Top 100 Teams
Pacific Coast League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In the far-flung reaches of the Pacific, minor league baseball took root in paradise for nearly 30 years. The best team in this tropical clime played in 1970 under the auspices of a future major league manager, who joined his first major league team hot on the heels of his minor league triumph.
Baseball was played in Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu before it was introduced to most of the continental United States, because of one man - Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr., the true father of the game. It was Cartwright who laid out the first diamond (the 90-foot distance between the bases has never been changed), wrote the first set of rules and, in 1845, organized the first baseball team, the Knickerbockers of New York City. In his book “The Man Who Invented Baseball,” Harold Peterson writes that, attracted by the California Gold Rush, Cartwright left Newark, NJ, March 1, 1849 and traveled on foot and by covered wagon, arriving in San Francisco on August 10. He decided not to stay in California and booked passage on a schooner, landing on Oahu on August 28. He never left Hawaii. Says Peterson, “Cartwright became one of Hawaii’s leading citizens and an intimate friend of the royal family. Alexander served as a diplomat for five Hawaiian rulers, from King Kamehameha to Queen Liliuokalani, and handled the personal finances of the monarchy.” He founded the Honolulu Fire Department, the Queen’s Hospital and the Honolulu Library. “But busy as he was, Cartwright never forgot baseball. As early as 1852 he and his youngest son were walking in a field known as Makiki Park. There he stopped, on impulse, and measured out by foot the dimensions of Hawaii’s first baseball field. Re-bitten by the bug, he organized teams and taught the game all over the islands.” Baseball has been a part of Hawaiian life since then.
In the winter of 1888-89, baseball and sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spalding led two teams of major leaguers, his Chicago White Stockings and the “All-Americans,” on a world tour. They passed through Honolulu, but circumstances prevented them from playing a game. They were supposed to arrive on a Friday and play a game the next day, but the steamer was a day late reaching Hawaii. The party had to leave on Monday. The kingdom had strict laws forbidding any kind of entertainment on Sundays, a legacy of the missionaries who had earlier brought “western civilization” to the Sandwich Islands. Two years later, King David Kalakaua, an avid baseball fan, finally got to see a professional game. He was on a tour of California and on December 20, 1890, in San Francisco, two teams of major league and California League players took part in a benefit game. The game, the first ever in the United States in the presence of royalty, was played before a crowd of 4,000 at the Haight Street Grounds to raise money for Christmas gifts for the poor. In the king’s honor, one of the teams wore uniform patches of Hawaii’s royal colors. Unfortunately, his team lost, but even more sadly, it was the last baseball he ever saw. King David Kalakaua died exactly one month later, January 20, 1891.
In November, 1908, the A.J. Reach Co., manufacturers of the American League baseball and other sporting goods, organized a tour of Japan, China, the Philippines and Hawaii to promote the sales of its products. The Reach All-Americans, composed of major league and Pacific Coast League performers, played local teams, losing only three times, twice to service teams in Manila. They played four games against an All-Hawaii team in Honolulu in January, losing only once, 4-3, when they loaned pitcher Bill Burns to the Hawaiians.
In the fall of 1914, two all-star teams of major leaguers played a series of five games in Honolulu after playing 32 games all over the western United States. The teams featured such stars as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Max Carey, Jim Vaughn, Duffy Lewis, Ray Chapman and Joe Bush. In Honolulu, the National League won 3 games, the American League 2. Then a combined team beat the All-Oahu club 4-1 behind the four-hit pitching of Alexander. In 1915, the Oahu Baseball League had an unusual feature. There were five local clubs joined in the first half by the Stanford University team and in the second half, replacing Stanford, by an All-Chinese team.
In the years between the World Wars, teams of major leaguers on their way to or from Japan stopped off in Hawaii, notably in 1931 and 1934. Those teams featured some of baseball’s greatest stars such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
At the annual convention of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held in January, 1926 on Catalina Island, CA, after the opening speech by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first order of business was a presentation by a Mr. Schultz (his first name was never mentioned in the minutes of the meeting) from Honolulu. He said he was the owner of the Honolulu club in the newly formed Mid-Pacific League, comprised of four Hawaiian teams. Schultz also said that he was the league’s president and had been sent to the convention to see if the National Association would give the league a small grant to help them get started. A delegate moved that the league be given $1,000 and another delegate seconded the motion. National Association President Mike Sexton suggested that the matter be referred to the Advisory Council and this action was approved by the convention. Nothing more was ever reported about the Mid-Pacific League.
