Sometimes, a ballpark can make or break a team. At least, that's how it went for the Sacramento Solons, who were uprooted from Charles C. Hughes Stadium when the venue was required to undergo earthquake proofing in 1977. The renovations were expected to cut into the Solons' season, and with no other suitable park available in Sacramento, club owner Bob Piccinini had his back against the wall.
The solution was an unusual one. The Solons were leased to San Jose Bees' owner Bob Gagliardi for two years, who was eager to replace his Class-A team with a higher caliber of minor league baseball players. The team donned the moniker "Missions" and took on a new major-league affiliate in the form of the 1977 Oakland A's. Meanwhile, the Solons' owner petitioned the city to build a ballpark up to PCL standards. If they could do it within three years, the Missions would be contractually obligated to return to the state capital. If not, they would be permanently stationed in San Jose.
During their first year of operations, the Missions pulled an average of 3,000 fans to San Jose Municipal Stadium every night. As a sign of goodwill toward the newly-minted Seattle Mariners, they filled several roster spots with Seattle recruits. Despite the team's popularity, Oakland head honcho Charles O. Finley left his Triple-A skipper scrambling to put out consistent lineups. By the three-quarter mark of the season, Finley had ferried players to the big leagues over 40 times.
"We have to remember the big club comes first," manager Rene Lachemann told the Ellensburg Daily Record's Gordon Sakamoto. "That's the way it is in Triple-A."
When the Missions hit the bottom of the standings at the end of their first year, San Jose released the A's from their affiliation and picked up the rest of the Mariners' Triple-A squad. It marked the first time that the one-year-old club had a Triple-A affiliate under its direction.
Lachemann stayed on to assist the fledgling Mariners, guiding them to a 53-87 record that fell 11 wins short of their predecessors' last-place finish. Wedged in the middle of the season was a four-hitter by Spokane Indian Bob Galasso, who shut down the Missions 15-2 with 11 strikeouts. Just four days earlier, San Jose right-hander Frank MacCormack had led the club to a 12-1 victory against the Salt Lake City Gulls, allowing only four hits during his outing. Within the next four years, both the Indians and the Gulls would find themselves under the Mariners' banner.
By season's end, the Missions sat third place in the league with 177 stolen bases, second with a .969 fielding percentage, and first with an even 700 strikeouts (by their pitching staff, though their batters also finished first with 757 whiffs at the plate). Unfortunately for management's hopes of establishing a profitable franchise in San Jose, the Missions' dismal performance and low attendance numbers prevented the team from taking root. Since there was no ballpark to return to in Sacramento, the team was sold to Utah truck driver Dennis Job for a cool $175,000. Job brought the Missions to Ogden, Utah, where they picked up a new contract with the Athletics and started afresh as the Ogden A's. Back in San Jose, the Mariners teamed up with the California League, moving their Single-A club into San Jose Municipal Stadium and retaining the name "San Jose Missions."
As for Seattle's Triple-A regiment, they packed their bags for a spot closer to home -- the Spokane Indians' Fairground Park.
San Jose Trivia
- Notable Missions: Juan Bernhardt, Bill Plummer, and Dick Pole.
- While the Solons were stationed in Sacramento, they drew some consternation from the league due to an abnormally short left field fence -- only 251 feet from home plate.
- Before the Missions were established in San Jose, Joe Gagliardi considered a potential relocation to Stockton, California. However, Stockton was equipped with only one lighted baseball field (all others were designated for softball), and the Missions would have had to coordinate the use of the field with several youth teams in the city.
- In 1978, 24-year-old outfielder and one-time pitcher Puchy Delgado led the team with seven triples, 55 walks, and 49 stolen bases. When he was called up to the majors in September, however, Puchy eked out just four hits in 13 games, ending his major-league career with a beautiful, golden sombrero.