Posts Tagged ‘Spokane’

Baseball, Las Vegas, and Area 51

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Glitz, glamour, and gambling—escalated, somewhat, by gaudiness, garishness, and greed—fuel Las Vegas.  It is, after all, a desert metropolis built on a foundation of fantasy.  It is also where Elvis Presley made his live performance comeback after eight years of concentrating on movies and albums; where Frank Sinatra led a group of his former Army buddies to rob five casinos on New Year’s Eve in the original Ocean’s 11 film; where the television shows Las VegasDr. VegasCrime StoryVegasVega$CSI, and The Player were set; where the Partridges made their professional début in The Partridge Family; and where Michael Corleone sought to expand his family’s operations by buying out casino owner Moe Greene in the 1972 movie The Godfather.

A destination city for vacationers looking for a hint of sin—if not sin incarnate—Las Vegas also offers recreation for its natives; baseball lovers have the 51s ball club, which traces its genesis to the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.  From 1903 to 1972—except for the 1919 season, which they played in the Pacific Coast International League—the Beavers formed a cornerstone of the PCL.

In 1973, the team’s tenure shifted to Spokane, where it became the Indians.  After the 1982 season, the Indians moved to Las Vegas and underwent a name change—Stars.  This label lasted until 2001, when the 51s name emerged.  Future stars have populated the 51s, including Jayson Werth, Nomar Garciaparra, and Andruw Jones.

Las Vegas’s baseball team takes its name from Area 51, a part of Nevada about 150 miles from the famed Las Vegas Strip—the stretch of road with the iconic “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign.

Area 51—also known as Groom Lake—is the subject of conjecture, controversy, and conspiracy.  UFO believers maintain that the United States government houses aliens, alien spacecraft, and time travel experiments at Area 51.  NASA’s Administrator Major Charles Bolden—the top of the space agency hierarchy—dismisses those theories.

“There is an Area 51.  It’s not what many people think,” said Bolden in a 2015 article by Sarah Knapton for Great Britain’s newspaper The Telegraph; Knapton is the paper’s Science Editor.  “I’ve been to a place called that but it’s a normal research and development place.  I never saw any aliens or alien spacecraft or anything when I was there.

“I think because of the secrecy of the aeronautics research that goes on there it’s ripe for people to talk about aliens being there.”

In 2013, the Central Intelligence Agency released a declassified report affirming the existence of Area 51 at Groom Lake; theretofore, the United States government maintained silence about it.  “The report, released after eight years of prodding by a George Washington University archivist researching the history of the U-2 [spy plane], made no mention of colonies of alien life, suggesting that the secret base was dedicated to the relatively more mundane task of testing spy planes,” wrote Adam Nagourney in his 2013 article “C.I.A. Acknowledges Area 51 Exists, but What About Those Little Green Men?” for the New York Times.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 16, 2016.

Bobby Valentine, Tommy Lasorda, and the 1970 Spokane Indians

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Among its symbols, Spokane boasts The Historic Davenport Hotel, the Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Monroe Street Bridge.  They are, to be sure, propellants of the city’s physical, cultural, and architectural landscapes.

Baseball contributes an equally significant identifier to this foothold of the Inland Northwest.

And so it was—and continues to be—with the 1970 Spokane Indians.

Indians shortstop Bobby Valentine won the Pacific Coast League MVP Award, with a .340 batting average, 211 hits, and 122 runs scored.  IN a 2015 Hartford Courant article by Owen Canfield, Valentine praised Tommy Lasorda, the Indians manager, for offering positive reinforcement at a low point.  “After one particularly tough fielding game for me, he came into the locker room and said to the other players, ‘Go and get yourselves a pen and paper and get Bobby’s autograph, because some day he’s going to be great.'”

At the time, the AAA Indians belonged in the Dodgers’ minor league hierarchy.  Lasorda, of course, succeeded Walter Alston as the Dodgers’ manager, stayed at the helm for the next 20 years, and became a Chavez Ravine icon.  Spokane was a highly significant facilitator for the Dodgers—Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Von Joshua, Joe Ferguson, and Charlie Hough played for the Indians before getting called up to “the show.”

In his 1985 autobiography The Artful Dodger, written with David Fisher, Lasorda described his strategy of converting ballplayers to different positions—Davey Lopes, for example.  “He was a bona fide, blue-chip, big league prospect,” explained Lasorda.  “His only problem was that he was an outfielder, and the organization had an abundance of talented outfielders.  We needed shortstops and second basemen.  Since Russell and Valentine were already working out at shortstop, I told Davey I wanted to make him a second baseman.  He resisted the idea at first, but once I’d convinced him he would get to the big leagues a lot faster as an infielder, he accepted it.”

