Top 100 Teams
Pacific Coast League
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In the first decade of the 20th century, this Pacific Coast League champion rolled to an easy pennant. However, overshadowing this accomplishment was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters of the era - a calamity which nearly put the entire league out of action.
The city of Portland, located on the Columbia River in Oregon, first fielded a pro baseball team in 1887 in the Pacific Northwest League, which failed to finish the season. The league was revived in 1890, and in 1891 Portland beat out Spokane for the pennant. The team was managed by former Chicago White Stockings second baseman Bob Glenalvin and included future major leaguers Parke Wilson, Jake Stenzel, Charlie Abbey and Bumpus Jones. (Jones earned a place in major league history the next year by pitching a no-hit, no-run game for Cincinnati in his first major league appearance. He won only one other big league game). After the season ended, Portland and San Jose, the California League pennant winner, played a best-of-19-game series to determine the championship of the Pacific Coast. All games were played in California. The series began on Thanksgiving Day and ended in a dispute January 10, 1892. With the series tied at nine wins apiece, the score of the final game was tied 3-3 in the eighth inning. With San Jose runners on second and third, Glenalvin protested a decision at second. While Portland argued, the runner on third stole home and was called safe. Glenalvin took his team off the field, the umpires forfeited the game and San Jose was the Pacific Coast champion.
The Portland Webfeet continued in the league in 1892, finishing second. There was no professional baseball in the city the next three years. In 1896, a four-team New Pacific League was organized with the Portland Gladiators as a member. 1891 manager Bob Glenalvin returned and had his team in first place when the league blew up June 15.
Portland was without baseball until the Pacific Northwest League was revived in 1901 and when the National Association was organized, the league became a Class B member. A new ballpark, known as Vaughn Street Park during virtually all of its 55-year existence, was opened in 1901. The park was enlarged in 1905 to accommodate fans attending sports events of the Lewis & Clark Exposition being held at the adjacent Fairgrounds. In 1912, the stands were completely rebuilt, enlarging Vaughn Street’s capacity to 12,000. At that time, it was reported to be the only minor league park with all theatre seats in the grandstand section.
On December 10, 1902, Henry Harris, owner of the San Francisco club in the “outlaw” California League, visited Portland. The next day Harris went to Seattle where he announced that “everything has been arranged for Portland and Seattle to join the California League in its Northwest expansion to six clubs under the name of Pacific Coast League.” That news split the five Portland owners. The club president wanted to stick with the Pacific Northwest League, but the director who had gotten the new park for the team favored the new PCL. The latter won out, but the established league and its president, William Lucas, refused to back away from a fight. Declaring he had the backing of the National Association, Lucas asserted that the league would expand into San Francisco and Los Angeles, renaming itself the Pacific National League. In some degree of haste, they had to find a place to play in Portland and built a park in another part of the city. The “war” was short-lived. The PNL Portland Green Gages (named after the variety of plum) survived competition with the PCL for less than half a season. On July 2, 1903 the team moved to Salt Lake. The PCL and the new Portland Browns were the victors.
The Browns did not get off to a good start on the field. They opened on the road and lost 15 of their first 20 games, then had their home opener rained out. However, they improved somewhat as the 200-game season progressed, finishing fifth in the six-team circuit with a 95-108 record. Meanwhile, the Pacific National League’s venture into the California cities was an abject failure and by 1904 the league was down to four teams and reduced from Class A to Class B status. At the end of the season it was gone altogether.
The Browns had survived and the Pacific Coast League was admitted to the National Association, joining the American Association and the Eastern and Western Leagues as a Class A member. However, 1904 was not a good year for the Browns. The team finished dead last in both halves of a split season with a 79-136 record and there were two changes in ownership as well as three different managers. Stability arrived on November 26, two days before the end of the season. On that day, the franchise was purchased by Judge W.W. McCredie and his nephew, Browns outfielder Walter H. McCredie. It was the day before Walt McCredie’s 29th birthday. He had played one season in the National League, 1903, batting .324 for Brooklyn.
