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Baseball in Nevada

1948 Reno Silver Sox baseball team black and white photo
1948 Reno Silver Sox via Giants Farm Photos Tumblr

In recent months, you’ve heard stories about whether the Oakland A’s might move their major league baseball franchise to Las Vegas. Seventy-five years ago, the state of Nevada achieved a new distinction for itself: Two new minor league baseball teams. At the time, Nevada’s population was pushing toward 150,000 — not much for a state with 110,000 square miles. Reno was nearing 50,000 residents and Las Vegas was at just over 20,000. Could those two towns support baseball teams?

The Class C Sunset League hoped so. Today, minor league baseball has triple A, double A, high single A, and low single A, along with rookie and foreign leagues. Back then, the minors went as low as Class D, so the Sunset League wasn’t exactly the bottom of the barrel.

The Reno Silver Sox were affiliated with the New York Giants, as in the precursor to today’s San Francisco team. Their general manager, Dave Carey, had been a Red Sox minor league hand, and the manager was career minor leaguer tom Lloyd. In fact, the only team member who ever played in the majors, pitcher Archie Campbell, was 44 when he was with the Silver Sox. That may explain why he got the nickname Iron Man, and he ended up staying in the Reno area. They played in Moana Park. The Silver Sox went .500 in 1947, then won the league championship the next year. The team kept going until 1951, followed by a brief interruption. They returned in 1955 and soon became a Dodger affiliate, winning two more league titles. They continued in the California League until 1992, then with the Golden Baseball League, which wasn’t affiliated with the minors. Minor league baseball returned to Reno with a bang in 2009 with the Aces.

The Sunset League actually added the Las Vegas Wranglers first. Most of its teams were in southern California, and at first Reno had seemed a bit far away. The driving forces behind the Las Vegas team were former major leaguers Les Powers and Newt Kimball. The Wranglers were affiliates of the National League Boston Braves — later in Milwaukee and now in Atlanta.

The Wranglers played at City Park, across from Helldorado Village near Fifth and Bonanza. Soon the Wranglers moved into Cashman Field, which was mainly the work of the Elks Lodge and its leader, Big Jim Cashman. With Kimball as player-manager, the team finished above .500. They won the Sunset League championship in 1949. But that league merged with another to form the Southwest International League, which shut down in 1952. The Wranglers returned for a couple of years in the late 1950s in the California League, but that was it for minor league baseball here until the Triple A Las Vegas Stars in 1983, in a newly renovated Cashman Field. Interestingly, Kimball was the only Wrangler ever to play in the majors, but they did briefly use a pitcher named Cameron Mitchell, an actor you may remember from the show High Chaparral.

Both Reno and Las Vegas have long and storied minor league baseball histories, including several Hall of Fame players coming through town. But in 1947, seventy-five years ago, minor league baseball began. Will there be a major league team in Las Vegas? That’s a question for tomorrow, and this is Nevada Yesterdays.