Top 100 Teams
Pacific Coast League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
| (from L to R) Bert Ellison, |
Gene Valla, and Hall of Famer Paul Waner
The 1922 champions of the Pacific Coast League had their lineup liberally sprinkled with fine hitters. The best of the lot played on the hot corner, finishing with team highs in several categories. Following the season, he proved to be a hot commodity as well, as he was sold to the majors for a record amount of money.
In 1869, the California city of San Francisco participated in one of the seminal seasons for baseball’s first pro team. In September, the mighty Cincinnati Red Stockings, owners of an undefeated record, journeyed to the city by the bay over the recently completed Union Pacific Railroad. While in Frisco, the Red Stockings taught the nascent clubs of the city how to play the game. They beat the Eagle Club on the 25th and 27th by scores of 35-4 and 58-4. On September 29 and 30, the Cincinnatis waxed the Pacific nine 66-4 and 54-5, before besting the Atlantic club on October 1, 76-5. After polishing off a picked-nine (all-star) group in Sacramento, the team returned east with their perfect season never in danger.
In the rest of the 19th century, the city participated primarily in the California League before joining the Pacific Coast League as a charter member in 1903. However, the team had company. To round out the six-team circuit, the PCL peeled off two franchises from an existing loop, Portland and Seattle from the Class B Pacific Northwest League. Outraged, the league vowed to return the favor. Since the PCL was outside the aegis of Organized Ball, the National Association upgraded the offended league to Class A status, renaming it the Pacific National League. The PNL then placed teams in four of the six PCL cities, including San Francisco, hoping to break down the independent league through competition. For most of the 1903 season, the PCL’s Seals and the PNL’s Pirates butted heads, before the Pirates gave up the ghost and disbanded in mid-August with a 56-52 record. Three of the other seven PNL teams also folded within a week and the league staggered to the finish line with only four teams. The circuit was downgraded to Class B status the next season before quietly folding its tents following the 1904 campaign. In a head-to-head competition against top competition, the Seals and the PCL had prevailed, allowing the league to take its place in the National Association the following year.
In 1909, the Seals won their first pennant with a top 100 team. They didn’t win another until six years later, under former New York Yankees manager Harry Wolverton. On November 2, the team was honored with a special San Francisco Seals Day at the 1915 World’s Fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, when the pennant was formally presented. San Francisco won the championship again in 1917. However, Seals owner Henry Berry had gotten heavily into debt and before the 1918 season he sold the team.
That business transaction ushered in what was to become a great thirty-year era for the San Francisco Seals. The team was purchased by Charles H. Strub, George Alfred (Alfie) Putnam and Charles H. Graham, each owning an equal one-third share. Strub put up the biggest share of the cash, Putnam was the promoter and Graham provided the baseball expertise. Strub, who had been an infielder for the San Francisco team in the outlaw California State League in 1903-04, was flamboyant and known as the “advertising dentist” because of his billboards and newspaper ads from which, one observer said, it was impossible to escape. He became the club’s president, a position he held until 1938. During his presidency, the Seals netted over $1,000,000 from the sale of players to the majors. In the 1920s they were the richest team in the minors and, with the exception of the New York Yankees, possibly the most successful sports franchise in the country. In the deals Graham negotiated, the Seals almost always received valuable players from the big league teams in addition to the cash. The Seals played at Recreation Park at 15th and Valencia Streets and the three owners became known as “The Valencia Street Vanderbilts.” In 1934, when horse racing was legalized in California, Strub created and built Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California and became its president. He received special dispensation from Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s commissioner, to be active in both racing and baseball. Strub stepped down as Seals prexy in 1938 and sold his interest in the team to Paul Fagan in 1950.
Putnam was a former sports writer of the Sacramento Bee and a born publicist and promoter. As Scott Mackey says in his book, “Barbary Baseball,” Putnam had “a knack for making a buck.” He staged boxing matches when the ballpark was not in use, scheduled semi-pro games on weekends when the Seals were on the road, booked barnstorming teams in the off-season and operated a winter league.
