Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

VALLEY WEEKEND

Autry Exhibit Is in a League All Its Own : Photos and mementos of Pacific Coast teams recall the early and more innocent days of baseball in the West.

February 15, 1996|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don't tell the fans who cheered the Hollywood Stars or the Los Angeles Angels that the Pacific Coast League was the minors. During the six decades that the major leagues eschewed the West, the PCL was all the ball the Left Coast had, and all the ball it needed.

Remember Joe DiMaggio's famous 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees in 1941? Well, that wasn't Jumpin' Joe's personal best. In 1933, when he was an 18-year-old sensation playing for the San Francisco Seals, DiMaggio set a PCL record by scoring in 61 consecutive games.

At the time, the local papers routinely misspelled his name DeMaggio. Always unassuming, the young baseball giant pointed out the error only when he realized his name would be engraved incorrectly on the watch the PCL gave him for the feat.

Often called "the third major league," the Pacific Coast League is the subject of a major exhibit opening Saturday at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. "Runs, Hits and an Era: The Pacific Coast League, 1903-58" uses photos, baseball cards, uniforms and other artifacts to re-create the spirit of the time when the West had a league of its own.

Because baseball has always been the nation's pastime, the show also is a mini-history of America. During World War II, for instance, fans who caught balls and refused to return them were routinely booed for being unpatriotic (after all, baseballs, too, were made of materials made scarce and precious by the war).

The traveling show was curated by Mark Medeiros of the Oakland Museum, where it originally opened in 1994. The exhibit will continue at the Autry through May 12, then move on to Seattle, Wash.

*

The Pacific Coast League's glory days ended in 1958, when Walter O'Malley broke the heart of every man and boy in New York by moving the Dodgers and the Giants to California. In the show's catalog, Medeiros writes that he had read extensively about the West Coast league, which had faded before he was born, but didn't really get educated about it until he bought a replica of a 1950 Oakland Oaks cap and wore it to an Oakland A's game.

"My Oaks cap paid an immediate dividend when a stranger . . . noticed my cap and stopped to share his PCL stories. He spoke with the excitement and fondness of a grandfather discussing his favorite grandchild's first steps. Later in the day, a woman standing ahead of me in the concession line commented on my cap and shared with me how, as a single mother, she and her two sons had become fans of the Sacramento Solons. One of the Solons, it seems, lived in her neighborhood and took the time to teach her sons how to throw a curveball and even how to change the oil in the family car."

According to Michael Duchemin, who is curator of the Autry's version of the show, PCL ball was not about million-dollar salaries or million-dollar egos or any of the other things that make today's post-strike major-league ball the game America loves to hate.

The PCL was about a time, Duchemin says, when fans and players rode the same train from San Diego all the way up the coast to Seattle in the course of a season. This is baseball, not just as a game, but "really at the root of our sense of community."

Duchemin, who is the Autry's curator of history, experienced the minor leagues in this best sense when he was growing up in Menomonee Falls, Wis. His former brother-in-law was from a huge family named Reimer, Duchemin recalls, and played for the Lannon Lakers.

"Half the team was made up of Reimers," he says. "And half the other team was made up of Reimers, too."

Like the majors, Pacific Coast League teams had their full measure of eccentrics. One of the most colorful players locally was Lou Novikoff of the Angels, bitter rivals of the Hollywood Stars.

Known as "the Mad Russian," Novikoff instructed his wife, Esther, to sit in a box seat behind home plate and taunt him as loudly as she could every time he came up to bat. Understandably popular with fans, this odd ritual seemed to work. Novikoff won the Triple Crown in 1940, and the Angels finished second for the season.

The Autry has added its own attractions to the core show. Through May 12, the lobby of the museum will display materials relating to the Negro Leagues, which were the only venue for African American players until Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1946.

Among the treasures is a glove used by Satchel Paige, the superb pitcher who became the first Negro Leagues player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. The exhibit includes a lithograph of Paige pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs, in the era when only white players could hope to be in the show.

*

In Oakland, the exhibit drew large numbers of older men who brought their sons and grandsons. The Autry hopes to expand the exhibit's appeal through a special interactive area geared to children ages 2 to 6.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|