The first major league player born and bred in Hawaii was right-hander John (Honolulu Johnnie) Williams. Williams broke in with Sacramento (PCL) in 1911 and after the 1913 season when he went 17-7, Williams was drafted by Detroit. He pitched four games for the Tigers in 1914 (0-2, 6.35) before going back to Sacramento. He was with Salt Lake and Los Angeles in 1915.
Henry Kauhane (Prince) Oana, a native of Waipahu, HI, enjoyed considerable success as both an outfielder and pitcher during his 23-year career. He played in the majors at both positions, batting .308 in 30 games and going 3-2, 3.80 on the mound. In the minors, Oana batted .304 with 2,292 hits, 261 homers and 1,368 RBI in 2,214 games. As a pitcher he had an 80-54, 3.24 record. Oana was signed by the San Francisco Seals in 1929 and farmed out to Globe in the Arizona State League where hit .374 in 1929 and .413-21-88 in 79 games in 1930. When he first reported to the Seals, stories circulated that Henry was related to the Hawaiian royal family, hence the nickname, but he always said that wasn’t so. In 1931 he helped the Seals to the PCL pennant, batting .345-23-161 in 172 games with a league-high 16 triples. He dropped to .239-2-52 in 1932 and was sold to Portland. He rebounded with a .332-29-163 year for the Beavers in 1933 and led the PCL with 63 doubles. Oana was purchased by the Phillies and started 1934 with them, but after batting .238-0-3 in six games he was returned to Portland. After hitting only .233-1-5 in 11 games he was sold to Atlanta. It wasn’t until 1938 when he dropped down farther, to Jackson in the Class B Southeastern League, that he hit over .300 again. While playing at Fort Worth in 1942, manager Rogers Hornsby had Oana switch to pitching and he was an immediate success, going 16-5, 1.72. Detroit brought him up in 1943 and he pitched for the Tigers briefly that year and in 1945. In 1946 he had a 24-10, 2.54 record for Dallas, leading the Texas League in wins. He closed out his career as a player-manager in the Big State League in 1948-51.
During World War II, Hawaii’s participation in the national pastime took a different turn. As a staging area for the war in the Pacific, the various armed services installations hosted many major and minor league players. Two organized leagues flourished, the Hawaii League and the all-service Pearl Harbor League. The Hawaii League included both service and local civilian teams and played its games at 25,000-seat Honolulu Stadium. When their season was concluded, the service league used the stadium as well as playing games at the several bases and installations. There were teams representing Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks, the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, Wheeler Field, Fort Shafter, Aiea Barracks and Furlong Field. There was intense rivalry, especially among the commanding officers. Some made sure they hung on to major leaguers as long as they could. At one point, the Hickam Field team had no bus of its own, but as a result of a bet between commanding officers, when they defeated the Submarine Base in a game they won the use of the Navy team’s bus for an indefinite period. While playing in a game at Honolulu Stadium, Joe DiMaggio hit a home run off San Francisco Seals pitcher Eddie Stutz that was described as the longest in Hawaii history. In the fall of 1945, shortly after the end of the war, a team of National League all-stars, managed by Chuck Dressen, played 22 games against service teams on a tour of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam and other South Pacific islands, winning 17 of them.
With the war over, in February and March of 1946, the San Francisco Seals conducted their spring training at Honolulu Stadium. This was the idea of Seals’ co-owner Paul Fagan, a big landholder in Hawaii, who underwrote all the expenses. Manager Lefty O’Doul, 37 players and four sports writers made the 2,400-mile trip by ship. About half the team suffered from seasickness during the six-day voyage. They were later joined by two more players, PCL umpire Bill Engeln and five more writers. The team stayed at Honolulu’s fabled Moana Hotel and the writers lived at Fagan’s home on the beach at Diamond Head. After the players recuperated, they worked out for two weeks, then played a series of exhibition games against a Hawaiian all-star team bolstered by the addition of a few major leaguers. The party returned to the mainland by air, but flights were irregular and there was competition for seats with returning servicemen. They started back in small groups on March 23, but about half the team didn’t get back until the 28th, the day before the PCL season opened. The first game, at San Francisco, was rained out and the next day the Seals beat Seattle 6-1. The whole experience certainly did not have a bad effect on the team, San Francisco winning the 1946 pennant. The next year, they went back to Hawaii. However, their schedule was different. Fagan built a training facility and a diamond on his huge ranch at Hana on the island of Maui, which is still in existence. The Seals arrived in mid-February, worked out there for 3-½ weeks, then spent ten days at Honolulu Stadium and finished spring training with a week at Seals Stadium.
