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California Winter League

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The California Winter League (officially the Southern California Winter League originally) began play in the late 19th century. By 1910, Negro League teams would go west for the winter and play top white teams. While the teams were not integrated, this made the California Winter League the first integrated league in the USA in the 20th century.

Among the Hall of Famers to appear in the California Winter League were Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Stan Musial, Turkey Stearnes, Arky Vaughan, Smokey Joe Williams, Bob Feller, Bullet Joe Rogan, Kiki Cuyler, Rube Foster, Dizzy Dean, Buck Leonard, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Dave Bancroft, Willie Foster, Earl Averill Sr., Bob Lemon, Cool Papa Bell, Ralph Kiner, Heinie Manush, Hilton Smith, Red Ruffing and Max Carey. Other stars included Dobie Moore, Babe Herman, Chet Brewer, Mule Suttles, Bob Meusel, Wild Bill Wright, Dazzy Vance, Wally Berger, Biz Mackey, Sammy T. Hughes, Newt Allen, Sammy Bankhead, John Beckwith, Tank Carr and Gavvy Cravath.

The most prominent individual in the league's history was Joe Pirrone. Schedules were short, usually about 10-20 games, with white teams often taking turns against the black team. Some years the league consisted only of one black team and one white team. At its peak, the league talent level has been estimated to be between AA and AAA. The league finished its run in 1946; the integration of Major League Baseball, increased the number of exhibition contests between black and white players and limiting rules by long-time league opponent Kenesaw Mountain Landis helped end its long history.

All-time leaders are:

  • Batting Average - Dobie Moore - .385
  • Home Runs - Mule Suttles - 64
  • Wins - Satchel Paige - 56
  • Strikeouts - Satchel Paige - 766

Source: "The California Winter League" by William McNeil

[edit] Further Reading

  • William F. McNeil: The California Winter League: America's First Integrated Professional Baseball League, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2002.
  • Geri Strecker: "Winter Baseball in California: Separate Opportunities, Equal Talent", in Jean Hastings Ardell and Andy McCue, ed.: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 41, 2011, pp. 129-135.
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