by Angus MacFarlane
Old-timey baseball players re-enact 19th century baseball in Golden Gate Park in 2015... but probably this is much what it looked like (minus the green background!) in the post-Civil War baseball boom in San Francisco.
Photo: Chris Carlsson
The old Pioneer Race Track, bounded approximately by today's streets Capp on the West, 24th on the north, 26th on the south, and Florida on the east, is highlighted at left in this 1857 USGS Coastal Survey map.
Map: courtesy David Rumsey collection
In the recording of human endeavors and accomplishments there is history and then there are myths. History is based on unambiguous documentation while myths, including creation or origin myths, rely on faith and belief in lieu objective facts. Early baseball in San Francisco has both documented history and origin myths. To confuse the historical record, the origin myths of early San Francisco base ball are actually based on unambiguous documentation. The problem-and the explanation-is that the origin myths do not go back far enough to "begin at the beginning of documented history.”
One example is the first base ball game played in San Francisco. The origin myth holds that it occurred in 1860, while, in fact, there is unambiguously documented history that base ball was played in San Francisco in 1851.(1)
Another origin myth holds that San Francisco's first baseball park was Recreation Grounds which opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1868. According to one source, "baseball was played on sandlots throughout the city until a proper diamond was established at 25th and Folsom Streets."(2) Recreation Grounds, or the "proper diamond," as Gladys Hansen calls it, was located in San Francisco's Mission District, bounded by Folsom, Harrison, 25th and 26th Streets.
On September 12, 1868 the Alta California (Alta) informed its readers of San Francisco's soon- to-be first proper diamond:
THE NEW RECREATION GROUND—Work is progressing rapidly at the new public recreation grounds at the corner of Twenty-fifth and Folsom Streets under direction of the lessees, Messrs. Hatton and Kohler. The grass-plats are ready for seeding down, the water pipes have been put in throughout the grounds, the fences completed and the lodge inside the gates is well advanced. The proprietors expect to have the grounds ready for occupation within a month1 and the first public baseball match will probably be held there on or about the 15th of October. The cars will then run to Twenty-Fifth Street, two blocks beyond the present terminus.
The October 15th projected opening passed uneventfully. On November 21, 1868, the Alta announced that the Grounds would open the following Thursday. On the day before Recreation Grounds opened, the readers of the Alta learned:
OPENING OF THE RECREATION GROUNDS—"San Francisco Recreation Grounds,” located on the corner of Folsom and Twenty-fifth Streets, will be opened tomorrow at the request of many of the subscribers who are impatient to see some of the sports for which the grounds are intended. The games will commence at 12 o'clock with a baseball match between the Eagle Club of San Francisco and the Wide-Awake Club of Oakland. Then a foot race of a single dash around the track for amateurs; a sack race of 300 yards, free to all; and a hurdle race twice around the track, with eight hurdles and a wide water ditch to jump over each time. A band of twenty-five performers under the direction of R. W. Kohler and Joseph L. Schmitz will give an instrumental concert during the day. The Howard Street cars run to the grounds.
Recreation Grounds' opening was extensively reported in the city's newspapers. The twenty five cent round trip carfare to the Grounds included admission and could be obtained from the conductors on the horse cars transporting the celebrants down Folsom Street.
Recreation Grounds at 25th and Folsom, 1880s.
Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library
The Chronicle reported on the grand opening:
RECREATION GROUNDS-Between three and four thousand people assembled at the Recreation Grounds of Messrs. Hatton & Kohler, yesterday, to witness the out-of-door sports and participate in the opening of this new place of out-door amusement. The grounds have been enclosed with a substantial close board fence. A large stand has been erected for the use of subscribers and the whole enclosure has been leveled and sown with grass seed, making the most complete, if not the only place of the kind in the city.
The cars were packed with their human freight, and a continual stream of amusement seekers were entering the gates from a late hour in the morning until the sports had more than half concluded. The arrangements of the grounds will be excellent when they shall have been completed, and all of the visitors speak in terms of praise of the enterprise of the proprietors, who have furnished what San Francisco has long needed.
Although the athletic sports were amusing to the spectators, the grand instrumental concert was of itself well worth the trouble and expense of a visit. The band showed remarkable proficiency, evincing a high order of musical talent and great practice, and rendered the most difficult pieces in a masterly manner.
The grandstand was crowded with ladies and their escorts while the outer edges of the field were lined with spectators who had to settle for standing room only. The program began at noon with the musical performance. At 1:30, with spectators still streaming into the grounds, the first baseball game in the history of Recreation Grounds took place between the Eagle Club of San Francisco and the Wide Awake Club of Oakland. This was the second game of a best-of-three games series for the Championship of California, which was won by the Eagles, 37-23, earning them the Championship.
The quality of play received mixed reviews. The Alta wrote that the playing was not up to the high standards of either club, while the Bulletin praised the performances, noting "both sides played handsomely, and displayed great proficiency in the national game. Great interest was manifested in the match by the large concourse of spectators who rewarded skillful batting and fly-catches with cheers."
The Alta, commenting on the unfinished appearance of Recreation Grounds, provided this reassurance to the public:
There can hardly be a doubt of the success of this new enterprise, which it would be unfair to criticize in the present unfinished state of the grounds. The proprietors seem determined to spare no labor or expense in making this a favorite public resort. The grounds will be ornamented with trees and summer houses. A fine track will be laid out. The pavilion will be thoroughly fitted up for the convenience of the members of the association, and ladies with their escorts. Every endeavor will be made to have the amusements of such a character as to warrant the patronage of the public. In a short time the railroad line upon Howard Street will be extended to the grounds. In every respect the managers have reason to congratulate themselves on their success yesterday. The grounds will again be opened probably in about three weeks.
The next baseball game played at Recreation Grounds was on Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1869, between the Eagles and the Pacifics, bitter internecine rivals who hadn't played each other since July, 1867. The game was won by the Eagles, 22-18. Between Recreation Grounds’ inaugural baseball game and the Eagles-Pacifics game, the Grounds hosted Chiarini's Circus Troupe on December 13, 1868; an instrumental concert, quoit match 1 hurdle, sack and a three-mile race on New Year's Day, 1869; Chiarini's Imperial Roman Hippodrome and chariot racing on January 10; horse races and "pedestrian" races on January 24; and on February 21, 1869 a 100-mile horse race against the clock-250 laps in less than four hours around the Recreation Grounds.
In September, 1869, the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings concluded their history-making season by playing a series of games against San Francisco's base ball clubs on the Grounds.
Through the remainder of the 1860s, all of the 1870s and into the 1880s, Recreation Grounds was San Francisco's premier ball yard. The final game played at Recreation Grounds was on November 23, 1884, a lack-luster contest between the Occidentals and Stars. The Grounds had been sold and the purchasers intended to subdivide it into residential lots.
After sixteen years of recreational service to the sports-loving citizens of San Francisco, Recreation Grounds was no more. In rapid succession Central Park was opened at 8th and Market on November 27, 1884, followed by the Haight Street Grounds at Stanyan and Waller Streets in April of 1887, and Recreation Park at 8th and Harrison in October, 1897.(3)
Prior to Recreation Grounds, where did baseball clubs compete before, presumably, there was a "proper diamond" for them to play on? Prior to Recreation Grounds, where did baseball fans go before, presumably, there was any place for them to go? (The term "fan" did not exist at this time. "Bugs" and "cranks" preceded the term "fans" which was a derivative of "fanatics.”) More to the point, why was Recreation Grounds built? What convergence and combination of need and opportunity resulted in Recreation Grounds being built when and where it was built? Why wasn't it built at another location or at another time?
