|Replaced by||Triple-A West|
|President||Branch B. Rickey|
|Sacramento River Cats (2019)|
|Most titles||San Francisco Seals (14)|
The Pacific Coast League (PCL) was a Minor League Baseball league operating in the Western, Midwestern, and Southeastern United States. Along with the International League and the Mexican League, it was one of three leagues playing at the Triple-A level, which was one grade below Major League Baseball. It was officially named the Pacific Coast League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Inc. Its headquarters were in Round Rock, Texas. The PCL was replaced by Triple-A West.
The PCL was one of the premier regional baseball leagues in the first half of the 20th century. Although it was never recognized as a true major league, to which it aspired, its quality of play was considered very high. A number of top stars of the era, including Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, were products of the league. In 1958, with the arrival of major league teams on the west coast and the availability of televised major league games, the PCL's modern era began with each team signing Player Development Contracts to become farm teams of major league clubs.
A league champion was determined at the end of every season. The San Francisco Seals won 14 Pacific Coast League titles, the most in the league's history, followed by the Los Angeles Angels (12) and the Albuquerque Dukes and Portland Beavers (8). After the season, the PCL champion played in the Triple-A National Championship Game against the International League champion to determine an overall champion of Triple-A baseball. The Sacramento River Cats won three national championships, more than any other PCL team.
The Pacific Coast League was formed on December 29, 1902, when officials from the California State League (1899-1902) met in San Francisco for the purpose of expanding the league beyond California. Six franchises were granted. These were the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers, Sacramento Senators, San Francisco Seals, and Seattle Indians. A dispute over territories owned by the Pacific Northwest League, in which the PCL had placed franchises, and the PCL's allowing blacklisted players to compete led to the National Association (Minor League Baseball) labeling the PCL as an outlaw league.
The mild climate of the West Coast, especially California, allowed the league to play longer seasons, sometimes starting in late February and ending as late as the beginning of December. During the 1905 season the San Francisco Seals set the all-time PCL record by playing 230 games. Teams regularly played between 170 and 200 games in a season until the late 1950s. This allowed players, who were often career minor leaguers, to hone their skills, earn an extra month or two of pay, and reduce the need to find off-season work. These longer seasons gave owners the opportunity to generate more revenue. Another outcome was that a number of the all-time minor league records for season statistical totals are held by players from the PCL.
The inaugural 1903 season, which consisted of over 200 scheduled games for each team, began on March 26. The Los Angeles Angels finished the season in first place with a 133-78 (.630) record, making them the first league champions.
In 1904, National Association President Patrick T. Powers brokered terms with the PCL, clearing it of its outlaw status and designating it as a Class A league. In 1909, the league classification was raised to Double-A. In 1919, with the earlier addition of the Salt Lake Bees and Vernon Tigers, league membership reached eight teams for the first time. While the league had experienced little commercial success up to this point, the 1920s were a turning point which saw increased attendance and teams fielding star players.
The Great Depression of the 1930s resulted in a lower quality of play due to the league's salary reduction. Still, a number of top stars, including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Ox Eckhardt, competed on PCL teams that decade. Also helping attendance was the introduction of night games. At Sacramento's Moreing Field, the Sacramento Solons and the Oakland Oaks played the first night baseball game, five years before any major league night game, on June 10, 1930. The Hollywood Stars and San Diego Padres were added to the league in the 1930s as well.
During the first half of the 20th century, the Pacific Coast League developed into one of the premier regional baseball leagues. The cities enfranchised by the other two high-minor leagues, the International League and the American Association, were generally coordinated geographically with the major leagues, but such was not the case with the PCL. With no major league baseball team existing west of St. Louis, the PCL was unrivaled for American west coast baseball. Although it was never recognized as a true major league, its quality of play was considered very high. Drawing from a strong pool of talent in the area, the PCL produced many outstanding players, including such future major-league Hall of Famers as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Tony Lazzeri, Paul Waner, Earl Averill, Bobby Doerr, Joe Gordon, and Ernie Lombardi. Amid success experienced after World War II, league President Pants Rowland began to envision the PCL as a third major league. During 1945 the league voted to become a major league. However, the American League and National League were uninterested in allowing it to join their ranks.
While many PCL players went on to play in the major leagues, teams in the league were often successful enough that they could offer competitive salaries to avoid being outbid for their players' services. Some players made a career out of the minor leagues. One of the better known was Frank Shellenback, whose major league pitching career was brief, but who compiled a record PCL total of 295 wins against 178 losses. (It should be mentioned, however, that Shellenback's long career in the PCL was largely due to his use of the spitball, banned in the major leagues in 1920, not the competitive salaries offered by PCL clubs.) Many former major league players came to the PCL to finish their careers after their time in the majors had ended.
