The passage of time has concluded the living history of the ill-fated 1946 Spokane Indians baseball team.
Former pitcher Darwin “Gus” Hallbourg died of a heart attack Saturday night in a care center near Modesto, Calif. Hallbourg, 87, developed pneumonia after a minor stroke in late September. A resident of nearby Manteca, he was the last survivor of the worst accident in American professional sports history.
On June 24, 1946, a bus carrying the Spokane Indians across the state to Bremerton, tumbled off the Snoqualmie Pass highway and plunged into the canyon, where it exploded in flames. Nine of the Western International League team’s 15 players died as a result.
Hallbourg escaped by squirming through a window frame. After helping other survivors reach safety, he was treated for burns on his arms and hands. He returned to action later in the season, playing in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching.
Moments before the accident, Hallbourg turned to star pitcher Bob Kinnaman, who shared his love of fishing, and said “Wouldn’t this be one helluva place to go over the edge?”
Hallbourg had begun the trip sharing a seat with third baseman Jack Lohrke. However, Lohrke, Spokane’s best major-league prospect, left his teammates after dinner in Ellensburg, where he learned he had been recalled by the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League.
A native of Huntington, Mass., Hallbourg played professionally for six seasons, half before his four years of World War II service with the U.S. Navy.
In 1940, his second season, the gregarious right-hander won 21 games for Pampa (Texas) of the West Texas-New Mexico League. After being sold to San Diego, Hallbourg won 15 games for Anaheim of the California League in 1941 and appeared in four late- season games for the Padres.
Spokane was his first stop following the war. He finished with a 7-6 record. After two seasons with Lancaster of the Inter-State League, he accepted a full-time job in Central California with Pacific Telephone Company. He settled in Manteca and retired from the phone company 32 years later.
Hallbourg was admired for his cheerful outlook.
In a 1986 interview, Spokane teammate Milt Cadinha remembered him as “a very, very, very nice person.” Monday, Hallbourg’s brother, Don, a Stockton, Calif., resident, agreed. “He always had a nice attitude. Nothing ever bothered him too much.”
Indeed, last June, asked about his health, Hallbourg chirped, “I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
More than once, he told The Spokesman-Review how fortunate he felt to have been spared in the bus wreck.
“I was able to get out of there without serious injuries, and I’ve been lucky to live a wonderful life,” he said. “I am one of the great lucky guys alive.”
For years, Hallbourg was among the Modesto area’s best amateur golfers, and he was an avid gardener who raised tomatoes. He and wife Roberta had been married 61 years. The 1946 baseball season in Spokane served as their honeymoon.
Hallbourg would have turned 88 on the last day of this month.
His remains will be cremated, according to family members. In lieu of services, there will be a family gathering later this month. In addition to his wife and brother, he is survived by two sisters, three sons and a daughter. There are five grandchildren and one great grandchild.