Charlie Graham spent almost fifty years in the Pacific Coast League and was the most respected and admired man in the history of the San Francisco Seals. A Bay Area native, he attended his hometown University of Santa Clara and caught for the varsity team. After graduation, he taught Greek and Latin at Santa Clara for a year until baseball beckoned. In 1899 he signed with San Jose in the California League, the forerunner of the PCL. Graham caught for Stockton in 1900 and for Sacramento in 1901-02. The league became the Pacific Coast League in 1903 and Graham went with the franchise to Tacoma for 1904-05. He was acquired by the Boston Red Sox in 1906 and started the season in the American League. However, the San Francisco earthquake and fire struck April 18 and soon after that, because of concern for his family and his ill wife, Graham returned home. He never went back to the majors. He finished the season with Sacramento in the outlaw California State League, becoming manager and part-owner in 1907. In 1909, when Sacramento returned to the PCL, he continued as player-manager and part-owner. After 1910, he confined his activities to the front office and sold his interest in the team in 1912. When the franchise was transferred to Salt Lake City in 1914, he stayed in Sacramento and went into private business until he and his partners purchased the Seals.
|San Francisco's Recreation Park|
Graham took over as manager in 1918 and kept that post for four years. He built the Seals into a contender again and in 1921 the team got off to a flying start, winning their first ten games. On September 1, they held a 6-˝ game lead, but the pitching faltered and they went 12-20 the last month of the season, finishing third, two games behind champion Los Angeles. Graham then decided to hire someone else to manage while he stayed in the front office. During the 1920s, as the Seals prospered, it became increasingly evident that they had outgrown Recreation Park, built in 1907 and enlarged in 1914. The partners decided to build a new facility just a few blocks away to be called Seals Stadium. Financing was obtained and construction began before the 1929 crash, but the stadium didn’t open until 1931 when the Great Depression was well under way. Life for Graham and the Seals became a struggle in the 1930s. Attendance dwindled, from 414,854 in 1928 to 99,493 in 1934, but the heavy mortgage still had to be paid. More than once, the bank threatened foreclosure. In this decade it took all of Graham’s genius for finding and developing players to sell to the majors to hang on to the franchise and the stadium. In addition, Putnam had to retire in the early 1930s because of his health, passing away in 1937. The financial picture brightened in the 1940s and with the end of World War II in 1945 came another boom. In 1946 the Seals set a minor league record for attendance, 670,563, which stood for over thirty years. In 1948, the Seals were having another excellent season when Graham was stricken with food poisoning August 24. Complications developed and he died five days later. San Francisco writer Jim McGhee said, “Through his long association with the game, Graham had attained a position on the Coast comparable to that enjoyed by Connie Mack in the East. Twice he was elected president of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, the players’ national benevolent organization.”
When Graham decided to hire a manager, he turned to John (Dots) Miller, who in 1921 had just completed a 12-year major league career with the Pirates, Cardinals and Phillies, batting .263 in 1,589 games. As a 22-year-old rookie with Pittsburgh in 1909 he helped lead the Pirates to the World Series championship and led National League second basemen in fielding. Although he had never managed before, Miller, a quiet man, was an immediate success, liked and admired by his players and the San Francisco fans. After winning the 1922 pennant, Miller had the Seals in first place again in 1923 when his health began to deteriorate in mid-season. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and in August entered a sanitarium in Saranac Lake, NY, where he passed away September 5. He was only 37. Services for Miller, in his hometown of Kearny, NJ, were attended by many baseball dignitaries, including John McGraw and Miller Huggins. The Seals were in first place, six games ahead of Sacramento and under interim manager Bert Ellison went on to win the pennant by a margin of 11 games over the second-place Solons.
In 1922, only three PCL teams played better than .500 ball, San Francisco, Vernon and Los Angeles. With two weeks to go in the season, the Seals and Vernon Tigers were tied for first place with 119-65 records. The Angels were trailing, but had not been mathematically eliminated. In the final two week-long series, the Seals didn’t exactly shine, going 8-7, but the Tigers lost 11 of 15 games, including five of seven to sixth-place Oakland. The Seals won the championship by four games with a 127-72, .638 record, compared to Vernon’s 123-76, .618. San Francisco also set a league attendance record of 446, 021.
