Arizona and Florida now serve as the primary spring training hubs for Major League Baseball, but that wasn’t always the case.
In 2009, I wrote about the Chicago Cubs holding spring training on Catalina Island during the 1920s, thanks to the Wrigley family connection. Chewing gum magnate Phillip K. Wrigley owned both the team and the island.
A few years earlier, another team made a much briefer stop on the mainland. In January 1911, the Boston Red Sox announced plans to make Redondo Beach their spring training base. The team normally trained for the season in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
In early February of that year, club president John I. Taylor announced that the team would travel via a special modified train to Redondo. Once there, they would stay at the seaside Hotel Redondo, play home games at a hastily constructed nearby ball field, and travel to away games using Redondo as a base.
The Red Sox 1911 train tour was possibly the most ambitious such tour ever undertaken. The club played a total of 63 games in ten different states and the Arizona Territory, departing from Boston for the 8,000-mile trek on Feb. 18, 1911, and returning home on April 11.
The 1911 Red Sox were formidable. Managed by Patsy Donovan, the team’s roster included standout outfielder Tris Speaker, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1937 along with Nap Lajoie and Cy Young. The trio was just the second group of players ever elected to the Hall.
Other standouts included pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, who would go on to win 23 games during the regular season. And, we shouldn’t forget Woods’ aptly nicknamed chunky fellow hurler, Frank “Piano Mover” Smith.
The team would move into its new home, Fenway Park, in 1912; its 1911 home games were played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, where the team had played since becoming charter members of the American League in 1901.
Ralph Huntington, a cousin of Hotel Redondo builder and Southern California railroad magnate Henry Huntington, owned the team’s Huntington Avenue Grounds ballpark. The Redondo trip may have been as much a commercial enterprise to boost the fortunes of the team, the hotel and the city as much as anything else.
The team arrived in Redondo Beach on Feb. 23 at 9:45 pm, and soon its members were ensconced in the Hotel Redondo. It had opened earlier than usual in the season just for them, and there were few other guests. Players moved into their rooms on the second and third floors, many of them walking down that night to see the adjacent beach after settling in.
When morning came, the Red Sox realized the full beauty of the setting, and initially were quite taken with the beach town. They even liked the makeshift field, calling its rough all-dirt infield an improvement over the training diamond in Arkansas. They held their first practice that morning of the 24th.
“Things couldn’t be better and I am more than satisfied with everything,” Manager Donovan told the Los Angeles Times during that workout. A special banquet was held at the hotel for the team after its first game on Feb. 25, followed by a night of dancing at the nearby Pavilion on El Paseo.
When not on the field, the team took in other amusements on El Paseo. In addition to enjoying bathing in its heated saltwater, the players also used the showers and changing facilities at Redondo’s saltwater Plunge as their locker room during their stay.
Bill Nowlin’s book, The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911: Sixty-Three Games, Coast to Coast (McFarland, 2010) recounts Tris Speaker fishing from the Redondo pier, and engaging in a skeet-shooting contest with teammates using baseballs on the field after practice.
Other team members hiked and hunted in the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula hills, and enjoyed more worldly pursuits in the local bars and nightspots. Some hopped aboard the Red Car trolleys to visit downtown Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, the team ended up playing only three intrasquad games on the Redondo field, on Feb. 25th, 26th and 28th, though the games did end up drawing hundreds of fans. Their idyllic first impression of the area soured fairly quickly due to several factors.
First, it was cold that February in the seaside town. Players expecting sunny California weather were forced to bundle up when met with cloudiness and cool ocean breezes. Pitchers complained of troubles keeping their arms from stiffening in the cool weather.
Second, despite its spectacular location and facade, the Hotel Redondo had seen better days by 1911. (It was torn down in 1926.) It already had changed owners several times, and the players grew less impressed with its facilities — and particularly the quality of its food — the longer they stayed there. They still enjoyed its amenities, including the card-playing and billiard rooms, but late-night carousing and drinking was forbidden by Donovan.
Third, and most significant, a series of rainstorms hit Redondo, the first of which rained out a game scheduled for Feb. 27. Rain pelted the area for the next several days and made a mess of the Redondo field. After the Feb. 28 game, the squad was split into two teams which traveled to other parts of the state for games over the next couple weeks.
Redondo remained the team’s base for the next week or so. But upon returning from Northern California on March 16, the team signaled the end of its tenure in Redondo by moving its base to the Westminster Hotel in downtown Los Angeles instead. While not a luxury upgrade, it was much closer to the new Washington Park stadium at 8th and Hill streets where the team had several upcoming games. It was warmer, too.
The Red Sox never returned to Redondo during their lengthy preseason westward swing. They headed back east from San Francisco on March 26, playing more games along the way. They would end up finishing fourth in the American League in the 1911 regular season.
In 1912, they returned to Hot Springs, Arkansas for spring training, and went on to win the World Series that fall against the New York Giants.
For the full story of the 1911 Red Sox cross-country trek, read The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911: Sixty-Three Games, Coast to Coast, by Bill Nowlin, McFarland & Co., 2010.
The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911: Sixty-Three Games, Coast to Coast, by Bill Nowlin, McFarland & Co., 2010. An essential source for this blog post.
Los Angeles Herald files.
Los Angeles Times files.
Redondo Reflex files.
San Pedro News Pilot files.