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The Formation of the Pacific Coast League

March 30, 2003 - The Formation of the Pacific Coast League
By PCL Historian Carlos Bauer
Part One in a Series

Pictured: During its first year, the PCL was made up of six teams, including the Portland Browns.
Photo courtesy: Oregon Historical Society

First mention of the possible formation of a pacific coast league for the 1903 season came on December 9, 1902, shortly after the close of the California League season that ended in late November. A short note in the San Francisco papers stated that Mr. Henry Harris--owner of the California League San Francisco franchise--was in Portland en route to Seattle to see if he could induce the owners of the ball clubs in those two cities to join the California League for the 1903 season. At the time, organized baseball on the west coast consisted of the California League; which had teams in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest League; with teams in Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Spokane, Butte, Montana, and Helena, Montana.

On December 11, 1902 Henry Harris found the first opposition to the formation of a coast loop in the form of Seattle owner D. E. Dugdale and Pacific Northwest League President William H. Lucas. Both Dugdale and Lucas stated they would have nothing to do with the interlopers from California. The two were big fish in a small pond (the Pacific Northwest League), and wanted to remain that way. Joining the Coast League would mean a loss of power for Dan Dugdale, and more than likely, loss of a job for President Lucas.

"Uncle" Henry Harris, as the San Francisco press dubbed him, wasn't any dummy, however. Before meeting with Lucas and Dugdale, he secured a lease on the grounds where Dugdale's Seattle team had played the 1902 season, Recreation Park in Seattle. If Dugdale didn't join the Coast League, he'd be in the awkward position of having a team without a place to play. Nevertheless, Dugdale and Lucas got mad and walked out of the meeting with Harris. Of course, Harris, never at a loss, had an owner in waiting, Lou Cohen, a local businessman with very deep pockets.

The next day Dan Dugdale announced he would build a new park. Lucas, for his part, chimed in that the Pacific Northwest League found itself in much better financial shape than the California League, and was prepared pay higher salaries than the raiders from the South. Clearly they both saw Harris as a very real threat.

Meanwhile in Portland, the directors of the old Portland franchise of the Pacific Northwest League announced that they had formed a new team in the Coast League, leased back to themselves their old grounds for the new team, and signed all the players from the old team to contracts with the new team. This left the Pacific Northwest League with a shell of a team in Portland, and without a park to play in.

After overseeing the coup in Portland, and having set up Lou Cohen with a Seattle franchise, Harris returned to San Francisco. Not much appeared in the press, but Harris' fingerprints were all over two new franchises.

On December 29, 1902, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco the Pacific Coast Baseball League was formed, and the following measures were adopted:

--James T. Moran, one of the founders of the famous Greenhood & Moran team of the 1880s, was appointed League President, but he turned out to be little more than a figurehead, and shortly thereafter was replaced by attorney Eugene F. Bert, who had served as President of the California League and who would long be a power in the Coast League. At that moment, the real power never went very far from the hands of Henry Harris and his associates; (including his silent partner, the bookmaker Teddy Goodman), Los Angeles owner Jim Morley, and Gene Bert.

--The league established roster limits of 15 players to take effect after the 15th of May.

--All Blacklisted players became eligible to play in the newly named Pacific Coast League. (This is what makes the 1903 Coast League an Outlaw League: Not respecting the contracts of Organized Baseball. The California League was a member of the National Association, but when it suited League interests, would periodically drop membership.)

--Games would to be played every day except Monday, which became a travel day. A series would be a week long, Tuesday through Sunday. (Double headers would be played in the Bay Area, a morning game played in Oakland at Freeman's Park, followed by an afternoon game at Recreation Park in San Francisco. This had become a tradition in the Bay Area for a few years already. Because of its small population base, Oakland would play most of its home games in San Francisco's Recreation Park.)

