BRIEF HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS BASEBALL
According to a note in the 1941 Cal baseball media guide, on November 6, 1886, a California baseball team faced a team from the College of (the) Pacific in “the first intercollegiate baseball game to be played on the west coast.” Lacking lights, and a dominant closer, the game went into the books with the score tied 11-11 – called on account of darkness.
Six years later, in April, 1892, another Cal team took the field, this time for a best of three game set against a team from Stanford. Despite the 1886 contest, this first installment of what evolved into an annual series against Stanford marks the “official” birth of University of California baseball. In fact, a look at the early records of Cal baseball shows that between 1892 and 1906, California baseball teams played 36 official games – all 36 were played as part of the annual “intercollegiate series” against Stanford.
Between 1906 and 1930, while the annual series against Stanford retained its prominence, the schedule of games played by Cal baseball steadily expanded. Games were played – and scores were recorded – against local colleges, PCL clubs, and semi-pro teams, as well as “industrial” teams (oil companies, and coffee and sugar manufacturers) and social clubs, including the Olympic Club of San Francisco. Occasionally post-season championship series were contested against Oregon and Washington schools; international “good will” tours took the team overseas to Japan and the Hawaiian islands.
The first phase of the “modern” era of California baseball begins approximately in 1927 with the creation of the California Intercollegiate Baseball Association (CIBA). The CIBA formed the basic structure of conference play until superseded by the Pac-8, in 1967 (Pac-10 in 1979, Pac-12 in 2012). Cal’s head coach, Carl Zamloch, a legendary baseball man in his own right, was a driving force in the formation of the CIBA.
In 1930, Clint Evans, the man synonymous with California baseball took over as head coach and immediately pushed the Bears to the top of CIBA standing, winning 7 championships in his first 8 years. Just as Zamloch had been instrumental in the formation of the CIBA, Evans was a leading figure in the creation of the College World Series as the capstone to the intercollegiate baseball season. As all Cal fans know Evans’ Bear team of 1947, led by Jackie Jensen, whom many regard as Cal’s greatest athlete ever, captured the first CWS title.
The 1947 NCAA Championship opens the second phase of Cal baseball’s “modern” era. While conference play and titles remained important, the CWS – “Omaha,” became the ultimate goal. In 1957, Evans” protégé George Wolfman won Cal’s second national baseball title. Twenty- three years passed before a Cal team returned to Omaha. In 1980, third year coach Bob Milano, a captain in 1960 and 1961 for Wolfman, led the Bears to a third-place finish. Milano led teams returned to Omaha in both 1988 and 1992 (finishing tied for seventh in both years.)
… 2011!! Nine months after being told that Cal baseball was playing its last season, and two-months after gaining conditional reinstatement (a long story!) Cal returned to Omaha under David Esquer’s leadership. Facing elimination (again!), after losing to number one ranked Virginia, Esquer’s team defeated Texas A &M to record Cal’s first CWS victory in thirty-one years. A second loss to Virginia two days later brought the curtain down on 2011. But as we know the story continues … Go Bears!!