by CAMERON STEVENS
The Salt Lake Bees, a Pacific Coast League (PCL) baseball team, came into existence in 1915. In 1915, the Sacramento Sacts franchise had relocated to San Francisco due to poor ticket sales. The franchise stayed in San Francisco only one season before moving to Salt Lake City in search of better revenue opportunities. According to Snelling, once in Salt Lake City, the franchise had unprecedented financial gains and a highly successful, rollercoaster 1915 season.
The PCL has functioned as a minor league, or farm system, for developing Major League talent since its inception in 1903. Several minor leagues existed in the United States at the time, but the PCL offered higher quality baseball, salaries, and amenities than any other farm system at the time. The PCL produced such excellent baseball that it was widely considered a third major league, according to Utah Historical Quarterly, in addition to the American League and National League, which would eventually join to form Major League Baseball.
In 1912, the Sacramento Sacts were failing at the gates, and in 1913 the team finished the regular season with a losing record and relocated to San Francisco in search of greener pastures. The official Web site of Minor League Baseball reports that after only one season as the San Francisco Mission Wolves, the franchise again moved in search of greater revenue, this time to Salt Lake City. As the only PCL franchise outside of California, the Bees became a baseball outpost. This both heightened the presence of the league throughout the western United States and raised operating costs for the league due to the increased amount of travel to meet home and away games. Despite these initial risks, Snelling notes that new franchise owner Bill “Hardpan” Lane deemed the move prudent and believed a success was inevitable.
The Bees season began on the road with a March 8 loss to the Chicago White Sox, followed the next day with a 5-3 victory over the same club. The San Jose crowd (the White Sox were on an extended road tour to keep costs down, and thus played “home” games in California) was one of the largest recorded for a minor league game at the time, and the game was tied in the top of the sixth 3-3. On March 9, 1915, The Deseret News reported that Hannah, a little known utility infielder, came to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a low line drive that scored one run and provided a lead that would never be relinquished. It should be noted that because of the scarcity of full rosters and use of abbreviated box scores, players are often recorded only as last names.
On March 31, 1915, the Salt Lake Bees took the home field for the first time against the Vernon Tigers, a PCL team based near Los Angeles. Until this point, Salt Lake fans only knew of the Bees from sports page box scores and open practices.
Bonneville Park in Ogden, Utah, was filled beyond capacity with 10,000 newly minted Bees fans. As if preordained, the Bees pounded the perennial PCL powerhouse 9-3, as observed by The Deseret News on April 2, 1915. This game was the beginning of one of the most exhilarating seasons in minor league history, and an unquestionable financial success, explains Snelling.
A month and a half into the season, the Bees were playing above-average baseball. Because of the cost of traveling to the West Coast, the Bees went on extended road trips and played throughout California. The Bees played a game against the San Francisco Seals that would set the tone for the rest of the season. Despite also being a newly transplanted team, the Seals were locked in an early inning struggle with the Bees in which the Seals capitalized on their few scoring opportunities and Salt Lake repeatedly left men on base. The Seals pitcher, recorded simply as Meloan in the April 28, 1915 issue of The Deseret News, decided the game. The left-handed Meloan set a standard of dominating southpaws that Snelling’s statistics show haunted the Bees until season’s end.
At the season’s halfway point, the Bees were ten games above .500, but several crushing defeats turned the tide and threatened the season-ending standings of the PCL’s most remote franchise.
On June 22, Salt Lake lost in the last second to the Oakland Oaks 7 to 11. Surprisingly, only the final score was reported in The Deseret News, on June 23, 1915. The full box score wasn’t even printed.
The following day, the Bees used four pitchers against the Oaks in a rematch (although common in modern era baseball, using more than two pitchers was a rarity in professional baseball in the early 1900s). Despite their best efforts and managerial creativeness, The Deseret News, June 23, 1915, reports that the Oaks shelled the Bees for 11 runs. The Bees managed three two-run spurts but nothing else over nine innings.
The ability to seemingly score at will became a hallmark of the 1915 Bees, but this ability only presented itself in patches with maddeningly irregular results. The Bees had shown that they could blow out any team in the PCL, yet had a terrible habit of losing crucial games. Snelling writes that despite these shortcomings, the Bees stood five games over .500 at the beginning of July.
As the season wore on, the Bees affirmed themselves as a PCL championship contender and every game became increasingly important. On July 10, 1915, the Bees played a critical doubleheader against the Vernon Tigers. Despite defeating the Tigers by three runs the day before, Salt Lake lost both games 4-6. When the season series had ended, Salt Lake had won only two of the seven games the two teams played in 1915, as explained in The Deseret News, on July 10, 1915.
On July 24, 1915 the Bees played against the Portland Beavers, a middling PCL team. Despite the dominance the Bees had shown throughout the season over the Beavers, Snelling observes that the game was important for the Bees record and season-ending standings.
The Bees’ right-handed pitcher Williams allowed only nine hits in a complete game. Despite Williams’ performance, The Deseret News reported on July 26, 1915, that his own fielders, namely Lou Barbour, undid his efforts.
Barbour was the Bees’ regular third baseman, a great hitter but an inconsistent fielder. Three of the Bees’ six errors came from third base alone, one of which ricocheted off Barbour’s glove, and two balls he actually kicked away from himself while trying to field the ball. These mistakes, combined with eight men left on base, show the comically bad side of a great baseball team.
The Los Angeles Seraphs came to Salt Lake for a July 29 meeting to place the finishing touches on the season. Salt Lake was one game out of first place, and had to win in order to maintain a chance at the PCL championship. Snelling’s game score card shows that the Bees entered the ninth inning two runs in the lead, and promptly fell apart at the seams. The Seraphs scored three times, twice on Salt Lake errors. After a close play at first base allowed the winning run to stay on base, the Bees’ fate was sealed. At game’s end, both teams had generated thirteen hits, according to The Deseret News August 1, 1915.
The Bees finished the 1915 season with a record of 108-89 in second place in the PCL, as noted by Snelling.
On November 1, 1915, The Deseret News reported that the Bees paid out a 5 percent dividend to investors in Bees owner Bill Lane’s long shot and the franchise was officially valued at over $50,000. The franchise values provided by Snelling show that a newly transplanted team, in a remote location such as Salt Lake, would never be expected to experience this kind of success.
The Bees concluded their initial season under owner Bill “Hardpan” Lane and manager Cliff Blankenship, holding second place in the Pacific Coast League, one of the most dominant leagues in minor league baseball.
Cameron Stevens is a public relations student at the University of Utah. He enjoys long walks on the beach, imported beers, and Café Rio fire grilled steak burritos, black beans, hot sauce. Hold the guac, por favor. Oh, and a large Fresca.
John Sillito, “‘Our Tone’: Tony Lazzeri’s Baseball Career in Salt Lake City, 1922-1925.” Utah Historical Quarterly 72 no. 4 (Fall 2004): 343-357.
The Deseret News, March 9, 1915.
The Deseret News, April 2, 1915.
The Deseret News, April 28, 1915.
The Deseret News, June 23, 1915.
The Deseret News, July 10, 1915.
The Deseret News, July 24, 1915.
The Deseret News, July 26, 1915.
The Deseret News, August 1, 1915.
The Deseret News, November 1, 1915.
Dennis Snelling. The Pacific Coast League: A Statistical History, 1903-1957. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1995.