Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Baseball was introduced to Stockton, California in the 1860s. In 1888, the city placed a team in the second-year California League, where they won the pennant with a 41-24 record. After a third place finish the next year, the team dropped out of the league. During the next decade, the team enjoyed spotty attendance in the league, fielding nines in 1893, 1898 and 1900.
It was during this time, that Stockton entered baseball lore, albeit anonymously. In 1888, after attending a baseball game, San Francisco scribe Ernest Lawrence Thayer penned his famous baseball poem “Casey at the Bat”, describing a fictitious player named Casey and his team, the Mudville Nine. To baseball fans of the era, Thayer was probably describing the Stockton ballclub, which played at Banner Island Park in a riverfront area known as Mudville. Although never publicly acknowledged, the city of Stockton thus found a place in baseball literature.
In 1903, Stockton placed a team in the outlaw California League. The team was known as the Poppies in 1903-04-05, the Millers from 1906-08, the Tigers in 1909 and the Boosters in 1910. Stockton won pennants every year from 1903 through 1908. In the latter season, their first baseman was the legendary Hal Chase, just two years before he became manager of the New York Highlanders (Yankees), succeeding George Stallings, the catcher for the 1888 Stockton champions. Stockton was owned and managed during this period by Cy Moreing, whose family later owned Sacramento in the PCL for years.
Peace between the California League and the National Association was reached following the 1909 season and in 1910 the league became the Class D California State League, which unfortunately disbanded June 25, with Stockton in first place. After two years, the California League was revived in 1913 with Stockton, now called the Producers, winning another title. The team was known as the Millers again in 1914-15. The league folded for good in May, 1915.
In 1941, a brand-new Class C California League was organized by Bill Schroeder, with the Stockton Fliers as a charter member. Stockton did not field a team in 1942 and the league itself suspended operations at the end of the first half because of World War II restrictions. The California League resumed business in 1946 with the Stockton Ports as one of its six clubs. The team derived its nickname from Stockton’s designation as “The Port City”. Stockton is California’s only inland port. Ocean-going vessels travel some 75 miles from San Francisco Bay via a deep-water channel. The Ports played, and still play at Billy Hebert Field, named in honor of the local man who was the first professional baseball player to be killed in action in World War II. Hebert, who played for Merced in the California League in 1941 before enlisting in the Navy, died in October, 1942, after being wounded at Guadalcanal.
The 1946 Ports won the California League championship, finishing first (78-52), then polishing off Bakersfield, three games to two, and Modesto in four straight in the playoffs. The following year, the Ports would repeat with the league’s strongest team to date.
The 1947 Stockton Ports were one of only two of the now eight California League teams not affiliated or owned by a major league team. They did have a limited working agreement with Oakland of the PCL. The Ports were managed by Johnny Babich, who had ended a big league pitching career in 1941. The 34-year-old Babich had enjoyed his best season in 1940 for the A’s, when he went 14-13 for a last place team. Five of his wins were over the defending World Champion New York Yankees. Babich still pitched occasionally for the Ports, going 5-2.
The ’47 Ports were in third place on June 4 with a 24-18 record. Then they won 26 consecutive games, still the league record and, at the time, the second longest winning streak in baseball history. Early in the streak, they took over first place and never relinquished the lead, finishing 95-45, 16 games ahead of Visalia and San Jose. The team led the league in batting with .295 and in runs scored with 954. Stockton won 11 more games in post-season play. They beat San Jose, three games to none and Santa Barbara, four games to three to capture the playoffs, the deciding game being a 2-0 shutout by Matt Zidich. Then the Ports swept Sunset League winner Riverside for the California Class C championship.
The pitching stars of the team were left-handers Don Belton and Lloyd Hittle. Hittle (20-6) led the league in ERA (2.24) and was the only member of the 1947 Ports who later reached the majors, going 7-11 for Washington in 1949-50. Belton was only 5’8” tall and weighed just 135 pounds. He had a 21-6, 3.79 record, leading the league in wins and percentage (.778). From May 18 through July 12, he won 12 games in a row. The previous year, Belton went 23-9, 2.89, first in the league in wins and second in ERA. Despite his diminutive stature, Belton pitched 467 innings in the two seasons. The Ports also had two 19-game winners. A third lefty, Gene Chelli, went 19-12, led the league in shutouts (5) and was second in complete games (23) and third in ERA (3.13). Right-hander Zidich had a 19-7, 3.47 record.
At the plate, outfielder Jay Ragni batted .311, scoring 120 runs and driving in 118, third best in the league. Catcher Lilio Marcucci hit .334 with 16 homers and 87 RBI. Outfielder Mel Reeves, who joined Stockton in mid-season, hit .372 with 16 HR and 67 RBI in only 74 games.
Five Ports made the California League All-Star Team: Belton, Hittle, Marcucci, second baseman Eddie Samcoff and third baseman Harry Clements. Samcoff, who hit .315 with 41 doubles, was named the league’s MVP. In 1997, when an All-Time Stockton Ports team was selected, Samcoff, Clements, Marcucci and Belton were chosen.
Clements holds a special place in Ports history. A Stockton native, he was 28 when he joined the team after his discharge from the Navy. He had played for Hollywood (PCL) in 1943-44. In eight years for the Ports, he batted .305, was named to the league all-star team four times and managed Stockton in 1950-51-52. He led the league’s third basemen in fielding five times and holds the league record for highest fielding average (.970) and most assists (360) in a season. For perspective, .970 is the career average of Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson.
Stockton remained in the California League through 1972, then returned in 1978. From 1979 to 2000 they were affiliated with Milwaukee, before joining the Cincinnati family in 2001. The Ports have won nine championships in their 50 years in the league, tied with Fresno for the most pennants. They have won 3,672 games, second only to Modesto which has been in the league three more seasons. As a Milwaukee farm club, Stockton reached the playoffs 13 times, won seven division titles and four league championships. In the decade of the 1980s, Stockton had the best cumulative won-lost percentage of any team in minor league baseball. Following the 1999 season, the team decided to honor its “Casey” roots by officially renaming themselves the Mudville Nine.
Other California League teams have finished with better records than the ’47 champions, but that takes nothing away from their achievement. They were the first California League club to win two championships in a row, one of only four teams to accomplish that feat.
|1947 California League Standings|
|1947 Stockton Ports batting statistics|
|1947 Stockton Ports pitching statistics|
|Jack Silva (Modesto)||1||0||1.000||9||0||30||40||40||13|
|Hal Lowe (Modesto)||0||1||.000||4||0||15||19||5||4|
|Bob Camp (Ventura)||0||1||.000||3||0||6||11||2||0|