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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 21: Park Bums

Golden Gate Park's pickup baseball legends, the Park Bums, and other pickup ball-playing stories and locales.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - May 30, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 21: Park Bums Outside Lands Podcast Episode 21: Park Bums

(above) Big Rec Field, circa 1905

Recreation Grounds, Golden Gate Park, near 7th Avenue. Baseball game in background, little girl in foreground

Podcast Transcription

WNP21 – Park Bums

Woody: [00:00:00] All right we're recording. It's working.

David: Woody!

Woody: Yes, David.

David: This is the Outside Lands San Francisco podcast. I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: And I'm Woody LaBounty. This is the podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project.

David: I was gonna say that.

Woody: Ha ha, you can't say it. Are you mad that I always do the intro?

David: No, and look at my face.

Woody: This is a podcast. David!

David: What? I can't. Somehow I had a feeling this was going to go this way. What?

Woody: David, you are a baseball fan.

David: Alright, I admit it.

Woody: Aha! It's on the air. I am a baseball fan too. And even though I don't play baseball anymore, or softball, you are still a very active participant in the diamond. [00:01:00]

David: That's right. I play softball most weekends. And often during the week. Sometimes up to three times a week I play.

Woody: Wow.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And you often come in here and complain about some scab, injury, or broken finger that you've gotten from playing softball.

David: I don't, I don't complain about it. It's just part of the, part of the risk.

Woody: Yeah, a badge of participation. But you, I was gonna say, this is an appropriate podcast that we're gonna talk today about.

David: I wanna say though that I did break my finger. Ouch!

Woody: What did you just do?

David: I just tweaked my elbow.

Woody: See? You're too old for this.

David: I did break my finger, but that's the only bone I've ever broken. In fact, the doctor says I have rock hard bones.

Woody: You have rock hard, I think you have a rock hard head. Okay, now we're going to talk a little bit about baseball or softball or fields today on our podcast. But before we do that, do we have a letter, do we have any note or [00:02:00] email from anybody about our podcast?

David: We do! Peter Markopoulos wrote in today just to tell us how much he likes our podcast. So, I guess, that's another person who wrote in. And I have, I'm going to have to admit that there are people listening.

Woody: Aha!

David: I better straighten up.

Woody: Yeah, and we have to keep our high standards high, because of all these people coming to listen to us.

David: Right, which leads us to today's topic.

Woody: That's right. So, Peter had nothing to say other than he liked our podcast.

David: He said he liked it. He says he listened to the Beach Chalet and the San Francisco Zoo podcasts back-to-back. That's like an hour!

Woody: That's a glutton for high quality podcasting.

David:  Said he was listening with bated breath to see if Monkey Island was going to be mentioned. Which it was.

Woody: We did mention Monkey Island, didn't we?

David:  Yeah.

Woody: Yeah, of course.

David: We have a new picture of Monkey Island. Well, a new old picture of Monkey Island on the website.

Woody: Oh yeah, I saw it. It was a beautiful color slide. [00:03:00]

David: 1961. 1961. A scene of ducks and monkeys living in harmony.

Woody: On Monkey Island.

David: Monkey Island was an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, Woody.

Woody: For the monkeys?

David: Yes.

Woody: Anyway, thank you Peter for writing in. I hope you stay with us and we if you have any suggestions about subjects, let us know and we'll talk about it. But today we're gonna talk about what, David?

David: Baseball.

Woody: Baseball, softball.

David: Softball. And where to play it.

Woody: That's right. And specifically, we're gonna talk a little bit about Big Rec, which is in Golden Gate Park.

David: Yeah, that's at 7th Avenue, I think, right?

Woody: Right. Right there along Lincoln Way, in the south part of Golden Gate Park.

David:  Yeah.

Woody: And it was actually built, I read somewhere, I think I read it in Chris Pollack's book. He has an excellent book on San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Which I think is named San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. But Christopher Pollack said that Big Rec was created as part of the [00:04:00] 1894 Midwinter Fair.

