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“The Mission Has Always Been The Home of Baseball”

February 17, 2010

“The Mission has always been the home of baseball.” So said Anita Day Hubbard in 1924.

Here we see some rather mind bending perspective:

  • a 1920s patron of Recreation Park on 14th and Valencia (enjoying whiskey and chicken specials)…
  • looking forward to a “splendid” new venue to be built in the 1930s (that we once knew as Seals Stadium)…
  • that will be built a block from the site of the first baseball game to be played in California in the 1850s…
  • and looking back on their previous baseball park from the 1870s, Recreation Grounds, at 25th & Folsom.

Arrgh, head hurts. Someone get me some chicken and whiskey.

Oh, and for those of you asking, nope – Recreation Park ≠ Recreation Grounds. Yes, I am going to tell you about ANOTHER epic baseball stadium in the Mission.

In 1924, Anita Day Hubbard wrote an epic series of articles in the SF Call Bulletin on the history of the city and the Mission which contain a staggering (wait, let me reformat that) — <blink><a href=””>STAGGERING</a></blink> — amount of historical detail.  But since we’re talking baseball let’s stick to that otherwise my head might explode.

The first baseball game in the city and the state was held at 16th and Harrison 151 years ago.

Drama in the Mission! Red Rovers refuse to finish the game! Eagles win!

So where was the game? Hard to say, but given the location of Mission Creek my best guess is the northwest corner of 16th (i.e. Center) and Harrison (as I doubt they played ON the bridge). While our favorite 1860s Calisphere view sadly does not capture anyone playing baseball (just slacker proto-hipsters), the field of baseball through time and space is captured quite nicely (click to zoom).

Here’s the 1859 US Coast Survey map, with red showing my wag at the location of the 1st game, and green the future diamond of Seats Stadium.

In the 1860s games were played behind the old Mission church, and by 1868, dedicated baseball grounds were built at Folsom and 25th.

Once again the Mission keeps Oakland down. But the Eagles were soon to feel the same fate.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the baseball team of the day.  In September 1869, they took one of the first transcontinental train to battle their western foes. At Folsom and 25th, they proceeded to blow out our Eagles 35-4 on the 25th.  The Eagles dusted off and… lost again.  Even more badly, 58-4.

The Eagles, not to be deterred, played Cincinnati yet again. And were crushed yet again, 66-4.  The Eagles local rivals, the Pacifics, got spanked 54-4, and the Atlantics’ attempt at coastal deception failed miserably, 76-5.  The “San Francisco Pickled Nine” made a respectable offensive effort by only losing 46-14.

Thankfully for the San Francisco fans, I have evidence of a SALOON on site.

I suspect Mr Donnelly made a lot of money that week.

We’re lucky enough to have pictures of Recreation Grounds via the SFPL as well as the Online Archive of California.  This OAC view is looking to the northwest from around 26th and Harrison, with Twin Peaks in the background. (Click to zoom.)

Crop on the players with my guesses on the positions.

Another view from around 25th and Harrison looing to the SW.  (Bernal is in the left.) Click to zoom. SFPL dates this view as 1875, and I am pretty sure this and the above photo were taken on the same day.

Note the fans sitting on the edge of the outfield. We’re just about looking down the 3rd baseline and I believe the gaggle of players on the right are behind home plate.

Naturally, I’ve been trying to figure out where the baseball diamond was.  Unfortunately the Sanborn maps don’t start up until after Recreation Grounds were built over, and none of the Library of Congress birds eye maps from the 1870 show anything.

But a very interesting point of reference is the row houses behind the grandstands that I’ve numbered 1-7.

All seven houses on the 2900 block of Folsom are still there today!

And the 1889 Sanborn map of Folsom at 25th lines up perfectly with Google Earth. (West is up.)

I hereby anoint this row of houses “The Folsom Ladies”!

Using this a point of reference along with my lettered trees, guesses as to the depth of the grandstands (red) and some burrito parallax, I figure that that first baseline could very well have run down Lucky St, with home plate about 6 houses south of 25th.

Looking south, from home plate down the first baseline (sorry, no blue tape).

