Through the decades there have been several leagues that named themselves California League. The first one started in 1886 and lasted through 1889. The second league, that carried the name started in 1891 and lasted a year. The third edition only lasted the 1893 season before a fourth lasted five years from 1898 through 1902.
Eventually a fifth California League saw the light in 1907 and lasted for three years before folding.
For the first time a Los Angeles team was added to the league in 1892, but the city of Angels didn’t have enough population back then to support a team as the club folded during the 1893 season. The league would follow swiftly.
The 1898 versiion grew and had some stability until the Pacific Coast League was founded. The much larger and stronger PCL eventually led to the downfall of the fourth edition of the California League.
The aforementioned leagues all operated as independent leagues.
Cities represented in the era 1886-1889, 1891-1893, 1898-1902, 1907-1909
Alameda, CA: Alameda Grays 1907; Alameda Encinals 1908
Fresno, CA: Fresno Tigers 1908; Fresno Raisin Growers 1909
Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles Angels 1892-1893, 1901; Los Angeles Looloos 1902
Oakland, CA: Oakland G & Ms 1886-1888; Oakland Colonels 1889-1893; Oakland Reliance 1898, 1903; Oakland Dudes1899-1902; Oakland Hesseman’s 1903-1904; Oakland Commuters 1905-1908; Oakland Invaders 1909
Sacramento, CA: Sacramento Altas 1886-1887, 1889; Sacramento Senators 1890-1891, 1893, 1901; Sacramento Gilt Edges1899-1900; Sacramento Sacts 1902; Sacramento Senators 1904, 1908-1909; Sacramento Cordovas 1906-1907;
San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Stars 1886; San Francisco Pioneers 1886-1888; San Francisco Haverlys 1886-1888; San Francisco Friscos 1889, 1891, 1898; San Francisco Metropolitans 1890, 1892-1893; San Francisco Wasps 1899-1902; San Francisco Jesse Moores 1903-1904; San Francisco 1905, 1907-1908; San Francisco Presidio Soldiers 1905-1906; San Francisco Orphans 1909
San Jose, CA: San Jose Dukes 1891; San Jose Drakes 1892; San Jose Florists 1898; San Jose Prune Pickers 1899, 1903-1909
Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Beachcombers 1899; Santa Cruz Sand Crabs 1908-1909
Stockton, CA: Stockton 1888-1890; Stockton River Pirates 1893; Stockton Terriers 1898; Stockton Pirates 1900; Stockton Poppies 1903-1905; Stockton Millers 1906-1908; Stockton Tigers 1909
Watsonville, CA: Watsonville Hayseeds 1899
It would take more than a quarter of a century before a new California League would be started. In the fall of 1940 a group led by Bill Schroeder revived the long dormant California League in a hotel in Hollywood. The league started to play in 1941 and its purpose was to bring baseball to communities that were not served by the Pacific Coast League.
In the first year, the league would have teams in Anaheim, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, San Bernadino, Riverside, Merced, Fresno and Stockton. Major difference with the previous versions of the California League was that the teams in those leagues mostly came from Northern California, but the 1941 version had mostly teams in the Southern part of the state, except for Stockton. The league would make it through the first year, but nevertheless two teams, the Riverside Reds and the San Bernadino Stars folded half-way. The league was hit by an event that it could not control: the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The league started a new season in 1942 but with a limited number of teams as the Anaheim Aces and the Merced Bears folded. With only three teams remaining, a fourth team was needed so the San Jose Owls came to life. But the distance between San Jose and the other CL cities was too big. The club could not afford a team bus so it bought Greyhound tickets for the players, making it possible for them to get to road games. Nevertheless, money was too tight to mention in all of the league and half-way the 1942 season the league folded due to the influences of WWII.