David:  Really?

Woody: Which created the whole Music Concourse, where the de Young Museum got its start, the origins of what became the Japanese Tea Garden. All of that came from the 1894 Midwinter Fair.

David: And this is kind of right south of there.

Woody: Right. And apparently they were, the fields were built for the fair for baseball players and exhibitions and games.

David:  Wow.

Woody: Yeah, didn't know that, did you?

David: Nope.

Woody: But what I asked you just before we started recording is, I know what Big Rec is. I assume it means big recreation field.

David: Right.

Woody: Or something like that. And when I went to Sacred Heart High School, we played our baseball games there. But I had never...

David: I played a few high school games there.

Woody: Yeah. But I had never thought about this. Was there a Little Rec?

David: I think there was. I think that Little Rec was a field that was just east of Children's Playground. It's kind of, now it's just kind of a dell there with a lawn. It's kind of down in, down in the [00:05:00] valley. Right there. If you came in through the Alvord, under the Alvord Lake tunnel…

Woody: A little bridge there.

David: You will walk right by it.

Woody: And that was just a little baseball field.

David: Yeah. I mean, I remember playing softball there in the ‘80s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, I guess. And it was kind of funny when we were going to talk about Big Rec, but there was a pickup game that was there on Saturday mornings that I think had been going on for years and years. And it sort of evolved to the point where it started at like 7:30 in the morning, because people would just keep getting there earlier and earlier.

Woody: To make sure they played.

David: To make sure they got in the game.

Woody: Yeah. I played a pickup basketball game that was like that too. It started, it was 11 o'clock, then it was 10 o'clock and then people started showing up at nine.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then I said, I'm not going to play anymore.

David: It's organic, you know, I mean, it’s just…

Woody: You were telling me earlier that, but what happened to Little Rec, first of all, what happened to Little Rec? They just took it out?

David: They [00:06:00] took it out, yeah. They just planted a lawn there. It was a dirt infield, as I recall, and they had a little tiny backstop. It was really made, I remember, it being really for softball and not very well maintained. And I think in that case, you couldn't reserve it and you just, people just showed up there.

Woody: And I wonder, it's funny, since it was so popular that they took it out. Is pick up softball or pick up baseball still around? Is it declined in popularity, or is there still a pick up league or a pick up culture out there?

David: I think if you search the fields on a Saturday morning, you will find games that you can join. I mean, kind of as an inspiration of those games at Little Rec and another game that I used to play in on Sundays at Christopher Playground, which is up in Diamond Heights, around 2000, wow, that's 13 years ago…

Woody: Yeah. [00:07:00]

David: I started something I called the Pickup Softball Network, which is...

Woody: An online thing, right?

David: Well, I have a website.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And we have a mailing list. But pretty much we play pickup games at Balboa Park on Saturday mornings. And we keep playing, and like that game at Little Rec, the time has gotten earlier and earlier and now it starts around 9 o’clock. Maybe it's even gonna get earlier than that. It's been going for a long time, and we play until we don't have enough players left to play.

Woody: Right.

David: Usually that ends up being ‘til noon or one or something.

Woody: Right, as people leave to go start their day.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But this is an old tradition, and it goes back to Big Rec. There were guys who used to go and play at Big Rec, and we're talking about a hundred years ago even, that used to basically show up at Big Rec to play, just pick up baseball at the time.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And they got known as the Golden [00:08:00] Gate Park Bums.

David: The Park Bums.

Woody: And I think part of it was that they took a lot of pride in not being too fancy.

David: Yeah.

Woody: They didn't wear uniforms. If you wore a uniform, you were kind of razzed off the field.

David: Right.

Woody: And I think there was one guy who was like a third baseman they talked about who played the hot corner at third base. And he wore like a vest and a coat and a derby hat.

David: Right.