Having a professional team in Hawaii became more practical as air transportation improved and the Pacific Coast League made its formal appearance in Honolulu on January 4, 1961. On that date the papers were signed completing the transfer of the Sacramento franchise. The Hawaii Islanders owner was Nick Morgan, a Salt Lake City businessman. When the National League expanded to the Pacific Coast after the 1957 season, Morgan had purchased the Hollywood franchise and moved it to Salt Lake, displacing that city’s Pioneer League team. With the arrival of major league baseball in Northern California, attendance in Sacramento fell off badly, not helped by three mediocre teams. Finally, by the end of 1960 it was apparent the Sacramento owners could no longer continue. Two ticket drives failed miserably and the club was heavily in debt. On November 27, the Pacific Coast League declared the franchise forfeited. On December 15, the league sold the franchise to Morgan who had disposed of his Salt Lake holdings to local banker Walter Cosgriff. Sacramento had signed a working agreement for 1961 with Kansas City and that went along with the franchise to Hawaii. The 154-game PCL schedule for 1961 called for each of the other teams to make two trips to Hawaii, of four and seven games, and for the Islanders to make two trips to each of the other seven cities. Hawaii agreed to pay half the costs of the other clubs’ transportation. In later years, to cut expenses, visiting teams made only one week-long trip to Honolulu.
The Islanders played their first home game April 20, 1961 before a crowd of 6,041, defeating Vancouver 4-3. In their initial PCL season they finished tied for seventh with a 68-86 record. They did, however, have the league batting champion, former Pittsburgh outfielder Carlos Bernier, who hit .351. Bernier had played seven years in the PCL in the 1950s with Hollywood and Salt Lake, leading the league in stolen bases three times. The popular, if sometimes hot-tempered, Puerto Rican played three more seasons with Hawaii, giving him an 11-year PCL career.
After two years, Morgan sold the Islanders to a group of local civic leaders and businessmen headed by Chinn Ho and Francis H. Ti Brown, who retained ownership for the next dozen years. Hawaii changed major league affiliations several times in the 1960s. The Angels were their parent club in 1962-64, Washington in 1965-67, the White Sox in 1968 and the Angels again in 1969-70. The Islanders always retained the right to sign some of their own players, former major leaguers who would attract fans. In a throwback to the old days in the PCL, Hawaii was able to sell some players back to the majors. For example, in 1967 the Islanders signed veteran major league outfielder Willie Kirkland, who became a big attraction, hitting 34 homers. After the season he was sold to Japan’s Hanshin Tigers. Attendance grew steadily and from 1968-73 the Islanders annually led the PCL in attendance. In 1970 they drew 467,217, best in the minors, almost three times any other PCL team and the highest total in the league since 1950. As the season was drawing to a close, Hawaii GM Jack Quinn told the Honolulu Advertiser, “I never thought we could play to so many fans in a 45-year-old wooden-frame stadium with only 200 parking stalls and very little street parking.” There was excellent public transportation, however, with several bus lines going to or very near the park.
Hawaii was in the second division most of the 1960s, but their fortunes improved with the return of the Angels. In 1969 the Islanders finished third in the West Division, only a game out of second. Hawaii got off to a good start in 1970, winning six of their first seven games. However, they lost 11 of their next 15 and dropped to third in the Southern Division as Phoenix won their first eight decisions and 11 of their first 12 to take the lead. The Islanders began to play winning baseball in late May as Quinn kept juggling the roster, completing 18 transactions in a three-week period. Phoenix was winning, too, and was able to stay ahead of Hawaii. In June, everything began to click for the Islanders and they had a 25-5 record for the month, including winning streaks of seven and ten games. A homestand running from June 30-July 17 produced 16 wins in 20 games. The Islanders took first place on July 4, manager Chuck Tanner’s 41st birthday, and never looked back. By the end of July they were 7-½ games ahead of the Giants. Hawaii clinched the division title on August 22 with 18 games to go and finished with a 98-48 record, 13 games in front of Phoenix. Unfortunately, Northern Division winner Spokane (94-52) proved itself stronger and swept the playoff in four straight games.
The best deal Quinn made during the season involved 33-year-old lefty Juan Pizarro, a 13-year major league veteran who had pitched in two All-Star Games while with the White Sox. Quinn bought Pizarro from Oakland’s AAA Iowa affiliate on May 16. Pizarro went 9-0, 3.24 for the Islanders and in July Quinn traded him to the Chicago Cubs for a bundle of cash and right-hander Archie Reynolds, who posted a 7-3, 2.62 record for Hawaii. Pizarro pitched four more seasons in the majors and finished with an 18-year, 131-105, 3.43 record.
