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1903 - The First PCL Champion is Crowned

September 9, 2003 - 1903- The First PCL Champion is Crowned
By Pacific Coast League Historian Carlos Bauer
Part III in a series

For a look at Part 1: The Formation of the Pacific Coast League, click here!

For Part II: The Stage is Set for an Historic Season, click here!

Pictured: The Los Angeles Angels, or Looloos, as they were known by the local papers, dominated the Pacific Coast League in its first season and were led by first baseman Cap Dillon

Although the PCL season had gotten underway, the fledgling League still faced numerous challenges, including the rival the Pacific Northwest League, players jumping contracts, and unruly behavior both on and off the playing field.

August 1903-The War Ends

August turned out to be the end of the end as far as the Pacific National League was concerned. When Jim Morley and Hank Harris returned from the Chicago meeting on August 4th, they told the press that they had nothing new regarding a settlement. The Coast League held tough, and with every passing day, the Pacific National League teams attracted less and less fans, if that were possible.

What happened next did not seem to be what could have ever been foreseen: Tacoma and Helena unexpectedly dropped out of the league on August 16th. So unforeseen, in fact, that both the Pacific National League San Francisco and Los Angeles owners hadn't even known about it until after the fact. What was more amazing was that neither the Helena and Tacoma franchises ever had any direct competition from Coast League teams in their cities. A few of the players from those teams did join Coast League teams during the 1903 season, but generally the Pacific National League players were not quite up to Coast League standards, and thus did not do very well after jumping except in isolated cases; therefore, the failure Helena and Tacoma at the box office could not even be blamed on having all their star players raided by the Pacific Coast League.

After a game on Thursday August 20th (which the AP man reported had been seen by "a very small crowd" at Praeger Park), between the San Francisco Nationals and the Los Angeles Nationals, the management of both teams announced they would immediately suspend operations. The teams didn't even choose to play their normally better attended weekend games to try to pick up a few last bucks, that was how bad attendance must have been.

(That must be one a the few times in the history of Organized Baseball where the team leading the league, the Los Angeles Nationals, in this case, had dropped out.)

With that--the war was over. The Pacific National League had lost four teams in four days. The league struggled on to finish the season, but there was not much of a league left: A four team outfit, consisting of Seattle, Spokane, Butte and Salt Lake.

It now appears the only reason league play continued was to keep Dugdale's ego intact, and for the Pacific National League to retain rights to league cities the following year. (Leagues automatically lost the rights to their own territories if they failed to finish out a season.)

Harry Hart later on would state why he quit: he was stabbed in the back twice by people in the north over a two week period. Shortly before they dropped out, the Tacoma ownership had assured Henry Hart and W. V. Garrett that they would on fight till the finish, no matter what. After Tacoma and Helena dropped out, Hart was then assured by Dan Dugdale that he would get complete support by the remaining northern teams, only to get a wire from Dugdale himself stating that Dugdale's Seattle team would not be traveling to San Francisco for their scheduled series with Henry Hart's team.

The Los Angeles Times eulogized the passing: "Saying that the local fans were not surprised is stating the plain truth, for the demise of the California end of the Pacific National was expected any time before September 1. It was only a question of how long the good angel [Henry Hart] would continue to shake the money out of his wings, and when he quit on Thursday the end came."

On the field in August, the Looloos maintained a solid 10 game lead over the San Francisco Stars (who were sometimes called the Wasps, their name the previous season in the California League). Warren Hall had another good month, improving his record to 25 and 9, but this turned out to be the high point of his season. He started hitting the bottle pretty heavily with teammate Doc Newton, a well-known drinking man in his years pitching for both Cincinnati and Brooklyn. The more Hall drank, the worse he pitched, not winning a game in the whole month of September. Doc Newton, on the other hand, pitched better ball the more he drank. During one of Newton's best stretches pitching, he once fell off the mound dead drunk, and had to be removed before he could throw the first pitch of the game. On August 7th Newton began a streak of two months where he would not lose a game, putting together 11 wins in a row. His drinking buddy, Warren Hall, went 4 and 8 over the same period.