The abundance of historical documentation notwithstanding, Recreation Grounds was not San Francisco's first ball yard. Hansen suggests that sandlots were the sites of baseball games “pre Recreation Grounds.” That may be partly correct, but there is a better and more complete answer. A little bit of San Francisco history is necessary.
On this map of the subdivision of the properties that once lay within the boundaries of the Pioneer race track, you can see two squares highlighted. The one with the arrow pointing to it is what became Recreation Grounds, but the other one to its diagonal left is what was really the first ball park in SF, Pioneer Park.
Map and image, courtesy Angus Macfarlane
During Spanish and Mexican rule there were at first two and then three widely separated and functionally distinct settlements on the tip of the San Francisco peninsula. The Presidio, which was the military establishment, and Mission Dolores, the spiritual community as well as the agricultural center, were both established in 1776. In 1835 Yerba Buena (renamed San Francisco in 1847) was established and soon became the civic and commercial center. Before the gold rush the population of all three settlements was less than 600 and neither settlement overtly dominated the others. As a result of the gold rush, though, San Francisco became the dominant population center almost overnight.
The area around the old Spanish Mission Dolores, 2½ miles south of San Francisco, was a favorite place of amusement for the residents of the village to the north. In the days of Yerba Buena and early San Francisco there were frequent bear-and-bull fights which attracted large crowds to that area. Numerous duels, common during that era, were fought there, drawing large numbers of morbid curiosity seekers and just plain idlers. By 1850 the Mission seemed destined to become a part of San Francisco as the expanding city to the north began to inexorably spread outward.
Famed and beloved for its hills today, San Francisco was cursed and reviled for its sand a century and a half ago. The unforgiving grains limited travel between the settlements. When dry, the sand, which covered almost the entire tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, blew everywhere, making travel—particularly wheeled travel—over the gritty nuisance difficult. When wet, the sand became one immense, impassable quagmire, rendering travel virtually impossible.
The winter of 1849-1850 witnessed relentless rainfall, including one 79-day period when it rained every day. Dusty, sandy streets, which the year before handled only a few hundred people, were overwhelmed with thousands of new gold seekers resulting in quicksand-like morasses which made travel impossible. Once the sun emerged the following spring, plans for paving the streets began. Since there had been no opportunity for any meaningful construction during the endless rains, lumber and other building materials had accumulated. Planks for building structures were laid horizontally and became instant street pavement. No special preparation was required and any sort of available labor would suffice. By the fall of 1850 many of the downtown streets had been covered in planks of pine.
In the summer of 1850 Col. Charles L. Wilson conceived the idea of a plank toll road from Kearny Street, then San Francisco's main street, to the Mission. The Mission Plank Toll Road was an immediate success. In 1853 Col. Wilson constructed a second successful plank toll road to the Mission along Folsom Street, two blocks south of his first road.
Seeing the opportunities afforded by the improved access to the Mission in 1851, George and John Treat constructed the Pioneer Race Course, California's first race course, just beyond the end of the Mission Plank Toll Road. Also involved in this endeavor were Eugene Casserly, an attorney/politician; John Center and his nephew David, real estate investors/speculators; and Samuel Crim, also a real estate investor and speculator. As a group these men acted as a real estate syndicate, promoting, buying, selling and transferring land and land titles in the Mission district for many decades.
The Pioneer Race Course was a mile track in the area now bounded roughly by 24th, Mission, 26th and Bryant Streets. Treat Street, named after the proprietors of the track, eventually led directly to the race course's entrance. Other street names reflected the prominence and influence of the syndicate's members: Center Street (later 16th Street) was named after John Center who had extensive real estate holdings along the length of Center Street from the bay to Mission Dolores; and Casserly Street, which appeared on some maps between Bryant and Harrison Streets, after Eugene Casserly.
On Monday, March 24, 1851, under threatening skies and between intermittent showers, the Pioneer Race Course opened. The only available description of the course was:
[It] was situated with its front stretch along present-day San Francisco's 24th Street, and its backstretch along 26th Street with the turns touching Capp Street on the west and Florida Street on the east. The grandstand was located near 24th and Shotwell Streets.(4)
George Treat began selling off portions of his race track in December 1861. The final race on the Pioneer Course was held in January, 1864. Although the horses had ceased running at the Pioneer, the land did not stand unused for long. By the Fourth of July 1864, cricket matches were held at what was already being called "the old Pioneer Race Course, near the Mission Dolores.”
But this was not the first time that a sport involving bat and ball was played on the Pioneer Race Course. On October 11, 1860, the Eagles and the Em Quads played baseball there as part of the Bay District Agricultural Fair.
The California Spirit of the Times and Fireman's Journal (Times), a weekly newspaper with a strong sporting interest, printed a letter suggesting that the Pioneer Race Course, a privately owned track, could be improved by opening it to membership by annual subscription. These members could then
... have a pigeon-shooting match, a game of base ball (emphasis added), quoits, or any similar amusement, let the gate be barred to interlopers, except the invited guests of the members.
The date of this letter, extolling the potential of a race course for non-race uses, was January 14, 1860, almost nine months before the Eagles and the Em Quads played baseball on the track and more than a month before the San Francisco Base Ball Club and the Red Rovers played their game on February 22, 1860 at Center' Bridge.
On February 22, 1865 the Alta wrote:
ANOTHER CRICKET MATCH—Another friendly cricket match is to be played today at the Pioneer Race Course, between the San Francisco Cricket Club, and the Pioneer Cricket Club. The wickets will be pitched at 9AM and a general invitation is extended to the public to be present. This is to be the "conquering match." [This was also the last reference of cricket played at Pioneer Park.]
On May 4, 1865 the Alta reported:
FIRST BASE BALL MATCH OF THE SEASON—The first public base-ball match of the season will be played at the old Pioneer Race-track, between the first and second nines of the West End Base-Ball Club, on Sunday next. A general invitation to be present is extended to the public.
The Alta's May 8 report of the match (won by the second nine 9-7 in five innings) was the last baseball news until December 7, 1865 (Thanksgiving Day) when the Alta advised that there would be an all-comers baseball game "on the Pioneer Track.” This inauspicious ending of the 1865 base ball "season" held no indication of what 1866 would bring. The 1866 baseball season began when the old rivals, the Eagles and Pacifics, announced that they would play a game for the Championship of California "on the Old Pioneer Race Course" on Monday January 8, 1866. The game was rained out, but a month later the two clubs met twice at an unspecified location. The Eagles won both games.
At that time there was no baseball league or organization of base ball clubs in San Francisco; a game was a formal arrangement between two clubs rather than part of a scheduled season of "league" play. One method of extending a challenge was to send a formal letter. There is no indication that the clubs met on that date.
On June 1, 1866 the Pacifics relied on the Alta to print a challenge as news item:
BASE BALL—The first nine of the Pacific Base Ball Club, the champion Club of the State, invite any nine base ball players in the city or suburbs to meet them in a friendly game of base ball, on Sunday next , at 11 o'clock A.M., at the Pioneer Race Track, terminus of the Folsom Street cars.
Again, there is no documentation that this challenge resulted in a game.
Another method was the one employed by the Eagles in January of 1867 when the Call published their open challenge in the advertisement section of the newspaper
BASE-BALL CHALLENGE—At a regular meeting of the Eagle Base-Ball Club, held Friday evening, January 25, 1867, it was unanimously RESOLVED: To challenge any Base-Ball Club in the State to play a match game of Base-Ball for the Championship of California for the year 1867. The game is to take place in San Francisco, and on the 22nd day of February. This challenge to remain open until February 15, 1867.
