Baseball: History of the Sport in Guam
Arrived with the Americans
Baseball arrived in Guam with the Americans, and seems to have been played almost as soon as the Americans took over the administration of Guam at the turn of the 20th century. For the first half of the 1900s, it was the only sport played in any widespread form, and until about 20 or 30 years ago it was still the most popular sport in Guam.
Just as many Chamorros have a love of America, they also seem to have a love of baseball, the most American of all sports. Chamorros took to the sport early on in the 1900s, and soon competed with the best of the military players. Chamorro kids in the first half of the century had no organized baseball, but still played in their villages using sticks for bats, fruits for balls, and no gloves.
Although baseball in Guam has been on the decline in popularity recently, ball games are still watched at Paseo Stadium in Hagåtña with feelings of nostalgia by many locals. The stadium lights up East Hagåtña Bay and signal to some that for a few hours, the game will be played as it has been for more than 120 years in Guam.
The American Naval administration of Guam, which began in 1899, was the beginning of baseball in Guam. Informal games were held between various Naval and US Marine crews.
While little is written about baseball in these early years, within a decade or so baseball was becoming a favorite sport of Chamorro youths. The Navy forbade the use of the Chamorro language on the playing fields in order to encourage the use of English
By the middle of the decade between 1910-1920, a regular adult league was held with six teams, both military and civilians, from November through April each year. Chamorro men played on some of the teams, and by the end of the decade there were a good number of locals playing in the league.
Rise of local players
By the 1920s, local baseball players were among the best in the league. The Guam Recorder, for example, featured a 1925 headline that reads, “Chamorro Base Ball Team Wins,” after a Chamorro team beat the visiting Destroyer squadron 3-1 on “high grade pitching from Untalan and the fielding of center fielder Munoz”.
In 1927, six of the nine players selected from the Navy team and the Agana Cubs to Guam’s All-Star first team were Chamorros
In this decade, six teams made up the league in most years: Sumai Marines, Station, Navy Yard, Aviation, 42nd Company and the Agana Cubs. The teams played at the Agana Baseball Field, which was located at the Plaza de España near the Cathedral. The Guam Department of Education also fielded a team starting in the late 1920s.
The Agana Cubs, made up mostly of locals, were a powerhouse team in the 1920s. In 1926, the Cubs won the league pennant. The Cubs led the league with a .309 batting average (the next highest team batted .229), an amazing 80 stolen bases (the next highest teams had 44) and only 32 errors compared to 52 of the next best fielding team.
The Cubs clinched the league title with a 10-3 win over Station, and also beat the Operators 10-0 in the last official game of the season, to finish with a 13-2 record.
More than 5,000 people turned out to watch the season finale exhibition game between the Cubs and the Sumai Marines, and though the Cubs lost 9-1, they were awarded the third Trophy Cup by Gov. Lloyd S. Shapley. The first Cup went to the Sumai Marines in 1924, and the Aviators won it in 1925.
In 1927, the Cubs and Navy engaged in an exciting pennant race, which went down to the last game of the season. The Cubs led the league with an 11-2 record with a couple weeks left, and held on to a slim lead with a 6-0 win over the Marines (Taitano pitched a two-hit shutout).
But in the last two games, Navy and the Cubs faced each other, and Navy beat the cubs 3-1 to stay alive. In the final game of the season, the Cubs beat Navy 10-6 to clinch the title. Gov. Shapley awarded the Cubs the “golden baseball” after the game.
Baseball playing was apparently so popular in this pre-war era that it was played in the main thoroughfares of Hagåtña. In 1927, for example, the Guam Recorder also mentioned in its notes that “baseball playing in the streets of Hagåtña has become a real nuisance, and an ordinance prohibiting this practice would be appreciated by many who live in the vicinity where these daily games annoy hour after hour. The continual noise of the ball striking the gloves, and the loud and boisterous conversation which accompanies these games, is vexatious to say the least.”
n the 1930s, the Education team became a championship squad that brought together some of the island’s best players. Those players included shortstop Charlie M. Perez (known later as “Tun Charlie”), who joined with second baseman James Sablan as the team’s crucial double-play combination and two of the team’s anchors. Perez, who joined the Navy in 1936, also played for military teams until the war broke out in 1941.
Later in life Tun Charlie remembered other players in that era: firsts baseman Tommy Santos; third baseman Fred Gutierrez and his brother Joe; outfielders Jim “Jake Cruz, Joaquin Santos, and Ramon Munoz. The battery consisted of catchers William Lujan, who also played first, and Manuel Munoz, and pitchers Joaquin “Kochi”Guerrero and Romulo Pellacani.
The Education team of the ‘30s battled the Agana Cubs, who were led by star shortstop Jose “Icha” Guzman and third baseman Jose Atoigue, after whom the Chalan Pago baseball field is named. Also on the team were catcher Juan “Korori” Taitano and the late Colonel Juan Muna in the outfield.
In 1939, just before the war, Bradley Park was constructed in the Anigua area (near where the Corn building is now located), and games were played there for nearly two years. Unfortunately, the field did not survive the bombing of Hagåtña at the end of the war.
Baseball in World War II
As baseball was brought by the Americans, so it mostly ceased when the Americans were replaced by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of World War II. But while there was no organized baseball during the war years, there did still seem to be games played on a smaller scale.
Tun Charlie Perez remembered an incident that occurred during the war as he was toiling in a mine. Japanese guards ordered him and other men to stop work, and then told the interpreters to ask them if anybody played baseball. Perez was one of nine Chamorros who were chosen to play, at Bradley Park, in a seven-inning contest against a team of Japanese guards. The locals won easily, by a lopsided score of something like 13-3, according to Perez.
