Arizona and the Major Leagues:
The Early Years
Late 1800s – early 1900s – Baseball has deep roots in Arizona. Soldiers posted to the Southwest formed teams at the company level after the Civil War. By the 1890s, local non-military teams were playing each other on a fairly regular basis as reported in newspapers.
March 30, 1909 – Chicago’s White Stockings (White Sox) are the first Major League team to play a barnstorming game in Arizona. They defeat Yuma’s team 9-1.
1910s – 1940s – Spearheaded by the Chicago teams (the Cubs and the White Sox), Major League teams make regular stops in Arizona on their way home from training sites on the West Coast. Barnstorming games are scheduled both before and after the regular season and are played in towns across Arizona, including Warren (Bisbee), Tucson, Phoenix, and Mesa. Barnstorming continues after the Cactus League is established in the late 1940s.
Planting the Seeds of the Cactus League
1942 – Chicago Cubs treasurer Earl Nelson visits Mesa to discuss the possibility of moving the Cubs to town for spring training with the Mayor and other local leaders.
1943-1945 – Due to wartime shortages of fuel and other vital supplies, Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis restricts spring training to the northeastern United States (with boundaries set at the Mississippi River in the west and the Potomac River in the south). Although some exceptions are allowed, no teams spring train in Florida or the West Coast for the duration of the war.
1947 – The Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants open their first year of spring training in Arizona. Owners Bill Veeck (Indians) and Horace Stoneham (Giants) work together on various details to coordinate the move to Arizona (the Indians go to Tucson and the Giants settle in Phoenix).
The Official Start of the
1954 - The Baltimore Orioles spring train in Yuma. With their arrival, spring training in Arizona is officially referred to as the “Cactus League” as there are now four teams total. After a year in Florida in 1955, the Orioles are lured to Scottsdale with a brand-new ballpark. They stay until 1985 and then leave for Florida where the team still trains each spring.
September to October 1954 - The New York Giants win the first all-Cactus League World Series, sweeping the Cleveland Indians in four games. Among the highlights in the now legendary over-the-shoulder catch by Giants center fielder Willie Mays of a deep fly ball to prevent a Cleveland rally with two men on base.
1959 - The Boston Red Sox spring train in Scottsdale (take the place of the Orioles who left for Flordia). Among those joining their team in Arizona was veteran and future Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Williams was not happy about the move to the desert southwest, but he would only be there for the first two years that the Red Sox were in Scottsdale (he retired after the 1960 season).
First Waves of Expansion
1961 – The American League-expansion Los Angeles Angels join the Cactus League. Although they are part of the Cactus League, their spring training headquarters is in Palm Springs, California (they have additional practice facilities in both California and Arizona). Their 26 game schedule includes eight games against teams of the Pacific Coast League – the old rival of Major League baseball.
1961 – Horace Stoneham’s Giants (who relocated to San Francisco in 1958) begin training at a new practice facility in Casa Grande known as Francisco Grande. Built with various modern amenities, Francisco Grande is primarily a training site for the team – the Giants will continue to play exhibition games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
1962 – 1963 – The National League-expansion Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros) make their spring training home at Geronimo Park in Apache Junction. Their arrival expands the Cactus League to six teams. Small crowds and minimal community support from Apache Junction led the Colt 45s to leave after 1963.
Growth of the Cactus League
1977 – Hohokam Stadium replaces Rendezvous Park in Mesa for spring training. The Oakland Athletics move into the new ballpark. The old Rendezvous Ballpark, dating back to the 1920s, is torn down to make way for a new community meeting hall and other facilities. Hohokam Stadium is located over a mile to the north – away from Mesa’s downtown.
1977 – Another team from Seattle moves into Tempe’s ballpark – this team is known as the Mariners (along with the Toronto Blue Jays, they represent a new American League expansion). Unlike the previous tenant, the Mariners commit themselves for the long haul – they will be partners with the city of Tempe for the next 25 years.
Few physical landmarks remain from the earliest years of the Cactus League in Arizona – the best known of these landmarks is Hi Corbett Field – today the Grand Old Man of the spring training ballparks. Lesser known but no less important to the creation of the Cactus League is a place called the Buckhorn Baths. Practically forgotten to all but a small, exclusive corps of retired ballplayers and concerned local citizens, the Buckhorn Baths are a national baseball treasure that is practically frozen in time. When Horace Stoneham considered Arizona as the spring training home for his New York Giants, the Buckhorn Baths were one of the key assets that encouraged him to stay. In fact, Mesa’s Cactus League champion Dwight Patterson and Buckhorn owner Alice Sliger both believe that the Baths was the deciding factor for Stoneham to bring the Giants to Arizona to train – this in turn led to the creation of the Cactus League.