This public challenge elicited a response from the Pacific Base Ball Club and a game was played on February 22 with the Eagles defeating the Pacifics 68-32.
During this era the newspapers were dependent on the base ball clubs to provide the notice that a game was scheduled and then the outcome of the game. Sports reporting, as we have come to know it, was unknown in San Francisco in the 1860s. It was not uncommon for upcoming games to be announced but with no follow-up report; or unannounced games to have their results published.
On July 27, 1867, the Times published the following explanation for a month-long drought of baseball news in their publication:
BASE BALL—We have received a communication from a Base Ball player, wherein he complains of the absence of a weekly record in our paper of matters appertaining to Base Ball. We will say the columns of the Spirit of the Times always have been and still are open to the admirers of this most sensible and health-giving sport. We will thank Officers of Clubs if they will furnish us with all items of interest connected with the game, which we will publish with pleasure.
A year earlier, on February 25, 1866 the Alta wrote:
CROWDED OUT—The score of the Championship Baseball match between the Eagle and Pacific Clubs, which took place yesterday, has been furnished us, but is laid over until tomorrow for want of room.
No further mention of the Championship game was ever made in the Alta. The amount of space taken for the disclaimer would have been sufficient for at least the score of the game.(5) In point of fact, that Championship game was not a "final" Championship game. Standings based on won-lost records were not maintained over the course of the season. Instead, clubs played against each other for a variety of prizes: bragging rights; a banner; a silver goblet; a dinner and a New York ball; a splendid bat elaborately mounted in silver; a regulation ball; a handsome rosewood bat mounted with gold and silver. The title of "Champion" passed back and forth during the season as the reigning Champion faced challengers and retained or lost the title based on best-of-three "Championship Contests.”
Re-enactors as a team called the "Stogies" are introduced as they would've been in the days before PA systems and amplification.
Photo: Chris Carlsson
At the start of the 1867 season the Pacific Base Ball Convention created the Championship Bat as the trophy to be awarded to the reigning "Baseball Champion of California.” Made from Spanish cedar, it was capped top and bottom with silver, and had a silver shield at the center. With this trophy as the prize1 the championship games were called "THE BATTLE FOR THE BAT.” The bat was lost in the fire of 1906.
By early 1866 more than a dozen clubs were hitting the horsehide in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through the first half of that year both sides of the bay witnessed a regular offering of baseball games with the East Bay emerging as the early preeminent venue. Even the Eagles and Pacifics played there on April 28—the first and only documented game the two San Francisco rivals played against each other outside of San Francisco.
During March and April of 1866 the Bay Area’s base ball eyes were turned toward the East Bay community of Clinton, where the Live Oak and City College of San Francisco Base Ball Clubs were waging a spirited three-game contest. The Alta wrote up a grand rivalry between San Francisco and Oakland, noting that the crowd for the second game as being "over one thousand persons .
On July 20, 1866, representatives of six Bay Area base ball clubs responded to the call of the Eagle Club to establish uniformity of competition. This body became known as the Pacific Base Ball Convention, the governing baseball authority in the Bay Area.
Following the Convention the center of baseball in the Bay Area immediately shifted from the East Bay to San Francisco. Double headers were offered at Pioneer Park on August 11 and September 1. Clinton, which had monopolized Bay Area baseball before the Convention, had only seven games afterwards, two of which were the double header of November 3. On the other hand, Pioneer Park, a site more accustomed to cricket matches, was the venue of fifteen base ball games after the Convention, compared to just three documented games before the Convention.
On August 18, 1866, the Pacific Base Ball Convention met again, this time with eleven clubs sending representatives.
Looking back on the recent explosive growth of baseball, the Alta wrote on October 30, 1866
BASE BALL—An impetus unlooked for has of late been given to base ball playing in San Francisco and it is most truly welcome. We are pleased to see such an interest taken in the game. . . . The present season is the proper one for the game, and it is quite an easy matter to find good flat land, within reach of the cars, where the game may be played.
The 1866 base ball season ended on December 9 with the Independents defeating the Wide Awakes at Pioneer Park, and Golden City having an intra-squad game at the Presidio. On November 29, in a game witnessed "by a large concourse of people," the Pacifics had defeated the Cosmopolitans 27-20 at Clinton for the Championship of California.
San Francisco newspapers recorded forty-eight baseball games in 1866: eighteen at Pioneer Park; thirteen at unspecified locations; one at the San Francisco Presidio; one at 19th and Valencia Streets in San Francisco; and fifteen at East Bay locations including eleven at Clinton. Ten of the thirteen games at unspecified sites occurred on dates when Pioneer Park was available, including three Eagles-Pacifics games, one of which was on the Fourth of July, thus raising the possible number of games played at Pioneer Park that year.
San Francisco's 1867 baseball season began on January 2 with a game between the Nationals and the Neptunes at the corner of 5th and Brannan. Eleven days later the Libertys and the Brodericks opened the 1867 season at Pioneer Park, or, as the Times referred to it in another report, "our favorite playground.” Throughout the 1867 base ball season, the Times, the Alta, and other San Francisco papers reported on baseball games being played at Park and Folsom Streets almost every weekend. As the season progressed and the weather improved, games were played on both Saturdays and Sundays at Pioneer Park. Double headers were not uncommon. The cranks and bugs were treated to the first one of the 1867 season on February 3.
On Washington's Birthday the Independents and Libertys met at 9AM at Pioneer Park, followed by a 1 PM game between the old rivals, Eagles and Pacifics. In anticipation of the games, the Alta wrote
BASE BALL—Two very interesting games of base ball will be played on the 22d of this month ... at the corner of Park and Folsom Streets... This game [EaglesPacifics] will probably be the most exciting of any ever played on the Pacific Coast. A large audience will probably witness the game. We understand that ample accommodations will be provided for spectators.
The Alta reported "the game was witnessed by upwards of fifteen hundred spectators who manifested the most intense interest during the whole game.” The Eagles were victorious 68-32.
By February of 1867, baseball had become so popular that the Alta was forced to make the following disclaimer:
Owing to the large number of games now being played, we are no longer able to publish the full scores, names of workers, umpires, best fly catcher, etc., unless the game is one of unusual interest.
On April 20, Pioneer Park hosted another double header. A week later the insatiable appetite of San Francisco's base ball-viewing public was offered a triple header to feast upon. Another baseball banquet was offered on May 18 with the second triple header of the season. In all, five double headers and two triple headers were played at Pioneer Park during the 1867 season.
The Times of May 25, reporting on the Championship game between the Libertys and Cosmopolitans, one game of May 18th's triple-header at Pioneer, revealed how three games were played that day.
The hit of Slicer's [center fielder of the Cosmopolitans] in the sixth inning, having never been excelled on that ground to our knowledge. The ball rising from the bat directly over the second base, and bounding down the field, interrupted the game which was being played on the lower grounds between the Bay Citys and Rincons.
Two games were played simultaneously on the Pioneer grounds.
The Pioneer Race Course Tract survey map shows that Pioneer Park was almost square in shape and 8.5 acres in size. That would give it approximately 600 feet on a side. If the two home plates were at diagonal corners from each other, they would be at maximum 860 feet apart. Given some encroachment for foul territory, accommodations for spectators, etc., the home plates could still be over 700 feet apart, giving ample room for simultaneous play with some overlap in the center fields. Most double headers were played consecutively, though.