--All teams were to wear white uniforms at home, and the following road uniforms were to be worn:
San Francisco: Black & Yellow
Los Angeles: Green & White
Sacramento: Blue & Red
Portland: Blue & White
Seattle: Olive Drab
Oakland: Grey

While they did not formally set the schedule for the league at that meeting, the league directors let it be known shortly thereafter that the season would run from March 26th through November 29th, well over 200 scheduled games for every team.

Meanwhile, also on the 29th of December, President Lucas of the Pacific Northwest League announced in Portland that the old Portland franchise had been forfeited by its owners, and he then formally established a new Pacific Northwest League team there, reserving all the players from the old team. The note in the press also stated that the National Association had wired its full support to Bill Lucas, Dan Dugdale and the Pacific Northwest League in their struggle against the Pacific Coast League.

The next day, President Lucas secured an option for land to construct a new park in Portland, and declared war on the Coast league: "It's simply the case of the survival of the fittest," he stated, "Portland cannot support two teams."

A week after the New Year, the National Association officially announced that it would lend complete support to a newly reconfigured Pacific Northwest League. The new set up would extend the league from its base in the Pacific Northwest south into four cities in California: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Sacramento. The Pacific Northwest League fired a shot across the Coast League's bow with this announcement to invade California League territory, but the new Pacific Coast League didn't flinch, and so on February 18th the National Association announced it would send a delegation of mediators to California to resolve the problems between the two leagues.

Logistically, the Pacific Northwest League's expansion into California was way behind, as the circuit had yet to finalized the composition of the League, much less the parks to be played in, or even the acquisition of any players.

On March 5th, the National Association emissaries arrived in San Francisco and met with Henry Harris, but nothing could be resolved in what the press described as "a very short meeting."

Two days later James F. Morley, owner of the Los Angeles Angels, or Looloos as they were more commonly called, announced that he had signed Joe Corbett, brother of the former Heavyweight boxing Champion, Gentleman Jim Corbett. Brother Joe, as they called him in the Bay Area, had been a 20 game winner for Baltimore in 1897 in the National League, but quit baseball in 1898 because he didn't want to play "back East." Since then, he had been working as a sports reporter for the San Francisco Call, and pitching an occasional semipro game outside the reaches of Organized Baseball.

Finally, on March 8th, the Pacific Northwest League announced the final composition of its League. The new setup would have eight teams, the six cities from 1902 (Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Spokane, Butte, and Helena), plus Los Angeles and San Francisco in California. The Pacific Northwest League decided not to compete in the small markets of Sacramento and Oakland. Only Portland and Seattle could be considered the linchpins of the reconfigured Pacific Northwest League, and even they were facing fierce competition. The other four cities, Butte, Helena, Spokane and Tacoma, never were thought of as either great baseball towns, or even urban centers. The first problem this new configuration presented turned out to be the same one that had prevented a pacific coast league from forming for years: Travel costs. The new league covered a vast area, from Southern California to Montana. Anything above travel costs could hardly be expected to be made on those long road trips.

Shortly after announcing the cities that would form the league, the new Pacific Northwest League spread a rumor that Owner James Morley of the Looloos had tried to join the Pacific Northwest League, but had applied too late, and so Lucas and Dugdale were forced to reluctantly turn him down. (It's hard to believe that story on the face of it. Probably what happened was that the Pacific Northwest League had approached Morley, but he rejected them out of hand. Jim Morley was nobody's fool, and too much a part of the Coast League to waver--even for a single moment.)

After the short and unfruitful meeting with Henry Harris in San Francisco on March 6th, the National Association emissaries went north and reported to Lucas and Dugdale. The emissaries told the Pacific Northwest League officials that their cause was already lost, that Harris in fact "held all the good cards," as the reporter in The San Francisco Examiner wrote. But Lucas and Dugdale demanded that the National Association support their fight-- to the bitter end.

Meanwhile, in California, the Pacific Coast League clubs had almost completed spring training by the time the middle of March rolled around. The Pacific Northwest League, on the other hand, had yet to name even one of its players for its two new California teams, except for playing manager Charlie Reilly in Los Angeles.

