The Birth of a Rivalry: San Diego and Seattle

Today the Padres begin their first of four games against their natural geographic rival, the Seattle Mariners. The teams will play two in Seattle and then return to San Diego for a two game set, a departure from year’s past where the teams met six times per season. As the current Vedder Cup holder the Padres need only win two games to retain the coveted prize.

Fans often scoff at the idea that Seattle is some kind of natural rival to the San Diego Padres. This reaction is a reasonable one. But I would like to share with you a bit of history, a history that goes a long way towards explaining that there is indeed a rivalry between the Padres and Mariners – a history that dates back to 1936.

What do we know today?

The Facts of 2013

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Interleague play began in 1997 at the behest of Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig. The rationale for this innovative scheduling quirk was for no other reason than to boost attendance. After the catastrophic strike of 1994 resulted in the cancellation of the World Series, baseball had found itself in unsteady waters. The game needed to boost interest among those who had become disenfranchised by the labor strife of 1994 and one of Selig’s remedies was interleague play.

Interleague play seemed like an appealing idea to teams in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles who had natural rivalries already in place. These cities could help to drive Selig’s novelty. Other cities were left with natural rivalries that just seemed . . . odd and misplaced. One such interleague match-up that was characterized in this way was the series between the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. It is still characterized in such a way after 16 seasons of play between these teams.

Outside of sharing a residence on the same coast and a Spring Training facility in Arizona nobody has seen anything to suggest that this is a rivalry that should manifest itself in two series each season. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a person who has tried to explain that a rivalry does exist between San Diego and Seattle . . . until now.

The Facts of 1936

In 1936 The Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars moved to San Diego where they rechristened themselves the San Diego Padres. FDR’s Works Progress Administration funded the construction of a new ballpark that would bear the name of Padres owner Bill Lane. Lane Field would open on time for the start of the PCL season and would host its first game on March 31st, 1936.

In this game the Padres would be victorious by a score of 6-2. With players nicknamed Old Folks and Mercury and the famous surnames of Doerr and DiMaggio leading the way, how could the newly formed Padres not have won?

The vanquished opponent on that afternoon was the Pacific Coast League representative from Seattle. For the most recent stretch of their existence (1938-1968) the Seattle franchise was referred to as the Rainiers. But in 1936 they battled the San Diego Padres as  . . . the Indians.

These are the facts as they have been recorded for posterity.

A Creation Myth

San Diego and Seattle both have histories dating back to the Pacific Coast League with each organization at various times honoring their city’s roots in the PCL. It has also been established that the first Padres game in San Diego pitted the team against the outfit from Seattle. So why hasn’t Bud Selig ever tried to make this connection when selling the natural rivalry aspect of this yearly match-up? This is a difficult question with an answer that is both simple and complex.

It is simple in that the most basic of research can unearth the PCL connection between San Diego and Seattle but complex in nature for reasons far more sinister. In the 21st century we have grown accustomed to having every detail and bit of minutiae available to us with the greatest of ease. The 1930s were a far different time. The 1930s were a time where details were misplaced and never even reported. It was also a time when truths were buried . . .

A Tale of Two Cities

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Seattle is an anglicized form of the Duwamish word Sealth. In the middle of the 19th century, Chief Sealth was the leader of the Duwamish, an American Indian tribe native to the Seattle area in the Pacific Northwest. The relations between the white trailblazers and the Duwamish were so harmonious that they decided to honor Chief Sealth by naming their settlement after him; the city of Seattle was born.

Understanding this bit of local history helps us grasp why, in the early 20th century, the Pacific Coast League team in Seattle decided to name themselves the Seattle Indians.

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San Diego received its name from the Spanish who settled the area in what is today the southwestern most corner of the United States. There would however, be no tributes paid to the local Kumeyaay Indians in naming this Spanish settlement. San Diego’s name would instead be distilled from the Catholic Saint Didacus, also known by the Spanish as San Diego de Alcala. The Franciscan Friar, Padre Junipero Serra would later establish, on behalf of God and Spain, the first church in what is today California. The Friars of Spain had a purpose upon arriving to the area; to convert all non-believers to Catholicism.

A rudimentary understanding of this history helps us to understand why in 1936 the team arriving in San Diego from Hollywood chose a fitting name like the San Diego Padres.

Connecting The Dots

After the San Diego Padres destroyed the Seattle Indians in the first home game in team history things would never be the same. The Padres would finish ahead of the Indians during both the ’36 and ’37 campaign and shortly thereafter Seattle would abandon the name it carried from 1903-1937 in favor of the Rainiers.

What does it all mean? Has the history of this matter been subverted in an attempt to hide unsavory truths?

Seattle was a city founded on a belief of synergy amongst those inhabiting their corner of the U.S. and would ultimately choose a team mascot that reflected that particular ethos. In contrast San Diego opted for a mascot that was in conflict with the indigenous people of their corner of the U.S.

While I continue to work feverishly to uncover a hidden past, I will posit that the Padres and Indians may have had a betting proposition in place — a loser-leave-town type of arrangement where the team finishing lowest in the standings after two seasons would drop their team name. Perhaps PCL Padres owner, “Hardrock” Bill Lane, because of his gambling nature as a gold prospector, entered into a betting agreement with the Seattle Indians’ owner Bill Klepper, a man reported to be both greedy and gutless. Or maybe the gutless Klepper tried to do something right, for once in his life, by preserving his team’s name while eliminating one that arrived to the west accompanied by strife.

The above may be examples of the wild speculation that occurs when a detailed history is conspicuously absent. But it cannot be denied that the Seattle Indians vanished after 1937 as Klepper sold the team to Emile Sick who rechristened his PCL team the Rainiers, a horribly unpopular move at the time. The name Rainier referred not to the famous volcanic peak (Mount Rainier) but instead to Sick’s other business: The Rainier Brewing Company.

In 1938 the name of Indians was dismissed and the Rainiers were born. The Seattle Rainiers went on to enjoy immediate success in the Pacific Coast League where they would be fondly remembered as the precursor to the Seattle Mariners.

Our Place In This Creation Myth

Is this confluence of events a mere coincidence, something to be chalked up to happenstance? Perhaps it is nothing more than the randomness so frequently presented by our universe. History is always something that must be evaluated time and again based on the discoveries of those who demand answers and continue the search for them. Sometimes we don’t like the answers unearthed by the curious. These truths can be painful. It should be noted however, that no matter how unpalatable the truth may appear, it is not our duty to pay for the sins of our fathers.

So as our Friars venture north to Seattle today for the first time in 2013, Padres fans must keep in mind that they will be coming face to face with Seattle Mariner fans, a sect that traces their ancestry back to the Seattle Indians of the early 1900s. Seattle-ites may have read through this account, and if so, they will arrive to Safeco with a deep sense of loathing towards you and your Friar roots. Do not apologize for who you are as Padres fans and San Diegans. Do not waver in the onslaught of Seattle’s scorn.

Time may ease the pain of wounds but make no mistake about the history that exists between these two teams . . . no . . . the rivalry that exists!

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*Bill Swank’s “Echoes From Lane Field” and Baseball in “San Diego: From The Padres To Petco” were used as references in the creation of this myth. No one was harmed.

**This post originally appeared at RJsFro.com as part of a PCL history collaboration between AJM and the Fro. It contains slight alterations to modernize it after two long years floating around on the internet.

I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM where I comment on the validity of the Vedder Cup, 7 days a week.

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