Tanner was in his second year at the Islanders’ helm. A native of New Castle, PA, he made his pro debut in 1946 as an outfielder in the Boston Braves organization. After nine years he reached the majors. On April 12, 1955, as a pinch-hitter for Milwaukee, he became only the second player in history to hit a home run on the first pitch of his first major league time at bat. During eight seasons in the majors with the Braves, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland and the Angels he batted .261 in 396 games. Tanner began his managerial career in the Angels’ organization in 1963. In 1968 he led El Paso to the Texas League championship and was named the league’s Manager of the Year. He was PCL co-Manager of the Year in 1970, sharing the honor with Spokane’s Tommy Lasorda. A few days after the end of the 1970 playoff, Tanner was appointed manager of the Chicago White Sox and finished the season in the American League. He managed the White Sox through 1975. In 1972, when Chicago came in second in the American League West, he was named The Sporting News Major League Manager of the Year. Chuck managed Oakland in 1976, finishing second in the division and, on November 5, became part of one of Charlie Finley’s many bizarre moves. The Pirates wanted to hire Tanner, but he still had two years to go on his Oakland contract, so Finley traded Tanner to the Pirates for $100,000 and veteran catcher Manny Sanguillen. After two second place finishes, Tanner led the Pirates, known popularly as “The Family,” to the 1979 National League pennant and a 4-games-to-3 World Series victory over Baltimore. Tanner managed Pittsburgh through 1985, then piloted Atlanta in 1986-87 and the first 39 games of 1988. His career record was 1,352-1,381, .495. He has remained in baseball and currently is a special assistant to Milwaukee Brewers VP-GM Dean Taylor, with emphasis on major league player evaluation.
The Islanders’ premier player was 26-year-old jack-of-all-trades Winston Enriquillo Llenas, who hit .339-20-108, leading the PCL in RBI and finishing second in batting by one point to Spokane’s Bobby Valentine. He also lost to Valentine in the league MVP voting by a narrow margin. Llenas, a native of the Dominican Republic, was named after Winston Churchill, his father’s hero. He played 93 games in left, 32 games at third, 16 games at second and two in right field. He was originally signed by Kansas City in 1961 and released after two years, then signed by the Angels. He played in the majors during six seasons for the Angels (1968-69, 1972-75), batting .230 in 300 games. Currently he is president of the Aguilas Cibaenas club in the Dominican Winter League, which plays in his hometown of Santiago.
Hawaii’s best young players were the double-play combination of shortstop Marty Perez and second baseman Doug Griffin, both 23 years old. Griffin was sixth in the league in batting (.326), led in stolen bases (35) and was second in runs (119). Griffin and Llenas were Hawaii’s representatives on the PCL All-Star team. Perez hit .281. After a brief appearance with California at the end of 1970, Griffin played for Boston for seven years (1971-77), batting .245 and winning a Gold Glove in 1972. Perez played briefly for California in 1969-70, then spent eight years with Atlanta, San Francisco, the New York Yankees and Oakland, batting .246 in 931 games.
The Islanders’ best pitcher over the full season was veteran lefty Dennis Bennett, who had pitched for the Phillies, Red Sox and Mets from 1962-67. Bennett was a PCL all-star in 1969 when he tied for the league lead in wins (13-11, 3.33). In 1970, he again tied for the league lead in wins (18-8, 4.50) although he gave up a league-leading 27 home runs. Tom Bradley, 23, was a nearly perfect 11-1, 2.53 in 16 starts during two stretches with the Islanders. Bradley’s first year in pro ball, 1969, was most unusual. He pitched for five teams in all the classifications from slow A to the majors. He was 6-1, 2.15 at Quad Cities (Midwest), then 6-2, 3.20 at El Paso (Texas). While on Army Reserve duty for two weeks in August he was at the Presidio in San Francisco. After a Reserve meeting, he drove to San Jose (California) arriving ten minutes before game time, then pitched a nine-inning 1-0 one-hitter against Fresno; the only hit was by the first batter of the game. Bradley pitched two games for Hawaii, then finished the season with the Angels. He started 1970 with El Paso, went 3-0, 2.03 and was promoted to Hawaii in May. He won his first two decisions, lost one, then won nine in a row. On July 8 he moved up to the Angels for a month, was returned to Hawaii, then went back up for good at the end of August. Bradley pitched for the Angels, White Sox and Giants through 1975 with a 55-61, 3.72 record. While winning 15 games each in 1971-72 for Tanner’s White Sox, he struck out 415 batters while walking only 139 in 546 innings. From 1979-1990 he was head baseball coach at Jacksonville University and from 1991-2000 head coach at his alma mater, the U. of Maryland. In 2001 Bradley returns to the pro ranks as manager of Toronto’s farm club at Medicine Hat in the Pioneer League.
