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1903 - The Stage is Set for an Historic Season

April 23, 2003 - 1903- The Stage is set for an Historic Season
By PCL Historian Carlos Bauer
Part II in a Series

Pictured--Sacramento shortstop Truck Eagan became the first big star of the Pacific Coast League because of his prodigious power. In 1903, Eagan blasted a League-leading 13 homers--a huge number for the dead-ball era--23 triples, hit for .322 batting average and stole 50 bases.
Photo courtesy: Mark Macrae Collection

After a long winter battling the rival Pacific Northwest League, the first Pacific Coast League season began, as scheduled, on the 26th of March, 1903.

Ed Pabst, who had come West after having started his career in the South, hit the first home run that season (and the first PCL HR ever) off of Ike Butler of Portland in San Francisco's Recreation Park the first day of the season. It also turned out to be Pabst's only Coast League home run.

Rain swept the Pacific slope that first week of the season, but that didn't stop the Los Angeles Looloos from sweeping the Portland Browns. L. A. went on to win its first 15 straight games under Manager Cap Dillon; Portland, after getting beat up in Los Angeles, did not stop until they had lost their first twelve games.

Looking over the league, this is how the teams stacked up at the beginning of the season:

Oakland: This club had won the pennant the year before, and on paper looked much better in the eyes of Manager Pete Lohman. Lohman and owner Cal Ewing thought they could get away with another pennant on the cheap. The team lost most of its infield, and never really had a solid middle infield until late in the season. Its top three pitchers had also been lost.

Los Angeles was solid at every position. As far as fielding was concerned, the Looloos sported gold glovers at almost every position. Owner Jim Morley also greatly improved the pitching by importing Doc Newton from the East, and signing Joe Corbett. Los Angeles also figured to be better off because they didn't have the disruptive influence of Rube Waddell.

San Francisco had a star pitcher in Jimmy "The Whale" Whalen, and also solid players at four positions. Whalen was the star pitcher on the West Coast around the turn of the century, winning thirty games the previous two seasons. Three of the new position players figured to be an improvement over those they replaced. Charlie Irwin became the new captain, which really meant field manager in those days, and the team's third baseman, who would wind up as one of his team's best hitters. Irwin had finished up a 10 year major league career (.267 AVG mainly with Chicago and Cincinnati) the year before with the Brooklyn Superbas.

Sacramento returned all of its position players, the only problem with that was that Sacramento finished 33 games off the pace in 1902, and in dead last place. Included in that group is the player considered to be one of the best fielding second basemen in the history of the Pacific Coast League, Pearl Casey. Casey, whose real last name was actually Barnes, blossomed during the 1903 season. He would go on to lead Coast League second basemen in fielding average five times out of the six years he played a full season. Casey's range was either the best or right near the top every year he played. Pearl Casey never would be much of a hitter, but in 1903 he did have a fine season, hitting .288 by far his best season ever. After his playing career ended, he spent over 20 years as an umpire. The star of the team, however, was Truck Eagan (pictured) the first PCL slugging star. In an era when home runs came all too rarely, Eagan put together back to back 21 and 25 HR years in 1904-5. Because he played shortstop, and was a fine hitter, many consider him the West Coast version of Honus Wagner. Years later one of his contemporaries, long-time Seals part-owner Charley Graham, told a beat reporter that Eagan "was a great hitter of the dead ball ...and I have often wished he could have batted against the extremely lively ball later." Eagan's heroics were offset by Mike Fisher-- universally considered the least competent owner/general manager in the league. Fisher spent no money on pitchers, instead deciding to bring in a raw "kiddy corps" to start the season. Win Cutter appeared to be his only experienced pitcher on the staff when the season opened, but he had only gone 13 and 24 in 1902. All in all, it looked like another long season in the Central Valley.

Portland retained the nucleus of its 1902 Pacific Northwest League club, but like Sacramento, it too had finished in the cellar of that league. Sammy Vigneaux remained at the helm, and management brought in a couple of heavy hitters, southern import Carlos Smith and Quebecer Phil Nadeau, to bolster established players like Deacon Van Buren and left-handed second baseman Andy Anderson. Reportedly, Carlos Smith came from a family of rich plantation owners, and played ball for diversion rather than for financial gain. Nadeau had played for a number of years in New England and New York, hitting over .300 seven times.

Seattle was a completely new team, built from the ground up by field manager Parke Wilson. Wilson also caught and played first. His .201 AVG showed that he was nearing the end of the trail as a player. The manager started playing in the old California League in 1892. The Seattle franchise had been placed in the city to compete with Dugdale's Pacific Northwest League outfit. Parke Wilson put an early team together that had been overly influenced by management. Lou Cohen even signed University of California football sensation John "Locomotive" Smith, but he proved to be a complete bust on the mound, pitching only 4 games and winding up with a 5.75 ERA. The team appeared to be an unknown quantity. It would take Wilson almost the whole year to get the group of players he wanted: Of the 44 players who appeared for Wilson that year, only two starters from the opening day line up would be with the club at the end of the season, Wilson himself and third baseman Henry Jansing.

Team Nicknames

In the California League, and in the first years of the Pacific Coast League, team nicknames changed a great deal, sometimes even during the season- and more often than not a team would have more than one nickname.