Cities represented from 1941 – present:
Adelanto, CA: High Desert Mavericks 1991-present
Anaheim, CA: Anaheim Aces 1941
Bakersfield, CA: Bakersfield Badgers 1941-1942; Bakersfield Indians 1946-1955 ; Bakersfield Boosters 1956; Bakersfield Bears 1957-1967; Bakersfield Dodgers 1968-1975; Bakersfield Outlaws 1978-1979; Bakersfield Mariners 1982-1983; Bakersfield Dodgers 1984-1994; Bakersfield Blaze 1995-present
Fresno, CA: Fresno Cardinals 1941-1942, 1946-1956; Fresno Sun Sox 1957; Fresno Giants 1958-1987; Fresno Suns 1988
Lake Elsinore, CA: Lake Elsinore Storm 1994-present
Lancaster, CA: Lancaster JetHawks 1996-present
Las Vegas, NV: Las Vegas Wranglers 1958
Lodi, CA: Lodi Crushers 1966-1969; Lodi Padres 1970-1971; Lodi Orions 1972; Lodi Lions 1973; Lodi Orioles 1974-1975;Lodi Dodgers 1976-1983; Lodi Crushers 1984
Merced, CA: Merced Bears 1941
Modesto, CA: Modesto Reds 1946-1961; Modesto Colts 1962-1964; Modesto Reds 1966-1974; Modesto A’s 1975-2004;Modesto Nuts 2005-present
Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Angels 1986-1993
Rancho Cucamonga, CA: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 1993-present
Reno, NV: Reno Silver Sox 1955-1981; Reno Padres 1982-1987; Reno Silver Sox 1988-1992
Riverside, CA: Riverside Reds 1941; Riverside Red Wave 1988-1990; Riverside Pilots 1993-1995
Rohnert Park, CA: Redwood Pioneers 1980-1985
Salinas, CA: Salinas Packers 1954-1958; Salinas Mets 1963-1964; Salinas Indians 1965; Salinas Packers 1973-1975;Salinas Angels 1976-1980; Salinas Spurs 1982-1987; Salinas Spurs 1989-1992
San Bernardino, CA: San Bernardino Stars 1941; San Bernardino Spirit 1987-1995; San Bernardino Stampede 1996-2002;Inland Empire 66ers 2003-present
San Jose, CA: San Jose Owls 1942; San Jose Red Sox 1947-1955; San Jose JoSox 1956-1957; San Jose Pirates 1958; San Jose Bees 1962-1976; San Jose Missions 1979-1981; San Jose Expos 1982; San Jose Bees 1983-1987; San Jose Giants 1988-present
Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Saints 1941-1942; Santa Barbara Dodgers 1946-1953; Channel Cities Oilers 1954-1955;Santa Barbara Rancheros 1962-1963; Santa Barbara Dodgers 1964-1967
Santa Clara, CA: Santa Clara Padres 1979
Stockton, CA: Stockton Fliers 1941; Stockton Ports 1946-1972; Stockton Mariners 1978; Stockton Ports 1979-1983;Stockton Mudville Nine 1984; Stockton Ports 1985-1999; Mudville Nine 2000-2001; Stockton Ports 2002-present
Thousand Oaks, CA: Ventura County Gulls 1986
Ventura, CA: Ventura Yankees 1947-1949; Ventura Braves 1950-1952; Ventura Oilers 1953
Ventura, CA & Santa Barbara, CA: Channel Cities Oilers 1954-1955; Channel Cities Oilers 1954-1955
Visalia, CA: Visalia Cubs 1946-1952; Visalia Stars 1953; Visalia Cubs 1954-1956; Visalia Redlegs 1957-1959; Visalia Athletics 1960-1961; Visalia White Sox 1962; Visalia Mets 1968-1975; Visalia Oaks 1977-1992; Central Valley Rockies 1993-1994; Visalia Oaks 1995-2008; Visalia Rawhide 2009-present
The league resumed play in 1946. The Bakersfield Indians, Fresno Cardinals, Modesto Reds, Santa Barbara Dodgers, Stockton Ports and the Visalia Cubs took the field. The San Jose Red Sox and the Ventura Yankees joined the circuit in 1947. Bill Schroeder, who had organized the league, served as President through 1947. At that time, six franchises were owned by Major League teams and two, Modesto and Stockton, were independent.
From the year of founding the California League had a class C classification. After the restructuring of Minor League Baseball in 1963, the California League became an A league.
Like many other leagues, teams moved to other towns in the blink of an eye. In 1955 the league expanded to Nevada as the Channel City Oilers moved from Santa Barbara to Reno to become the Reno Silver Sox. The team would stay in Reno until 1993 when the team moved to Riverside to become the Riverside Pilots. The Pilots didn’t last long as the team moved to Lancaster in 1996 to become the JetHawks.