The 1922 Seals were a well-rounded team. San Francisco led the league in batting (.298), runs (1,085), triples (79) and team fielding (.964) and had four of the top 12 pitchers in ERA. At the plate, the two top-hitting regulars were youngsters who provided runs on the field and money for the coffers, 22-year-old third baseman Willie Kamm and 21-year-old center fielder Jimmy O’Connell. Kamm, a San Francisco native, made his pro debut in the war year of 1918, playing four games for Sacramento. He was released and started the next season playing semi-pro ball in San Francisco. Strub signed Kamm after seeing him play in a game at Recreation Park. Graham like him and installed the 19-year-old rookie at third base. It took time for Kamm to develop, but Graham was patient. In his first two years, Willie hit only .235 and .237 and led the league’s third baseman in errors. During the next winter Kamm put on 25 pounds and in 1921 he hit .288 and led the third basemen in fielding. Kamm got off to a great start in 1922 and on May 30 he was purchased by the Chicago White Sox for $100,000 and three players. At the time, that was the most money ever paid for a minor league player. Kamm was to remain with the Seals for the 1922 season. The framed check was on the wall of the Seals’ office for the duration of the franchise. Kamm finished the season batting .342-20-124, second in the league in doubles (56) and runs (137) and fifth in RBI. He had a solid, if not spectacular, 13-year major league career with Chicago and Cleveland, with a .281 career average and 1,643 hits. His best year at the plate was 1928 when he hit .308 for the White Sox. Good at getting on base, he led the American League in walks (90) in 1926. Kamm led American league third basemen in fielding eight times in his 12 full seasons. He was traded by Chicago to Cleveland May 17, 1931 for another Bay Area native, 1929 American League batting champion Lew Fonseca. In 1935 Kamm had a disagreement with Indians manager Walter Johnson and was released. He came home in 1936 to manage the PCL Mission team who played their home games in Seals stadium. The Missions finished fourth in 1936, but last in 1937. The franchise was moved to Hollywood after the 1937 season and Kamm retired from baseball. When the Helms Athletic Foundation selected an all-time Pacific Coast League All-Star team in 1957, Kamm was named the third baseman.
In his book “Pacific Coast League Stars,” John Spalding writes, “Jimmy O’Connell was happy-go-lucky, popular, honest and an accomplished hitter. But, most of all, he was incredibly naďve. And, naivete cost Jimmy his baseball career.” In September, 1919, he was playing sandlot ball in Sacramento and caught the eye of Alfie Putnam. When the 18-year-old O’Connell decided not to return to the University of Santa Clara, where he was the varsity center fielder, the Seals signed him and he hit .313 in 8 games in the last weeks of the season. Graham used him sparingly in 1920 at first base and in the outfield. O’Connell could hit and run, but he was not a good fielder at either position. In 1921, playing at first base, he led the team in hitting (.337-17-101) and stole 23 bases, but he led the PCL first basemen in errors. John McGraw wanted O’Connell for the New York Giants and, in November, paid the Seals $75,000 for the youngster, the record price for a minor league player until the Kamm deal the next spring. Jimmy was to stay with San Francisco for the 1922 season and report for spring training the next year. He hit .335-13-92 and was second in the league in stolen bases (39) and fourth in runs (133). In 1923, his rookie year with the Giants, he was a reserve outfielder and while his fielding improved, he batted only .250 in 87 games and was called “the $75,000 bust” in the newspapers. In 1924 he boosted his average to .317 although he played in only 52 games.
In the last week of the season the incident occurred that ended O’Connell’s career. Just before the September 27 game against Philadelphia, O’Connell approached Phillies shortstop Heinie Sand and offered him $500 “if you don’t bear down hard against us today.” That such a statement could be made seriously seems strange. The Giants had been in first place all season, the Phillies never higher than seventh and Philadelphia won only 7 of its 22 games against New York. The two knew one another from the PCL where Sand had played for Salt Lake. He rejected the bribe and reported it to his manager, Art Fletcher, who immediately informed Commissioner Landis. When questioned by Landis, O’Connell admitted making the offer, but said he was told to do it by Giants coach Cozy Dolan. He stated that when he told Dolan the bribe had been turned down, the coach was not upset and said the Giants would beat the Phils anyway. O’Connell also said that other Giants players knew about it. Further, since the bribe had been refused and the game, won by New York, was played “on the square,” he wondered what the fuss was all about. When interrogated by Landis, Dolan said he couldn’t remember anything about a “fix.” The other players denied having any knowledge of the matter. Landis took the situation seriously. It was only four years since the Black Sox scandal. The Commissioner immediately banned O’Connell and Dolan from Organized Baseball for life. Back home, Jimmy’s friends and former teammates were stunned. When O’Connell returned to San Francisco, Spalding reports that he said, “I know now what I did was wrong, “ but “I thought Dolan was representing the New York club and I was following orders. I’m the goat, that’s all.” Banned from O.B., he later played in the outlaw Copper League in Arizona, a haven for players on the Ineligible List.