W.W. McCredie was a Superior Court judge in Vancouver, WA, across the river from Portland, and later served several terms in the U.S. Congress. The team became a family operation with the Judge as president, his son Hugh as business manager, his wife Alice as ticket and box office manager and Walt as playing manager. Things improved in 1905. The new owners changed the nickname to Giants and the team won 94 and lost 110, fourth in the first half and fifth in the second half.
Portland sported a new nickname in 1906, one which would last for nearly a century, the Beavers. Vastly improved on the field, the Beavers won the pennant in that hectic season with a 114-58, .663 record, finishing 21 games ahead of second place Los Angeles. The campaign began April 7 with the Beavers on the road. The team was in Oakland when, at 5:13 on the morning of April 18, the great earthquake struck San Francisco, followed by the fire that completed the destruction of most of the city. For many years, the authorities reported only several hundred deaths, but more recently the toll was revised upward to about 3,000.
The savior of the Pacific Coast League in the trying days after the disaster was J. Cal Ewing. Ewing had been the principal owner of the Oakland club, but just ten days before the quake he and his uncle, Frank Ish, had finalized the purchase of the San Francisco team, putting his Oakland holdings in a trust so there would be no conflict of interest. The teams most in danger of going under were not San Francisco and Oakland, but Los Angeles and Fresno. Los Angeles owner Jim Morley was on shaky ground financially and when the earthquake disrupted the schedule, he wanted to quit. Ewing was able to find two Southern California brothers to purchase the club. He also advanced money to Fresno, which had just joined the league that year, so they could meet their payroll.
As soon as it was possible to leave the Bay Area by train, the Beavers were dispatched to Los Angeles where they played several games before returning home. Although all baseball facilities in San Francisco had been destroyed, Idora Park in Oakland was available. Five weeks after the earthquake, PCL games resumed there with the Seals and the Oakland Commuters sharing the park for the remainder of the season. Instead of playing the scheduled 200 games, the clubs played anywhere from 174-188 games in 1906.
Portland led the PCL in batting with a .269 average that was 21 points better than Seattle, the second-ranked club. Although the Beavers played the fewest games of any team, they led the league in runs (740), hits (1,521) and homers (16) and tied for the lead in stolen bases (323). Beaver pitchers allowed the fewest runs, 542 in 1,553 innings, an average of 3.14 per game, despite the team’s having made 421 errors. (There were no earned run records at that time.)
Mike Mitchell, the 26-year-old left fielder, led the PCL in batting (.339), hits (207) and home runs (7) and was second in runs (123) and doubles (35). In addition, he stole 58 bases. He was sold to Cincinnati at the end of the season and played eight years in the majors with a .278 career average. He was with the Reds until he was traded to Pittsburgh in 1913 and finished with Washington in 1914. Mitchell led the Reds in batting (.292) in his rookie year. He led the National League in triples in 1909 (17) and 1910 (18). In 1910 he batted .310, second in the league to Honus Wagner. He increased his triples total to 22 in 1911, but lost the league lead to Larry Doyle of New York, who had 25.
Among the full-season position players, McCredie, who played right field, was Portland’s next highest batter. He hit .305 with 28 stolen bases, fourth in the league. McCredie, who managed the Beavers through 1921, stopped playing in 1910.
John Bannerman (Larry) McLean, Portland’s 25-year-old number one catcher, was batting .355 in 88 games when he and Bill Essick were sold to Cincinnati in early September. In his Beaver finale, he went 8-for-8 in a Sunday double-header at Vaughn Street. McLean, a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, lived most of his life in the Boston area. He was an imposing figure, 6’5” tall, weighing 225-230 pounds, a big man for that era. He was an excellent defensive catcher and a good hitter, but painfully slow on the bases. Before coming to Portland, he had played briefly in the American League for Boston and in the National League for Chicago and St. Louis. McLean was Cincinnati’s first-string catcher for the next six years before being traded to the Cardinals. In 1913, he was traded to the Giants where he remained until he was released in 1915. He had a .262 career average in 862 games. McLean was a member of the 1913 National League champion Giants and led the team in batting in the World Series, going 6-for-12 in the five games. He played a key role in New York’s only Series win in game two. The contest was a scoreless tie at the end of nine innings, a duel between Christy Mathewson and the Athletics’ Eddie Plank. McLean led off the tenth with a single to right that started the rally that won the game, 3-0. The 1922 Reach Guide described McLean as “a man of great size, a convivial disposition and a bad temper when under the influence of liquor which led him into many rows during his baseball career..” Of his departure from the Giants, and the majors, the guide wrote “his habits were such that Manager John McGraw was compelled to release him.” After he left baseball, McLean was associated with the fledgling movie industry. On March 24, 1921, McLean was shot and killed in a quarrel in a “near-beer” saloon (this was during Prohibition) in Boston’s South End. The police ruled that McLean and a friend, who was seriously wounded, were the aggressors in the row and that the bartender had acted in self-defense.
