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UPDATED: Wed., June 13, 2018, 12:30 p.m.

Ten defining eras of the Spokane Indians minor league baseball franchise

Editor’s note: Much of the historical material printed here comes from the personal files of retired Spokesman-Review copy editor Jim Price and from the manuscript of his unpublished history of Spokane baseball. As such, it remains his property.

The Beginnings (1890-92, 1897-98)

John Barnes, Midwestern amateur athletic star and sports promoter, arrives in the Northwest to develop the Pacific Northwest League. He operates the Spokane franchise, which wins the first pennant with a team featuring minor league legends Piggy Ward, Abner Powell and George Borchers.

Baseball grounds at Natatorium Park, Spokane, owned by the Washington Water Power Company. The grandstands seated 3000 people.
Baseball grounds at Natatorium Park, Spokane, owned by the Washington Water Power Company. The grandstands seated 3000 people.

New Beginnings (1901-05)

The reborn Pacific Northwest League survives the incursion of the Pacific Coast League, evolving into the Pacific National League and then the Northwestern League. Spokane shared the well-known Natatorium Park ballpark with semipro teams.

First Golden Era (1906-16)

Spokane wins championships in 1910 and 1916, but finished last in 1913 with a team that included Hall of Famers Stan Coveleski and George Kelly, future big-league pitching standout Shufflin’ Phil Douglas and future Black Sox shortstop Swede Risberg.

Coveleski returned to win 20 games in 1914. Bob Meusel, a member of Murderers Row with the Yankees in the late 1920s, started his pro career here in 1917.

The 1916 champions, managed by noted West Coast baseball figure Nick Williams, featured three future big-league stars: Earl Sheely, Ken Williams and Dutch Ruether.

Stan Coveleski, a South Bend resident for 40 years, stands in front of some of his baseball souvenirs after learning he had been named to baseball's Hall of Fame Sunday. The old spitball pitcher was a pitching hero for Cleveland in the 1920 World Series, winning three complete games. (AP)
Stan Coveleski, a South Bend resident for 40 years, stands in front of some of his baseball souvenirs after learning he had been named to baseball's Hall of Fame Sunday. The old spitball pitcher was a pitching hero for Cleveland in the 1920 World Series, winning three complete games. (AP)

World War I Collapse (1917-22)

The Northwestern League failed to make it through either the 1917 or 1918 seasons and operated with Spokane in 1919.

After the war, the league, restyled as the Pacific Coast International League, limped into the early 1920s and folded.

Hiatus (1923-36)

The Pacific Coast League gave the Northwest its only pro ball from 1923 through the heart of the Depression, despite efforts to revive the old alliances.

Nonetheless, the semipro Idaho-Washington League featured several future pros and sent a couple of players to major-league stardom.

Spokane Indians baseball player Don Osborn
Spokane Indians baseball player Don Osborn

Second Golden Era: Western International/Northwest League (1937-56)

The WIL, founded in 1937, quickly became one of the country’s fastest-growing lower minor leagues, featuring many future major-league players and a few on the way down. Spokane, which set national attendance records, won the 1940 and 1941 pennants.

The 1940 team included fading minor league legend Smead Jolley.

The 1941 team was led by up-and-coming legend Pete Hughes.

Dwight Aden, a career .300 hitter, played center field for both teams. World War II interrupted play for three years after Hub Kittle, who became a prominent big-league pitching coach, starred for the 1942 team.

After the war, the league expanded, and another future pitching coach of note, Don Osborn, managed Spokane to the 1953 playoff title. The WIL folded after the 1954 season, but it was quickly reborn as the Northwest League.

When Spokane’s owner dropped out, the Indians operated as a poverty-stricken, community-owned franchise, run by broadcaster Frank Herron until their demise following the 1956 season.

There was no team in 1957.

Spokane Indians baseball manager, Tom Lasorda
Spokane Indians baseball manager, Tom Lasorda

Third Golden Era: Dodgers PCL franchise (1958-71)

Future major league players and managers dominated most of the 14 teams staffed by farmhands from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had just moved west from Brooklyn.

Spokane gained the transplanted Los Angeles PCL franchise.

The Indians won the 1960 pennant with a team that featured future major league batting stars Frank Howard, Willie Davis and Ron Fairly, and the 1970 pennant with a team that many consider one of the top minor league teams of all time.

The latter club had future major league pitching and batting standouts, many of whom played 15 years or more in the big leagues.

Tommy Lasorda, later elected to the Hall of Fame, was the last of four future big-league managers to lead in the Indians during this period.

He managed that 1970 team that included Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner, Bill Russell, Tom Paciorek, MVP Bobby Valentine, Davey Lopes and relief ace Charley Hough.

Spokane Indians Baseball Club uniform worn by Dave Lopes in 1971.  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians Baseball Club uniform worn by Dave Lopes in 1971. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Remaining Pacific Coast League (1973-81)

After losing the Dodgers franchise to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Dodgers supported a Northwest League team in Spokane for one season until Portland’s PCL franchise relocated to Spokane for 10 years.

There were three seasons of affiliation with the Texas Rangers, three with the Milwaukee Brewers, three with the Seattle Mariners and one with the California Angels.

The Rangers had two pennant winners, with four-time future major league batting champion Bill Madlock as the best player.

Rene Lachemann, who managed here from 1979-81, later managed the Mariners, the Brewers, the Marlins and the Cubs.

After Spokane won the second half of the 1981 season, the franchise, surrounded by controversy, left for Las Vegas.

Northwest League Redux (1982-85)

After a dismal beginning to an affiliation with San Diego, despite future big-league standouts Sandy Alomar Jr. and Mitch Williams, the Indians began to dominate the Class A league after the Padres sent more college players and fewer untried teenagers to the high-quality short-season rookie league. That came after the Brett brothers bought the team.

Aerial photo of  Seafirst Stadium at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds in April 1994.   (Christopher Anderson / SR)
Aerial photo of Seafirst Stadium at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds in April 1994. (Christopher Anderson / SR)

Fourth Golden Era: The Bretts (1986-present)

Bobby Brett, who had done well for himself and his brothers, major league players Ken and George Brett, as an investor in Southern California real estate, bought the Spokane franchise in 1986.

Originally intended as a hobby, ownership led Bobby, the managing partner, to become a permanent city resident.

Brett Sports soon took over the Spokane Chiefs hockey team as well.

The Indians won four straight titles from 1987-90, winning the second when Mike Humphrey stole home for the winning run in the deciding game of the playoffs.

Slugger Dave Staton was the league’s MVP for the 1989 champions, and MVP Matt Mieske starred for the 1990 team.

The affiliation switched to Kansas City in 1995.

The 2000 team won the pennant with a promise-filled pitching staff.

The best player from the Royals affiliation was outfielder Carlos Beltran, who just concluded an outstanding 20-year major-league career.

For the 30 years, the short season Class A team has set new attendance records nearly every year.

Starting in 2003, the Indians have been affiliated with the Texas Rangers.