How I became a baseball historian

When I retired in 1994, I received a plaque with a facsimile of my badge from the San Diego Country Probation Department. Later, I learned that my actual badge (#36) had been given to my friend and fellow supervisor Clyde Weston upon his retirement the previous year. Knowing Clyde, he wouldn't have known or cared that "36" wasn't his badge number. In 1993, I was given a small pin to acknowledge my 30 years of dedicated service to the County of San Diego. The County newspaper noted that Swank "worked his way up through the ranks." Now what?

I had planned to write a book about my probation experiences, but in the autumn of 1994, the San Diego Historical Society asked me to write an article about the Lane Field Padres for The Journal of San Diego History. "Runs, Hits and an Era," an exhibition featuring the Pacific Coast League, was coming to their museum in early 1995 and they needed somebody with a baseball background for assistance. 

William G. Swank and James D. Smith III wrote "This was Paradise" which was published in The Journal of San Diego History. Whitey Weitelmann was featured on the cover. At the opening of the exhibition, I was introduced as the Society's "baseball historian." I'd never heard of a baseball historian before then.


During this time, I joined University of San Diego history professor Ray Brandes and co-authored a two-volume history of the Lane Field Padres shown above. These books were published in 1997 by the San Diego Padres.

My own book, Echoes from Lane Field, was published by Turner Publishing in 1999. It contains interviews with over 150 Lane Filed era Padres ballplayers. The book won second place in San Diego Press Club competition and received an honorable mention from the San Diego Book Awards.

As a member of The Society for American Baseball Research, I wrote the biography of Gavy Cravath (below) for their 2004 publication, Deadball Stars of the National League. Cravath was baseball's first home run king. He set the modern season and career home run records that Babe Ruth broke. He was also San Diego's first major league ballplayer. 

Jeff Ruetsche, an editor with Arcadia Publishing, asked me to do a book about the San Diego Padres for their “Images of Baseball” series. I suggested a book about the history of baseball in San Diego before the Padres. We compromised. I would do two books, but the Padres book had to be first to coincide with the team’s 2004 move downtown to Petco Park. This book begins in 1936 with the Padres first game at Lane Field and ends with their last game at Qualcomm Stadium in 2003. The Padres began as a member of the Pacific Coast League and became a major league franchise when they joined the National League in 1969. 

This book begins on May 6, 1871 with the first pickup game of base ball on the present site of Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. Rare baseball photos from the San Diego Historical Society illustrate the early years of our national pastime in America's Finest City.

The next book was inspired by a SABR tribute to Ted Williams held at the San Diego Hall of Champions on March 29, 2003 following his death in July 2002. My contributions, including the story about the first color action pictures of Ted which were shot by an amateur photographer named Heber Epperson at Lane Field on October 5, 1941, are shown below the book cover.

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4 Responses to How I became a baseball historian

  1. Bill,
    I would like to know if Steve Mesner played for the Padres (PCL) in 1947 as jersey #34?
    Thank you

  2. Alan Machado says:

    Hello, I recently purchased 4 of the color Ted Williams Lane Field 4″X6″ photos which appear to be printed from the original negative. The person I bought them from stated that they were in an old PCL scrapbook. I have one image of Ted that you don’t have pictured. I am missing the one you have pictured of Ted swinging through the pitch. Any info you could provide would be appreciated. Thank you! Alan

    • Hi Alan,

      Obviously, I don’t check comments of this blog very often. I am disappointed to learn somebody sold 4 of the 1941 color photos of Ted Williams at Lane Field. Those picture had to have come from me with the understanding they were NOT to be sold.

      I have been campaigning for years to get a statue of Ted Williams at Lane Field.

      Bill Swank

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