Another success story was reliever Dave La Roche. The 22-year-old left-hander had begun his career as an outfielder in 1967, then switched to pitching the next season. He was 8-4, 3.17 for San Jose and El Paso in 1969. He had a 6-0, 1.24 record with five saves for the Islanders before being promoted to California July 7. His ERA as a reliever was 0.72 and he went the first 25 innings of the season before giving up an earned run. La Roche stayed in the majors for 14 years with the Angels, Twins, Cubs, Indians and Yankees. He pitched in the 1977 All-Star Game and finished with a 65-58, 3.53 record and 126 saves.
During the season Hawaii used 41 players, 21 of them pitchers, an unusually large number for a division championship team in that period. Except for three position players, all appeared in at least one major league game during their careers.
In 1970-71-72 Hawaii operated its own “farm system,” owning a club in the Northwest League and signing all the players. Hawaii’s team, the Bend (OR) Rainbows, even took part in the free agent draft in 1970-71. One of their drafted players in 1970 was a Portland State catcher named Tom Trebelhorn who managed Milwaukee (1986-91) and the Cubs (1994). His managerial record is 471-461, .505. He is now third base coach for the Baltimore Orioles. Bend’s first manager was ex-Yankee Charlie Silvera and one of its players was present-day movie star Kurt Russell, who was a second baseman.
San Diego replaced California as Hawaii’s major league affiliate in 1971 and stayed through 1982. The Islanders’ parent club was Pittsburgh from 1983-86 and the White Sox in 1987. Hawaii won PCL championships in 1975-76 and division titles in 1977, 1979-80 and 1984. The franchise was sold in 1974.
As early as 1970 it was obvious that Honolulu Stadium, sometimes called the Termite Palace, would have to be replaced. In 1976, 50,000-seat multi-purpose Aloha Stadium opened with ample parking. In the first two years the Islanders drew well, again leading the league, but then attendance dropped drastically, reaching a low of 84,613 in 1986. Why? The stadium didn’t have the atmosphere of the old park. It was sterile and a crowd of 5,000 looked lost in the stadium’s vast reaches. Even more important, it was located several miles west of the main parts of Honolulu, near Pearl Harbor. It was a long walk from the bus stop to the stadium entrance and when fans were returning home they had to cross the highway to get the bus back. Finally, Islanders owner David Elmore gave up and moved the franchise to Colorado Springs in 1988.
Throughout the Pacific Coast League’s 27-year tenure in Hawaii there was one constant. Islanders official scorer and Honolulu Advertiser baseball writer Ferd Borschsaw every one of the almost 2,000 home games the team played. Borsch began his newspaper career in 1947 at The Oregonian in his home town of Portland and was hired by the Advertiser when the Islanders arrived in Honolulu. He still covers sports for the Advertiser.
The 27 years of minor league baseball in the Hawaiian Islands were marked by many fine teams, but none better than the 1970 club. As a matter of fact, it held its own when using the measuring stick of victories in the Pacific Coast League. In the last half of the 20th century, no other PCL club finished with more wins than the Islanders of 1970 - reason enough to include the club on the list of the minors’ best.
|1970 Pacific Coast League Standings|
|TACOMA||45||98||.315||47.5||SALT LAKE CITY||44||99||.308||52.5|
|1970 Hawaii Islanders batting statistics|
|Hank McGraw (Eugene)||1B,OF||98||306||52||93||59||22||2||16||38||62||1||.304|
|Nat Oliver (Tacoma)||2B,OF,SS||70||176||27||46||13||6||0||1||23||26||10||.261|
|James Saul (Tacoma)||C||48||90||11||20||5||1||0||2||28||21||0||.222|
|Ed Sukla (Eugene)||P||39||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|John Purdin (Spokane)||P||37||56||3||7||3||0||1||0||3||15||0||.125|
|Dale Roberts (Eugene)||P||11||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||0||.000|
|1970 Hawaii Islanders pitching statistics|
|John Purdin (Spokane)||11||10||.524||36||25||9||2||5||177||172||51||119||3.05|