PCL Opening Day: 1953
It was the opening of the baseball season in America. As major league teams wrapped up their respective spring trainings and prepared to throw their opening pitch of the 1953 season in a few weeks time, the Pacific Coast League was ready to start now. Warm west coast weather allowed the PCL season to start before any other league and on March 31st, 1953, the PCL was ready to start their 51st season.
This season also started a new agreement between the PCL and the Major Leagues. The year before, the PCL achieved ‘Open’ status, the first minor league ever to do so. This tag capped the number of players major league teams could draft from the PCL each year. Now, the two organizations entered the first year of the â€œno optionâ€ clause, which prevented major league teams from recalling and sending down players between the two leagues on a regular basis. As far as minor leagues went, the Pacific Coast League was as close to being a major league as anyone would ever get.
The previous season’s pennant winners, the Hollywood Stars, would start their season on the road with a day-night doubleheader against the San Diego Padres. The Stars returned many of their key players fromÂ the ’52 season while adding 27-year-old slugger Dale Long, who hit 33 home runs with Class AA New Orleans the previous year. The Stars also brought in Long’s New Orleans teammate, pitcher George O’Donnell, who posted a 2.71 ERA in the minor leagues as a starter in 1952.
In the first game, Hollywood starting pitcher Red Munger broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth with a solo home run off of Padres’ pitcher Jack Salveson. San Diego came back in the same inning to re-tie the game at deuces before Stars’ player-manager Bobby Bragan drove in the winning run in the ninth to give Hollywood a 3-2, season-opening victory. In the second contest, Hollywood started strong by scoring three runs in the second. However, the Padres chipped away at the lead before taking it in the sixth inning and they wouldn’t look back, earning a split in the doubleheader with a 5-4 victory. Bob Kerrigan earned the win on the mound for San Diego, holding the Stars to five hits throughout 8+ innings.
California Governor Earl Warren had a busy day, as he he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at two openers; first in an afternoon match between San Francisco and Sacramento and once more in an evening game featuring Seattle and Oakland. The game in Sacramento drew a league-high crowd for the day at 12,409. The hometown Solons, picked to finish in the basement by many experts leading up to the season, posted a 6-3 win at their home opener. Marino Pieretti pitched a complete game, six-hitter to earn the win on the mound. Solons’ Joe Brovia also hit a home run in the contest.
Over in Oakland, the Seattle Rainers stole the show with a 8-5 victory, thanks in part to a five-run seventh inning that was highlighted by PCL veteran Ray Orteig’s three run homer un. Seattle’s Johnny Tobin and Oakland’s Spider Jorgensen also hit round-trippers in the contest. Steve Nagy earned the win for Seattle, pitching a complete game, while Al Gettel took the loss for the home side. The Rainers had a total of 14 hits in the ballgame, which included 5 doubles and 2 home runs.
The other game saw the Los Angeles Angels drub the visiting Portland Beavers, 7-2. Angels rightfielder Max West, the 1951 PCL home run leader, hit his 214th career PCL home run, moving him withinÂ 37 of Buzz Arlett’s all-time record of 251. Portland’s Aaron Robinson hit a solo jack in the ninth in front of 5,977 fans. Eddie Chandler added his name to the list of pitchers who had hurled complete game wins on the day, as he allowed the Angels to start their season on the right foot.
In total, 39,949 fans watched the first five games of the 1953 professional baseball regular season. At the end of the season, it was the Hollywood Stars who would capture their second pennant in as many years with a record of 106-74. The Seattle Rainers were the runners-up, finishing eight games back of the Stars. Sacramento’s Bob Dillinger led the circuit with a .366 average while Hollywood’s Dale Long hit a league-leading 35 home runs. Despite an opening day loss, Oakland’s Al Gettel led the league with 24 wins.