For most of the last century, high school baseball teams who learned they were taking on a Long Beach opponent in the playoffs were scared–or at least not very happy about it. From 1914 through 2008, a Moore League baseball team appeared in the CIF Southern Section’s highest division baseball championship game 38 times out of 94 years. That’s 40% of the time over nearly a century, and included a run of 13 championship appearances in 21 years from 1987 until 2008.
After that? Things took a bit of a downturn. The 2012 Division 1 semifinal appearances by Wilson (led by Chase DeJong) and Lakewood (led by Shane Watson and JP Crawford) could be considered the end of a century-long golden era for Long Beach and Moore League high school baseball.
There have been years since then where no league team won a playoff game, and the 2010s were the first decade with no Moore League teams playing in a CIF-SS championship game since…the 1920s. An out-of-town sportswriter asked Wilson coach Andy Hall after a playoff game at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field a few years back, “What happened to Long Beach baseball?”
The question may have offended, but it wasn’t off-base, either. There are a variety of answers to the question, including more local players leaving town for private schools in high school (absolutely a factor) and also a natural ebb and flow, the ebb in this case coming after a very long period of talent flowing through local high schools.
Whatever the cause, those with their ear to the ground can feel things starting to turn. The Moore League produced a very strong senior class this year with multiple Division 1 signees. Millikan won a CIF-SS championship in 2021 and the scene at Blair had a lot of old-timers misty-eyed and feeling like the good old days were here again. A packed and rowdy crowd of Long Beach fans were on hand to celebrate the league’s first league title in 14 years–the longest drought in the history of the Moore League.
There are other signs–Wilson won this year’s SoCal Legion championship and earned a trip to the State Tournament this Summer, and several coaches have said that the 9th and 10th grade classes of baseball players are looking incredibly strong. The league’s future at the pro level looks bright as well–the Moore League was the only league in the country with two products in the MLB Futures Game, with Lakewood’s Ricky Tiedemann and Millikan’s Spencer Steer both representing and looking poised for big league dreams to come true.
It’s a reminder that the talent has still been strong in Long Beach, even if it hasn’t been as deep as it one was. The coaching is there too–no other league can boast Spud O’Neil (No. 3 in State history with 930 wins) or Andy Hall (No. 42 with 576 wins), and the league’s assistant coaching ranks are once again filled out, including legendary Millikan coach Dan Peters assisting under Ron Keester for the Rams.
The real reason that local experts feel things are turning around, though, is that the future looks glaringly bright. The 8-11 year olds at Los Altos YBS, ELB PONY, Long Beach Little League, Uptown YBS, and West Long Beach Little League are as good of a crop as the city has seen in three decades, with massive and record-setting post-COVID enrollment across the city.
The Los Altos 8U All-Star team just won the Pacific Southwest Championship with an undefeated run that included wins of 30-1 and 20-0, and lost just two games all Summer. The East Long Beach PONY 9U team made it to the World Series semifinals before falling. These kids across the city have been piling up hardware that has local fans and coaches very excited to see what the next decade looks like for Long Beach baseball.
The upper-ranks of youth ball look good too–Long Beach and Heartwell PONY 13U both made the Super Regionals (hosted at Whaley Park) and the LB PONY 14Us went undefeated through their Super Regional to earn a berth into the Zone Tournament.
There’s no doubt that the history is there on the diamond for Long Beach baseball–but with a strong group of youngsters repping the LB and bringing home trophies, the future is looking bright once again, too.