In 1952, the PCL became the only minor league in history to be given the "Open" classification, a grade above the Triple-A level. This limited the rights of major league clubs to draft players from the PCL, and was considered an act toward the circuit becoming a third major league.
The shift to the Open classification came just as minor league teams from coast to coast suffered a sharp drop in attendance, primarily due to the availability of major league games on television. The hammer blow to the PCL's major league dreams came in 1958 with the arrival of the first MLB teams on the west coast (the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants). As a result, three of the PCL's flagship teams (the Los Angeles Angels, Hollywood Stars, and San Francisco Seals) were immediately forced to relocate to smaller markets. The Oakland Oaks had moved to Canada two years before the Giants arrived. The San Diego Padres and Seattle Rainiers suffered the same fate when they were displaced by major league teams in 1969. Additionally, the PCL lost customers to the major league teams which then occupied the same territory. The league never recovered from these blows. The Pacific Coast League reverted to Triple-A classification in 1958, where it remained, and soon diminished in the public eye to nothing more than another minor league.
The PCL began to spread out across the nation, and internationally, in the 1950s. Previously, Salt Lake City had been the easternmost city in the league. In 1956, the Oakland Oaks relocated to Canada where they became the Vancouver Mounties, the circuit's first international team. Two years later, the Los Angeles Angels moved to become the Spokane Indians and the San Francisco Seals became the Phoenix Giants.
The league continued to expand throughout the country in the 1960s. Clubs representing new cities during the decade included the Dallas Rangers, Denver Bears, Hawaii Islanders, Indianapolis Indians, Oklahoma City 89ers, Tacoma/Phoenix Giants, and Tucson Toros. From 1964 to 1968 the PCL swelled to twelve teams. The Albuquerque Dukes were one of several teams to begin play in the 1970s. Several new teams arrived in the 1980s, such as the Calgary Cannons, Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Edmonton Trappers, and Las Vegas Stars, but the league began to stabilize as franchise relocations became less frequent.
In 1998, the Pacific Coast League took on five teams from the disbanding American Association, which had operated in the Midwest, and a sixth franchise was added to the league as an expansion team, thus providing the scheduling convenience of an even number of teams. The addition of the Iowa Cubs, Nashville Sounds, Oklahoma RedHawks, Omaha Royals, New Orleans Zephyrs, and the expansion Memphis Redbirds grew the league to an all-time-high 16 clubs. Despite its name, the league now extended well beyond the Pacific coast, stretching from Western Washington to Middle Tennessee. Half of its teams are located east of the Rocky Mountains.
The league's presence in Canada diminished and ended in the early 2000s, as the Calgary Cannons moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to become the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2003, and the Edmonton Trappers, the circuit's final Canadian team moved to Round Rock in 2005. Of the cities represented in the PCL in its heyday, only Salt Lake City and Sacramento remain, and even these are represented by franchises different from those that originally called these cities home. In 2005, the Pacific Coast League became the first minor league ever to achieve a season attendance of over 7 million. In 2007, league attendance reached an all-time high of 7,420,095.
In 2019, the team previously known as the Colorado Springs Sky Sox relocated to San Antonio, Texas and continued play in the PCL as the San Antonio Missions, assuming the identity of a team which had previously competed in the Double-A Texas League. This move was accompanied by realignment in the American Conference. Nashville and Memphis moved to the Northern Division, and Oklahoma City and San Antonio moved to the Southern Division. In a further move, the New Orleans Baby Cakes relocated to Wichita, Kansas where they became known as the Wichita Wind Surge.
The start of the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before ultimately being cancelled on June 30. The league ceased operations before the 2021 season in conjunction with Major League Baseball's reorganization of Minor League Baseball. The PCL's 16 teams all continued on in professional baseball. The Albuquerque Isotopes, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, and Tacoma Rainiers were placed in the Triple-A West. The Iowa Cubs, Memphis Redbirds, Nashville Sounds, and Omaha Storm Chasers were placed in the Triple-A East. The San Antonio Missions and Wichita Wind Surge were moved down to the Double-A Central. The Fresno Grizzlies moved down to the Low-A West.
The league was divided into two conferences, the American Conference and the Pacific Conference. Each conference was divided into a Northern Division and a Southern Division. Each conference consisted of eight teams evenly divided into four-team divisions.
