In a recent visit, we explored the category of “Quadruple A” (AAAA) ballplayers and how AAA teams can be a stepping stone to the majors for young players and the last chance for glory when it comes to veterans. This time, we’ll look deeper into one of the most famous AAA leagues in the history of the game…the Pacific Coast League.
The PCL has been in existence for over a hundred years and was the breeding ground for many all-time greats. Joe DiMaggio played for the San Francisco Seals from 1933-35; Ted Williams was a San Diego Padre in 1937 and Joe’s Brother Dom was also a Seal in 1939 before becoming the Red Sox CF for over a decade. In 1952, the league was given the classification of “Open”, a plan to have it become a tier above AAA with the hope of becoming a third major league. That dream faded when Walter O’Malley & Horace Stoneham moved their teams to the West Coast in 1958 but during those few years, the best baseball west of St. Louis took place in cities like Portland, Sacramento and Vancouver.
For this visit, we’ll take the baseball time machine back to 1957 and look at the last true glory year of the PCL. There were eight teams and they played a 168-game schedule. The Seals won the pennant with 101 victories, while the Vancouver Mounties were a close second with 97 and the Hollywood Stars chipped in with 94 to finish third. Utilizing the help of baseball-reference.com, let’s look at the top hitters & pitchers from that historic season…
- Steve Bilko, Los Angeles Angels – was the Babe Ruth of the league with 56 HR’s, 140 RBI’s and 1.071 OPS. He got some big league stops with the Cardinals, Dodgers and others, but his glory days were in the PCL.
- Preston Ward, Padres – hit .330 with 22 HR’s in his age-29 season. His best major league campaign was ’58, when he hit .284 with the Indians & Athletics. He had over 2,000 major league AB’s over parts of nine seasons.
- Joe Taylor, Seattle Rainiers – was 31 at the time and contributed 22 HR’s and a .305 BA. He had less than 300 MLB AB’s and hit .249.
- Bert Hamric, Angels – had 19 HR’s and 11 SB’s to go with his .291 BA. His big league career consisted of one hit in 11 AB’s.
- Bob Lennon, Padres – a .309 BA and .885 OPS was impressive. In the majors, he was 13-for-79 (.165 BA).
- Dave Pope, Padres – already 36, he was still playing the game well with 18 HR’s and a .313 BA. In 551 big league AB’s, he only hit 12 HR’s.
- Ken Aspromonte, Seals – one of the younger players at age 25, he hit .334 with 73 RBI’s. The following season, he was the starting 2B for the Washington Senators.
- Fran Kellert, Seals – at age 32, he hit 22 HR’s and batted .308. His major league career was over at this point with a .231 BA in parts of four seasons.
- Spider Jorgensen, Mounties – a grizzled veteran at age 37, he still hit .291 with 16 HR’s. He was the Dodgers regular 3B in 1947, the year that Jackie Robinson debuted.
- Earl Averill, Padres – the other 25 year-old on the list, he had 19 HR’s for the Friars. Went on to play seven big leagues seasons and was a teammate of Bilko on the 1961 expansion Los Angeles Angels.
As for the best starting pitchers…
- Morrie Martin, Mounties – at age 34, he went 14-4 with a 1.89 ERA. He was a member of the A’s rotation in the early 50’s and had a lifetime major league record of 38-34.
- Red Witt, Hollywood Stars – at age 25, he went 18-7 with a 2.24 ERA. Got to the big leagues with the Pirates in ’58 but his lifetime mark was only11-16.
- Jim Grant, Padres – at only 21, he was outstanding as he registered a 2.31 ERA with 18 Wins. “Mudcat” went on to play 14 seasons in the majors with 145 victories and two All-Star appearances.
- Mel Held, Mounties – 10 Wins and a 2.71 ERA in 21 starts. He only got to pitch in four games at the big league level.
- Erv Palica, Mounties – 15-12 with a 2.80 ERA at age 29. He pitched in the majors from 1947-56 and had a record of 41-55.
- Bennie Daniels, Stars – posted a 2.95 ERA with 17 Wins. At age 25, he went on to pitch eight seasons with the Pirates and Senators with a career mark of 45-76.
- Larry Jansen, Rainiers – still plugging along at 36, he won 10 games and had a 3.15 ERA in 25 starts. His glory days were with the Giants in the early 50’s and he led the NL with 23 victories in 1951.
Hope you can recall a few of these heroes from the history of the PCL…