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Baseball Fan Rekindles the Glory Days of Old Pacific Coast League

February 12, 1988|JAY BERMAN | Jay Berman is a journalism professor at Cal State Fullerton. This is his first article for Orange County Life

Every serious baseball fan can recite a list of favorite players from the past.

Such lists usually include familiar names--Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente--men who played in New York, Boston or Pittsburgh and who are still remembered by millions.

Richard Beverage of Placentia has such a list, but it includes Ray French, Carl Dittmar and Arnold (Jigger) Statz, who played half a century ago or longer for teams that no longer exist.

Beverage may be the nation's leading authority on the old Pacific Coast League--specifically as it existed from about 1920 until 1957, the year before the Dodgers and Giants moved from New York and forced the league out of Los Angeles and San Francisco and into smaller cities.

The PCL still exists in such places as Tucson, Vancouver, Albuquerque and Tacoma, but the league Beverage knows--and has written two books about--once played in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Diego.

It is a league he has studied for 42 of his 52 years. He can discuss the careers of people who played in the 1920s the way a fan today might talk about Wally Joyner, Don Mattingly or Mike Schmidt.

Two years ago, Beverage formed the Pacific Coast League Historical Society, of which he is president. He started the group because he thought "something ought to be done. These people had good careers, and they deserved to be recognized. There was nothing like it anywhere else."

Beverage is not a baseball recluse, living only in the past. He watches the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves on cable TV and attends "maybe 10" games a year of the California Angels--whom he calls "the Impostors" because they are not the Los Angeles Angels, who played in the PCL. He even admits to liking the American League's designated hitter rule, because it "allows me to see some great hitters who are over the hill but can still swing the bat."

Still, he says, "I look back more than I look forward." Besides, he finds today's games "awfully slow. They used to start games at 8:15 and be done by 10. Now they keep moving back the starting time--8, 7:30--and still don't finish until 10:30."

Beverage describes his wife, Tustin librarian Rae Beverage, as "tolerant" of his zeal. "She likes baseball, but she's not a fanatic," he says. Their daughter, Stephanie, is a Los Angeles librarian with degrees from UCLA and Georgetown University, and their son, Jerry--a student at California State University, Fullerton--"likes the 'Impostors.' "

How did it happen? Why would the chief financial officer of a plastics injection molding firm in the City of Industry virtually devote his life (and a great number of bookshelves) to such an esoteric pursuit?

For Beverage, it began in 1946 when he and his family moved briefly from his native Nebraska to Oakland. He was 10 years old.

"I got absolutely hooked on the Oakland Oaks and everybody they played," he says. "I can remember the players as though it were yesterday, and I can still hear the public address announcer at Oak Park," his favorite of the old ballparks.

But the family returned to Nebraska after the baseball season, a time Beverage calls "my exile years." He briefly attended the University of Nebraska, then graduated from Colgate University with a bachelor's degree in history. For more than a decade, he followed the progress of the PCL by reading the Sporting News, the weekly newspaper that at the time printed box scores of all major and minor league games.

During his "exile," Beverage became a fan of the Cubs, who broadcast their games throughout the Midwest. "I was 12 or 13, and on summer afternoons I'd listen every day. At night, you could usually pick up the (St. Louis) Cardinals games."

While at Colgate, in Hamilton, N.Y., he spent his winters "reading old newspapers. I worked in a library that had some West Coast papers. I'd read the box scores from the PCL going back into the 1930s. I was in the East, but I never forgot (the PCL)."

In 1958, newly married, Beverage returned to the San Francisco area, stopping long enough in Sacramento "to see a double-header between the (Seattle) Rainiers and (Sacramento) Solons." The San Francisco Seals had already been evicted by the Giants, but Sacramento kept its PCL franchise through 1960.

In part because Los Angeles had been a minor league affiliate of the Cubs, Beverage had become an L.A. Angels fan. The Angels had been in the league from its start in 1903 until 1957, when the Dodgers' move west banished the franchise to Spokane.

Beverage enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, to work on a doctorate degree. He never received it. "I spent more time looking at microfilm of old box scores than I did working on the doctorate," he says. "I should have done my dissertation project on the history of the PCL."

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