Lopes became a mainstay of the Dodgers infield in the 1970s, along with Ron Cey at third base, Russell at shortstop, and Garvey at first base.

In 1970, the Indians notched a 94-52 record, captured the PCL’s Northern Division by 26 games, and won the PCL championship by defeating the Hawaii Islanders in a four-game sweep.

From 1958 to 1972, the Indians belonged in the Dodgers organization, with subsequent affiliations to Texas, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Kansas City.  The team’s genesis began, effectively, on December 2nd, when the Dodgers and the Giants agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to the PCL for transporting into the league’s territory upon their exoduses from Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively.

A three-team move followed, rearranging the Los Angeles Angels to Spokane, the San Francisco Seals to Phoenix, and the Hollywood Stars to Salt Lake City.  Hollywood and the other PCL teams—Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, Portland, San Diego—split the $900,000 equally, receiving $150,000 apiece.

Of the realignment, Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times clarified, “Long Beach, which has been a strong bidder for the Hollywood franchise, has no chance of landing it.  Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, among others, are solidly opposed to the beach city because of its proximity to Los Angeles.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 14, 2016.

The Tragedy of Edgar McNabb

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

A murder-suicide in a Pittsburgh hotel on Valentine’s Day in 1894 firmly occupies a place on the roster of baseball’s tragedies.  It was the fatal result of a love affair between a major league pitcher and a baseball mogul’s wife.

Edgar McNabb pitched for he 1893 Baltimore Orioles, a team that boasted future Hall of Famers John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson.  It was McNabb’s only season in the major leagues, a capstone to a journeyman’s career in the minor leagues.  During his minor league exploits, McNabb met Louise Kellogg, the wife of W. E. Rockwell, who happened to be the Pacific Northwest Baseball League’s president.  In 1891 and for part of 1892, McNabb pitched for the league’s Portland ball club, the Webfeet.  He finished the 1892 season with the Los Angeles Seraphs of the California League.

The article “The Wages of Sin” in the March 5, 1894 edition of the Los Angeles Times details the McNabb-Kellogg relationship, citing a San Francisco Bulletin article as its source:  “Like many other American women, Mrs. Rockwell had little else to do except dress well and amuse herself, and she was a constant attendant at the baseball games, where she met the pitcher.  The Two soon became very intimate, and it was an open secret among he players that the affection of the two for one another was not purely platonic.

“Whenever his team was in Seattle, McNabb and the woman were always together, and when the team visited Spokane, the pitcher was always finding excuses to visit the city where Mrs. Rockwell lived.”

It was not a secret relationship.  Kellogg shed her familial obligations to be with McNabb when the pitcher got the job with the Seraphs.  The Bulletin article revealed, “At the same time Mrs. Rockwell left her husband and child and accompanied her lover from the pine frosts of Washington to the orange groves of California.  The two lived together as man and wife, although their relations were well known to their intimate acquaintances”

Kellogg was a stage performer, finding herself in Pittsburgh to perform at the Wigwam Theater and registering with McNabb at the Hotel Eiffel as husband and wife.  The article “End of a Guilty Love” in the March 1, 1894 edition of the Washington Post hypothesizes that a broken heart ignited McNabb’s fury:  “A number of letters belonging to Miss Kellogg showed that she had been keeping McNabb supplied with money the past few months.

“The company she was with disbanded some time ago, and she came here with the probably intention of either staying with her parents in Braddock, or getting money to tide her over until she procured another engagement.

“McNabb met her here, and as the woman was likely trying to break off her intimacy with him, this probably prompted McNabb to shoot the woman and himself.”

McNabb put three bullets into Kellogg, paralyzing her; Kellogg confirmed McNabb’s emotions as the source of the violence.  The article “Mrs. Rockwell Is Dying” in the March 2, 1894 edition of the Washington Post highlighted Kellogg’s condition:  “Mrs. Rockwell said to the nurse and attending physician that McNabb committed the deed because he was jealous of her, and thought she was in love with some other person.  She also said that if anything serious should happen she wanted the hospital authorities to send for her husband, W. E. Rockwell [sic], who is now in California.  It is believed that McNabb was afraid Mrs. Rockwell was contemplating returning to her husband, and it was for this reason that he determined to kill her and himself.”

Kellogg died in the early morning hours of March 2nd.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 14, 2015.