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Then and now: Pacific Coast League

'Third major league' filled with star power from the start
March 18, 2022

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more. Follow baseball's westward expansion to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League,

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Follow baseball's westward expansion to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where Joltin’ Joe developed an affinity for hit streaks, times can be tough for those who take the hill and lifers etch their names in the record books -- all in the circuit that pushed affiliated ball to the furthest corners of the country.

Pacific Coast League

Established on Dec. 29, 1902, known in 2021 as the Triple-A West

West Division

Las Vegas Aviators: Oakland A's, Las Vegas Ballpark – Las Vegas, NV (Ballpark Guide)
Reno Aces: Arizona D-backs, Greater Nevada Field – Reno, NV (Ballpark Guide)
Sacramento River Cats: San Francisco Giants, Sutter Health Park – West Sacramento, CA (Ballpark Guide)
Salt Lake Bees: Los Angeles Angels, Smith’s Ballpark – Salt Lake City, UT
Tacoma Rainiers: Seattle Mariners, Cheney Stadium – Tacoma, WA (Ballpark Guide)

East Division

Albuquerque Isotopes: Colorado Rockies, Isotopes Park – Albuquerque, NM (Ballpark Guide)
El Paso Chihuahuas: San Diego Padres, Southwest University Park – El Paso, TX (Ballpark Guide)
Oklahoma City Dodgers: Los Angeles Dodgers, Bricktown Ballpark – Oklahoma City, OK (Ballpark Guide)
Round Rock Express: Texas Rangers, Dell Diamond – Round Rock, TX (Ballpark Guide)
Sugar Land Space Cowboys: Houston Astros, Constellation Field – Sugar Land, TX

2021 champion: Tacoma (Triple-A West champion)
Most championships, all-time: San Francisco Seals (14)
Most championships, Triple-A: Albuquerque Dukes (eight)
Most championships, current teams: Sacramento (five)

Did you know? Despite its moniker, six of the Pacific Coast League's 10 teams -- Albuquerque, El Paso, Oklahoma City, Round Rock, Salt Lake and Sugar Land -- play outside the Pacific Time Zone, with four of those clubs residing as far east as the Central Time Zone. Las Vegas, Reno, Sacramento and Tacoma are the only clubs currently competing in the Pacific Time Zone. … The circuit extended as far west as Honolulu, where the Hawaii Islanders held an affiliation with eight different Major League clubs from 1961 to 1987 and won PCL titles as a Padres affiliate in 1975 and 1976. Barry Bonds and Tony Gwynn once played for the Islanders.

Notable alumni: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds, Lefty O'Doul, Gaylord Perry, Tony Lazzeri, Ernie Lombardi, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, Jose Altuve, Johnny Ritchie.

The United States and baseball might have had a decidedly eastern slant during the first half of the 20th century, but the impact and legacy of the Pacific Coast League goes beyond measurement. Once established, the PCL quickly became a popular destination for talented players from the western part of the country.

A suitable climate and a growing migration from the East to the West contributed to the popularity of the league, which has featured some of the best players the Majors have ever seen. Longer seasons – schedules of 200 or more games – and competitive wages proved to be enticing for local players.

With Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and others making their names in the PCL, the circuit was in many respects a third "major league" after the American and National League circuits. Major League Baseball was not as sold on the idea and only went so far as to give the league an "open classification," a step above the Triple-A ranking of the International League and American Association, but below the bigs.

The inevitable drive westward within the country's population eventually took root in the Majors as well. When the Dodgers and Giants left New York for California in 1958, officially bringing Major League Baseball to the West Coast, the PCL's drawing power as a potential third major league was no more. The circuit officially was classified Triple-A that same season.

Before the Majors expanded to their cities, there were PCL teams in Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego. Williams and DiMaggio played in the PCL in their hometowns of San Diego and San Francisco respectively. Oakland's history in the circuit includes Casey Stengel's managerial run for the Oaks from 1946 until he left for the Yankees in 1951.

Like its Triple-A counterpart, the International League, the PCL also extended outside the United States with clubs in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. In perhaps one of the wildest moments in baseball history, the Vancouver Canadians' Rodney McCray made the famous non-catch that sent him crashing through the outfield fence in Portland in 1991. The play has been immortalized at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

What’s new: Much has changed since the most recent incarnation of the PCL was halted after 2019. Iowa, Memphis, Nashville and Omaha jumped to the Triple-A East in 2021 and are now part of the International League. Sugar Land joined the ranks of Minor League clubs, becoming the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate last year, while Round Rock reestablished its partnership with the Rangers, who were affiliated with Nashville in 2019. San Antonio and Fresno dropped levels in 2021, moving to Double-A and Single-A respectively. New Orleans, which had been a PCL member since 1993, relocated to Wichita last year and became the Twins’ Double-A affiliate. … The league also debuted a new logo in conjunction with Wednesday's announcement of the return of historic league names.

What’s familiar: Although the circuit's landscape has shifted considerably since 2019, a majority of the holdovers are PCL staples. With the exception of Sugar Land (2022) and El Paso (2014), the other eight clubs have called the PCL home for at least 12 seasons. Tacoma is the longest tenured team, having joined the loop in 1960.

For the record: Perhaps the most famous and most cherished streak in Major League history -- Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941 -- was actually the runner-up to the Yankee Clipper's PCL exploits in his first full professional season. Discounting a three-game cameo in 1932, the 18-year-old DiMaggio embarked on his career with his hometown San Francisco Seals in 1933 and ran off a PCL-record 61-game hitting streak. The run ranks second in Minor League history to Joe Wilhoit's 69-game run in the Western League in 1919. … The PCL has been the final stop for countless baseball “lifers,” which has led to some record-breaking performances on the circuit. Nelson Figueroa last pitched in the Minors for Reno in 2013, where he recorded his 1,599th Minor League strikeout – the most of all time. The Minors’ all-time hits leader, Jason Wood, also finished his Minor League career in the PCL. He recorded the last of his 1,840 hits with Albuquerque in 2008.

Ben’s Biz memory: Las Vegas tricycle race with a ruthless, child-destroying Josh Jackson:

“Most of my ballpark travels have been solo, but that was a trip in which the great Josh Jackson accompanied me for a couple destinations -- Las Vegas and Fresno. We were asked if we wanted to participate in a between-inning oversized tricycle race, and it was me and him and a couple kids. I kind of got a slow start and couldn't get going, and also, I usually don't want to play the villain. It's more fun, I think, to have the adult get trounced by the kids -- I try to be a man of the people. But Josh Jackson -- as soon as they said go -- just cruised along, crushed all the kids, looked behind himself tauntingly at the kids he left behind in the dust. I assume, and I don't want to be too dramatic, he traumatized them because they thought they were going to have this moment of on-field glory and this bespectacled baseball scribe just decided to take all the glory for himself, and I'll never forget it.”

What to look for in 2022: The newly minted Space Cowboys take the field Opening Night in Sacramento and will play in front of their home fans for the first time when they host Round Rock on April 12. … The PCL has long been one of the most hitter-friendly leagues in the Minors. In 2021, the circuit had five clubs finish in the top seven in overall team batting average, including the three at the top – Reno, Sacramento and Las Vegas. PCL clubs led all full-season affiliates in team batting in 10 of the past 17 seasons with California League clubs holding the top spot in the other years.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.