San Francisco's Jimmy Whalen improved his record to 22 and 10, but only pitched 5 games because of illness, winning four and losing none. Truck Eagan, the Sacramento star shortstop, increased his home run totals to 11 while playing in a park, Oak Park in Sacramento, that yielded the fewest¾ by far¾ home runs in the league. Harry Lumley in Seattle continued at the same pace, hitting .356 through games on August 31st.

The really big news in August was provided by the signing of Indian pitcher Sammy Morris by the Portland Browns. Large photos of him appeared on the sports page of several newspapers. (In those days, an Indian player represent a good box-office draw.) Morris had torn up Southern Washington with his pitching and hitting. Sammy Morris hit a home run and a double in his first game, but his pitching never lived up to advance billing, and he wound up with a 3-3 record with a 4.43 ERA before being released. Later in the season he got another trial in Sacramento, but pitched only one bad game before being released. The Sacramento Bee indelicately put it that Sammy was "...too fond of firewater."

September through November

The Coast League went on to finish the season with Los Angeles taking the flag by some 27.5 games over Sacramento, the Blues (which they were called because of their uniform colors, though their official name was Senators) coming back at the end of the season from third place. The only real excitement in those last three months was provided by Seattle, which in one stretch won nineteen straight games with one tie mixed in. They finished third, but at times it seemed like they may have had a chance to catch the Looloos. Their star pitcher, Jay Hughes won 12 in a row, with only one no decision mixed in. Hughes won on September 8, and did not lose again until November 4th.

San Francisco went cold late in the season and finished fourth. The press blamed player-manager Charlie Irwin for being too lax with his players. Seattle finished third, and if there were a Manager of the Year, it would have had to been Parke Wilson. Wilson built his club, as noted before, from the ground up, and he didn't stop making changes until he had the players he wanted on the field. Bringing the team in third was a marvelous bit of work.

In the last stages of the season, teams began trying out players for the 1904 season, some of whom would never be heard from again, like a second baseman from Santa Ana, Clare Head, who hit a mammoth home run earlier in the year when his amateur team traveled to near-by Fiesta Park. (Clare Head, it would turn out, got his friend Walter Johnson his first pro contract.) Another player, Spider Baum, got a tryout in the Coast League in 1903 and would pitch for various clubs through the 1920 season.

Portland and Seattle tried to play games in the Pacific Northwest during October, but it turned out disastrous financially for both clubs. If games were canceled because of rain, the games more often than not had to be played in a steady drizzle, which didn't do much for the box office receipts.

In November, the weather turned rainy in California, and a number of games had to be canceled in the Bay Area as all the teams played out the schedule without much interest.

Fans continued to attend games in Los Angeles, however, and on Sunday, November 8th, 5,000 fans turned out to see Doc Newton pitch against Oakland. They were treated to the first no hitter ever pitched in the Pacific Coast League. Only two men reached base on errors, and both were erased by double plays. As the San Francisco Chronicle waxed: "It is said by the best-posted baseball authority in this city that Newton's feat has never been equaled and that it established a new record in the baseball world. There have been other no-hit games pitched, but to-day's was the first on record where there were no bases on balls and no one left on bases." While the Chronicle reporter didn't know there had been many such no hitters pitched, he was right about it being an exceptional performance. The Los Angeles Times, for its part, only noted: "There were no particularly bright features about the game aside from Newton's performance..."

The 1903 season provided many outstanding individual performances. Jay Hughes of Seattle tied Doc Newton for the lead in wins with 34. (Sacramento native Hughes hated pitching in the East, and on several occasions refused to sign contracts with eastern clubs so he could remain on the West Coast. 1903 was one of those years. His 83-41 3.00 career major league record included 28-6 and 23-12 years for Baltimore and Brooklyn.)

