Play Ball! A Slideshow of the History of Early Baseball in Washington

  • By David Eskenazi
  • Posted 1/01/2003
  • Essay 7074
This is a HistoryLink Baseball Memories slideshow by Seattle Baseball historian David Eskenazi, recounting early baseball in Washington. Written and curated by David Eskenazi. All images copyright 2003, David Eskenazi. Produced by Alyssa Burrows.

Eighteen ninety was the first year of professional baseball in Washington state. Three of the four franchise cities in the 1890 Pacific Northwest League were Washington-based: Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, with a Portland, Oregon, team rounding out the league.

Amateur, town team, and semi-professional baseball in Washington state pre-dated pro baseball by several decades. As in other states, development and expansion of baseball in Washington reflected the social and economic growth of the state itself. Town teams and city leagues sprung up in cities and regions of every size, and were often sponsored and supported by the dominant industries of their particular region. From the 1890s forward, professional, semi-pro, and amateur teams and leagues abounded across the entire state. Until air travel became common, most professional teams in Washington State competed with same-state franchises, along with teams from California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Western Canada.

A number of prominent major leaguers were Washington-born and played in the state, including Snohomish-born Hall of Famer Earl Averill, Chehalis-born early century star pitcher Vean Gregg, and Seattle-born Mariner’s star John Olerud. John Olerud Sr. was a member of Seattle’s last professional championship baseball team -- the 1966 Pacific Coast League Seattle Angels. A year earlier, Earl Averill, Jr. donned a Seattle Angels uniform to cap off his professional career, which included seven years in the major leagues.

Colorful team nicknames were the order of the day in the early part of the century. Consider the franchises in the 1903 Class D Southwest Washington League: the Aberdeen Pippins, the Hoquiam Perfect Gentlemen, the Centralia Midgets, and the Olympia Senators. Other team nicknames included the Seattle Clamdiggers, Siwashes, Purple Sox and Indians, Everett Smokestackers, Grays Harbor Lumberman, Chehalis Gophers, Raymond Venetians, North Yakima Braves, and the Spokane Hawks.

The longest tenured and highest level professional leagues with Washington state franchises include the:

  • Pacific Coast League (1903-1906, 1919-1968)
  • Northwestern League (1906-1917)
  • Western International League (1937-1954)
  • Northwest League (1955-present)
  • American League (1969, 1977-present)

Popular semi-professional and city leagues also flourished, particularly in the first 40 years of the twentieth century. The Timber League, Puget Sound League, Northwest League, and Tacoma and Spokane City Leagues were amongst the fastest and most entertaining, and cultivated many future pro stars.

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