The book I: “The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957”
The author: Dennis Snelling
The vital stats: MacFarland, 380 pages, $45
An excerpt: Page 281: The long, intense rivalry between Los Angeles and Hollywood was about to come to an end (in 1957). All that remained was to stage one last brawl for old time’s sake. The teams met at Gilmore Field on August 24 with Tommy Lasorda on the mound for the Angels. After surrendering a home run to Hollywood relief pitcher Fred Waters, an incensed Lasorda threw high and tight to the next batter, Spook Jacobs, who bunted the next pitch down the first-base line. An angry Lasorda ran toward the first-base line. Making no effort to field the ball, he threw a block at Jacobs that would have made an offensive tackle proud, sending the Stars baseball runner sprawling in the dirt. Jacobs, never one to back down from anybody, charged at Lasorda and the benches emptied. Jacobs then began swinging wildly at anything that moved, spending most of his time battling Los Angeles second baseman Sparky Anderson. Anderson’s teammate, shortstop Bobby Dolan, swung at Jacobs and the two of them started another fight. … During the mele, fans were treated to the unusual sight of Gale Wade and Carlos Bernier acting as peacemakers. Steve Bilko was left alone.
The book II: “The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League: A History, 1903-1957”
The author: Dick Beverage
The vital stats: MacFarland, 260 pages, $40
An excerpt: Page 31: As the Angels drifted through the (1925) season, everyone eagerly awaited the completion of Wrigley Field, which was originally expected to take place in August but was delayed until the last week in September. The park was finally finished at a cost estimated at $1,300,000, and was ready for business on September 29. Before a crowd of 18,000, the Angels defeated the first-place Seals, 10-8, behind Doc Crandall on the mound. Jigger Statz was the star of the game, hitting the first Angels home run at the new park and adding a single, double and triple to complete the cycle. Paul Waner hit the very first home run in the first inning, a drive over the right-field screen. “Absolutely the very last word in baseball architecture,” said PCL president Harry Williams at the opening, and it certainly was – at least, in 1925. … The power alleys were only 345 feet away, a result of a design that turned the outfield walls slightly inward. Since left field followed the (East 41st Place) street plan and backed up on it, there was nothing that could be done to correct this problem, short of condemning the street itself.
The book III: “Mexican American Baseball in the Inland Empire”
The author: Richard A. Santillan, Mark A. Ocegueda and Terry A. Cannon
The vital stats: Arcadia Publishing, 128 pages, $21.95
An excerpt: Page 9: Mexican American baseball in California dates back to at least the 1890s and was well established in every Mexican American community by the early 1920s. .. Most of the players and fans attended church in the morning before heading out the baseball diamond. The players, who practiced hard during the week after working at their jobs 10 to 12 hours a day, had to get the fields into shape before each game. Mexican food and beer were sold, and Mexican music, and the Spanish language were heard …Unfortunately, these same communities shared other similarities. Mexican Americans confronted racial prejudice and discrimination in housing, health care, education, employment and recreation. … Yet, despite these hardships and social forms of segregation, the greater Mexican American community in California endured and eventually overcame many of these institutional obstacles by organizing political and social organizations, labor movements and religious groups, by filing lawsuits and establishing recreational clubs and facilities … sports were not just games, they were important elements of community identity, cultural affirmation, civil rights and political empowerment.
The pitch: The work put into the words and pictures for these projects by Snelling, Beverage and the Latino Baseball History Project at Cal State San Bernardino will never be financially compensated through the book sales, but they’re a vital part of preserving the history of baseball in Southern California and beyond, long before Major League Baseball took over the landscape.
Snelling, who produced a statistically history of the PCL from 1903-1957 in 1995, interviewed more than 60 over more than a decade while working at his job for the Modesto city schools. The book has already been called “the standard PCL reference for years to come” by Beverage, longtime president of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society and editor of its monthly newsletter. The editors of Spitball Magazine listed it among their top 10 finalists for the Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year for 2011 (it officially came out late last year).
Beverage has made the old L.A. Angels, the league’s premier franchise, as his team of specialty, researching newspapers and other sources to put together an all-time roster, team record, lineups and stats through interviews.
The Latino Baseball History Project has drawn upon the academic leadership at Cal State San Bernardino, as well as students working on research project teams, to collect oral histories and photographs from the communities of Pomona, Ontario, Cucamonga, Chino, Claremont, San Bernardino, Colton, Riverside, Corona, Beaumont and the Coachella Valley. Co-author Richard A. Santillian, a professor emeritus of ethnic and women studies at Cal Poly Pomona, and Mark A. Ocegueda, a Ph.D. in history at UC Irvine, combined their resources with Baseball Reliquary executive director Terry Cannon to advise on the project, which last year led to the first Arcadia Book of photos and history entitled “Mexican American Baseball in Los Angeles,”(linked here) which Santillian authored with Dr. Francisco Balderamma.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Thank you, thank you and thank you.
History preservation is often a chore taken for granted most by those who benefit from it. These are the history writers, going to the actual dirt fields and long-abandoned shrines to excavate what is held now between these pages. We’re all the most better off for it, and hopefully, extract a lesson or two from the past to make baseball moving forward a better project and experience for the locals.