Jimmy Whalen of the San Francisco Stars and Bill Thomas of Sacramento both won 29 games. (Thomas would pitch three years in the Pacific Coast League before heading east in 1906. After putting together three straight 20 win seasons in the PCL, he decided to give the East a try, but his luck ran out the following year. Sacramento boy Billy Thomas' demise in 1906 is one of the saddest tragedies in the history of baseball. George Stallings of Buffalo, hoping to bolster his Bisons, signed Thomas to a contract for the 1906 season. Thomas got off to a good start, winning his first start in Baltimore. The team then played a series in Providence, Rhode Island. After the series concluded on May 3rd, the team took a train to New Bedford, Massachusetts, from where they embarked on the night boat Richard Peck to New York City en route to Newark. Thomas left word with the porter and his roommate, pitcher Joe Galaski, that he wished to be called very early so he would be able to view the New York City skyline in the dawn. When the porter came into the cabin to wake Thomas early the next morning, he found an empty but slept in bunk where the pitcher had apparently slept the night before. The porter assumed Bill Thomas had awakened early, and was on the deck. Pitcher Galeski assumed the same thing, though he later reported not having heard Thomas get up. Only when the boat docked did it become evident that Bill Thomas had arose in the early hours of May 4th, 1906 and, somehow, managed to fall overboard into the cold waters of Long Island Sound. A body was never found, and Bill Thomas' death remains a mystery to this day. )

Jake Thielman, of the Portland Browns, managed to with 17 games in just over half a season; he also struck out 11 in his first game in the league, which was the most by any pitcher that year. Thielman's ERA of 2.12 lead the league (see note on statistics at end). (Thielman's teammate, Ike Butler, my research shows could not have lost a league record 31 games, as carried by the PCL Record Book; his record appears to have been 22 wins and "only" 27 losses.) Another new record was lefty Oscar Graham's 53 complete games, which bests Cack Henley 48 in 1910 by a good margin. Truck Eagan led the league in home runs with 13 and triples with 23, while hitting a solid .322 with 50 stolen bases and 57 doubles.

Also of note was Phil Nadeau's season of Portland: .337 AVG with 267 hits and what appears to be a newly discovered league record 233 singles, which would break Ox Eckhardt's 1933 record by two hits.

Kid Mohler and Carlos Smith both had fine seasons for Seattle, as did Harry Lumley who led the league with a .383 average. Lumley is credited by the PCL Record Book as having led the league in batting even though he only played in a little more than half of Seattle's games. If one uses the first criteria ever used (years later) by the PCL to determine qualifiers for the batting crown (playing in 2/3's of one teams game), the title would pass to a much more deserving Cap Dillon. Nevertheless, Lumley was a great hitter. He joined Brooklyn in 1904, and remained there until 1910 when he finally managed to eat himself out of the National League. They didn't call him Chub for nothing.

Something also should be said about the work of Doc Moskiman in Oakland. While Doc's record as a pitcher was only 14 and 24, his ERA was below the 3.17 league average with 3.03. But what is really notable is that Moskiman, when not pitching, played every position except catcher on the team. No matter where manger Lohman played him, he acquitted himself well. And he finished the season with a .316 batting average in 135 games. Doc Moskiman began pitching for Oakland in the California League in 1898, and wound up his Coast League career with San Francisco in 1911. He jumped to the outlaw California League in 1906, and remained a mainstay of the league through the 1910 season, winning as many as 31 games in 1909.

The Team That Won

When one looks at the Los Angeles club man by man, I believe the '03 Looloos have to be viewed as one of the great Coast League teams of all time: Almost every position was manned by an all star. And the pitching of Doc Newton, Warren Hall, Joe Corbett and Dolly Gray was absolutely the best rotation of the pre-World War One years. The rundown:
At first base was Cap Dillon, maybe the best fielding first sacker the league ever had, excepting the infamous Hal Chase. He led the league in fielding, and finished second to Harry Lumley (if you accept Lumley as batting leader) with a .364 BAVG. Frank Dillon also held down the position of Los Angeles captain, which in those years was really field manager, rather than what we today call "team captain." Cap Dillon, who in later years would be known as Pop, was a cousin of Clark Griffifth.

George Wheeler held down Second Base, and that presented the only weak spot in the whole lineup. Wheeler had been pressed into service at second when Holly Hollingsworth jumped his contract with Jim Morley to join the opposition. His normal position was pitcher and part-time third baseman. The newspapers came down hard on him right at the start, clamoring for an immediate replacement, but he managed to hang in there and do an adequate job. (Wheeler also pitched 12 games, when not at second base, and wound up with an extremely fine record of 8 and 1. His pitching may also have dampened the clamor for his head.) Wheeler was one of two ambidextrous players who appeared in the Coast League in 1903, the other being San Francisco outfielder Pat Meaney.