Summing up the 1867 season, the various San Francisco newspapers reported on 108 baseball games played that year, more than twice the 48 games of 1866. Fifty-six games in 1867 were specifically reported as occurring at Pioneer Park. This was a three-fold increase over the previous year when only eighteen games were contested at that venue. No mention was made where thirty-eight other games were played, but seventeen of those games occurred on days when no games were reported at Pioneer Park, leaving open the possibility that even more than 56 games were played there. Five other games were played at the Presidio, one at Washington Square, two at 5th and Brannan. Six games were played in Oakland, which elicited this harsh criticism from the Times
LIVE OAKS AND PACIFICS—The ground selected, if we may be allowed to use an expletive, was damnable and scarcely fit for scrubs to practice on let alone two first-class clubs to contest a match game on. Is there no better ground in the suburbs of Oakland, or Clinton? Surely, there must be. And if not, come across to our side of the water, boys.
Among the fifty-six games documented as being contested at Pioneer Park, seventeen were Championship games. No other Bay Area site hosted a single Championship game during 1867. The "favorite playground" hosted thirty different clubs. The Pacifics played fifteen games there followed by the Cosmopolitans and Eagles who played ten games each. Ten different clubs played at least five games at Pioneer Park.
An examination of the clubs that played at Pioneer Park in 1867 reveals that it was almost exclusively a facility for the use of Pacific Base Ball Convention clubs. Of the possible 112 club appearances at Pioneer Park, 98 were by Convention clubs and just 14 appearances were by 10 other non-Convention clubs.
Curiously, for the months of August and September, only two games were reported as being played at Pioneer Park. Why there was such a precipitous drop in activity (or in the reporting of the activity) will probably never be known.(6)
Between 1865 and 1867, the various San Francisco newspapers made numerous references to baseball games played at the intersection/junction/corner of Park (24th) and Folsom Streets. Other references were geographically less precise, such as: the terminus of the Folsom Street Railroad; a plot of land just beyond the terminus of the Folsom Street Railway beyond the Mission Dolores; at the Pioneer Race track at the foot of Folsom Street; near the Mission; at the Mission; the grounds just beyond the outer terminus of the Folsom Street Railway at the Mission-but clearly at Pioneer Park.
Still other references were even less precise but more familiar and affectionate: the usual grounds; the favorite playground; the grounds; the former battle grounds; the base ball grounds; Old Park Ground; the Old Pioneer Race Track Grounds; the Pioneer Race Course; and the Park Ground.
There seems to be no doubt that the National Pastime had indeed replaced the Sport Of Kings at the old Pioneer Race Course and that the cry of "play ball" had replaced "and they're off.”
And it made perfectly logical sense.
One of the essentials of horse racing is to provide for the comfort of the paying and betting patrons so that they will enjoy their visit and that they will be inclined to return. On the Pioneer Race Course Tract survey map the enlarged blocks 1 & 2 show the structures associated with the Pioneer Race Course on Park (24th) Street, including two separate stands.” The stands were not part of the large outlined portion of the Pioneer Tract which was sold to the Homestead Union Association and subsequently subdivided. [The map was filed by the County Recorder on February 141 1864, indicating that the stands stood as of that date.]
Erected for the Bay District Agricultural Fair in 1860, the stands were described in a Times article dated October 6,1860:
A large and commodious stand for ladies, with seats running back a la terrace, has been erected to the right of the entrance gate. It will comfortably seat two thousand, crinoline and hoops included, and is protected in front by a neat redwood board fence four feet in height, and the rear is entirely boarded up so that modest young misses and passé maiden ladies need have no alarms that the sterner sex will have the slightest chance to glance at their pretty feet and ankles. To the left of the entrance is the house of Mr. Geo. Treat, the proprietor of the track, which has been lately improved and enlarged for the reception of ladies and gentlemen. To the left of his house, a stand has been erected for the accommodation of single gentlemen, and large enough to seat at least three thousand. This is also boarded up1 similar to the to the other-thus giving plenty of accommodation for all who attend the races.
The Bulletin of October 4, 1860 described the stands as
two great amphitheatrical banks of seats for spectators. The seats, ten deep, rise as they retreat, so that the best are farthest back. An illimitable multitude can be accommodated on them, and nothing in the way of a parade or a race will be invisible to the occupants of any seat.
The Bulletin's reference to ten rows of seats raises questions as to the actual seating capacity of the stands. Allowing a claustrophobic eighteen inches per derriere, to accommodate the 3,000 men and 2,000 ladies, each of the ten rows of seats in the two stands would have to be 450 and 300 feet long respectively. How close the Bulletin's "illimitable multitude" is to the Time's estimate of 5,000 will never be known. The Herald, reporting on the races October 9, 1860, stated "probably no less than three thousand persons, numbering many ladies, were present yesterday ... on the Pioneer Race Course." But it was not recorded how many were sitting and how many were standing.
Perhaps it was the "lately improved and enlarged house" of George Treat which was meant to be withheld from the subdivision and the stands were "collateral survivors.” From 1858 (the date of the earliest listing for George Treat in the San Francisco City Directory), through 1869, Mr. Treat maintained the same residence at what was variously described as "Pioneer Race Course, San Jose Road near Mission Dolores" (1858), to "South Side of Twenty-fourth Street between Howard and Folsom" (1869).
The obvious attraction of the Pioneer Course over other available sites for baseball, such as the grounds behind the Mission, Clinton, and other "sandlots,” was something that none of the other sites could offer: seating for hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators. Base ball games regularly lasted over 2½ hours and it was not uncommon for them to go beyond three hours. High scoring contests, such as the 44-26 game on June 9, 1867, between the Vigilant and Eclipse Clubs at Pioneer Park, could last four hours or more. Double headers would be intolerable ordeals without some relief. It was imperative to provide for the comfort of the spectators if they were to remain faithful baseball fans.
If they can sit, they will come.
On October 23, 1866, the Alta printed a letter from "B,” recently arrived from Cincinnati, who had attended a game between the Cosmopolitans and the Live Oaks at Pioneer Park on October 20. After expressing his pleasant astonishment at the high quality play, "B" suggested that the clubs "have more [seats], as I can assure you it was not very pleasant standing.” "B" noted that "the crowd was very large... something like a thousand, for they kept coming and going all the time.”
On Washington's Birthday, 1867, the Eagles and Pacifics drew "upwards of fifteen hundred spectators.” In anticipation of the crowd, the Alta reported that "ample accommodations will be provided for spectators.” Might the "ample accommodations" refer to seating?
The Chronicle reported on a July 4, 1867 Championship Game between the Eagles and Pacifics which drew 2,000 spectators to Pioneer Park.
On November 28, 1867 the Daily Morning Call announced the conclusion of the ten-month long baseball season.
BASE-BALL TO-DAY—The last game of the season will be played to-day at "The Park" ground between the Cosmopolitan and Pacific Clubs. It will no doubt be a very interesting match, as it is to be the deciding game between these two Clubs as to who shall hold the Championship Bat until next season. Owing to the absence of three of the First Nine of the Cosmopolitans, their places have been supplied by three of the Eagles. Both Clubs have some of the best players in the city, and the game will be closely contested, as each club feels confident of success. In the morning a game will be played between the Second Nines of the Cosmopolitans and Bay City; to commence at nine o'clock.
The game was won by the Pacifics 39-15. The Chronicle concluded its report of the Championship Match: "Much excitement was manifested, considerable betting indulged in and some rowdy and disgraceful fighting as a consequence. Betting on base ball games will soon bring it justly into disrepute, if it is not checked at once.”
The first base ball news of 1868, as reported by the Alta on March 28, was the opening of the season between the Amateurs and the Centrals. Amusingly, a month earlier the Call reported on matches between the Utica and Arctic Clubs. There was no mention in either article where the games had been played. (None of these clubs was a member of the Pacific Base Ball Convention.)
The next hard baseball news had to do with a three-game Championship Series in May and June between the reigning Champions, the Pacifics, and the contending Wide Awake Club of Oakland. The clubs split the first two games and the Wide Awakes won the final game 30-15.
Significantly, all three games had been played in Clinton, an East Bay community on the eastern shore of Oakland's Lake Merritt. These were the first Championship Games to be played outside of San Francisco since the Pacifics defeated the Cosmopolitans at Clinton on November 29, 1866.
On October 81 1867 the Pacific Base Ball Convention met and passed a resolution requiring
"that in all match games the challenged party shall have the right to name the time and place for the first game; the challenging party to name the time and place for the second game; and the third, if any, to be mutually agreed upon by the two contesting Clubs."
All clubs belonging to the Pacific Base Ball Convention were ordered to conform to the above resolution. Presumably this resolution applied to Championship Games as well. Therefore, it would seem that by May of 1868 the Pacifics, who had played fifteen games at Pioneer Park during the 1867 season, including eleven Championship Games during that season, had moved to Clinton. Or that they were homeless.
The latter seems more likely.
In fact, there were no references to any baseball games (or any other sporting activity) at Pioneer Park in 1868. The year's sports news, as reported in the Alta, was dominated by cricket; a dominance that was so overwhelming that one of the highlights of San Francisco's Fourth of July celebration was a cricket match between the Pioneer and the St. George Cricket Clubs played behind the Mission Church—another name for Mission Dolores. The previous Fourth of July the Eagles and the Pacifics faced off for the Championship in Pioneer Park before 2,000 patriotic base ball spectators, and in 1866 they played on the 4th at an unspecified location.
In October of 1868 the Wide-Awakes of Oakland and the Pacifics again faced each other in another Championship Series. Unlike the earlier series between the two clubs, when all three games were played in Clinton, these games were played at two different venues. The first game was played in Clinton, ostensibly the home field of the Wide-Awakes. The Chronicle concluded their report of that game, won by the Wide-Awakes 45-34, with the notice that the next game would be played "on the new grounds.” This was undoubtedly a reference to the Recreation Grounds, which anticipated its first baseball game on October 15. Instead, on October 18, 1868, the clubs played at the Presidio in San Francisco. The Wide-Awakes were victorious, scoring five runs in the top of the ninth inning to win 20-15 and claim the Championship.
The report of the October 18 game in the Presidio between the Pacifics and Wide-Awakes was one of only two specific references by the Alta of baseball games played in San Francisco in 1868 before the opening of Recreation Grounds. The Chronicle had just two specific references to baseball in San Francisco that year.
Even though the Call was not as economical in its baseball reporting as were the Alta and Chronicle, it made no references to any sporting activity at Pioneer Park. On May 16, 1868, the Call informed its readers of the last game of the match between the Bay City Club and the Eagles. The notice contained a tantalizing bit of information: "the game is to be played on the grounds in the rear of the Old Mission Church and not at Bay View Race Track as had been expected.” This is in marked contrast with 1867 when the Bay City and Eagle Clubs played a combined total of 16 games at Pioneer Park and no other games at any other venue.
Either the Times lost interest in reporting baseball games in 1868, or reports to the Times from the clubs were not forthcoming, but only two base ball games were reported in that publication: the April 4, 1868 report of a contest between the Eureka and Alpine Clubs and a July 25 game between the Broderick and Presidio Clubs at the Presidio. Regarding the latter game, the Times complained of the conditions at the Presidio:
"The soil of which, we must say, is not so suitable for base ball purposes as might be desired. The afternoon was blustery, and the dust, driven in the faces of the men, spoiled many splendid catches."
Another extraordinary item of baseball news in 1868 was what did not happen: the Eagles and the Pacifics did not play a single game against each other.(7) These two clubs had a bitter rivalry which stretched back to 1863 when the Pacifics split off from the Eagles.
William Shepard, a third baseman and an original player on the Pacifics, reminisced:
"The entry of the new club (the Pacifics) into the field gave impetus to the game and created a rivalry and competition that grew to remarkable proportions."(8)
What is so significant about the absence of games between the Eagles and Pacifics in 1868 is that in the two years preceding they opposed each other twelve times, each club winning six games. In 1866 the clubs faced each other four times, each club winning twice. In 1867 they split eight games. In both years the clubs competed on the Fourth of July, attracting 2,000 spectators in 1867. Six of the games between the two clubs in 1866 and 1867 were Championship games. They also had a tradition of playing each other on Washington's Birthday, which, in the 1860s, was more than just a national holiday, but a day bordering on a religious observance. The rivalry resumed in 1869, the clubs facing each other three times, beginning with the first game played in Recreation Grounds in 1869. In keeping with their tradition, this game was on Washington's Birthday. Both clubs fielded clubs worthy enough to play for the Championship at various times during the 1868 season, with the Eagles ultimately winning the Championship Bat at the opening of Recreation Grounds. Given their history, there does not appear to be any reason why the clubs would avoid each other during the 1868 season.
Could it be that the Eagles and the Pacifics didn't compete against each other in 1868 because, despite the availability of the grounds behind the Mission Church, the Presidio, Bay View Race Track, and Clinton, there was no "proper diamond" in San Francisco for them to play on?
While baseball games were being played in Oakland, at Bay View Race Track, in the Presidio and behind the Old Mission Church; while cricket matches, instead of the National Pastime, were being held behind the Mission Church on the nation's birthday, it seems obvious that something had happened to Pioneer Park.
On April 12, 1868, in a news item seemingly unrelated to baseball, the Alta reported that the Bay City Homestead Association elected their officers for the coming year. A few days later the Alta made an important connection and reported that the Bay City Homestead Association was actually the Bay City Base Ball Club organized as a Homestead Association noting
The Club had purchased two blocks of land in an eligible location in the southern outskirts of the city, and will have them fenced in and arranged for a base-ball ground. Here matches will be played between the Bay City Club and other Clubs, and a small fee will be charged for admission to the grounds in order to defray expenses and keep everything in repair, until such time as the Club see fit to cut up the property and divide it by lot among the stockholding members. This will do away with any cause of complaint on the part of the residents in the vicinity of localities hitherto resorted to on Sunday and other days by base-ball players and will eventually provide each member of the Club with a valuable homestead lot.
It would appear that the Bay City Club may have been the first to subscribe to the belief "if we build it they will come.” However, the land they purchased was not the future site of Recreation Grounds. Their land was near the Bay View Race Course on what is today bounded by Mendell, and Lane Streets, and Armstrong and Carroll Avenues. The Bay City Club had an excellent idea, and perhaps even a choice location, but their expectations were never realized. Their land never became the ballpark that they had envisioned and was subsequently surveyed and subdivided into 80 separate 30- by 100-foot lots in 1871, which probably returned handsome profits on their investment but no baseball park.
Credit for the vision of Recreation Grounds must go to William J. Hatton and Richard W. Kohler who had the foresight to lease land at the intersection of Twenty-fifth and Folsom Streets from the Hon. Eugene Casserly, California's United States Senator and member of the Mission District real estate syndicate comprised of the Treats, Centers and Samuel Crim.
