Looking Back: Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

San Jose's "Prune Pickers" Years

San Jose's first professional baseball team was created in 1891 when it joined the California League. This was a four-team circuit that included San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento. San Jose's team (referred to as either the "Dukes" or the "Gardeners") won the championship that year with a 90-57 record. In 1892, the team finished the season as co-champions. Home games were played at Agricultural Park.

After several years absence, San Jose returned to the league for 1898 and 1899 as the Prune Pickers. In 1903, the Prune Pickers joined the "outlaw" California State League, winning the championship in 1904. Home park was Cycler's Park through 1906, and then Luna Park through 1909.  A new California State League was established in 1910 and San Jose joined for a single year as the Owls, and then rejoined as the Bears from 1913 through 1915.

In 1914, San Jose had joined the independent Mission League, at the time made up of teams from Gilroy, Hollister, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Watsonville and later Salinas. San Jose remained in this incarnation of the league through 1923. One of the league's star players was "Prince" Hal Chase, originally from Los Gatos, California. He'd recently left the New York Giants and played first base for San Jose May through July 1920. Unfortunately, he was banned from the Mission League in mid-August upon accusations of gambling.

The San Jose Bees 1929-34

The first incarnation of the San Jose Bees came as a member of yet another new California State League. The league was created in 1929 with eight northern California teams including San Jose. Their home field was Sodality Park, which stood on the site of the old Orchard Supply Hardware store near Bird and San Carlos Streets. The Bees won the championship for the 1930 season.  By 1935, problems arose with Sodality Park becoming run-down and outdated. The Bees tried to remedy the situation by striking a deal to share a stadium with the Asahi baseball team near Japantown. The stadium wasn't convenient centrally located though, and the proposal was rejected by the commission and the Bees were voted out of the league.

The California League at Municipal Stadium

In 1941, California organized a class C league composed of eight teams. With the U.S. entry into WWII in 1941, the 1942 league was reduced to four teams. The circuit included the new San Jose Owls, whose home field was the newly constructed San Jose Municipal Stadium. The season only lasted through June 30, with the Santa Barbara taking first place, and San Jose coming in eight games behind for second place with a 35-32 record. The other teams were Fresno and Bakersfield. San Jose's recent SJHS graduate Sal Taormina won the league's MVP for the year.  Following the war, Taormina went on to have a career with the San Francisco Seals.

The California League started up again in 1946, and in 1947 San Jose joined an eight-team league that included the Bakersfield Indians, the Fresno Cardinals, the Modesto Reds, the Santa Babara Dodgers, the strong Stockton Ports, the Ventura Yankees, and the Visalia Cubs. Now called the San Jose Red Sox (Boston affiliation), San Jose played through 1955 under that name with championships in 1949 and 1953.  For 1956, San Jose became the independent Josox for two years, and then the San Jose Pirates for 1958 (partial season).

Return of the Bees

After a three-year hiatus, San Jose returned to the California League as the San Jose Bees in 1962. The Bees took the pennant that year as an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. With their affiliate's name change from the Los Angeles to the California Angels in 1965, the Bees took the pennant again in 1967. In 1970, the Bees became the affiliates of the Kansas City Royals through 1974, and then with the Cleveland Indians from 1975 and 1976. In 1977, the Triple A Pacific Coast League moved into Municipal Stadium. With a move from Sacramento, the Solons became the San Jose Missions as an affiliate of the Oakland A's. The Missions continued for one more season in the PCL as an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.

Land of the Giants

In 1979, the San Jose Missions returned to the California League continuing their affiliation with the Mariners through 1980. They played their final as Missions in 1981 with no affiliation.

For a single year in 1982, San Jose would become the Expos, with an affiliation to the Montreal Expos. In 1983, San Jose became the Bees for the third time. Besides having a number of former Major League Baseball players, the independent Bees also agreed to take on a number of players from the Japanese League's Seibu Lions. This partnership would continue from 1983 through 1988, with two of the players, Koji Akiyama and Kimiyasu Kudo, being elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1988, the Bees became affiliates of the San Francisco Giants, and have been known as the San Jose Giants ever since. They won championships in 1998, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2021. They still play at Municipal Stadium, known as Excite Ballpark since 2019.

Exhibit: History of Minor League Baseball in San Jose

About the Exhibit

Photos, programs, and memorabilia illustrate the history of minor league baseball in San Jose from the 1891 San Jose Dukes to the modern-day San Jose Giants. 

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