Another Beaver who enjoyed major league success was 20-year-old shortstop Bill Sweeney, who hit .276 with 51 stolen bases in 169 games. Sweeney went up to the National League in 1907 and spent six years with Boston and one with Chicago. He had a career .272 average and in 1912 was third in the league in batting (.344 with 100 RBI).
On the mound, the two biggest winners were pitchers who never reached the majors. Elmer Califf, from Oregon City, OR, won 34 and lost 14, second in the league in wins. He pitched 40 complete games and six shutouts, working 403 innings. Califf had a brief PCL career. He had gone 6-3 for Portland in 1905, dropped to 13-22 in 1907 and was gone. Rookie Ben Henderson had a 29-10 record with 38 complete games and six shutouts. In 1907 Henderson jumped to the outlaw California State League, where he starred for the next four years for Stockton and Oakland. When that league disbanded, he returned to Portland where he was 21-12 in 1911, then fell to 0-5 in 1912, his last year in the PCL.
The Portland Beaver who had the longest career in baseball was 24-year-old right-hander Vinegar Bill Essick who went 19-6 for a league-leading .760 percentage and pitched 25 complete games, including four shutouts. In a series against Tacoma, he struck out 39 batters in three starts, 14 in the first, 12 in the second and 13 in the third. While in Portland, he enjoyed more than just baseball success. It was in the Oregon city that Essick, a graduate of Knox College in Galesburg, IL, with a degree in music, and an accomplished pianist, met and married Eula Bennett, an opera singer. When he reported to Cincinnati in September, he received his nickname. Reds fans, mostly of German ancestry, noted the similarity of his last name to the German word for vinegar, essig, and for the rest of his life he was “Vinegar Bill.” His major league career was short, 2-2, 2.97 for the Reds in 1906 and 0-2, 2.91 in 1907. Cincinnati released Essick to Kansas City (American Association) in 1907. After pitching for the Blues and Toledo, he went to Grand Rapids (Central) where he pitched a no-hitter against Canton on August 15, 1912. In 1913 he became part-owner and president as well as star pitcher. In 1915 he took over the reins as manager and gave up pitching. Essick won Central League pennants in 1916-17 and was hired to manage the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League.
Essick was eminently successful at Vernon. He became the first PCL manager to win three consecutive championships in 1918-19-20. That gave him a string of five straight pennant winners at Grand Rapids and Vernon. The Tigers finished second to San Francisco in a tight race in 1922. Vernon plunged to last place in 1923 and remained in the second division until Essick was replaced in 1925. That opened the door to a new stage of Essick’s baseball career. The New York Yankees finished seventh that year and general manager Ed Barrow began to rebuild the organization. In 1920, Essick had recommended Vernon outfielder Bob Meusel to the Yankees. New York purchased Meusel, who became one of their best players for many years. Barrow remembered that recommendation and one of his first moves was to hire Essick as a scout, a position he held until his retirement January 1, 1951. He passed away ten months later. He signed as free agents or recommended for purchase such players as Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez, Frank Crosetti, Jimmy Reese, Lyn Lary, Myril Hoag, Joe Gordon, Johnny Lindell and Ralph Houk. Reportedly, he got Gordon off the University of Oregon campus for a $500 bonus and Lindell for $150.
