The Seals joined the Pacific Coast League in its initial year of operation in 1903 and lasted until the end of the 1957 season, when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco.
Originally known as the Stars, San Francisco's first PCL game was played at a stadium called Rec Park. They won 7-3 over a team called the Portlands. In 1906, the team was renamed the Young Americans and they wore red, white and blue baseball caps. The 1906 earthquake destroyed Rec Park and caused the PCL to suspend operations for two weeks, since league offices were in San Francisco. When the league resumed play three weeks later, the team had switched back to gray caps. Another Rec Park was built in 1907. The team became known as the Seals in 1909 and won their first PCL pennant that year, guided by manager Danny Long, pitchers Cack Henley and Pete Browning; and sluggers Ping Bodie and Nick Williams.
The Seals' teams of the early 1910's started off well, but eventually fell out of contention. In 1914, the team moved for one season to Ewing Field. Ewing Field proved to be too windy and foggy for most fans and attendance fell off sharply. You can view a picture of Ewing Field by going to the Library of Congress Search Engine and typing in Ewing Field.
1914 was also the year that there were briefly two teams in San Francisco as the Sacramento team played their last 56 games in SF before moving back to Sacramento the next season.
The team was sold to Henry Berry of Los Angeles and he moved the team back to Rec Park for the 1915 season. The Seals had an informal working agreement with the Detroit Tigers that year and it was instrumental in helping the Seals win the PCL pennant that season.
The 1917 Seals also won the PCL title, with a team that stole 385 bases. The Seals
that same year also signed a pitcher named Francis Joseph (later known as "Lefty") O'
Doul. O'Doul of course would later become one of the most famous Seals in their
history. The 1917 and 1918 PCL seasons were shortened, due to WWI. In 1918, Berry
(who had incurred substantial debts) sold the team to three people: Charlie Graham,
Dr. Charles Strub, and George Putnam. The 1919 season was considered a transitional
one, as the team finished fifth.
The 1920's saw some of the greatest teams the Bay Area ever had. The Seals won pennants in 1922, 1923, 1925 and 1928. The Oakland Oaks won pennants in 1926 and 1927. The Seals had four players during this decade that later became Hall of Famers. The Seals' 1922 team had a team batting average of .298. The 1923 team had Paul Waner who helped lead them to the league title. Waner hit .369 and the 1923 team had a team batting average of .319. Waner played two more seasons for the Seals and later had a Hall of Fame career in the majors.
The 1925 Seals team was one of the best PCL teams of all-time. They had four 20-game winners on their pitching staff and won the pennant by 12 1/2 games. In 1928, led by outfielders Smead Jolley, Earl Averill and Ray Johnsohn, the Seals won their last pennant of the decade. All three outfielders wound up playing in the majors in 1929.
San Francisco for several years in the 1920s and 30s had two minor league teams. The Mission Reds, or "Bells," as they were also known moved to San Francisco from Vernon (LA) in 1926 and stayed until 1937. They played in Rec Park and later Seals Stadium when the Seals were on the road. Seals Stadium in fact had three clubhouses, one for the Seals, one for the visiting team and one for the Mission team. They won the PCL regular season title in 1929, but lost in the playoffs to Hollywood (who later moved to San Diego). Their teams usually had great hitters, like Ike Boone (.380 in 1926 and .407 in 1929), Ox Eckhardt (.369 in 1931) and Mark Koenig (.335 in half a season in 1932), but poor pitching caused the team to finish in the second division during most of their tenure. As a result, the team never really attracted the same amount of fans that came to watch the Seals. The poor attendance eventually doomed the team, causing their move to Hollywood after the 1937 season where they became the "new" Hollywood Stars.
The Seals moved from Rec Park to the newly built Seals Stadium in 1931. However, the early years of the Depression hurt attendance at Seals games. The Depression caused many minor leagues to fold; somehow the PCL managed to survive. By this time, the Seals were now solely owned by Graham. The balance of power shifted away from the Bay Area; the Seals did win pennants in 1931 and 1935, but spent the other years as also-rans. The 1931 pennant winners had a team batting average of .319.
A 17-year-old named Joe DiMaggio was signed at the end of the 1932 season and
played three games at shortstop, on the recommendation of Joe's older brother Vince.
In 1933, DiMaggio hit safely in 61 games, an all-time professional baseball record
that still stands. He was sold to the Yankees after the 1934 season, but allowed to
play with the Seals in 1935. That same year, Lefty O' Doul was hired to return to
and manage the Seals. He would remain through 1951. DiMaggio and O'Doul led the Seals
to their last pennant of the decade. The Seals the rest of the decade were an entertaining
if not totally successful team.
WWII affected baseball as thousands of players enlisted or were inducted into military service. Night games were limited for fear that enemy planes might use the lighted ballparks as easy targets. The early 40s were a difficult time as players would leave at any time to be part of the war effort. The 1943 season was cut to 155 games, instead of the customary 200 or so games. The Seals' teams during WWII finished fifth, second, third and fourth respectively. In 1946, the Seals had a new co-owner, Paul Fagan who eventually bought the team outright from Charlie Graham.
Seals Stadium in 1949 (Picture from 1949 SF Seals yearbook)
They also won their next to last pennant that year, led by pitcher Larry Jansen's 30 wins. The 1947 team tied the Los Angeles Angels for the league championship, forcing a one-game playoff the Angels won. In 1948, the Seals battled the Oaks for the title, with the "Nine Old Men" of Oakland (plus a young Billy Martin and manager Casey Stengel) eventually winning the pennant. During the late 1940's, the PCL lobbied major league baseball to be elevated to major league status. While the PCL was given the classification "AAAA" (as opposed to triple A), or "open," that's as close as the PCL ever got to becoming a major league.
In 1950, Fagan decided to ban peanut sales at Seals' games. This caused quite an uproar and Fagan "unbanned" them the next day. Adding to Fagan's woes were that the Seals' team of the early 1950's were less talented. O'Doul was fired in 1951, after the Seals finished eighth. The 1952 and 1953 teams did a little better but not much. In 1953, Fagan sold the Seals to the league for $100,000. Damon Miller, Fagan's secretary and GM was appointed by the league as President/conservator of the team. Miller agreed to form a corporation to raise the necessary cash to continue to operate. Seals' employees and eventually fans all bought shares in the team, which came to be known as "The Little Corporation."
The 'corporation' however lasted only two years. In 1956, the Seals entered into a working agreement with the Boston Red Sox. In 1957, led by manager Joe Gordon, infielders Grady Hatton and Pumpsie Green, and outfielder Albie Pearson, the Seals won their final PCL title. After the season, the Seals team and the New York/SF Giants AAA team in Minneapolis swapped franchises, with the Seals team moving to Phoenix and becoming a Giants farm team.
Seals Stadium was used by the Giants for two seasons and then was demolished after the 1959 season. A large Safeway shopping center now stands at the site of the old Seals' stadium.
Since the Seals were disbanded, the Giants have occasionally honored Lefty and the PCL. They held a "Lefty O'Doul Day" before a 1966 game. In 1994, the Oakland Musuem hosted an exhibit called "Hits, Runs and an Era" about the PCL glory days. In 2000, the Giants honored the Seals' memory by building a San Francisco Seals' statue near the east entrance to Pac Bell (now AT&T) Park. Before a late season game in 2008, the Giants held "Pacific Coast League Tribute Night" and gave out Lefty O'Doul bobbleheads to a select group of fans.
PCL Pennant Winners
The Seals won the PCL title in the following years: 1909, 1915, 1917, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1928, 1931, 1935, 1946, and 1957.
The 1957 Seals team (from 1957 SF Seals yearbook)