On March 15, 2003, the National Association sent out a press release, or what passed for it in those days, restating their support for the Pacific Northwest League, but this time their communication included a statement to the effect that all Pacific Coast League players would henceforth be placed on the disqualified list. But the Pacific Northwest League was still in turmoil. On March 14th, the San Francisco Pacific Northwest League club finally became incorporated, while the Los Angeles owner was suffering a severe case of cold feet, nearly dropping out of the league until manager Charlie Reilly reassured him that they could compete with James Morley's Coast League team.

Once the Los Angeles team came under the control of Charlie Reilly, the player-manager started a counter attack against the PCL, and against James Morley in particular, for whom he both played and managed the year before in Los Angeles. There was bad blood between them. In the last week before the season started, and continuing into the first days of the season, a number of players jumped their contracts, or tried. Things got very confused--and nasty:

--Four days before PCL action started, the Pacific Northwest League offered four of Oakland's players $500 a month to jump their contracts. None accepted the offer.

--Sacramento pitcher, Martin Glendenon, was arrested for contract jumping. Someone saw him boarding a southbound train in neighboring Yolo County, apparently running off to join up with Charlie Reilly. They immediately told Mike Fisher, who in turn wired ahead to Benicia, where Glendenon was pulled off the train and thrown into jail. He remained locked up until Harry Hart, the San Francisco opposition magnate, sent him money to post bail. Once out, he jumped bail, and headed south anew.

--Pitcher Win Cutter and outfielder Charlie "Demon" Doyle were charged with obtaining money under false pretenses when they tried jumping their contracts with Mike Fisher in Sacramento. They patched things up with their boss during a jailhouse heart to heart, and, thus, got out of the clink.

--James Morley brought Wallace "Holly" Hollingsworth out to Los Angeles to play second base for him, even giving him a winter job in his pool hall to tide him over until the new season began. Four days into the season, Holly jumped Morley's Looloos for the Pacific Northwest League team of Reilly. Shortly after he repented, but owner Morley told him to get lost.

--Much in the same vein John Burns, the San Francisco 2nd baseman, declared to the San Francisco Examiner shortly before the season started: '"I am more likely to cut my throat than I am to play with [Charlie] Reilly," said Burns to The Examiner correspondent at Palo Alto yesterday. "Harris has treated me royally, and I intend to stick by the contract I made with him. The terms I was offered were not better than those I made with my present manager."' Johnny Burns would play only ten games with San Francisco before jumping his San Francisco contract.

--Outfielder Bill O'Hara had even signed with two Coast League teams, Oakland and Seattle. Somewhere along the line he also signed a Pacific Northwest League contract. O'Hara admitted that he signed first with Seattle, but he only did so because Oakland contract had been delayed in the mail. He stated that he had always intended to sign with Oakland. The league forced him to play for Seattle, where he appeared for a week, before jumping to the opposition, at which point arrangements were made for him to rejoin Pete Lohman and the Oakland Recruits, and so he jumped back to the Coast League.

--Even manager Charlie Reilly in Los Angeles had his own contract problems, having signed over the winter with Joe Cantillion in Milwaukee. After the 1902 season, Reilly had stated in the press that he would never again play for Jim Morley, and he decided to head east before the new Los Angeles job appeared. It took several weeks to straighten that contract mess out.

--Other dirty tricks were attempted. The Pacific Northwest League group in Los Angeles tried to get Morley evicted from Chutes Park by getting the owners of the property to state that Morley had broken his lease. The owners had workmen go as far as nailing up the entrances to the park. Morley, however, managed to get a civil injunction against Los Angeles Improvement Company, the owners of the ballpark and adjacent amusement park, the night before they were to begin a series of exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs less than two weeks before the season began.

Despite the problems, the Pacific Coast League's inaugural season openend, as scheduled, on March 26th, 1903. The rival Pacific Northwest League would not follow until almost three weeks later--April 12.

In Part II, we set the stage for the 1903 season, by taking an in-depth look at the teams, their nicknames, and the parks in which they played.