However, it was for his role in the Yankees purchase of Joe DiMaggio that Essick is best remembered. In 1935, many clubs were interested in the rising young San Francisco star outfielder and Seals owner Charley Graham was holding out for $100,000 for his contract. One afternoon, DiMaggio injured his left knee jumping out of a taxi. Most big league clubs then backed away, but Essick was certain Joe would fully recover and convinced Barrow to authorize DiMaggio’s acquisition. Then he persuaded Graham to accept $25,000 and five players for DiMaggio, one of baseball’s best bargains.
After the 1906 PCL season ended on November 4, five Beavers - Mitchell, Henderson, center fielder Jimmy McHale, catcher Pat Donahue and pitcher Philo Mobley - journeyed south to Stockton where they helped the Millers win the outlaw California State League pennant.
The McCredie era in Portland lasted through 1921 and produced four more pennant winners, the most successful period in the city’s baseball history. The Beavers won championships in 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914. The 1910 pitching staff set a league record that has never been matched. From October 6-16, Portland pitchers went 88 consecutive scoreless innings, including nine complete games, three of them 1-0 and one a 13-inning 0-0 tie. During the last three of those championship years Portland had a working agreement with Cleveland from which both teams benefited. In 1915, the Beavers dropped to sixth and the McCredies never had another winning team during their remaining years in Portland. In 1918, Portland did not operate in the PCL because of World War I related travel problems. The city had a club called the Portland Buckaroos in a Class B Pacific Coast International League along with some cities from the Northwestern League. That circuit disbanded on July 7. Portland returned to the PCL in 1919. The McCredies sold the club shortly after the close of the 1921 season.
For five years Portland had continuous baseball. In 1909 and from 1911-14 the McCredies owned and operated a team in the Class B Northwestern League called the Pippins one season and the Colts the remaining years. The expense eventually became too great and the franchise transferred to Ballard, WA, July 20, 1914, dropping out of the league at the end of the season.
After the McCredies sold the club, Portland had a succession of owners and operators. During the next fifty years the Beavers won only three championships, in 1932, 1936 and 1945, spending most seasons mired in the second division. In 1956, the team abandoned Vaughn Street Park, which had become a firetrap, and moved to Multnomah (later Civic) Stadium. Following the 1972 season, the franchise was transferred to Spokane. Portland had been the PCL’s last remaining charter city. From 1973-77 the independent and colorful Portland Mavericks operated in the Short-season A Northwest League. The team was owned by ex-Yankee farmhand and TV actor (“Bonanza”) Bing Russell. Bing’s son, present-day movie star Kurt Russell, played for the Mavericks in 1973.
When the Pacific Coast League expanded to ten clubs in 1978, they paid a heavy indemnity to the Mavericks and the Northwest League to get back into Portland. This edition of the Beavers lasted through 1993 when the franchise was moved to Salt Lake. During this period, Portland won the PCL championship in 1983 and a Northern Division title in 1993. After a year without baseball, Portland returned to the Northwest league in 1995 for a six-year stay. After the 2000 season, a Portland group purchased the Albuquerque franchise and in 2001 the PCL is back in the Oregon city for a third time.
After surviving the Great Earthquake of 1906, the Pacific Coast League prospered and became one of the most popular minor leagues of the land. Playing on the Coast in the mild weather with competitive salaries was a tempting choice for many players. As a result, quite a few major-league-calibre ballplayers opted to stay rather than journeying east.
Overcoming the Pacific Coast League’s shakiest campaign, the 1906 Portland Beavers rose above the fray to post the league’s best record to date. Over time, this mark weathered well and was only bested by a handful of PCL teams - each, like the Beavers, members of the minor leagues’ Top 100 teams.
|1906 Pacific Coast League Standings|
|1906 Portland Beavers batting statistics|
|Charlie Moore (L.A.)||2B,P||117||407||35||105||12||3||0||18||.258|
|Ned Garvin (Seattle)||P||46||131||8||22||4||0||0||0||.168|
|Art Schimpf (Fresno)||P,2B,OF||26||92||9||17||2||1||0||3||.185|
|Emmett Waters (S.F.)||2B||6||16||1||1||0||0||0||0||.063|
|1906 Portland Beavers pitching statistics|
|Ned Garvin (Seattle)||20||19||.513||45||34||4||1||351||281||95||242|