Hawaii’s Surprising Baseball History

hawaii baseball

Many folks don’t necessarily put Hawai’i and baseball in the same sentence. But, the tradition of pro baseball in Hawaii began back in 1960 with the amateur team, the Hawai’i Islanders, becoming a AAA Pacific Coast League team. This all happened because the Sacramento Solons moved their franchise to Honolulu.

By the end of the 1960s, The Islanders were the strongest franchise in Minor League baseball. Due to the Islanders being a distance of 2,500 miles from their nearest opponent, they utilized a unique schedule. Initially, PCL teams made a four- and seven-game visit to the Islands, with the Islanders doing the same. Later, as the league expanded, the Islanders played an eight-game series against each team in order to cut down on travel costs.

The beginning of the end, however, came when the Islanders moved from the rickety Honolulu Stadium to Aloha Stadium in 1976. It had been obvious for some time that Honolulu Stadium needed to be replaced. The wooden stadium was built in 1926 and had long since fallen below Triple-A standards. Known as the “Termite Palace,” it had actually reached the end of its useful life by the mid-1960s. @ problems came with the move: 1) Aloha Stadium was on Oahu which was far from the team’s fanbase. 2) Finances and the IRS and poor ownership decisions would lead to financial downfall.

By 1987, the team was in financial shambles and attendance was dwindling. The Islanders were moved to Colorado Springs and became the Sky Sox in 1988.

Five years after the Islanders left Hawaii, the minor league Hawaii Winter Baseball was founded. In 1993, they began playing their games from October to December. The league was affiliated with the Major Leagues and continued play until 1997, and again from 2006 until it folded a second time in 2008.

There are some pretty infamous baseball names associated with the Hawaii Islanders including :

Hank Allen – Led PCL in 1966 with 288 total bases. Would later become first African-American horse trainer to saddle a Kentucky Derby entry in 78 years.

Dave Baldwin- This pitcher never committed an error in 6 years as a Major Leaguer. And only 3 in his whole 16 year career.

Barry Bonds – In 1986, he hit .311 in 44 games for the Islanders before getting called up to the bigs.

Tony Gwynn – He was batting .328 in 93 games with the Islanders when he was promoted and debuted for the Padres on July 19, 1982.

Harry Kalas- Hall of Fame Announcer got his start with the Islanders.

Bob Lemon– Hall of Fame Pitcher turned Hall of Fame Manager. Lemon’s first managerial role came in 1964 with the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders of the PCL, an affiliate of the California Angels. The team went 60–98. In 1965, the Angels switched their Triple-A affiliation to the Seattle Angels and Lemon moved with the team. He managed the team in 1965–1966 and won the 1966 championship. He was named the PCL’s Manager of the Year by The Sporting News for the 1966 season

Al Michaels – In 1968 after moving to Honolulu, where he worked as a sports anchor for KHVH-TV and called play-by-play for the Hawaii Islanders baseball team in the Pacific Coast League as well as the University of Hawaii’s football and basketball teams and local high school football games. He was named Hawaii’s ‘Sportscaster of the Year’ in 1969.

Mackay Yanagisawa – Part owner, and known as the “Shogun of Sports” also created the Hula Bowl.