Jimmy Toman played the Angel shortstop position. He was a slick fielding, no-hit type of player. He led all shortstops in Fielding Percentage and Range by a wide margin--year after year. Toman, reportedly, had not missed an inning or an at bat since the 1899 season. But Jimmy was forced to leave the team in October because of the death of his father back East. He did not return until the following season. Toman held forth at short for the Looloos through the 1906 season.

Hard hitting and slick fielding veteran Jud Smith was the Angel's third baseman. He led all third baseman in FPCT, and had good range. He hit a solid .290 in 1903, with 42 doubles, 12 triples and 56 stolen bases.

Art Ross became the full-time left fielder early on in the season, after Jack Lawler jumped his contract. Ross was an above average player, not flashy but steady. He played for the Looloos through the 1906 season, and then returned for a second stint in 1909. Ross hit a solid .288 with 56 stolen bases, but didn't have much power, even for those years.

Dummy Hoy patrolled center field for the Looloos. William Ellsworth Hoy was one of the most amazing and multi-faceted people every to play baseball. Hoy was a deaf-mute who had a solid 14 year major league career. Hoy is the one who is credited with inventing baseball signs. In his life out of baseball, he became a very wealthy man; and he and his wife¾ also a deaf mute¾ adopted Paul Hoy Helms, who later went on to found the Helms Bakery and the Helms Athletic Foundation. In 1903, Hoy began to show that he was coming near the end of his career. He hit only .257, though he managed 42 doubles and 10 triples and 47 SB. His FAVG was a credible .957, but his range was the worst of any regular center fielder, and considerably below those of the leaders.

Right fielder Gavvy Cravath played the first of five years with the Looloos in 1903. Later, he would go on to a fine, eleven year career in the majors, which included leading the league in home runs some six times. He also had several fine seasons with Minneapolis in the American Association. In 1903, he hit a respectable .274 with a team leading seven home runs. Many believe it had been a mistake for the Hall of Fame to have overlooked him. After his career in baseball ended, he became a judge and justice of the peace in Laguna Beach, California.

Catching chores were handled by veteran Heinie Spies. Spies began his career in the California League in 1892 with San Francisco. His hitting was just average (.251), but he stole 35 bases, and his fielding was far superior to any other catcher in the league. His .973 FAVG surpassed his nearest competition by 13 points. Henry Spies would play in the Coast League through the 1906 season, all the time-- except for part of his last season-- with the Looloos. Backing him up were two veterans: Ed Hurlburt who relieved Spies for most of the season, and then, near the end of the season, the Angeles picked up Bobby Eager, who wound up catching for L. A. trough the 1907 season.

Tealy Raymond took over Jimmy Toman's place at shortstop when Toman went east after the death of his father. Raymond proved to be an adequate replacement for the departed shortstop, though nowhere near his equal in abilities. Raymond had been given a shot to play for San Francisco earlier in the year, but they released him; he just happened to be available when Toman left for the East.

While other teams had some good pitchers, the Looloos possessed the dominant rotation in the league, and one would be hard pressed to come up with a better one in the whole history of the Pacific Coast League. Doc Newton lead the staff with a league leading 34 victories, and only 12 losses. Warren "Rusty" Hall wound up with a record of 32-19; the first part of the season he was unbeatable, but trailed off because of over work, and a few too many nights out with Doc Newton. Hall threw 7 shutouts, while sporting a 2.31 ERA, second best in the league. Rusty Hall would pitch in the Coast League through the 1906 season, though he never would reach the heights he did in 1903. His second best season would be 1905, when he went 19-16 for the Looloos. Joe Corbett got off to a rocky start¾ and had to battle a sore arm throughout the season¾ but came on very strong at the end. He threw the most shutouts (8) in the league, and also led in strikeouts (196) on the way to a 23 and 16 record. Not bad for someone who hadn't pitched against top-flight competition on a regular basis for a couple of years. Corbett's 2.36 ERA should have led to a much better won-loss record, but he did have some bad luck and faced the toughest opposing pitchers (because of his drawing power) along the way. Dolly Gray rounded out the rotation with a respectable 23-20 win-loss record with a 3.55 ERA. Gray would pitch in the Coast League until 1913. Virgil Drinkwater and 2nd baseman George Wheeler rounded out the staff as spot starters. Both pitched a couple of shutouts-- and Wheeler's 8 and 1, 1.92 ERA sparked the team on a number of occasions. Both players began their careers in New England, and George Wheeler had a four year major league career, winding up in 1899 with a 21-20 4.24 ERA record.

