Q&AZ: How Did The Arizona Cactus League Get Started?

By Matt Kling
Published: Monday, February 11, 2019 - 11:57am
Updated: Wednesday, June 10, 2020 - 11:58am

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Tempe Diablo Stadium
Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ
The Los Angeles Angels play the Seattle Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Every February and March, the Arizona Diamondbacks and other Major League Baseball teams train for the upcoming season, with a couple weeks of workouts leading into over a month of exhibition games before teams break camp for Opening Day

KJZZ listener Steve wanted to learn more about the origin of the Cactus League through our reporting project, Q&AZ.   

Since 1947, Major League Baseball teams have called Arizona their spring training home. According to Marshall Trimble, Arizona's state historian, the first team to train in Arizona was in 1929 when the Detroit Tigers came to the state. But after one year, they moved their training to California.

In 1946, Bill Veeck bought the Cleveland Indians. Veeck, who had a ranch in Tucson, decided to move his team's spring training to Arizona in 1947.

"He had recently signed a ballplayer named Larry Doby," Trimble said, "who would become the American League's first black player. Veeck believed the Arizona racial climate to be more hospitable to African-American players."

That same year, he convinced the then-New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham to join the Indians in Arizona. In 1951, for one year only, the New York Yankees swapped places with the Giants and the Yankees trained in Arizona, bringing superstars Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle to Phoenix.

The final year of a two-team Cactus League was 1951, as the Chicago Cubs moved from Florida to Arizona in 1952. The newly relocated Baltimore Orioles trained in Arizona in 1954, training in Florida in 1955, then returning to Arizona in 1956. Since 1956, there have been at least four teams in the Cactus League, with more teams training in Arizona as more western- and central-based franchises joined the league.

There have been 15 teams in Arizona since 2010, with 10 sites across nine Valley cities and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation.