by Alan O'Connor
Baseball has always had close ties to alcohol, dating back to
post-game activities of the 1840s New York Knickerbockers who were said to have consumed spirits.
Often the difference in professional ball teams making or losing money came from the sales of beer
and whiskey at games.
The saloon subculture of the 19th century defined masculinity
in terms of alcohol, gambling and sport. Beer and alcohol became part of the game’s traditions.
Some ball clubs had beer gardens at the park and some installed actual “alcohol cages” where a
game ticket also included drinks. These chicken wire cages separated the often inebriated fans
from ball players and fans who wished to remain sober.
In the late 1800s, beer and whiskey were closely linked to athletic
achievement through player endorsements. From professional baseball’s beginnings up until today,
alcohol abuse by players has been an issue: iconic names like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle come to
mind. Also, there exists a long history of brewery ownership and sponsorships. Prominent examples
include the old Busch Stadium of the St. Louis Cardinals and today’s Milwaukee Brewers. It is my
purpose in this article to address some of these connections of alcohol and Sacramento’s
professional baseball teams and players from the 1880s through the
The earliest known connection to alcohol and local professional baseball involves the first team:
the Sacramento Altas. In 1886 the team was asked to join the California League after a strong
showing as the semi-pro Altas of 1885. However, the club actually formed in 1884 as the semi-pro
Peruvian Bitters. The team name indicates some type of sponsorship by either
Bitters company itself or a local saloon with strong
ties to the company. “Bitters” were a digestive aid that featured an herbal flavor, accompanied by
a bitter taste, and always had very high alcohol content. Peruvian Bitters was manufactured in San
Francisco from 1885 until prohibition and was available in most Sacramento saloons in those
The Altas of 1886-1888 played their home games at Agricultural Park (located between
20th and 23rd Streets and E and H Streets in Sacramento). Agricultural Park was
actually a race track for horse and bicycle races used in conjunction with the California State
Fair. Baseball was played on the “infield” of the race track and viewed from the race track
In 1889 Hall Luhrs Whiskey sponsored
Snowflake Park, which was built specifically for baseball and modeled after San Francisco’s ball
park. The park was located between 28th and
30th streets and R and S streets. The park was named after one of Hall Luhrs’
top whiskies: Snowflake (in turn named after a famous racehorse of the day). So, Snowflake
Whiskey sponsored Sacramento’s primary baseball park for the next decade.
In 1898 a new ball field, Oak Park, was opened to accommodate
professional baseball (Snowflake continued as a recreational baseball setting into the 1930s).
The ball park was part of a large complex called Oak Park Recreation Grounds (also called
Joyland) which featured zoo-like animal displays, baths, amusement rides (including a fun house
and a carousel), a velodrome (bicycle racing), a theater, a dancehall and food venues. The
private enterprise that owned the grounds eventually sold to the McClatchy family, which owned
and operated the Sacramento Bee. The family donated the property to the City for use as a city
park (now called McClatchy Park).
Sacramento’s team in the old California League disappeared after the 1893 season due to an economic
depression. However, in 1897, the Sacramento Gilt Edge semi-pro baseball team entered a Northern
California baseball tournament sponsored by the San Francisco Examiner. The team’s success in the
tournament earned them an invitation to join the new professional California League in 1898, which
included teams from the San Francisco Bay Area. The Sacramento ballclub was sponsored by Ruhstaller
Brewery whose top beer was named Gilt Edge
Beer. In those days the term “gilt edge” meant
premium. The Gilt Edge became a premium team by winning California League championships in
1898, 1899 and 1900. One of the 1897 players, Ed Kripp, was a local saloon owner who also
managed the Gilt Edge in 1898 and 1899.
The team changed its name to the Senators (to better represent
California’s Capitol) in 1901 and continued through the 1902 season in the California League. In
1903 the Senators joined the newly-formed Pacific Coast League (PCL) which continues to operate
today and includes our Sacramento River Cats. Sacramento, however, had the smallest population
base in the PCL. Ticket sales were not enough to make a profit and the team was moved to Tacoma for
the 1904 PCL season. Ironically the Tacoma Tigers claimed the PCL championship in
1904. This was celebrated on a Pacific Beer tray
entitled “The Two Champions.” Sacramentans avidly followed the Tigers because many of the players
had played for Sacramento over several seasons. Also, the Tigers played two “home” games in our
city and many Sacramentans felt the 1904 championship belonged partly to
Ed Kripp, the local saloon owner who had previously managed
Sacramento’s baseball team in 1898 and 1899, had applied in 1909 for the rights to the
Sacramento PCL club. He was turned down, supposedly due to allegations of gambling in his
saloons. Although spurned at ownership, Kripp saw an opportunity and purchased property at the
southeast corner of Riverside and Y Streets (then bounded by a levee--later it
was renamed Broadway) in Sacramento. Kripp chose this location because the site was located
outside the city limits, where alcohol could be sold. One of Kripp's business
partners, Buffalo Brewery, obtained the “naming
rights” and the new ballfield which opened in 1910 was called Buffalo Park. This site remained
the location of Sacramento’s primary professional ball park from 1910 through
After the 1921 season the ball park was torn down by new
owners Lew and Charles Moreing. A new facility— Moreing Field—was constructed as the “state of
the art” ball park in the country when it opened for the 1922
Subsequent changes in ownership caused the park to be re-named
over the next few decades: Sacramento Ball Park 1934-1935; Cardinal Field 1936-1943; Doubleday
Field 1944; and, finally Edmonds Field 1945-1964. However, while none of these later ball parks
or team names reflected alcohol products, the outfield walls and programs included advertising
for various bars and alcohol products. With the exception of the prohibition era, beer was
always available at the ball games.
# # # #
Joe Marty, a Sacramento Legend
of Sacramento’s greatest ball players was Joe Marty. Joe played for Christian
Brothers High School (the school’s ball field is named Joe Marty Field) and at
very high levels in the Sacramento County League and Sacramento Winter League.
After a short stay at St. Mary’s College on an
Joe signed to play for the PCL San Francisco Seals for the 1934 season. Touted as
the “next DiMaggio,” Marty took over center field, while DiMaggio moved to right.
Marty claimed the 1936 PCL batting championship (.359), was signed by the Chicago
Cubs for the 1937 season and was on his way to a stellar major league career.
played well in the outfield and hit a respectable .290 for the Cubs in 1937. In
the 1938 World Series against the New York Yankees Marty hit .500 and had one
Legend has it that Marty’s teammate, Tex Carleton, convinced Joe to switch
from drinking beer to whiskey. Local sportswriters later said that his whiskey
drinking greatly diminished his skills, preventing him from achieving stardom.
Marty was famous for his quote that he “loved Chicago because Chicago bars never
closed.” Coincidence or not, his batting average and fielding percentage began
to tail off.
After starting 1939 with the Cubs, hitting .132, Marty was dealt to the
Philadelphia Phillies where his slide continued. As with most ball players of
the 1940s, Marty’s career was interrupted by World War II. After the war,
despite offers from major league teams, Joe decided to come back home where he
played in the outfield for the Sacramento Solons from 1946 through 1952 (.305
aggregate average with 556 RBI).
During this time he opened Joe
Marty’s Bar (in the Tower Theater building at 15th and
Broadway). Located just one block from the ball park, Edmonds Field proved to be
a convenient and popular watering hole for ball players and fans alike for
All Contents © Alan O'Connor