In 1903, the Los Angeles Looloos finished 27.5 games ahead of their nearest competition, the Sacramento Senators. They led the league in fielding by 5 percentage points, and were only three points off the pace in batting. But the team ERA of 2.67 beat the second best Portland (3.06) by an exceedingly wide margin, and that is what really made the 1903 Looloos one of the greatest PCL teams of all time.

Even though the Looloos did as well as they did, they probably should have done better. What other team could lose their regular second baseman less than a week into the season (replaced by somebody who had never played 2nd regularly, if at all); lose their regular shortstop (the best in the league, by far) for the last month or so of the season-- and still finish so far ahead. And add to that, Manager Cap Dillon taking off for the better part of two weeks to get married and take a short honeymoon. And during one series late in the season, the Seattle papers even accused the Los Angeles players of "jaking it." Whether that were true or not, it would seem that a team so far ahead would let up from time to time, especially during a season of well over 200 games.

Only a super team could not only survive but thrive with those personnel losses. If the Looloos had played at top speed-- and with the whole team together-- they would have won, maybe, by 50 games over the next best team. They were, in fact, that good. No question about it.

The Wild West

While the Pacific Coast League cut down on rowdyism and umpire baiting, the game on the field still remained rough and tumble. Much of the untamed West still remained. There were fights on the field, gambling and booze in the stands.

Late in the season, the Acting League President, Eugene Bert, suspended Los Angeles George Wheeler indefinitely for punching out umpire Jim McDonald after an October 3rd game.

It should be noted, however, that umpire McDonald was about to throw a baseball at Wheeler's head just as the second baseman/pitcher coldcocked him. Apparently McDonald hadn't thought much of Wheeler's critique of the arbiter's play-calling skills.

As the San Francisco Examiner put it in their own unique style: "The ball game at Recreation Park yesterday was a curtain raiser to a thrilling and sanguinary battle. Just as the last man popped out Umpire McDonald charged the Los Angeles bench, like a regiment of cavalry answering mess call. He had a mouthful of repartee to empty.

"He used some copyrighted figure of speech in regard to Wheeler. The Los Angeles second baseman suggested an unpleasant country as a permanent abode for McDonald and all others who plied the nefarious trade of umpiring.

"McDonald paused undecided whether to use a regulation baseball or a catcher's mask to wipe out the insult. As he pondered, Wheeler swung at his ear and landed a right cross on his olfactory organ."

Wheeler admitted his wrongdoing in a late-night, man-to-man talk with Eugene Bert a few days after the incident, and so the President decided to cut his suspension to ten days.

Also, the late season antics that became sort of a hallmark of the old Coast League (for instance, 59 year old Lefty O'Doul pinch hitting, along with his 51 year old coach, Eddie Taylor at the end of the 1956 season; or Manager Wade Killefer plucking people out of the stands in 1925 to participate in the losing end of a blowout; or in 1920, a 15 year old Jimmie Reese, then a batboy for the Looloos, playing second base in a game for Los Angeles) got its start in the 1903 season. Late in November, with attendance flagging, Los Angeles and Portland decided to stimulate fan interest by having their two most famous pitchers, Doc Newton and Oscar Jones, switch teams for a game. Jones, who had pitched the whole season for Brooklyn in the National League on route to a fine 19-14 record before signing with Portland, had pitched the year before for Los Angeles in the California league. Oscar won the shoot-out by a 3 to 2 score. Newton had won their previous and only meeting by a 5 to 1 score.