On August 13, 1868 the following advertisement appeared in the San Francisco newspapers:
CRICKET, BASE-BALL, ETC. —All persons interested in the above Games, and all other out-door Sports, are respectfully invited to attend a Meeting THIS (THURSDAY) EVENING, at 8 o'clock, sharp, at the Hall of the British Benevolent Society, opposite the Metropolitan Theatre.
The news section of that day's Alta, reported on A NEW PUBLIC ENTERPRISE, describing the project. Hatton and Kohler planned to convert the land into "a public recreation ground especially designed for baseball, cricket, quoits, Caledonian and other athletic and healthful games and outdoor amusements, military parades and reviews."
The grounds were to be enclosed with a fence and latticework fifteen feet high to protect the spectators from the winds. At one end would be an open space for carriages in which visitors could sit to view the games and at the opposite end would be the "Grand Pavilion,” one hundred feet in length, fitted with seats for eight hundred persons, a saloon, and dressing rooms for the players. The center of the grounds would be laid out for baseball, cricket and parades, while an avenue for pedestrians, bordered with shrubbery and flower plots, would run around the entire enclosure.
It was estimated that the cost of improving the vacant lot would be $8,000. The financing for this vision would come from the sale of "subscriptions,” or memberships, for $1.00 a month or $10 a year, which would entitle the "subscriber" free admission to all events. When the first public announcement was made, $1,000 had already been subscribed.
The Call headlined their report AN UNDERTAKING THAT SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED, noting that the lease was for seven years.
On November 28, 1868 a new premier ball yard opened in San Francisco-the much touted Recreation Grounds.
Recreation Grounds was also part of the Pioneer Race Course: the coordinates (Harrison, Folsom, 25th and 26th Streets) place it kitty-corner from Pioneer Park. (See BLOCKS 3 & 4 of the Pioneer Race Course Tract.) Thus, while the grandstands at Pioneer Park, left over from the race course days, were filled with bugs and cranks watching ballplayers pitch, hit, run, and field almost every weekend during 1867, during double-headers, triple-headers, and Championship games, what would one day be recorded in history as San Francisco's "first" ballpark was an empty piece of ground literally across the street.
While match games and Championship games were played out on a small patch of the old Pioneer Race Course, cranks and players might momentarily glance at an empty plot of land, not realizing that in the near future that unused portion of the Pioneer Race Course would become known as San Francisco's first ballpark, thereby erasing and invalidating all the memories of what everybody was doing, witnessing and experiencing at the moment within the friendly confines of Pioneer Park.
For at least two seasons (1866-1867), and arguably longer (since 1860), while base ball players competed on the field, cranks and bugs cheered from the grandstand, concessions were sold, libations consumed, and maybe even a few bets placed, Pioneer Park was the undisputed and unrivaled center of baseball activity in San Francisco.
Cranks, bugs and players alike would scarcely have to alter their habits to attend games at the city's "first" ballpark at 25th and Folsom, just one block from where they had been attending base ball games and cricket matches since 1860 at 24th and Folsom.
In a city barely twenty years old, ascending toward its zenith as the preeminent population center of a state still in its teens, history and tradition did not carry the same sentimental weight or value as did the future. Replacing the old with the new did not elicit any sense of loss, but rather a sense of gain, a proud feeling of growth, achievement, and movement. To the young, exuberant, boisterous city of San Francisco all change was to be celebrated, leaving no time for reflection or nostalgia. The focus was forward, not backward.
Pioneer Race Track's transition from horseflesh to horsehide was not considered worthy of note beyond the simple mention of a baseball game being played where the horses used to run. Nor was its closure noted when baseball activity ended there forever.
Seventeen years later, the final game at Recreation Grounds was noted as such. Whereas the final game played at Pioneer Park was a Championship game, the media's characterization of Recreation Grounds' finale were as follows: "one of the poorest of the season"; "those who stayed away did not miss anything"; "the game was neither close nor very interesting"; "indifferent game at the Recreation Grounds"; "the Stars played a very poor game.”
The Alta provided this provocative observation: "the attendance was larger than the contest warranted by considerable.” Could it be that the bugs and cranks came out in unwarranted numbers because it would be their last opportunity to attend a baseball game at Recreation Grounds? Could it be that sentimentality overrode their collective better judgment and they sat through, at best, a lack-luster game because it was the end of Recreation Grounds? It certainly wasn't because it was the end of the base ball season. More games were scheduled for Central Park, which would be opening at 8th and Market in a few days.
How many nostalgic old-timers were in attendance at Recreation Grounds on November 23, 1884? How many venerable old cranks and bugs recalled a similar moment, almost exactly seventeen years earlier, just across the street? Just across the street at Pioneer Park, on November 28, 1867, when encroaching development spelled the end of San Francisco's first ballpark, just as encroaching development drove the surveyor's stake through the heart of the city's second ballpark.
During that wretched game between the Stars and Occidentals, how many sentimental oldtimers glanced across the street at the homes and residences on the other side of the fifteen-foot high fence and thought about how much better the quality of play was "back in the good old days" of 1865, 1866 and 1867 at Pioneer Park?
In the span of fifteen years the Pioneer Race Course had gone from San Francisco's premier race course to the city's main ball yard. It's difficult to dismiss a facility where baseball was seriously contested for at least two seasons and drawing upwards of two thousand spectators as "not being a proper diamond," as Hansen implies. If Pioneer Park was worthy of hosting at least seventeen Championship baseball games(9), and was able to accommodate perhaps thousands of spectators, as opposed to the mere 800 seating capacity of Recreation Grounds, it certainly meets the criteria of "a proper diamond" and should be recognized as being the premier ballpark in San Francisco for its time—in the years before Recreation Grounds.
Unfortunately, tragically even, there are no photos, sketches or even detailed descriptions of either the Pioneer Race Course or of the Pioneer Base Ball Park. As more of the Pioneer Race Course Tract was subdivided and developed, it was probably very easy to forget the years of horseflesh and horsehide associated with that portion of the San Francisco landscape on the other side of the fifteen-foot high fence enclosing Recreation Grounds.
As the Cincinnati Red Stockings made baseball history on its turf in the early autumn of 1869, Recreation Grounds solidified its unwarranted claim as the city's first baseball park, while the memories of horseflesh and horsehide from just across the street dissipated like the morning fog that chilled the air.
"Purists" may argue that Pioneer Park could never seriously be considered a baseball park because it was converted from a former horse racing track, thereby lacking the proper pedigree.
On the other hand, Recreation Grounds was never designed to be exclusively a baseball park. It was to be "a public recreation ground designed for cricket, quoits, Caledonian and other athletic and healthful games and outdoor amusements, military parades and reviews" in addition to a baseball park. The Alta went so far as to refer to Recreation Grounds as a "public resort.” Witness the events scheduled between the first and second baseball games at the Grounds: a circus, an instrumental concert, a quoit match, chariot races, horse races, sack races, pedestrian races, and hurdle races. In newspaper advertisements for Recreation Grounds, Messrs. Hatton and Kohler proudly referred to their facility as a "popular place of suburban resort,” with more equine-oriented spectacles in its first three months than had been seen in the neighborhood since the passing of the Pioneer Race Course.
Was it mere coincidence that two separate groups—the Bay City Base Ball Club and Messrs. Kohler and Hatton—had the inspiration to conceive almost identical plans of an enclosed ballpark at almost the same time? Undoubtedly it must have been known for some time that Pioneer Park would cease to be, and, faced with the loss of the city's premier baseball facility, it became imperative that a replacement be found—or created.