Tony Palomo, a historian who lived through the war, recalls other Japanese versus Chamorro baseball games, and said the Japanese were trying to prove that Japanese men were better in every way.
Post-war youth baseball
After the island settled down from World War II, youth baseball was organized for the first time in an islandwide village league. While Little League rules were followed, the village league was not officially chartered with the US Little League organization.
Leagues were sponsored by various civic service or community groups – initially by the Agana Heights Athletic Club, headed by Tun Pete Rosario and coach Tony Calvo. In 1957, the Civic Improvement Council of Sinajana, headed by Judge Joaquin Manibusan, took over the administration of the league.
In 1967, Guam Little League became chartered by Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a significant event in youth baseball, especially as the best Guam youth players would be able to compete against other teams internationally. In 1968, the Guam Babe Ruth league was chartered by its national organization, and from then on, Guam had two competing youth baseball leagues.
In the early 1960s, an adult baseball league formed called the Islandwide Baseball League. The league was made up of military and local teams, with many of the local teams formed the the Holy Name Society organization in the various villages. Military teams included teams from Andersen Air Force Base and the Naval Station. Games were played in military and local fields. The league disbanded by the 1970s.
1970s Guam Major League
In 1974, the Guam Major League was formed to give an outlet for the many young players who were graduating from the youth baseball leagues with no adult league in existence.
The first season had six teams: the Agana Heights Cougars, University of Guam Tritons, Atkins Kroll Islanders, 4-0 Dodgers, USS Proteus, and Tamuning Rebels. The season consisted of twenty games with the two winners meeting in a best-of-five game series for the championship.
Weekend days saw doubleheaders at Paseo, with large crowds filling the old rusted out wood planked bleachers, were the highlights of the season.
Led by slugger Ronnie Tavares and manager Alex Ojeda, the Cougars won their first eight games of the season. Agana Heights met the UOG Tritons in the title series, and beat the Tritons three games to two, winning game five by a score of 5-3 to capture the first-ever GML title.
In 1976, the Atkins Kroll Islanders were declared Guam Major League champions. They held a 2-0 lead over the Ace Hardware Aces before Typhoon Pamela came and tossed the Paseo ballpark into the Paseo de Susana landscape and the Agana boat basin.
The GML would go on to be Guam’s premier baseball league for many years, and is now in existence as the Budweiser Baseball League.
1980s peak of popularity
Baseball hit the peak of its popularity starting in the 1970s and continued to rise in the 1980s and early 1990s. Both Guam Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball were at their highest numbers in player participation, and the Guam Major League was drawing strong crowds in every game.
In 1985, a second adult league was formed for the first time – the Guam Amateur Baseball League, later known as the Guam Baseball League. It was formed by long-time leaders of Little League baseball, including Ben Munoz, Greg Borja and Greg Calvo, as well as Pat Wolff, president of the Guam Amateur Baseball Association. These men felt that a second league was needed to allow for more participation for young baseball players, as the GML was limited to six to eight teams each season.
GABL grew to twenty teams by 1987, with teams from many of the island’s villages, and in 1988 expanded to two seasons each year.
While youth baseball teams competed in the Little League World Series and the Babe Ruth World Series as early as the 1960s, it was in the 1980s that Guam adult teams started participating in international baseball.
In 1982, the GML introduced the Western Pacific Invitational Baseball Tournament. With a usual four-team format, this tournament featured top teams from Korea, Chinese-Taipei, Japan and the Micronesian region. In the thirteen year run of the tournament, Korean teams were involved in eleven championship games. Participating teams included visiting squads from Japan; Hawaii; Korea; Chinese-Taipei; Philippines; Oceania; China; and Palau.
In 1989, both China and Chinese Taipei participated. The two teams competed against each other at the Paseo Stadium in several years before diplomatic compromises allowed such athletic meetings.
In 1996 escalating costs and lower revenues forced suspension of the tournament. In this final year of tournament play, Team Guam captured its first ever and only Western Pacific Invitational Baseball Tournament championship.
Guam also obtained memberships in the Baseball Federation of Asia (BFA), International Baseball Federation (IBF), and Baseball Confederation of Oceania (BCO) in the 1980s and participated in BFA championships in Japan, Korea, and the People’s Republic of China.
In 1988, the Mobil Games were started in Saipan, with teams from around the region participating in the tournament every year for more than a decade.
History of Baseball video sample
Featuring a clip from the Governor Willis W. Bradley Film: Bradley Park
For further reading
Borja, Paul. “Ben Munoz – A Guam Baseball Pioneer.” In Guam Amateur Baseball League. Hagåtña: Mobil Games, 1991.
–––. “Charlie M. Perez – A Guam Baseball Pioneer.” In Guam Amateur Baseball League. Hagåtña: Mobil Games, 1991.
“Chamorro Base Ball Team Wins.” Guam Recorder 2, no. 15 (May 1925): 76.
“GABL – Continuing to Promote Baseball in the Region.” In Guam Amateur Baseball League. Hagåtña: Mobil Games, 1991.
Hall, W.R. “Sports: Guam Baseball League, 1926-1927.” Guam Recorder 4, no. 2 (May 1927): 45.
–––“Sports: Guam Baseball League, 1926-1927.” Guam Recorder 4, no. 3 (June 1927): 64.
–––“Sports: Guam’s All-Star Baseball Team.” Guam Recorder 4, no. 5 (Aug 1927): 130.
“Knocks Without Malice.” Guam Recorder 3, no. 12 (March 1927): 351.
Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.