Each club had 140 games scheduled per season. Of these, 112 games were played against conference opponents, with 48 against teams in their division and 64 against teams in the other division. The other 28 games were played against teams in the opposing conference. These interconference games were organized as eight, three-or-four-game series. A team played one opposite conference's division's teams at home and the other's on the road. Play alternates each year so that interconference opponents will have played each other at home and on the road over the span of two seasons. The season typically began during the first week of April and concluded in the first week of September on Labor Day.
At the end of the season, the Northern and Southern Division winners within each conference met in a best-of-five series to determine conference champions. The American and Pacific Conference winners then played a best-of-five series to determine a league champion.
From 2006 to 2019, the PCL champion has played against the International League's champion in the Triple-A National Championship Game, a single game to determine an overall champion of Triple-A baseball. Previously, the PCL champion also competed in the Triple-A World Series (1983, 1998-2000), Junior World Series (1919), and other sporadic postseason competitions throughout the league's history.
Other interleague play occurred during the Triple-A All-Star Game. Traditionally, the game took place on the day after the mid-summer Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The game was meant to mark a symbolic halfway-point in the season (though not the mathematical halfway-point which, for most seasons, is usually one month prior). During the All-Star break, no regular-season games were scheduled for two days before the All-Star Game itself.
The Pacific Coast League played by the same rules listed in the Official Baseball Rules published by Major League Baseball. One exception is the use of the designated hitter (DH). Whereas the application of the DH rule in Major League Baseball is determined by the identity of the home team, with the rules of the home team's league applying to both teams, PCL pitchers hit when both clubs are National League affiliates and they have agreed to have their pitchers hit. Two National League affiliated clubs may agree to use the DH instead. The reason for this is that as players move up and get closer to reaching the majors, teams prefer to have the rules follow (as closely as possible) those of the major leagues. The DH is always used when one or both teams are American League affiliates.
Other differences lie in the use of professional baseball's pace-of-play initiatives which began to be implemented in 2015. A 15-second pitch clock is used when no runners are on base; 20 seconds are allowed with runners present. Each half extra inning begins with a runner on second base. Teams are limited to five mound visits during a nine-inning game. Pitchers are required to face a minimum of three consecutive batters until the side is retired or the pitcher becomes injured and is unable to continue playing.
Note: Teams in italics are PCL "classic" teams from the league's height in the 1950s.
1The 1917 Portland Beavers ceased operations, and its slot in the PCL was offered to Sacramento.
2The 1905 Tacoma Tigers were moved back to Sacramento in the middle of the 1905 season due to poor play, then were moved again to Fresno the following season.
3The 1907-1908 Sacramento Cordovas played in the California League after returning from Fresno.
4The 1907-1918 Seattle club played in the Northwest League and Pacific Coast International League.
Four league teams were acquired by the PCL following the disbandment of the American Association after the 1997 season.
5The Oklahoma City 89ers were a member of the Pacific Coast League from 1963 to 1968.
Two former league teams played in the PCL from the 1964 to 1968. Each one had played in the International League during the 1963 season, and each was transferred to the American Association after the 1968 season.
Three former league teams were transferred to other leagues in conjunction with the 2021 reorganization of the minors. Wichita, which traces its roots to the American Association, was moved to the Texas League along with San Antonio. Fresno was transferred to the California League.
6The Denver Bears were a member of the Pacific Coast League from 1963 to 1968.
League champions were determined by different means since the Pacific Coast League's formation in 1903. With few exceptions, most PCL champions through 1927 were simply the regular season pennant winners. However, a few seasons during this time did feature a postseason championship series to crown a champion. It wasn't until the mid-1930s that the league instituted regular postseason play that was only sporadically cancelled due to financial problems or other factors.
The PCL recognizes outstanding players and team personnel annually near the end of each season.
The Most Valuable Player Award, first awarded in 1927, was given to honor the best player in the league. The award was voted on by team managers, general managers, broadcasters, and media representatives from around the league, as were all PCL year-end awards.
The Pitcher of the Year Award, awarded sporadically from 1957 to 1974 and continuously from 2001 to 2019, serveed to recognize the league's best pitcher. Pitchers were also eligible to win the MVP Award from 1927 to 2000.
The Executive of the Year Award, first awarded in 1974, honored team executives who have achieved success in the area of attendance figures, promotions, and community involvement.
The Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame was established in 1942 to honor league players, managers, and executives who have made significant contributions to the league's ideals. The Hall of Fame inducted its first class of 12 men in 1943. The Hall became dormant after 1957, but was revived in 2003, the PCL's centennial season. Today, the Hall of Fame Committee seeks to recognize worthy players throughout the league's history who have made contributions to the league. New members are elected before the start of each season.