Their biggest deal came when third baseman Willie Kamm was purchased for a record $100,000 by the Chicago White Sox in 1922. The check for the transaction was framed in the Seals’ front office until the team was disbanded in 1957. Fans came in droves; the Seals regularly led the league in attendance, drawing as many as 365,000 fans some years.
And the minor leagues were wild. Consider epic tales like “the longest home run in baseball history,” a supposed 618-foot moonshot off the bat of the Oakland Oaks’ Roy Carlyle that cleared the fence, a street, and two houses before landing in a rain gutter. Or the time that Paul “Big Poison” Waner, the 5-foot-8, 140-pound Seals outfielder became the first player in PCL history to bat .400. He nearly missed this feat when he succumbed to a mysterious illness late in the season. His batting average plunged until the source of his weakness was found: He had been playing the entire season with buckshot lodged in his jaw from an offseason hunting accident. Seals catcher Joe Sprinz once tried to catch the highest pop fly ever—a baseball dropped from a blimp. He missed the first four, which left crater-like impacts around him. The fifth glanced off his glove and hit Sprinz in the face, knocking out several teeth and nearly killing him.
The decade ended with Graham and company looking to a bright future for the Seals, and a new ballpark in San Francisco’s Mission District: Seals Stadium.
The park opened to immense fanfare, on Friday the 13th of March, 1931. Ty Cobb and other baseball legends made it out to the opening, as did some 20,000 fans. When New York Giants Manager John McGraw visited the park after its opening, he was just as impressed as the throngs of Seals fans. He told his friend Charlie, “You’ll have major league baseball here someday.” It was a good call, but the big-time baseball wasn’t to be played by the Seals. A quarter of a century later, the major leagues’ first West Coast teams—the newly relocated San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers—opened the 1958 season in Seals Stadium.
While the new stadium excited fans, it put Graham in a financial bind when the Great Depression hit. The stadium still had to be paid for even though attendance dwindled. Compounding matters, in 1934 Strub left the ownership team to found Santa Anita Park, a horse racetrack made famous by the exploits of thoroughbred Seabiscuit.
“The Depression hit with double-barreled blows,” in the words of Bill Nowlin of the Society of American Baseball Research. “The financing to build the park was based on valuations that had deteriorated, and attendance was understandably down. Strub lost a considerable part of his holdings, and Putnam died. It was all up to Graham.”
Selling players to the majors became a vital source of revenue for Pacific Coast League teams. P.J. Dragseth, in his book The 1957 San Francisco Seals: End of an Era in the Pacific Coast League, wrote how “Charlie Graham became a master of ‘the deal,’ as many of his transactions helped the organization remain financially solvent in tenuous times.”
The Sporting News had equal praise for Graham at the time: “The heavy mortgages on the Stadium kept Graham busy scraping together cash to remain in operation. He accomplished this with some of the most skillful financial tight-rope walking in the history of the Coast league.”
The tight-rope walking at times was truly ingenious. The New York Times notes that in 1933 Graham traded “a case of mammoth Santa Clara prunes for first baseman Jack Fenton, who would play 10 seasons in the minors.”