In the spring of 1903, Wyatt Earp was working as a special assistant to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Chicago Cubs were in town for spring training. The Cubs finished third in the National League that year.
Dan Holmes writes in Cooperstown: A History of Spring Training, "It's hard to pinpoint which team was the first to train in warm weather as a precursor to their season. There's a reference to the Chicago White Stockings stopping off in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1886, to 'boil out the alcoholic microbes.'"
Professional baseball teams were playing in the South, prior to their regular season, since the 1860s, but they were usually on barnstorming tours rather than working out at a single location. Teams started warm (the Gulf Coast or Florida) and played their way back to cold (Pennsylvania, New York, or Massachusetts), arranging games against minor-league teams, colleges, and amateur clubs along the way.
From the start, baseball's spring-training sites have been up for auction. Owners, because of whim, convenience, ignorance, money, better facilities -- and, at least once, friendship -- have moved their teams' training sites. Follows are spring-training camp sites used by the Chicago Cubs since 1903: Santa Monica, Champaign (Illinois), New Orleans, Vicksburg, Hot Springs (Arkansas), Tampa, Pasadena, Catalina Island, Mesa (Arizona), Long Beach, Scottsdale (Arizona), and back to Mesa.
Although major-league baseball teams would not arrive in California until 1958, major-league spring-training camps were here early on. Besides the Cubs in 1903, the New York Giants opened camp in Los Angeles in 1907. The Chicago White Sox stopped by L.A. in 1908, then moved up to San Francisco for their 1909 and 1910 camps. The Boston Red Sox worked out at Redondo Beach in 1911. Other California entrants were the St. Louis Cardinals in Stockton in 1925, Pittsburgh Pirates in Paso Robles from 1924 through 1934, thereafter in San Bernardino and Hollywood. St. Louis Browns (now Baltimore Orioles) in Anaheim, San Bernardino, and Burbank; and the Detroit Tigers in Sacramento and Palo Alto.
A few teams left the country for spring training. Chicago White Sox practiced in Mexico City in 1907. The Philadelphia (Oakland) Athletics did the same in 1937. The New York Yankees tried Hamilton, Bermuda, in 1913. The Brooklyn Dodgers opened training camps in Havana in 1941, '42, '47, and in Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic, in '48. The New York Giants tried Havana in 1937, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were there in 1953.
People differ on exact dates; the earliest date I found records the Cactus League's inception as 1947, when the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants moved their spring operations to Arizona. They were joined by the Chicago Cubs in 1952, the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, and the Boston Red Sox in 1959.
There is a lot written about Arizona being better about "race relations" than Florida during this period. Jackie Robinson was the first black in major-league baseball, starting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, later named Rookie of the Year. According to this theory, one of the Cactus League's best selling points was that black players, just coming into major-league baseball, would be hassled less in the West than in Florida.
Indeed, in 1947, the Detroit Tigers opened camp in Lakeland, Florida, and, like a lot of teams traveling to Florida for spring training, housed their white players in whites-only hotels. The Tigers used the New Florida Hotel; black players stayed in private homes.
But when it came to money and the chance to be a major-league baseball player, a trifling thing like segregation did not stand in the way. The Dodgers moved to Vero Beach, Florida, in 1949 and are still there today. The Tigers are still in Lakeland, Florida, and they continued housing white players in the New Florida Hotel until 1962.
Many teams went back and forth from Arizona to Florida and Florida to Arizona. Between 1954 and 1959, the Baltimore Orioles moved from Arizona to Florida, back to Arizona, and then back to Florida. Other teams that have held spring-training camps in both Florida and Arizona include Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees.
It was always about money. Dan Holmes writes, "In 1888 Gus Schmelz (really), manager of the Red Stockings, wrote his tight-fisted owner Aaron Stern asking for permission to train his players down south. After Gus convinced Stern that the cost would be split between players and club and that any profits would also be shared, Stern agreed."
During the 1990s, 18 out of 30 major-league teams moved or moved into new facilities. Usually on somebody else's dime. The Cactus League has 12 major-league teams now, producing, according to the Arizona Baseball Commission, $250 million in annual revenue. Florida has a similar commission. Both commissions exist to bribe baseball teams in hopes they'll stay put. Success has been marginal. For cities and states, that is.
The Padres open their exhibition season against the Seattle Mariners March 3rd at Peoria Stadium.