These PCL Padres made a major mark

December 5th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- Before they became the San Diego Padres, they were ... well, they were still the San Diego Padres. But they played in the Pacific Coast League.

Before San Diego became a Major League city with an expansion team in 1969, the Minor League Padres played in the PCL from 1936-68. They were unaffiliated for a majority of those seasons, but they also served as the Triple-A affiliate for the Phillies, Reds, White Sox, Indians and Red Sox at various points.

Even before its five-plus decades in the big leagues, San Diego was home to some of the sport's all-time greats.

Here's a list of some legendary players from the city’s PCL history, players you might not have known were once San Diego Padres:

Ted Williams, 1936-37
A native of San Diego, outfielder played on the first Padres team in existence in 1936 and helped lead them to a PCL title in '37. He's the only player from the PCL Padres enshrined in the Padres Hall of Fame. Legend has it that the Yankees were interested in Williams, but his mother preferred that he stay close to home. So after graduating Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego, Williams signed with the Padres. Williams batted .271 in '36 at age 17 and .291 in '37 at age 18. He didn’t finish another season below .300 until age 40 in 1959. The Padres sold Williams to the Red Sox before the '38 season, and the rest is history.

Minnie Minoso, 1949-50
When arrived in San Diego in 1949, the Padres had just become the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate. Like Williams, he spent two years in San Diego, and he raked. Minoso, a left fielder and third baseman with the Padres, hit .297 in '49 and .339 in '50 before breaking into the big leagues for good with the Indians in '51. After a month, Minoso was promptly traded to the White Sox, where he made his name as a nine-time All-Star and a breaker of barriers as the first Black player to play for the White Sox and one of the first Latin American players to make the All-Star Game.

Tony Perez, 1963-64
One of the last superstars to play for the Minor League Padres, made his breakthrough on a 1964 team that won 91 games and the PCL title. Perez took home the league's MVP Award before breaking through with the Reds later that season. After impressing during a brief stint in San Diego in '63, Perez posted a .309/.374/.597 slash line in ’64 while splitting time between first base and third base, leaving no doubt he belonged in the big leagues. A few decades later, he was Hall of Fame bound.

Bobby Doerr, 1936
, a Hall of Fame second baseman who spent 14 years with the Red Sox, began his pro career playing for the Hollywood Stars in 1934. But when the Stars, who shared a stadium with the Angels, had their rent increased, owner Bill Lane relocated the franchise to San Diego. As such, Doerr was an original San Diego Padre. He batted .342 with 238 hits in the Padres' first season in ‘36 -- during which he also met longtime teammate Ted Williams.

Johnny Ritchey, 1948-49
The PCL Padres saw Hall of Famers and perennial All-Stars make stops in San Diego over the course of their 33-year existence. But the franchise's most impactful signing was catcher Johnny Ritchey. It was Ritchey who broke the PCL's color barrier by signing with his hometown Padres in November 1947. He played at San Diego High School and at San Diego State before serving in World War II. He won the ‘47 Negro American League batting title with the Chicago American Giants.

On Nov. 23, 1947, in an article published in the San Diego Union, team president Bill Starr said: “We believe we have signed one of the finest prospects in the country. His record at San Diego High School, State College and with the Chicago Negro team has been particularly outstanding. … We are not sponsoring any causes. Our interest in Ritchey is primarily that he can swing that bat. He is a potential Major League prospect and has a better than reasonable chance of helping the Padres."

Starr's assessment was spot on. Ritchey batted .323 with a .405 on-base percentage in his first season with the Padres. He faced many of the same obstacles that Jackie Robinson did. But his family was well known in the area, and his reception in San Diego was reportedly positive. Ritchey played 10 seasons in professional baseball before retiring and returning to San Diego. A bust of him is on display at Petco Park.