First baseman Bert Ellison batted .306 with 30 doubles, 10 triples and 16 homers, and led the league in RBI (141). He had joined the Seals in 1921, after all or parts of five seasons with Detroit where he batted .216. He was only 26 when Graham appointed him interim manager. The only two regulars who did not hit .300 were veteran second baseman Pete Kilduff (.287) and rookie shortstop Hal Rhyne (.285). Kilduff had just come down from the majors where he spent five years with the Giants, Cubs and Dodgers, batting .270. He was the second baseman on Brooklyn’s 1920 National League championship team. Pete was only 36 and managing Alexandria in the Cotton States League when he died in 1930 during an appendicitis operation. Rhyne spent seven years in the majors (1926-33) with the Pirates, Red Sox and White Sox. Ellison, Kilduff and Rhyne all were named five years ago to a Pacific Coast League All-1920s team.
Joining O’Connell in the outfield was veteran Joe Kelly in left and first-year pro Gene Valla in right. The speedy Kelly hit .333-5-68 with 32 stolen bases. Kelly had hit .224 in five National League seasons with Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston and joined the Seals in 1921. He enjoyed a 23-year career as a player and manager and amassed 3,219 hits in the majors and minors. Kelly and Kilduff were born in the same small town, Weir City, KS. Valla, 23, another product of the San Francisco sandlots, hit .333 to tie with Kelly for ninth in the league. Even the two reserve outfielders hit above .300. Charlie See hit .307 in 109 games and saw part-time duty as a pitcher (5-4, 4.21). He had hit .272 with Cincinnati in 1919-21. 32-year-old Pete Compton, acquired from Sacramento early in the season, batted .306 in 126 games. He hit .241 in parts of six seasons with the Browns, St. Louis Feds, Pirates and Giants and batted .307 in a 20-year minor league career.
Behind the plate were Sam Agnew and Archie Yelle, who split the catching duties almost evenly for seven consecutive seasons (1920-26). In 1922 Agnew hit .337-11-61 in 118 games, Yelle batted .254-0-24 in 108 games. Agnew was 33 years old when he arrived in San Francisco and Graham immediately named him team captain. Sam was a veteran of seven major league seasons with the Browns, Red Sox and Senators, batting only .204, but possessed of a great arm. While with Boston, Agnew caught Babe Ruth in both of the Babe’s victories over the Cubs in the 1918 World Series. He played until 1928, hitting .321 for Hollywood in his final year. Yelle, 30, was another good-field-no-hit catcher in his three years with Detroit (1917-19), batting only .161.
The Seals’ leading pitcher was Jim (Death Valley) Scott who won 25 and lost 9, tied for second in the PCL in wins and third in ERA (2.22). The 34-year-old, 6’1”, 235-pound right-hander was a native of Deadwood, SD. The nickname derived from a wealthy eccentric named Walter Scott who built a castle in the hottest part of the California desert that became a tourist attraction in the early years of the 20th century. The newspapers dubbed him “Death Valley Scotty,” and that name was passed on to the pitcher. Scott had pitched for the White Sox for nine years (1909-17) with a 107-114, 2.30 record. His best year was 1915 when he went 24-11, led the American League in shutouts (7), was second in wins and third in ERA (2.03). He missed playing in the 1917 World Series because he enlisted in the Army during the season, reportedly the second major player to do so after the United States entered World War I in April. He stayed in the Army until the spring of 1919, was released by Chicago, pitched briefly for the Fairbanks-Morse industrial team in Beloit, WI, then signed with the Seals. In 1920, Scott was 23-14, led the PCL in ERA (2.29) and was fourth in innings pitched. He fell off to 18-15 in 1921 before bouncing back. Scott stayed with the Seals through 1924, then pitched for New Orleans for three years before hanging up his glove to become a Southern Association umpire. Scott umpired in the National League in 1930-31. After leaving baseball he worked for many years as an electrician at the RKO studios in Hollywood. While with the White Sox he was the roommate of Buck Weaver, later banished in the Black Sox scandal. Scott and Weaver were two of the three White Sox players to join the teams Charles Comiskey and John McGraw organized to play on the 1913-14 World Tour. Following the 1915 season, Scott and Weaver formed a vaudeville song and dance act with the four Cook sisters. The players subsequently married two of the sisters.
