San Francisco Seals

by Bernard Frei on March 06, 2019

The San Francisco Seals are somewhat of a forgotten treasure.

After all, this minor league team competed years ago, long before many of us were even born. So, it’s not as though young or old fans have much exposure to a baseball franchise that hasn’t stepped onto the field in over 60 years.

However, there’s a fascinating history behind this forgotten San Francisco sports team. The Seals burst onto the minor league scene back in 1903, one of the first teams to join the newly-formed Pacific Coast League.

The league itself had plenty of appeal for baseball fans during that era. Those left wanting more from Major League Baseball’s 162-game season would have undoubtedly been fans of the Seals in the early days of the PCL.

The reason? The mild climate allowed teams to play a ridiculous number of games each season, with the Seals holding the all-time record of 230 games during the 1905 season.

Naturally, more games meant more money, and that made San Francisco an attractive destination for players looking to take their career to the next level.

By 1931, the Seals became an even more attractive team for potential players. The owners knew it was time to capitalize on the team’s on-field success and numerous championships by allowing more fans to attend the games.

They opened up Seals Stadium, an incredible 18,600-seat ballpark that certainly
enhanced the experience for both baseball fans and players alike.

The team racked up their eighth league title during their first year in the new stadium, but things were about to be taken up another notch for San Francisco’s beloved squad thanks to the arrival of an up-and-coming player who clearly had the skills to be a future star.

That player was Joe DiMaggio. He would eventually turn a several-year stay with the Seals into one of the greatest careers in baseball history.

DiMaggio was a Seal from 1932-35, but it was what he did in 1933 that is still considered one of the most important turning points in his career and the PCL as a whole.

Attendance was waning due to the Great Depression, but DiMaggio was still able to give fans a glimpse of what was to come during his illustrious major league career. His 61- game hitting streak that year brought out fans from all over the different PCL cities.

Another popular figure for the Seals during this era was the legendary Lefty O’Doul. He was essentially the king of PCL managers when you consider all the success he had throughout his career.

DiMaggio would eventually leave for the big leagues to play for the New York Yankees, but that didn’t stop O’Doul from keeping the Seals at the forefront of the PCL for years to come.

He served as the team’s manager from 1935-51 and had an enormous amount of success calling the shots for the Seals. O’Doul would help the club capture four straight league pennants from 1943-46 and his legend continues to live on through the wildly popular San Francisco bar named in his honor.

The state of baseball during O’Doul’s reign as Seals’ manager was an interesting one, especially considering the arrival of World War II. Players would routinely join the military during that time, which would affect the club’s roster, and playing night games wasn’t an option because of concerns that lights made ballparks an easy target.

Of course, while the club’s title-winning tradition was admirable, most people understood it couldn’t last forever due to the changes happening both on and off the field.

Despite the high ambitions of both the Seals and the PCL, attendance would eventually experience a dramatic decline due to more major league games becoming available on television and the desire for expansion at the highest level. This led to the New York Giants morphing into the San Francisco Giants in 1958.

With the addition of the Giants, the Seals were forced to move elsewhere, marking the end of one of the most entertaining runs in minor league baseball history.

The Pacific Coast League looks very different today, but there’s no doubt the league’s early successes were heavily influenced by the Seals’ popularity.

With DiMaggio’s unique talents giving way to O’Doul’s superb managerial prowess during the mid-40s, San Francisco fans had plenty to cheer about during the team’s golden era.

The organization’s captivating history and legacy is one that will always offer plenty of intrigue for baseball fans of any age.

Remember the legacy of the San Fransisco Seal's with this vintage Seal's hat from 1940 

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