(In the guides and record books, Doc Newton is listed with 35 victories, but my research shows that he in fact only won 34 games. What seems to have happened is that the game between Portland and Los Angeles where Doc Newton and Oscar Jones switched teams, someone in the league office thought the scorer had inadvertently wrote the pitchers' names under the wrong teams. Los Angeles won the game 3 to 2, so the league office then corrected the supposed mistake, and gave the win to Doc Newton, who had been with the Looloos all year.)

The game off the field was also wild and woolly. Gambling thoroughly pervaded Coast League ball. Ban Johnson, during the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, bitterly complained that the whole mess stemmed from the influence of Coast Leaguers, who came from an environment where league officials looked the other way at fixed games and gambling in the stands.

(Five of the eight banned Black Sox players had Coast League careers, only Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and Happy Felsch didn't. There were also a number of other ex-Coast Leaguers supposedly involved in the 1919 fix, most notably Hal Chase, Sleepy Bill Burns, and Jean Dubuc.)

In 1905, the San Francisco Examiner published an exposé of gambling at Recreation Park. While the facts deal with 1905, one can assume that the 1903 season had many of the same types of things going on. The bar on the grounds¾ which was the predecessor of what would eventually become popularly called the "Booze Cage" in the new Recreation Park, built after the 1906 Earthquake¾ was the center of bookmaking. Owners Uncle Henry Harris and Teddy Goodman also owned a nearby cigar stand where bookmaking, presumably, increased their profits, according to the Examiner reporter who placed a bet there.

The Examiner exposé detailed the persuasiveness of the gambling: "So open was the bookmaking that the women in the grandstand took a hand in it. These women had their betting patronage solicited by boys who went through the stands announcing the odds and who carried the money of the fair ones to the bookmakers, who held forth in a sort of mezzanine section below the grandstand and to the right of the entrance. It has become notorious that many women are regular patrons of the betting ring at the ball park.

"And the policemen are there all the time. Those policemen are supposed to enforce the law. There is a law against bookmaking in the city and county of San Francisco. There is no effort to disguise the breaking of the law.

"And now see to what this sort of thing leads. Already the 'national game' has become so smirched with suspicion on this Coast that comparatively few people patronize it. There is a rather more than a suspicion that many of the games are "fixed," and that the bookmakers and their friends know just what the result of the so-called contest is to be.

"Frequently when a stranger goes up to bet he is told that all the money is taken on the side on which he wishes to bet. No matter how he offers to increase or diminish the odds, he is not permitted to place his money. Then the game results just as the bookmakers knew it would. They and their friends reap their harvest accordingly. And now Jimmy Whalen freely confesses that he was offered $400 to throw a game.

"'Yes, I was offered $400 to lose a game,' said Whalen yesterday. 'I refused to consider the proposition. The man who made me the offer was a man I played for about six years ago [probably Ed Struve, who "owned" Watsonville, but secretly financed by Harris]. The game upon which the attempted bribe was based was played earlier in the season of this year.'"

Further on the reporter brought up the case of former major leaguer Henry "Heinie" Schmidt: "Though President Hawbaker, of the Oakland Club, after he had freely accused Pitcher Schmidt of having "thrown" a game to Seattle, tried to take back his declaration, it is noteworthy that Schmidt has not been reinstated [he would be, after his wife begged the owner to reinstate him because the family was destitute, and the pitcher had gone off on a drunken binge] on the slab for Oakland-- a team whose singular fluctuations of 'luck' during the season have caused many men to shake their dubious heads.

"But no matter whether the bribery of players is merely suspicion, or whether it is morally certain, there is no question that Harris and Goodman, with the connivance of the police, permit open bookmaking on the ball games played at Eighth and Harrison streets..."

By 1905 gambling on Coast League games reached its peak, but it had gone on for many years prior- and would continue until the "1920 Betting Scandal" forced the league to clean up its act for good. With the exposure, Henry Harris and Teddy Goodman were forced sell out to Oakland owner Cal Ewing just before the 1906 season began, some eight days prior to the 1906 Earthquake. I don't suspect the fix was in, though.

When Harris died in 1915, all his ties to gambling had been long forgotten, and he was fondly remembered as an owner who developed many famous players, and the organizer of the great Haverly team and then present day Seals. One should add that he also had been the visionary and prime mover behind the formation of the Pacific Coast League.