In fact, for two seasons the base ball clubs had been playing in a ballpark that was living on borrowed time. On April 7, 1866, Frank Livingston, "a capitalist," purchased from George Treat the two blocks bounded by Park (24th), Howard, Temple (25th) and Folsom Streets: Pioneer Park. There is no information available, but Mr. Livingston may have indicated an intention to develop his land, thereby taking it out of use beginning with the 1868 baseball season.
No mention was ever made in the press on the progress, if any, the Bay City Club made toward the construction of their enclosed base ball ground. Their project had a four-month head start on Messrs. Hatton and Kohler, but whether they used this time to their advantage is moot. For reasons not ascertainable 139 years later, it was the plan of Messrs. Hatton and Kohler which prevailed.
Regardless, Recreation Grounds owes its existence to the loss of the city's first ballpark and the need for a replacement park where the increasingly popular game of baseball could be played and watched in comfort by San Franciscans.
Recreation Grounds, c. 1880s, main spectator stands, homes behind are still standing in 2016 on Folsom Street at 25th.
Photo: Online Archive of California, I0013184a
Finally, and most significantly, it just may have been that it was Pioneer Park, with its grandstands capable of accommodating hundred, perhaps thousands, which contributed to, or which may even have created the popularity of baseball in San Francisco, thereby resulting in the construction of Recreation Grounds.
Base ball was played in San Francisco as early as 1851. After a brief reappearance in 1852, the game vanished from the local scene till 1860 when the San Francisco Base Ball Club and the Red Rovers played at a site vaguely referred to as Center's Bridge on February 22, 1860.(10) After that game, interest in baseball in the Bay Area spread like gold fever, culminating in the State Championship in Sacramento in September 1860 between the Sacramento and the Eagle Base Ball Clubs.(11) However, this intense interest was not sustained and by 1862 it appeared that the base ball fad was over.
The day before Thanksgiving Day, 1862, the Alta informed its readers
BASE BALL—The lovers of this exciting and healthful amusement will have an opportunity of witnessing a splendid match on Thanksgiving Day, which is to take place at the Mission Dolores between the Eagle Base Ball Club's nine and nine other crack players. After the sport is over a grand dinner is to be partaken of by the Company and invited guests.
The Alta's report of the "splendid match" disclosed that it was nothing more than an Eagle intra-squad game. The enthusiastic embrace of San Franciscans for baseball three years earlier had waned considerably.
In his reminiscences, William Shepard recalled:
In 1861 we crossed the plains to California and San Francisco. But one club existed in San Francisco at the time, which we joined soon after our arrival, and, as we were direct from the center of the base ball universe, and brought with us the newest ideas upon the game, we were regarded as quite a valuable acquisition to the local organization. The original club was known as the Eagles. We had been members but a short time when another club was organized, or rather, grew out of the Eagles, the new club being called the Pacifics and my brother and I cast our lot with the younger club.(12)
Church writes that the first game between the two clubs was played on February 23, 1863 in back of the old Mission church, won by the Eagles 27-18. The winners received a silver goblet. ("In back of the old Mission church" refers to a field two blocks west of Mission Dolores, in the vicinity of today's Everett Middle School at 16th and Sanchez Streets.)
Shortly thereafter the popularity of baseball spread and new teams were formed in San Francisco as well as in Sacramento, Marysville and Stockton. However, matches and practice games were few and far between, so despite the expansion, the game led a precarious existence.
Another recollection of the times provided the following perspective of baseball's infancy in San Francisco:
By 1863 the interest in baseball had declined a little, and the Eagles were reduced to the necessity of splitting into two teams so that they could have someone to play with. One section became known as the Pacifics, and the first game between the new teams was played in February of 1863 back of the old Mission Church.
This game was won by the Eagles, 27-18, and the victors got a silver goblet for their victory. That was the beginning of the new life of the baseball craze in San Francisco, and by 1868, when the Recreation Grounds at Twenty-fifth and Folsom Streets was opened, there were a number of teams playing steadily.(14)
Truthfully, that 1863 Eagles-Pacifics game was not the beginning of the new life of the baseball craze in San Francisco. Cricket matches far outnumbered baseball games, at least as reported by the press. However, if it was any consolation to base ball aficionados, there were only two cricket teams in San Francisco as well: the San Francisco and Pioneer Cricket Clubs. Additionally, many versatile athletes played both sports.
On December 7, 1865, Thanksgiving Day, the Alta advised:
BASE BALL—A match game of base ball will come off to-day, (Thursday) at 10 o'clock A.M. on the Pioneer Race Track, Folsom Street. All desirous of playing are invited.
The next day's report of the game had two unnamed teams playing to a 14-7 conclusion. However, an examination of the names of the players reveals that at least 14 of the 18 players were or would become members of the Eagle or Pacific clubs, randomly scattered between the two teams. Thus, nearly three years after the splitting up of the Eagles and the formation of the Pacifics, there was still essentially no baseball activity in San Francisco.
Another claim for the resurgence of baseball in San Francisco (and in all likelihood the legitimate claim) was attributed to the rivalry between the City College Base Ball Club of San Francisco and the Live Oak Club of Oakland. The Live Oak Club was made up of young men from the new College of California, which would become the University of California. This rivalry culminated in a hard fought, enthusiastically attended, and widely reported three-game match at Clinton during March and April 1866.
The Call of January 30, 1887 wrote of those early years
The Live Oaks started in business by hurling defiance at the whole world. They were ready to meet all comers on their grounds in East Oakland. They were soon accommodated. At that time the City College on this side of the bay was a flourishing institution and in its classes were many ambitious and active young men. They organized a nine at once and ordered gorgeous uniforms
[The City College then challenged the Live Oaks.]
The message produced much excitement [on the California College campus]. The long roll was beaten; the four classes gathered on the campus, eleven men in all. Ringing speeches were made. All they wanted of the City College was that the San Francisco boys, maiden-like, should "name the day.”
Well, that fateful occasion arrived. All the girls in Oakland were there. They smiled on the Live Oaks as they marched on the field with their bats and green caps.... The City College Club, with their stunning outfit had captured the ladies at once. Thus the Live Oaks were beaten before the first ball was pitched.... After the match baseball became the rage.
According to the Call, one of the City College-Live Oak games attracted over one thousand spectators.
In May, 1866, a month after the City College-Live Oak series, the Alta expressed its pleasure at observing the attention that base ball, "this invigorating and manly game" was receiving from the city's young men. Rather than seeking amusement in the saloons, nickelodeons or other haunts of vice, base ball offered a more wholesome option. New clubs were being organized in rapid succession. The Alta noted that the Pioneer Race Track appeared to be the favorite field of practice and play.
A year after the 1865 Thanksgiving Day all-comers game, baseball in San Francisco grew from a single, moribund, base ball club playing intra-squad games while trying to avoid the specter of extinction to twenty-five clubs, not counting the "second nines" and the "junior" or "young" squads derived from the established clubs.
Was it simply coincidence that in 1866 the popularity of baseball burgeoned at the same time that "a proper diamond"—Pioneer Park—was available for the exclusive use of baseball clubs while providing for the comfort of the bugs and cranks who came out to observe our national pastime?
Or was it more cause than coincidence?
It shouldn't take a great deal of strenuous thought to see how the former race course, with its relatively new grandstands capable of seating hundreds, if not thousands, in comfort was just what the struggling game of baseball needed in order to put down roots, germinate, reestablish its popularity and fan-base, and then thrive in San Francisco.