And north from 1st back to home:

Granted I could be off by a dozen feet to the east or west, but a lot more fun to think of it in the alley than a yard (unless it were your yard, I suppose…) Any and all feedback/suggestion/criticism welcome.

And what was there before Recreation Grounds? We have to remember that in 1868 it was built smack in the middle of the old Pioneer Race Course owned by George Treat (yes, that Treat), just above the stone wall marking the northern border of Bernal’s rancho (yes, that Bernal).

One last note — these guys from 1875-77 could very well be the ones playing in the pictures of Recreation Grounds above.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2010 10:54 am

    It thrills me to a completely ridiculous degree to see someone obsess and research our neighbourhood with such evident glee. Do you ever organise get-togethers for the edification of your readers in La Lengua (hint, hint)?

  2. February 18, 2010 12:00 pm

    I’m simply catatonic by this post. As always, you win awesome.

  3. February 18, 2010 12:49 pm

    Amazing. Simply amazing.

    Also, I now consider myself an honorary member of the San Francisco Picked Nine.

  4. February 18, 2010 1:05 pm

    Amazing stuff. Thanks for doing this research!

    There’s another map that might be relevant, but it’s probably too early. County Recorder’s Map C 107 is the 1864 subdivision map for the Pioneer Race Course, and it doesn’t show the Recreation Grounds field, but it does show grandstands looking south from near 24th between Howard (South Van Ness) and Folsom. But those were probably for watching the races, not baseball.

  5. Emeth permalink
    February 19, 2010 10:32 am

    This is awesome! Thank you!

  6. October 18, 2010 1:15 pm

    I totally missed this post when it first came out–amazing as usual. I had looked at this same photo and mistakingly assumed it was at 15th and Folsom, though others claimed I was wrong. Tracking down the background houses was the key! Nice work.

    I’ve corrected this spot on LookBackMaps and cited your work. Thanks!

  7. Jack permalink
    February 13, 2011 4:56 pm

    Thanks for the great blog on SF Baseball in the Mission. My wife’s great-grandfather, James Shepard and great-granduncle William Shepard played on the Pacifics. There is a typo in the newspaper. The Pacifics played two games against the Red Stockings, I believe the following are the correct scores.
    Box Scores, Daily Alta Californian
    Wednesday, Sept 29, 1869 Red Stockings vs Pacifics, 66 to 4
    Thursday, Sept 30, 1869 Red Stockings vs Pacifics, 54 to 5

    • March 31, 2011 11:42 pm

      Jack, can you contact me? I’m researching early SF baseball and know a lot about the Shepard brothers, but I also have a lot of questions. I have written on early SF baseball, including the Pacifics, the club the Shepards played on and clubs that they played against. Thanks

  8. Jack permalink
    February 13, 2011 7:01 pm

    These scores were published in the Daily Alta California Oct 4, 1869
    Sept 25, 1869 Red Stockings vs Eagles, 35 to 4
    Sept 27, 1869 Red Stockings vs Eagles, 58 to 4
    Sept 29, 1869 Red Stockings vs Pacifics, 66 to 4
    Sept 30, 1869 Red Stockings vs Pacifics, 54 to 5
    Oct 1, 1869 Red Stockings vs Atlantics, 76 to 5
    Oct 2, 1869 Red Stockings vs Picked Nine, 46 to 14

  9. May 17, 2011 11:27 pm

    Two weeks after the Red Stockings left San Francisco, an arsonist set fire to the Recreation Grounds, destroying the pavilion-grandstand and other buildings. Apparently the pavilion was not rebuilt because as late as 1877 there were comments that the new lessees/proprietors–Joseph H McCloskey and Daniel J Shea–planned to improve the Recreation Grounds, including building a pavilion for the ladies. (By the way, Joseph H. McCloskey was the son of Matt McCloskey, the umpire at the Center’s Bridge game on February 22, 1860.)

    After the Eagles and Wide Awakes inaugurated Recreation Grounds on November 26, 1868, the next game was played by the Eagles and Pacifics to open the season on February 22, 1869. All told, 11 baseball games were played on the Recreation Grounds before the Red Stockings arrived at the end of September to play their 5 games against San Francisco’s finest. However, only four of the games were meaningful contests between competitive teams. The other games were “silly affairs” put on by the proprietors of the Recreation Grounds to lure spectators to their facility to spend money.

    So, the chances are that the players in the pictures of the Recreation Grounds are either from the first game played there, one of the four games contested by the Eagles and Pacifics, or from one of the five games when the Red Stockings came to town.

    • May 20, 2011 12:57 pm

      Wow. Thank you – I’m going to do some newspaper archive digging on this. (And let’s get that beer soon.)

  10. Beverly permalink
    September 20, 2011 12:04 pm

    Thank you for all of your hard work; this is great stuff! My grandfather was born in 1902 on Capp St (in the previous post:Let’s Take A Drive Down Serpentine Ave) and told me wonderful stories about going to the baseball games as a young boy. The neighborhood kids would hang around outside the bar where the local team drank before the game.Then, every boy that carried a player’s bag into the stadium got in to the see the game free. My grandfather was one of the smallest kids so a nice player used to carry his own bag and then hand it to my grandfather just before they went in so he could get in free too.

    • September 20, 2011 1:34 pm

      Thank you Beverly! That is a great story. We’d love to hear any others you might have!

  11. TrixieSF permalink
    September 20, 2011 1:59 pm

    Finally, a place where us map wonks belong!

  12. February 22, 2012 10:43 pm

    Yo, Johnnyo.

    Check out this link to the San Francisco Historical Society calendar of events for March

    Something of interest? Yes/no/maybe.

  13. March 16, 2012 2:05 am

    The picture of the 1875 baseball players labelled CHAMPIONS 1875 76 77″ is “SLIGHTLY” bogus.

    If you look at A. PIERCY, standing, second from right, carefully, you’ll notice that his face is lighted/highlighted differently than the other players. That’s because his head has been added to the body of the player in the original picture–a player by the name of T. Brown.

    The original photo is in a book titled “HISTORY OF BASEBALL IN CALIFORNIA AND PACIFIC COAST LEAGUES,1847-1938. MEMORIES AND MUSING OF AN OLD TIME BASEBALL PLAYER”, by Fred W. Lange, published in 1938. The book is for library use only, but you can make a photocopy of the original photo.

    The bogus photo seems to originate around 1950. The original in Lange’s book is a sepia-toned artifact from another era. It is captioned SAN FRANCISCO BASE BALL CLUB FOR 1875 and has a mutton-chopped player as T. Brown standing, second from right. The author details in the book how he came by the original. There is no reference to the San Francisco Club being champions in the original photo.

    The claim for the bogus picture that the players were champs for 1875, 76, 77 is also bogus. The San Franciscos were the champs in 1875, but there was no baseball in San Francisco in 1876 because the city’s best players were sent back east as the San Francisco Centennials to play the clubs on the east coast–the first time this was ever done. Since there was no baseball in San Francisco that year, there was no champion in 1876. Thus the claim of 1876 champ cannot be true. The top club in 1877 was the San Francisco Athletics with a record of 14-3. The San Franciscos were in 3rd place at 6-7.

    Piercy was a member of the 1875 San Francisco club as well as the 1876 Centennials. In 1877 he switched to the Eagles, another bogus element having to do with the picture: he was not a member of the San Franciscos for three years.

    I realize this is pretty esoteric stuff, but clearly the original photo from Lange’s book was doctored to benefit Andy Piercy. (If/when you compare the two pictures, you’ll notice other “differences”. What isn’t “different” is the pose/position of the subjects in the photos.)

    Specifically WHY it was done as well as WHEN and BY WHOM are other mysteries.

    • March 20, 2012 1:47 pm

      Mid 20th-century Photoshop!!

      I wonder if it was someone’s relative protecting family history? Or was pulling a Mike Daisy style embellishment to make a “better” story?

  14. Emily Dawson permalink
    May 2, 2012 7:54 pm


  15. December 15, 2014 10:07 am

    A great resource for baseball historians!


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