Memories of the Game
Baseball Article for 2009 Humboldt Crabs Program Origin
History of Humboldt County Baseball
by: Jack Nash
The game of baseball, or "rounders", is generally recognized as having been "invented" in 1839. It is also generally felt that there were similar activities for many years before that but 1893 is where we will start . The game was initially played by club teams, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, toured the country playing just about anyone and the popularity of the sport took off.
When Humboldt County's population exploded (relatively speaking!) many of its new residents had already been exposed to baseball when they lived in the Eastern part of the Unites States. It is believed that the first team in Humboldt County was called the Baseball Club of Rohnerville. The year? 1874! Only a little over 20 years since the county was settled! They were able to find little competition at first but there is a printed account of a game with the Ferndale Baseball Club where the Rohnerville nine cruised to an easy victory by the score of 60-29. The high run was not unusual for the times.
Later on, specifically Tuesday night, April 5th, 1878, the Blue Stocking Baseball Club (BBC) was organized. They had active financial backing, an organization ( pres., VP, Sec, etc) and a five year lease on a piece of land opposite Pleasure Park which was between "F" & "G" , near Wabash, in Eureka. Sadly, they lost their first game to the "Mutuals' by the score of 28 to 24. Other games that season show prolific run production. The "Alerts" beat the Pacific BB CLUB 74-26 at Ferndale and the "Plowboys" defeated the Pacific BB Club 33-31 at Springville.
One of the most famous early players was Sam Dugan. A native son (Dungan's Ferry on the Eel River), he left Humboldt in 1888 and eventually played in the major leagues in the 1890's for Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and others.
When baseball popularity increased leagues were formed. In 1895 the "Humboldt Baseball League" had four teams, the Mantells of Eureka, Spreeys of Arcata , the Port Kenyon Crowns and the Rohnerviller Acmes. The players were from areas where there was work such as lumber mills! The name of the top league in Humboldt changed many times over the years but some examples are: Humboldt League, Humboldt County League, Redwood League and the Redwood Empire League. Even thought there were leagues formed there still remained a number of independent teams that were mostly involved with lumber camps and mills. Early on small communities complained that the larger towns, such as Eureka, Arcata, Blue Lake and Ferndale, were hiring "players" and paying them salaries to play. This made them at least semi-professional.
The reporting of games, both local and national, had a great flair. From "The Unforgettable Season" by G H Fleming comes some colorful language such as on April 19th, 1908 it was reported that "Christy Mathewson pitched for the big fellows and he stood out like a crane on an ant hill. He was never in better form and he sent twelve Brooklyn lads back to the bench in disgrace after they had swung their floating ribs out of shape trying to hit his benders on the shoot!
Any story about old Humboldt County baseball has to include Joe Oeschger who made history on May 1, 1920 when he held the Brooklyn Dodgers scoreless for 21 innings. The game ended after 21 innings tied 1-1. Joe was born in Chicago in 1892 and moved to Ferndale High, St. Mary's College and then went on to the pros playing last for those Brooklyn Dodgers in 1925. He really put Humboldt County on the map!
In the 1920's baseball, and the Humboldt County League, became a very important part of the local scene and, indeed, in the West. Players were heavily recruited and moved back and forth between Humboldt County to the Bay Area and beyond. The Pacific Coast League, which was considered on a par with the major leagues ( National and American), and the Humboldt County League (Arcata, Scotia, Eureka, and Samoa) routinely traded players or the players simply changed teams on their own. For example, in 1922, Dave "Bambino" Kyle went from Arcata to the San Francisco Seals as did George "Taxi" Valencia from the Eureka team. "Bookie" Harrington, the great shortstop for Scotia, ended up playing for the Detroit Tigers that same year. By the way, a couple of recognizable names umpired in the 1920's.
One was A. Dutton ( Al Dutton's father- Al was Eureka Police Ofiicer) and he quit when he was replaced by Mark Melendy.
Where did there ball players play? In Arcata the location of the ball park has been the same for many years but the grandstands have changed. There is also some reference to the "Plaza Diamonds" and the "White City Ballpark." For Eureka we can start with Connick's Field on 11th Street between "H" & "I". The most famous old park was at the South Park Recreation Grounds north of Wabash near Humboldt Bay. Other references are made to Buhne Field, Buhne Terrace and Buhne Baseball Park all of which were located in, or near, Henderson Center. In 1924 a complex was started, by George Albee, to be a home sports field for Eureka High School. The baseball field actually came later. Albee Stadium became the home for the Eureka Merchants, and others, before being used by the Humboldt Crabs when they would call Eureka home. Fortuna's field, probably Rohner Park was used as the home park for Furtuna's teams as well as occasionally being used by the Samoa team who would be listed as the "home" team. Scotia had a League Park and Blue Lake had their diamonds, also.
The local baseball leagues, and teams, remained very strong into the 1930's. The top league in the county was either called the Humboldt County League or the Redwood League and teams went by such names as the Scotia Lumberjacks, Eureka Merchants, Arcata ( Samoa) Blues and the Fortuna Merchants. Many of these teams had players who ended up on the Humboldt Crabs teams in it;s formative years.
1945- The formation of the Humboldt Crabs signaled the start of the one of the most famous baseball programs on the West Coast, if not the entire nation. , The nucleus of this team had played for various teams in the Humboldt County League and in 1942 played for Eureka Tallow Co. (ETC) and in 1943 for Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI). The rest is the well documented story of the longest running semi-pro team in history.