Two other Seals pitchers were 20-game winners, left-hander Ollie Mitchell (24-7, 2.90) and right-hander Bob Geary (20-9, 2.52). Both had been obtained from Cincinnati along with Charlie See and Fritz Coumbe in the deal that sent Jimmy Caveney and Johnny Couch to the Reds after the 1921 season. Geary, 31, had pitched for the Athletics in 1918-19, starred for Seattle in 1920 (22-14, 2.65) and was 1-1, 4.34 for the Reds in 1921. He was a 20-game winner three times in his six years with San Francisco. During the off-season, Geary was a police officer in his native Cincinnati. Mitchell, 27, had been purchased by the Reds after a 19-14 season for Oklahoma City in 1921. He never pitched an inning in the majors although he won 135 games in the seven years he was with the Seals (1922-28), an average of 19 wins a season. Mitchell was the only pitcher with the Seals in all four of their championship years in the ‘20s. He led the PCL in wins in 1924 (28-15).
Knowing that faltering pitching had been the downfall of his 1921 team, Graham wanted mound help from the White Sox in the Kamm deal. The immediate dividend was 25-year-old, 6’2” right-hander Doug McWeeny, a Chicago native, who was optioned by the White Sox to the Seals. McWeeny went 15-7, 2.78 during the rest of the season. He was a fastball hurler with excellent control, striking out 130 and walking 59 in 175 innings. In August, Graham persuaded Chicago to send him outright 6’4”, 23-year-old left-hander Harry Courtney and 28-year-old, 6’4” right-hander Shovel Hodge. Hodge was 7-6, 4.14 for the Sox in 1922, Courtney 5-7, 4.84. Courtney was especially valuable to the Seals down the stretch, going 5-2, 1.89. Hodge, whose first name was Clarence, got his nickname because someone thought his large feet looked like shovels. From 1952-54 Hodge was president of the Class D Alabama-Florida League. Ex-major league southpaws Ernie Alten (13-10, 3.55) and Fritz Coumbe (10-7, 3.40) also contributed to the Seals’ success. Alten, 27, had pitched briefly for Detroit. Coumbe, 32, was a veteran of eight seasons (1914-21) with the Red Sox, Indians and Reds with a 38-38, 2.80 career record.
Keeping much of the roster intact, the Seals won crowns in 1923 and 1925, missing by 1.5 games in 1924. After a short slide, the team rebounded for another title in 1928. The ’25 and ’28 winners earned places on the top 100 list. Nearly twenty years later, the Seals won four championships in a row, culminated by a 115-win club in 1946. Eleven years later, the Seals moved to Phoenix, making way for New York’s Giants, who were moving west.
The 1922 Pacific Coast League champions used a balanced hitting attack and a trio of 20-game winners to achieve dominance. Not only did the team earn glory on the field, it earned dollars off the field by selling its best players for a small fortune - a sum which kept the franchise a dominant force through the decade.
|1922 Pacific Coast League Standings|
|SALT LAKE CITY||95||106||.473||33.0||SACRAMENTO||76||124||.380||51.5|
|1922 San Francisco Seals batting statistics|
|Pete Compton (Sac.)||OF||126||432||55||132||43||12||8||8||12||.306|
|Justin Fitzgerald (Sac.)||OF||70||211||30||56||15||11||2||1||7||.265|
|Death Valley Scott||P||37||105||6||22||7||4||0||0||0||.210|
|Herb McQuaid (L.A.)||P||27||29||3||7||6||1||0||0||1||.241|
|1922 San Francisco Seals pitching statistics|
|Death Valley Scott||25||9||.735||35||4||276||262||52||75||2.22|
|Herb McQuaid (L.A.)||4||3||.571||27||0||88||84||31||16||3.78|