Woody: And if somebody hit a ground ball to him, he would have time to pick up his derby hat, put it back on and throw the guy out at first. The Park Bums, I think, have disappeared. I don't think that that tradition still continues at Big Rec.

David: Well, I don't, I don’t see a lot of pickup baseball happening. I don't know.

Woody: Just pickup softball.

David: There's some, there have been some. There was a pickup baseball game I would play in, briefly, that was in the Presidio. Which is right, you know where the Presidio is, but the field, there's that baseball field that's down the valley from [00:09:00] Julius Kahn Playground, kind of near the El Polin Spring there.

Woody: It's not that field that was right next to the Julius Kahn playground. That was more of a softball field.

David: Down the hill.

Woody: Yeah, down the hill. Because that one, I remember, had this hedge.

David: Over the right field wall of Julius Kahn.

Woody: Okay, yeah, because that one had the hedge you could hit in the right field and just easily hit a home run.

David: You could hit it over and lose your ball, yeah.

Woody: Yes, and you'd lose your ball. And that was, and this is funny, this is the kind of traditions that kids grew up with, losing your ball. Knocked it on the roof. We used to play over at Laurel, this is the other thing, all the places I played softball and baseball as a kid seemed to have been former cemeteries. We played at Laurel Hill Playground where, you know, it was funny, it was very casual if you hit it over the wall, it was a double. We had a little low wall. If you hit it over the chain link fence, it was like a triple. If you hit it on the roof of the building, it was a home run.

David: Right.

Woody: So, we'd always lose the ball. But that was a former cemetery up there, Laurel Hill Cemetery. And we played softball as Cub Scouts at Rossi Field, which is Arguello and Anza, or [00:10:00] Parker, roughly over there. And that was a former cemetery we'd play softball at. We have something on our website about the Park Rec Bums. And I remember there was a pretty funny excerpt from the Park, minutes of the Park Commission. This is way back in like 1902.

David: 1902, and the fields were only built 1894, right?

Woody: Yeah.

David: And so, people were using them right at the beginning.

Woody: Eight years later.

David: Playing there yes. I'll read this. The is from the minutes of the Park Commission 1902. “Complaint made of the use of profane and obscene language indulged in by the ball players in the park on Sundays and weekdays in the presence of ladies and children. The secretary was instructed to communicate with the sergeant in charge of the Park Police asking him to supply a remedy by more careful police patrol of this particular section. The secretary was also instructed to request the Park Commission an extra detail of two men for the park particularly on Saturdays and Sundays when the present detail of police was inadequate [00:11:00] to furnish the necessary police surveillance.” There's a typo in our thing.

Woody: Oh, we got to fix that. But, they had a Park Police which they don't have anymore. I don't think they have a police department just for the Park.

David: I guess.

Woody: And they had the resources to assign two officers to go over there and make sure there wasn't any swearing.

David: Yeah.

Woody: At the ballfield. But I think there was some really good players that were the part of the Park Bums.

David: Oh yeah.

Woody: I remember hearing Joe Cronin, who I think went to Sacred Heart High School where I went to high school, he was a big star for the Red Sox, he was one of the Park Bums.

David: Yeah, George High Pockets Kelly.

Woody: Really?

David: Hall of Famer.

Woody: He played for the Park Bums?

David: He played with the Park Bums.

Woody: A babe?

David: Willie Kamm, which is for local baseball knowledge, was a giant among, he wasn't a Giant though, but he was a titan among local ball players. Mark Koenig, who played for the Yankees.

Woody: Yeah, these were all major players and they would play with the Park [00:12:00] Bums. And that brings back a little thing that might be a myth, David, or maybe you can tell me if it's a myth. Sandlot baseball, right? This whole term of saying kids playing sandlot baseball or, didn't that originate here? That's what I had heard. I had heard that. This is news to you?

David: I don't know that.

Woody: Oh, then you can't dispel the myth for me. But I had heard sandlot baseball because...

David: No, that's not true.

