Academic journal article Base Ball

1879½: Baseball's West Coast Postseason

Academic journal article Base Ball

1879½: Baseball's West Coast Postseason

Article excerpt

Author's note: Often the contemporary reports of 19th century baseball games were expressed in such a way that paraphrasing or summarizing loses the beauty, symbolism, and hyperbole that was so common then, but missing now. Those passages are italicized.

On September 21, 1879, the California League champion Californias faced the Pacific League champion Knickerbockers at San Francisco's Recreation Grounds in a highly anticipated match to settle Bay Area baseball supremacy. On gameday the heavy betting favored the 8-3 Knicks over the 13-4 Cals. The throng of spectators seriously taxed the capacity of Recreation Grounds as well as the corps of police officers who tried to keep the crowd from encroaching on the field. Behind the superlative pitching of former major leaguer Ed "The Only" Nolan, the Knickerbockers prevailed 6-5 to claim the Bay Area championship and ostensibly conclude the 1879 baseball season.

A week later, though, the Chronicle wrote : "the next two months will be a period of unusual interest in an interesting season of baseball on this coast."1 Neither the writer nor the reader could possibly know what an understatement that prediction would prove to be.

Over the previous two seasons San Francisco baseball had become so vigorous and viable that financial opportunists saw a chance to capitalize on the West Coast game if they could bring eastern professional teams to play against each other and San Francisco's amateur clubs. As early as June 1878, the Philadelphia Athletics expressed an interest in a postseason visit to San Francisco if half of their expenses could be guaranteed along with a significant percentage of the gate.2 In August, the Deserets of Salt Lake City indicated a similar desire to come to San Francisco to play all the clubs and any picked nines if their expenses could be assured from the gate receipts. Additionally, vague hints circulated that the Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Stockings were also interested.3

Nobody made a move toward San Francisco in 1878, but words were to become deeds according to a report in the New York Clipper of April 12, 1879, announcing: "The Chicago Club have definitely decided on taking a tour to the Pacific Coast, leaving on October 2."

During the summer of 1879 events were unfolding that would add another "eastern" visitor to San Francisco's diamonds. The four-team Northwestern League, one of the first professional minor leagues with a club in Nebraska, two in Iowa, and another in Illinois, folded after two months. The Omaha Green Stockings saw greener pastures in the Golden State and in July began a westward trek that took them through Salt Lake City.

On July 26, while the Deserets and Green Stockings were engaged in a five-game series, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported that a grandiosely unprecedented plan was afoot:

The Omahas having today made arrangements for five games with each of the California League clubs for the championship of the coast, the matter was fixed to give the Deserets an equal show, they going to San Francisco to play the same clubs as soon as the Omaha series is completed, the championship of the entire west being determined by the most games won in the entire series of 45 games, Omaha and Salt Lake playing 25 games each.

In New York, a patent medicine manufacturer had assembled a team of once-andfuture major leaguers as an advertising gimmick: the Rochester Hop Bitters. The club began the 1879 season in Albany of the National Association, but moved to Rochester and later left the league to begin a barnstorming tour that would eventually end in San Francisco.4

The springtime declaration of the White Stockings held firm, and the Cincinnati Reds (not the same legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 that visited San Francisco) were also considering a West Coast visit. Finally, the possibility that the National League- leading Providence Grays and the second-place Boston Red Stockings would also make a postseason trek to the West Coast was noted in the press. …

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