A case in point is the Los Angeles team. While some called the team the Angels, the owner and the press invariably called them the Looloos, though on occasion they were even called the Seraphs at that early date. Looloos, some have speculated, derived from the team playing at Chutes Park, and the loop-the-loop ride carried over to the team in the form of Looloos. Of course, the Angels were also a "looloo" of a team in some of those early years. Los Angeles became the Angels when Jim Morley gave up ownership of the club in the wake of the 1906 Earthquake. With the new management Angels became standard team nickname.

Oakland received their nicknames to reflect the team on the field in any given year. The pennant winning team of 1902 had been called the Dudes; the 1903 team the Recruits, because they had to recruit so many players to fill in for players who had gone elsewhere. Quite often the Oakland team was called the Athenians, and on the rare occasion, the Oaks. In subsequent years, Oakland's predominant nickname would be Commuters, with Oaks gradually being used more and more, until 1907 when Oaks was more commonly used in the press than Commuters. In 1905 Oakland was occasionally called the Greeks.

Portland, in 1903 and 1904, was called the Browns, and sometimes the Webfoots. They wore blue and white uniforms, so the reason for being named Browns is not apparent. In 1905 and 1906, when a great number of their players stood over six feet tall, the team became known as the Giants. In 1907, they became the Beavers for the first time, though the team would be called Webfoots or Ducks occasionally for years, and even, once in the 1920s, the Rosebuds.

The Sacramento team was known as the Senators, but they were many times called the Blues for their uniform color. In the teens they would start to be occasionally called the Solons.

San Francisco had been known as the Wasps in 1902, and occasionally the press called them that in 1903, but day in and day out they were known as the Stars. In 1904 management let it be known that the owners wanted the team to be called the Seals and nothing else. Legend has it that the name Seals came from Seal Rock, where sea lions (popularly called seals) would sun themselves.

Seattle would be known as the Siwashes until they dropped out of the Coast League after the disastrous earthquake season of 1906. Sometimes they were called simply the Indians. When the team returned to the league in 1919, management tried to call the team the Purple Sox, but had to change the name back to Indians when fans rebelled. During the 20s the team was occasionally called the Rainiers, even though the name was not changed officially to that when Emil Sick bought the club in the 30s.

Grounds, Fields & Ballparks

The fields used during the PCL's inaugural season stacked up like this:

Chutes Park, Los Angeles: The skinned infield was sodded for the 1903 season. The left and right field distances were of normal dimensions, 330 and 312 feet respectively. What made this park a good home run park (29 were hit there in 1903) was the short center field; it had distances of 348 feet in dead center to 367 feet at its deepest point. A bowling alley formed part of the center field fence.

Freeman's Park, Oakland: Originally, the park was all dirt; then the outfield was sodded; finally for 1903 the infield was sodded with grass. At Freeman's Park, a herd of sheep acted as the "lawn mowers." Park distances down the lines were more or less normal: 307 to right, 293 to left; the power alleys were on the short side at 325 to left center and 335 to right center; dead center measured about 425 feet from home plate.

Vaughn Street Grounds, Portland: Because of the quantity of rain in Portland, both the infield and outfield were always of grass, as far as can be determined. The 1903 configuration had a small grandstand behind home plate. The grandstand was enlarged after the 1904 season. Vaughn Street Grounds was a spacious park.. (When analyzing distances, one must take into consideration that it was the "Dead Ball Era" and that the baseballs traveled a lot less further in 1903 that they would only a few years later.) Foul lines were a long 346 to left, but only 290 to right. What made it spacious were the distances to left and right center at 380 feet, and 450 feet to straight center field.

Oak Park, Sacramento: Not much- except the location and that the left field was lengthened some hundred feet-- of Oak Park is presently known. We also know from press accounts that the infield remained "skinned" during the 1903 season. However, statistics show that 192 doubles, 132 triples and only 7 home runs were hit in 89 games at the park during 1903. From that one might hazard a few assumptions about the park. First, the fences must have been distant, because only 7 home runs were hit, while the team had the premier slugger in the PCL, Truck Eagan, on its roster. Also adding to that supposition would be the fact that relatively few doubles and an incredible amount of triples were hit. More than twice as many triples as the league average occurred in Sacramento: per 100 games, the league average is 67 triples; Oak Park averaged some 148 triples per 100 games.

Recreation Park, San Francisco: Recreation Park sported a grass infield for the first time in 1903. This park, located at 8th and Harrison Street, would burn down in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, and later be replaced by another park of the same name. The grounds were irregular, and had a very large foul area. Right field was a very short 265 feet down the line, then jutted out to 330 feet where buildings cut substantially into the right center and center field areas, making dead center somewhat less than 330 feet from home plate. The deepest part of the park was to left center, some 385 feet from the plate. The power alley in left measured 345 feet, and it was 338 down the left field line.

Recreation Park, Seattle: Recreation Park in Seattle is another irregular-shaped ballpark, with a slightly larger than normal foul area. Down the left field line it measured only 275 feet, then jutted out to 300 feet in left, and 360 feet to left center. Dead center was 420 feet from home, and then the fence continued out to a distance of 520 feet in right center. The right field fence down the line was an exceeding long 435 feet from the plate. Both infield and outfield were of grass.

Coming in Part III--The 1903 season begins with Los Angeles making history, but Truck Eagan and the Sacramento Senators won't go down without a fight.

For a look back at Part-I The Formation of the Pacific Coast League, click here!