s most loved sports.

But this isn’t true. While a man by the name Abner Doubleday existed, he never claimed to have invented baseball or, in fact, have anything to do with the sport. That didn’t stop Major League Baseball from using the story in the 1903s as a promotion, with the old saying “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story” ringing true here.

The Real Beginnings of Baseball
Historians have been able to trace games that resemble baseball back to the 18th century in the United States, but its history goes back even further than that. Two similar games, both of which involved a small ball with a bat, existed in the British Isles. The first of which is a sport called cricket, a game that is still popular in England, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand today. Cricket involves hitting a ball with a flat-edged bat and running in between two sets of “stumps.”

The second is “rounders,” a game still played by school children in the United Kingdom, which has much similar rules to baseball than cricket. Rounders involves hitting a ball with a bat and running between four “bases,” all guarded by “fielding” players. The early colonists brought this game to New England, and it quickly spread across the country.

The First Baseball Club
The first baseball club, was known as the Knickerbocker Baseball Club, founded in 1845 in New York City. A member of the club, Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr., then began writing the rules bespoke to the game of baseball, using a diamond shape with three bases (as opposed to the four bases in a square used in rounders), the three-strike rule and foul lines. The new game of baseball also dropped the rule from rounders that saw runners tagged by throwing balls at them, a decision made on safety grounds. These rule changes helped to make the game faster and more challenging.

The team’s first officially recorded game of baseball was on June 19, 1846, and played in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The National League and American League
The oldest surviving national baseball league, the National League, was founded in 1876, with its counterpart, the American League, forming in 1901. After a few years of fighting, the two leagues came to an agreement in 1903, which saw the first World Series of baseball played, pitting the winners of each of the leagues against each other in a champion of champions game.
Now, in its 143rd year, Major League Baseball’s National League is the top tier of baseball in the United States. Eleven teams have won the National League since 2000, so competition is strong. For the 2019 season, odds comparison website Oddschecker shows several teams considered contenders, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.

First Baseball in California: Angels
The first professional baseball team to form in the state of California was the Los Angeles Angels, who played in the Pacific Coast League between 1903 and 1957. Despite the same name, this team had no connection to the Los Angeles Angels, who played in the American League in 1961. Since 1958, several Major League Baseball teams have dominated baseball in California. The Angels have had their home in Anaheim for many years and in 2002 beat the San Francisco Giants in a seven-game series to win their first world championship.

The San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants started life on the other side of the country and were originally known as the New York Gothams. This National League team was founded in 1883 but changed its name to the New York Giants before the end of their debut season. The team’s home remained on the East Coast until the 1958 season when they moved to San Francisco to follow their arch rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were also in the process of moving to California.

The Los Angeles Dodgers
The Brooklyn Dodgers moved westward from the East Coast in 1958, making their new home in Los Angeles. The team dominated the National League during the 1950s, with two World Series victories, including one in 1959, the year after their relocation, and five National League pennants. The move to Los Angeles, spurred on by the team struggling to find a suitable stadium in New York, can be seen from the fact that the team had six different locations between 1884 and 1957, but has called Dodger Stadium its home since 1962.
The relocation of the Giants and the Dodgers was part of a wider trend in Major League Baseball in the 1950s and 1960s where teams moved west and south to broaden the reach of the sport. Before these moves, there had been no Major League Baseball teams west of St. Louis or more southern than Washington, D.C. The Giants and the Dodgers provided the test case for other teams, with many more following in the 1960s, including 10 relocations of baseball teams in two decades.

The Oakland Athletics
This American League team that calls Oakland its home started its life in 1901 in Philadelphia. Known as the Philadelphia Athletics until 1955, the team won the American League pennant in its second year of competing, and its first World Series eight years later. The team was then bought in 1955 and moved to Kansas City where it was known as the Kansas City Athletics until 1968 when the team moved again. This time, the team made Oakland its home where it has remained since.

The San Diego Padres
Like the Giants, who play at Oracle Park on San Francisco Bay, the Padres have a beautiful newer stadium they play in, Petco Park, which opened in 2004. They were still at their previous stadium, Qualcomm Stadium, when they were in their only World Series in 1984. They lost to the Detroit Tigers.

The Final Word
Although the teams were not founded in California, the state has since become very successful in both the American League and the National League. Collectively the Giants, Dodgers and Athletics have won 23 World Series titles, 46 National League pennants, 15 American League pennants and 41 West Division titles. While they secured many before their relocations, a significant proportion of these titles came about since the teams moved into California.


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