The History of the Oakland Oaksby LinusAlf
In 1903, ballclub owners from Seattle to Los Angeles established a new professional baseball league called the Pacific Coast League. The club owners wanted a league that represented the entire West Coast, as opposed to the more regional leagues at the time, the California State League and Pacific Northwest League. Teams were established in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. The Oakland franchise first played at Freeman's Park on 59th Street and San Pablo Avenue in north Oakland. During this time, the Oaks were owned by J. Carl Ewing, who also owned the rival San Francisco Seals across the bay.
While the Oaks primarily played the 1903-1913 seasons at Freeman's Park, they also competed in a variety of parks all over the Bay Area, earning the nickname, the Oakland "Commuters." In 1904, Idora Park opened and became a popular amusement park in the growing neighborhoods around 53rd Street and Telegraph Avenue. Idora Park also featured a double-deck baseball stadium, which briefly became the Oaks' home. However, the park was deemed inadequate and the "Commuters" began playing games at Recreation Park in San Francisco, as well as in Stockton and San Jose. In 1906, when the San Francisco Earthquake destroyed Recreation Park, Ewing had the Seals play the Ô06 season at Idora Park. In 1907, the Oaks left Idora to move back to Freeman's, but still shared occasional games at San Francisco's Recreation Park until 1913. After the Oaks won the 1912 PCL pennant, Ewing purchased a tract of land in Emeryville and built a new ball yard. Called Oaks Park, it was a modern baseball facility built with concrete and steel and a fully operational sprinkler system. Located at Park and San Pablo streets, it was close to several trolley lines, pubs and much of the industrial workforce at the time. However, the shiny new ballpark did little to change the fortunes of the Oaks. Oakland remained mired in the PCL's cellar for much of the decade. In 1922, J. Carl Ewing wanted to end his conflict of interest from owning both the Oaks and Seals franchises. So, he sold the Oaks to Cookie Devincenzi. Oakland won the 1927 PCL pennant but that would be decade's lone bright spot. The team's poor on-field fortunes changed very little as the team struggled through the rest of the 1920s and the Great Depression.
Although the Oaks' early years yielded little championship success, they did have a few notable players who resonated throughout the great history of baseball. One of them was "Sleepy" Bill Burns, who pitched for the Oakland Oaks from 1915-1917. Burns later became notorious for being one of the key middlemen between Arnold Rothstein and the 1919 Chicago White Sox players who conspired to fix the 1919 World Series. In 1916, the struggling Oaks signed "Minnehaha" Claxton, who was introduced to the Oaks by a man claiming to be Native American Ð he described himself as a "fellow tribesman" from Oklahoma. However "Minnehaha's" real name was Jimmy, an African American born in British Colombia and raised in Washington. This was 30 years before Jackie Robinson ended baseball's forced segregation. Under the racist rules, African American were banned, but Native Americans were okay.
The Oaks were unaware of Claxton's race, and he pitched 2-2/3 innings, closing out one game and starting the next game of a double header on May 28, 1916. Soon, team officials learned the truth and they released him. Claxton was the only African American who played organized professional baseball from 1900 to 1947.
In 1944, Brick Laws and Joe Blumenfeld purchased the Oaks from Devincenzi. They spent thousands of dollars renovating Oaks park, adding 3,000 more seats, improving the lighting and renovating the clubhouse. Two years later, Laws hired as manager the colorful baseball veteran Casey Stengel, who led the Oaks to winning campaigns in 1946 and 1947. In 1948, Stengel's Oaks won the PCL championship. That club was famously known as the "Nine Old Men" because the roster was filled with aging ex-Major Leaguers, such as Ernie Lombardi, Dario Lodigiani and McClymonds High School graduate, Billy Raimondi. Another key player was a fiery young Berkeley kid named Billy Martin. Stengel and the "Nine Old Men" celebrated their '48 title with a victory parade in downtown Oakland. Word of Oakland's success soon spread to the East Coast. The New York Yankees tapped Stengel to manage the big club and, with Billy Martin as one his players, Stengel would lead the Yankees to five consecutive World Series titles.
Back in Oakland, the 1950s started out with promise for both the Oaks and the PCL. Charlie Dressen, who later went on to manage the Brooklyn Dodgers to National League pennants in 1952 and 1953, became the Oaks manager. Dressen led them to another PCL pennant. These were the glory years for the Oakland Oaks. But changes were coming to the PCL and Major League Baseball that would change both Ð and the Oaks -- forever. In 1952, the Pacific Coast League established "open classification," putting the league a step above AAA level. This meant that PCL clubs no longer were affiliated with MLB clubs and could have farm systems of their own. The hope was that someday the PCL would eventually become a third Major League or be absorbed into the current American or National Leagues. This eventually got some Oakland political and business leaders to look into building a major league capacity stadium in Oakland. However, the changes of the decade hurt the PCL and the Oaks. Increased radio and television broadcasts of Major League games brought about significantly lowered attendance to the PCL, hurting the chances of it ever being considered a Major League. In Oakland, further dilapidation of Oaks Park and the PCL's weakening status led the Oaks to move from Oakland to Vancouver in 1955. In 1957, the Dodgers and Giants moved from New York to the West Coast, ending the PCL's hopes of attaining major league status
However, the legacy of the Oaks and the PCL is still alive today. The discussions in the 1950's of building a major league Oakland stadium eventually led to the construction of the Oakland Coliseum in 1966. Also, more than 30 years after he left the Oaks as a player, Billy Martin returned to Oakland to manage the A's after he was hired by owner Charlie Finley in 1980. Displaying his trademark baseball-smarts and intensity, Martin almost single-handedly revived the A's, taking the 1981 squad to American League Championship Series. In the 1960s, the Oaks name was re-born as a short lived Oakland ABA basketball franchise. The Oaks' logo was modified to show an acorn holding a basketball instead of a bat. The Oaks are but a chapter in the long, proud history of professional baseball in the city of Oakland. The city's rich baseball legacy is now represented by the Oakland A's, as it has been since 1968. That legacy should continue in the future with the East Bay's passionate, loyal fan base and strong community pride.