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Oakland Saves Bay Area Baseball

by Angus MacFarlane

Four times between 1866 and 1906, Oakland and Alameda were the sites of life-or-death junctures for baseball. Reports of the game originate in San Francisco in 1851, but the sport didn’t put down roots and become popular with the public and the press until 15 years later, when the City College of San Francisco and the College of California played three well-attended games at Clinton, a township that is today’s East Oakland. Immediately, competitive teams were formed and a governing body was created to provide organization. Top-tier amateur baseball, suddenly in demand, enjoyed seven years of success.

For complicated reasons, the elite amateur teams didn’t play in 1873 and baseball appeared to be dead. Appropriately, it was reborn in 1874 on the 1866 Clinton birthing grounds, now the site of Tubbs Hotel at 12th Street and 4th Avenue. This was a palatial hostelry catering to the newest class of wealth: silver barons. Half a mile away in downtown Oakland stood the Grand Central Hotel, another luxury residence for those with excesses of time and money and an affinity for gambling. In June 1874, the denizens of the two hotels placed enormous bets on which could field the better baseball team. Unemployed baseball players were hired and two games were played. The Grand Centrals prevailed and went on to lead baseball’s Bay Area rebirth.

In the decade following baseball’s renaissance in Northern California, the pastime had become a professional enterprise. A financial dispute between the California Baseball League and the owner of San Francisco’s Central Park, the Bay Area’s premier sports venue, led the league to vow never to play there again. In 1886, the California League played its games at Alameda’s Neptune Park while building a new San Francisco facility, Haight Street Grounds, which opened in 1887.

The 1906 disaster destroyed the home field of the San Francisco Seals—without the team, the Pacific Coast League would collapse. For the remainder of the 1906 season, the homeless SF team played at Idora Park, the home of their rivals, the Oakland Oaks. The league survived and, a year following the earthquake and fire, the Seals moved into new quarters in SF.

Clearly, Bay Area baseball is indebted to the life-giving and lifesaving properties of the East Bay.

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