Did the Pacific Base Ball Convention reach an arrangement with Frank Livingston in 1866 over the use of his property for the betterment of baseball in San Francisco? Perhaps the delegates to the Pacific Base Ball Convention noticed Pioneer Park's potential and, in a brilliant move/ took advantage of the accommodations available at the former race course by making it the center of baseball activity not only in San Francisco, but in the Bay Area.
Whether coincidence or cause, credit must be given to Pioneer Park-base ball's first home in San Francisco-for its enormous contribution to spreading the game of baseball in the Bay Area in the mid-1860s. There is unambiguous historical documentation that Pioneer Park was the focus of baseball activity in San Francisco for at least two seasons before Recreation Grounds was even a gleam in the eyes of Messrs. Hatton and Kohler. Beginning with cricket matches in 1864, through the West End's Base Ball Club's "Opening Day" of the 1865 baseball season and the Thanksgiving Day all-comers game that year, to the Championship game at the conclusion of the 1867 baseball season, the sporting public witnessed four seasons of sports after the horses stopped running at the Pioneer Race Track.
After the passing of Pioneer Park the base ball bugs and cranks of San Francisco could not remain content watching their favorite clubs play on lumpy, wind-blown sandlots or outside of the city. With the popularity of the game increasing, San Francisco's base ball cranks and clubs wanted, expected, and deserved something better than improvised diamonds of blowing dust or fields "damnable and scarcely fit for scrubs to practice.”
The Chronicle's report of the opening of Recreation Grounds pointed out that "the proprietors have furnished what San Francisco has long needed.” This could be construed as a reference to the baseball season just completed without Pioneer Park and its amenities for the public and the players.
The earthquake and fire of 1906 marks both the end and the beginning of history in San Francisco. Whatever descriptions there were of Pioneer Park were lost in the conflagration that destroyed much of San Francisco's past. So too, minutes, records, and documents pertaining to meetings and decisions of the Pacific Base Ball Convention are also irretrievably lost, along with individual club documents and memorabilia. Even a descendent of Pioneer Park was destroyed in the fire: Recreation Park, which had stood at 8th & Harrison Streets between 1897 and 1906.
However, by carefully sifting through the ashes of the past, lost history can be rediscovered and re-recorded, and in that process historical wrongs, oversights and omissions can be corrected.
The origin myth that Recreation Grounds was San Francisco's first ball park can be exchanged for the unambiguously documented history that Pioneer Park was, in truth and in fact, San Francisco's first ball park.
The forlorn spirits of players and cranks, forgotten, lost and overlooked in the history of San Francisco baseball, still haunt the area formerly occupied by Pioneer Park at Twenty-fourth and Folsom. Looking back to a time when base ball was tenuously putting down its fragile roots, these forgotten base ball pioneers who played and attended those forgotten games at Pioneer Park should be accorded the recognition withheld from them for almost a century and a half. Their contributions as players and supporters of our national game in San Francisco must not be ignored any longer. Nor should that temple of sport—once a race course and later a ball park—be denied its proper historical heritage.
The lasting contribution of the players, the cranks and bugs, and especially of Pioneer Park, to the growth and development of early baseball in San Francisco can be memorialized by adding the name of PIONEER PARK to the top of the list of baseball parks in San Francisco as the sire of succeeding generations of ballparks culminating with AT&T Park.
1. MACFARLANE, Angus, THE KNICKERBOCKER$: San Francisco's First Base Ball Team? In BASE BALL-A Journal of the Early Game-Vol. 1, Number 1, McFarland & Co. Inc, Jefferson, North Carolina, Spring 2007, pages 7-21.
2. HANSEN, Gladys, San Francisco Almanac, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1995, page 375.
3. HANSEN, Page 375; Probably due to a typographical error, Hansen cites October 3, 1887 as the opening of Recreation Park rather than the correct year of 1897.
4. The score of the game was Eagles 68, Pacifics 32. CHURCH, Seymour R., Baseball, 1845-1871 vol. 1, San Francisco, Cal. 1902, page 36.
5 WHITEHEAD, Barry, "Beneath the Streets of San Francisco" in THOUROUGHBRED OF CALIFORNIA, Volume XXI, Number 1, July, 1960, page 35.
6. One possible explanation for the hiatus of games at Pioneer Park could be the tension in the neighborhood created by squatters taking over property near Pioneer Park in the vicinity of 22nd, 23rd, Folsom and Howard Streets, ultimately leading to riots, shootings—resulting in one death—and burning of property when evictions were attempted. Among those prominently named in the news reports attempting to evict the squatters were Samuel Crim and John Center.
7. CHURCH, Page 36.
8. CHURCH Page 38.
9. The press noted twenty-one Championship baseball games in 1866 and 1867. Seventeen games were specifically noted as being played at Pioneer Park. Three other games have no reference as to location, however, Pioneer Park was not in use on those dates. One other game was noted as having been played in Oakland. The games are as follows: ("•"indicate that location is not noted. All other games, except #3, were played in Pioneer Park.)
3. Nov. 29 1 1866, Pacifics 27 1 Cosmopolitans 20. (Played in Oakland.)
4. Feb. 221 1867, Eagles 68 1 Pacifics 32.
5. March 181 18671 Cosmopolitans 35, Atlantics 30.
6. April 13, 1867, Atlantics 89 1 Cosmopolitans 47.
7. April 27, 1867, Cosmopolitans 50, Atlantics 45.
8. May 4, 1867, Cosmopolitans 34 1 Libertys 30.
9. May 18 1867, Cosmopolitans 64 1 Libertys 27.
10. June 1, 1867, Eagles 56, Cosmopolitans 36.
11. June 15, 1867, Eagles 73, Cosmopolitans 24.
12. July 4, 1867, Eagles 46, Pacifics 41.
13. July 12, 1867, Pacifics 29, Eagles 22.
14. July 19, 1867, Pacifics 35, Eagles 31.
16. Oct. 2, 1867, Pacifics 55, Actives 22.
17. Oct. 8, 1867, Pacifics 44, Bay City 37.
18. Oct. 27, 1867, Pacifics 51, Bay City 12.
19. Nov. 9, 1867, Pacifics 24, Cosmopolitans 18.
20. Nov. 23, 1867 1 Cosmopolitans 33, Pacifics 25.
21. Nov. 28, 1867, Pacifics 39, Cosmopolitans 15.
10. Although it is beyond the scope of this essay, it may be worthwhile to note that Center's Bridge, lost to today's researchers, was in the vicinity of the former site of Seals Stadium. In 1860, Center (16th) Street crossed Mission Creek (now Harrison Street) over a bridge. In its announcement of the San Francisco Base Ball Club game against the Red Rovers, the California Spirit of the Times (Feb. 18, 1860) described the location of the game: AT THE MISSION ON A FIELD LYING BETWEEN FOLSOM AND BRANNAN [now Bryant] STREETS, ABOUT 300 YARDS FROM CENTRE'S BRIDGE AND THE END OF FOLSOM STREET. Recalling that historic game, the California Spirit of the Times (December 20, 1884) wrote: THE GAME WAS PLAYED NEAR WHAT IS NOW THE CORNER OF 17TH AND BRYANT STREETS.
11. The original San Francisco Base Ball Club which played against the Red Rovers on February 22, 1860 later changed their name to the Eagle Base Ball Club.
12. CHURCH, Page 38.
13. SAN FRANCISCO CALL October 11, 1924. A portion of a series of articles San Francisco history by writer Anita Day Hubbard.
NOTE ON THE MAP The map, referred to as MAP ONE, is a portion of a larger map on file in the San Francisco Recorder's Office in San Francisco City Hall. It is entitled PIONEER RACE COURSE TRACT and is filed under GLIDE A-526.