The league was thriving at the end of the 1940s and the early 1950s. But with television conquering the living rooms, the attendance started to drop. The lowest point of attendance was in 1963 when the league drew only a little bit less than 129,000. The San Jose Bees had the most fans that passed the turn stiles in 1963: 34,517.
Until 1979 the league contained eight teams except for 1959, 1960 and 1961. In 1979 the league expanded to ten teams for the first time.
For the first time there was an All Star Game played between the best players of the California League and the Carolina League (both A Advanced) in 1996. This is a yearly event ever since. In the twenty editions, the California League won nine times, as the Carolina League won eight of them. Twice the ASG ended in a tie.
During the eighties, nineties and in the zeros of the twenty-first century, the league thrived, but in the last couple of years two teams are kinda struggling to stay afloat: the Bakersfield Blaze and the High Desert Mavericks. And since the financial crisis hit in 2009 it has gotten harder to move a team to a different town. The Bakersfield Blaze has filed for a new stadium but the city of Bakersfield wasn’t willing to cooperate. Also with private funding a new stadium could not be realized. The Blaze pitched for a new ballpark in Salinas, but also there there was a lack of (private and public) funds. Thanks to this a new proposal reared up again. In 2010 the California League and the Carolina League discussed the option of moving two teams from the California League to the Carolina League.
Especially when the city of Victor Valley (Apple Valley and Victorville) shot down a ballpark plan for the High Desert Mavericks in Apple Valley, the team was forced to stay in their current ballpark in Adelanto. The city of Adelanto rather wanted to get rid of the baseball team but since the team had nowhere to go, the lease of the stadium was extended.
For now the league still has ten teams divided in two divisions, a Northern (Stockton Ports, Visalia Rawhide, San Jose Giants, Modesto Nuts and the Bakersfield Blaze) and a Southern division (High Desert Mavericks, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Inland Empire 66ers, Lancaster JetHawks and the Lake Elsinore Storm). It remains to be seen how long before the two aforementioned teams will move to the Carolina League.
Champions since 1941:
1941 Santa Barbara Saints
1946 Stockton Ports
1947 Stockton Ports
1948 Santa Barbara Dodgers
1949 San Jose Red Sox
1950 Modesto Reds
1951 Santa Barbara Dodgers
1952 Fresno Cardinals
1953 San Jose Red Sox
1954 Modesto Reds
1955 Fresno Cardinals
1956 Fresno Cardinals
1957 Salinas Packers
1958 Fresno Giants
1959 Modesto Reds
1960 Reno Silver Sox
1961 Reno Silver Sox
1962 San Jose Bees
1963 Stockton Ports
1964 Fresno Giants
1965 Stockton Ports
1966 Modesto Reds
1967 San Jose Bees
1968 Fresno Giants
1969 Stockton Ports
1970 Bakersfield Dodgers
1971 Visalia Mets
1972 Modesto Reds
1973 Lodi Lions
1974 Fresno Giants
1975 Reno Silver Sox
1976 Reno Silver Sox
1977 Lodi Dodgers
1978 Visalia Oaks
1979 San Jose Missions
1980 Stockton Ports
1981 Lodi Dodgers
1982 Modesto A’s
1983 Redwood Pioneers
1984 Modesto A’s
1985 Fresno Giants
1986 Stockton Ports
1987 Fresno Giants
1988 Riverside Red Wave
1989 Bakersfield Dodgers
1990 Stockton Ports
1991 High Desert Mavericks
1992 Stockton Ports
1993 High Desert Mavericks
1994 Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
1995 San Bernardino Spirit
1996 Lake Elsinore Storm
1997 High Desert Mavericks
1998 San Jose Giants
1999 San Bernardino Stampede
2000 San Bernardino Stampede
2001* San Jose Giants / Lake Elsinore Storm
2002 Stockton Ports
2003 Inland Empire 66ers
2004 Modesto A’s
2005 San Jose Giants
2006 Inland Empire 66ers
2007 San Jose Giants
2008 Stockton Ports
2009 San Jose Giants
2010 San Jose Giants
2011 Lake Elsinore Storm
2012 Lancaster JetHawks
2013 Inland Empire 66ers
2014 Lancaster JetHawks
2015 Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
* 2001 series cancelled due to 9/11
Several MLB players and Hall of Famers have named the California League home: Ben Sheets, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Junior, Kirby Puckett, Don Drysdale, George Brett and Dennis Eckersley to name a few.