History of Professional Baseball in Salt Lake City

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Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has revealed that the league will add two more teams, perhaps as soon as the 2026 season. That would be the first expansion for the sport since 1998.

No decision has been finalized yet, but Salt Lake City and Nashville are considered frontrunners to get new MLB teams. That would bring the total to 32 teams in the circuit.

Salt Lake City has many things going for it, including a long history of professional baseball.

First professional baseball game in Utah was in 1879

The history of professional baseball in Salt Lake City is a fascinating journey that spans over a century, marked by triumphs, challenges, and a deep-rooted connection between the community and the sport. The story begins in the late 19th century when baseball started gaining popularity across the United States.

In the late 19th century, Salt Lake City was a burgeoning city with a growing population, and like many other American cities, it embraced the sport of baseball. The first recorded professional baseball game in Salt Lake City took place in 1879, featuring local teams. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that professional baseball gained a more organized and formalized presence in the city.

Pacific Coast League and Salt Lake City baseball

The Pacific Coast League (PCL) played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of professional baseball in Salt Lake City. In 1915, the city welcomed its first PCL team, the Salt Lake Bees. The Bees quickly became a beloved part of the community, and their games at Bonneville Park (later known as Derks Field) drew enthusiastic crowds. The team’s name underwent several changes over the years, from the Bees to the Angels and then back to the Bees, but its significance remained constant.

During the early decades of the PCL, the league operated as a stepping stone to the major leagues, attracting talented players and serving as a proving ground for future stars. Salt Lake City’s team was no exception, fostering the development of players who would go on to make significant contributions to Major League Baseball (MLB).

Affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals

One of the most notable eras in Salt Lake City’s baseball history occurred in the 1950s when the St. Louis Cardinals affiliated with the PCL team. This partnership brought increased visibility and success to the Salt Lake City team, and the players developed under the Cardinals’ guidance made a lasting impact on both the PCL and the MLB.

The 1957 Salt Lake City Bees, led by manager Frank Carswell, achieved a remarkable feat by winning the PCL championship. This triumph solidified the city’s reputation as a baseball powerhouse and elevated its status in the eyes of fans and players alike. The championship team featured talented players such as Stan Williams and Jim Baxes, both of whom went on to have notable MLB careers.

The 1960s and 1970s saw changes and challenges for professional baseball in Salt Lake City. The Bees underwent ownership changes and affiliation switches, experiencing both highs and lows on the field. Despite the fluctuations, the team continued to be a source of pride for the community.

In 1985, the Salt Lake City Gulls took the stage as the new PCL franchise in the city. The Gulls faced financial difficulties early on, leading to the team’s relocation to Calgary in 1987. However, baseball returned to Salt Lake City just a year later when the Salt Lake Buzz, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, made their debut in the city.

The late 1990s and early 2000s marked a period of stability and success for professional baseball in Salt Lake City. The team underwent another name change, becoming the Salt Lake Stingers in 2001. The Stingers continued to be a competitive force in the PCL and maintained a strong fan base.

Salt Lake Bees Return

In 2006, the Salt Lake Bees name was revived, paying homage to the city’s rich baseball history. The Bees, as the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, have consistently provided a high level of baseball entertainment for the community. The team’s home games are now played at Smith’s Ballpark, a modern facility that continues to be a gathering place for baseball enthusiasts in Salt Lake City.

Throughout its history, professional baseball in Salt Lake City has served as a source of community pride, entertainment, and a pathway for aspiring players to reach the highest levels of the sport. The enduring legacy of the Bees and their predecessors is woven into the fabric of the city, making baseball an integral part of Salt Lake City’s cultural identity. As the sport continues to evolve, the city’s baseball history stands as a testament to the enduring love and passion for America’s pastime in the heart of Utah.

If Salt Lake City is awarded a Major League franchise in the next round of expansion, it will mark an exciting chapter in pro baseball history for that city. MLB is likely to make that announcement before the 2026 season.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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