Woody: Thank you. Because San Francisco, which is a very sandy sort of city, and their fields were not often that well-groomed, and the kids would play in these sort of like sandlots. That that's where the term came from.

David: I never heard that. If you…

Woody: Are a baseball historian.

David: Our multitudes of listeners out there, know this story of sandlot baseball, please let us know.

Woody: Angus Macfarlane probably knows, and we gotta make sure he listens to tell us. I'd also heard that hoodlum was a San Francisco term that came from, a term that came from San Francisco.

David: Yeah, I don't know about that either.

Woody: [00:13:00] You don't know about that one?

David: No.

Woody: Oh, okay. We'll let some other history buffs weigh in on the entomology of these terms.

David: But I want to say though that baseball was really popular. It still is popular, but I don't feel like people are just playing it for fun out there as much. I mean, we have San Francisco Little League and everything.

Woody: Right.

David: Back in the early 20th century, there became so many baseball leagues. There was, one of the prime things, I think, that I know about that time was the semi-pro industrial leagues, which had, you know. local business sponsors and fielded really good teams.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That played all the time. That played every weekend and made up of businessmen and, and workers.

Woody: Yeah, I had relatives, ancestors that played in those leagues. And I have old pictures of them playing catch.

David: In some uniform that you never saw before.

Woody: Yeah, it's like their business.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Or [00:14:00] their city department or whatever they're part of. You know, this was very much a sport town. I mean, boxing, it was a fight town with boxing matches all the time. And I think, I think everything just changed. I think people don't go out and play sports as much. They do more individual exercises. I think people's schedules are just harder to organize nine people, well, eighteen people.

David: Yeah.

Woody: To play a baseball game.

David: I think one kind of remnant of those industrial leagues is, I know every year the San Francisco City Government has a softball tournament. And all the different departments like, 50 departments, field teams. And they have this tournament that goes on over the course of a weekend. Usually the police win, I think.

Woody: I was going to say, I wonder if the Department of Planning has any good players, or the Entertainment Commission.

David: Maybe they need a couple of ringers.

Woody: Yeah. [00:15:00] What do you think, David? What do you win? Do you win?

David: Glory.

Woody: Like, a free city permit?

David: Build whatever you want!

Woody: You won! You can build, you can have a party whenever you want, wherever you want. Well, yeah, so I just kind of wanted to get in a podcast about the Park Bums, because I think that is a romantic, interesting story of these guys in their work clothes, or even their workaday clothes, out there playing baseball every weekend, swearing and having the police have to come out, for generations. And it's kind of gone. And so, I just kind of wanted to toss that into a podcast. And you're a pickup baseball/softball player.

David: There's a lot of swearing. No, there’s no…

Woody: Well, you guys aren't the kind of softball league where everybody has a beer in their glove in the outfield, right?

David: No. No. We don’t usually…

Woody: Those days are over.

David: We start nine o'clock in the morning.

Woody: That never stopped these guys.

David: Oh, I guess you're right.

Woody: A cigar in their mouth and a shot.

David: Rarely does anyone drink at our, I don't know, it has attracted a [00:16:00] really good, nice group of people.

Woody: Ah, good. Somehow, I worked drinking into another podcast, didn't I? I'm sorry about that. Well, that's it. If you have any ideas for a podcast subject for us, let us know. You can go to outsidelands.org. David, do you have any ideas for a podcast subject for us?

David: No.

Woody: Yeah. That's why we’re, where we are at now, right? But until next week. And write us, write us just anyway.

David: You know, I think that we only scratched the surface of pickup baseball and softball. I'm sure that our listeners have a lot of opinions and memories of games they played in regularly, or what it was like growing up and how you got a game together.

Woody: Yeah.

David: We’d like to hear more of that.

Woody: I bet there was a rites of passage in getting into some of these games too. You know, you had to kind of earn your way in.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Well, maybe somebody will write us and tell us. And write and tell us anything at outsidelands.org. But until next time, I'm [00:17:00] Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: And we'll see you soon.

Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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