Early Portland Baseball History (1866-1921)


Doing research for this paper I used a variety of sources: from the Internet, references, and two primary newspapers. A variety of materials came from the Oregon Historical Society, including some images. News media was pooled from the Oregon City Enterprise, Oregon Journal, and Oregonian newspapers. Statistical data was pooled from Baseball-Reference.com, “The Pacific Coast League: A Statistical History, 1903-1957” by Dennis Snelling, and once again The Oregon Journal and Oregonian newspapers.
–Maury Brown

Pre-Beaver Baseball

Before Joe Tinker, before Dave Bancroft, before Mike Mitchell, or Billy Southworth, before Satchel Paige, or even the great Jim Thorpe, baseball thrived in the later part of the 19th century in Portland. They were teams with great names such as the Pioneers, Portland Spartans, the Monograms, the Highland Baseball Club, Slabtown, the Portland Gladiators or the Vancouver Occidentials, and they played a variety of base-ball in fields, towns, and cities in and around Portland. The name Portland itself was drawn out of pure luck. Portland’s roots-and its name-date back to a coin flip in 1845, the same year the New York Kickerbockers baseball club was created a coast away. Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove shared ownership of a choice 640-acre (259-hectare) clearing along the Willamette River, near its confluence with the Columbia. Lovejoy wanted to name the site “Boston,” but Pettygrove won the coin toss and named it “Portland,” after his hometown in Maine.

The Portland Pioneers

Sixteen years after the formation of Portland as a city, the first record of an organized baseball team in the Northwest is recorded on May 28, 1866. On this day the Pioneer Baseball Club of East Portland was created. Comprised of merchants, doctors, lawyers, and farmers from rural Portland, the club was considered a “gentlemen’s” group. As was the norm for the day, professionals were not allowed, and the “Club” was strictly for members to partake in for social purposes. The club had elected officials and a dues system: $.50 to help pay for the expense of $1.00 baseballs, and $2.50 for bats.

The first games played by this club appear to have taken place on a vacant lot owned by Stimpson and Estes on Washington Street. Other games were played near Broadway and Stark downtown, but as time moved on the team played in fields on the east side of Portland, just over the Willamette, hence the name “East” in the clubs name. The team played the best games on Clinton and McCoy field, the only field in town with a half-enclosed grandstand and bleachers.

The first nine of the first game, were elected by ballot – not picked by the manager – to the positions that they were to play. T.F. Miner was the catcher for pitcher Ed Quackenbush. The infield consisted of Ward K. Witherell at first, Wadshams at second, Frank M. Ward at third, and James B. Upton playing shortstop. The outfielders were Joe Butchtel in left, James Steel in center, and Peter De Huff in right.

The Pioneers are on record as playing the Clackamas Club and winning handily 77-46. As was the case in early baseball rules were different. Under hand pitching was used, and batters called where they wanted a pitch over the plate. Scores of this nature were not uncommon at the time given the differences in the rules from today’s game. When the game was completed the teams retired themselves to a feast at Barlow House while the Oregon City Brass Band played. After the Pioneers first game, the idea of “electing” players to positions was changed to assignment by the Captain of the team. Since this was a gentlemen’s club, a system of fining players was introduced as well for unseemly conduct. Profanity, arguing with the umpire, or disobedience to the captain by a player resulted in a $.10 fine. It seems that then, as today, players were known to not exactly adhere to these rules. It seems several pages of fines fill the pages of the Club’s record book.

On October 1, 1867, the Pioneer Base Ball Club invited representatives from other clubs to a meeting in February of 1868 to form a players association. Joe Buchtel was elected president of the five-team group that included the Pioneers, the Spartans of Portland, the Highland Base Ball Club, the Clackamas Club from Oregon City, and the Vancouver Occidentals, which included soldiers from the Ft. Vancouver garrison, with local civilians rounding out the Occidentals squad. The group operated under the long-winded name of “The Oregon and Washington and Idaho Territories Association of Base Ball Players”. The rules used by the “Association” were adopted from the 1863 rules set down by the National Association of Ball Players that resided in New York, and modified for the Northwest group.

The a fore mentioned Joe Buchtel was the person most acknowledged as popularizing baseball in Oregon in the later part of the 19th century. In a short period of time Buchtel went from elected director, to captain, to manager/player. He was a pitcher and an outfielder when the Pioneer Club won at least two “State” championship at the Oregon State Fair. Fleet of foot, Buchtel was said to have run 150 yards in fifteen seconds. In 1874 Buchtel reorganized the team and 2 years later won the Centennial baseball championship and medal playing against the Clackamas Club, Vancouver Occidentals, and Willamette University.

The Willamette’s, Gladiators, and the Pacific Northwest League (PNL)

While Joe Buchtel would play and manage for the Pioneers for 15 years, in 1884 he organized the next great team to come out of Portland, the Willamette’s of East Portland. Out of the team that consisted of Joe Buchtel, and his son Fred, that played shortstop, came the Parrott family that dominated the team. Thomas Parrott was born April 10 1868 and played, and influenced baseball in Oregon well into the next century. His son Tom, Jr. who was known as “Tacky Tom”, or “Tax” played from 1893 – 1896 professionally in the Majors for the Chicago Colts, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Browns where he hit .301 for his career, and was one shy of 1000 AB. He left an indelible mark on Oregon baseball, through his children that continued to play.

One of his sons, Walter “Jiggs” Parrott played four seasons with the Chicago Colts from 1892 – 1895, and had 1309 AB with a .235 BA. His third son Armando Guido Parrott pitched for the Willamette’s but never went to the Bigs.

Between the Buchtels, Parrotts and the rest of the team under manager Joe Beveridge, the Willamette’s moved beyond playing games just within the Portland area. On opening day 1884, the Club beat the Seattle Browns 1-0, at Riverside ballfield, and another team the Portlanders defeated San Francisco, 5-3, at the Clinton and McCoy grounds in East Portland. Pitching for the Portlanders was the first acknowledged professional player in Portland, Bill “Turk” Burke. Burke would later in 1887 pitch for the Detroit Wolverines team that won the NL pennant that season. Burke only pitched 15 innings his entire career in the Majors, had 21 hits, 10 ER, and an ERA of 6.00.

So successful was this team, that in 1890 they became the Portland Gladiators. This team helped organize the first fully professional organization, the Pacific Northwest League (PNL). This league consisted of Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. Making the transition from the amateur Willamettes to the professional Gladiators were Fred Buchtel, “Jiggs” Parrott, and Tom Parrott. The league soon was filled with players from leagues in Texas, the Midwest and New York.

In 1891, the Gladiators played 94 games to win the league championship. During that season they also played teams from the California League, which included Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Jose. After that 1891 season the Parrott brothers left for the Majors, and the PNL was unknowingly getting ready for a coup after the next season, lasting but two short years in its original form which we will get to later.

The Portland Monograms

Another “18 and over” professional team that brought fame to Oregon, was the Portland Monograms. They consisted of Cal Geil (C), Claude Schmeer (SS), Charles Ray (P), Al Webber (P), Archie Parrot (1B), of the a fore mentioned Parrott Family, M. Donovan (OF- C), Al Webber (2B), F. Townsend (P), Joe DeBurgh (OF-R), H. Nash (P), Danny Shea (C), Frank Busby (OF-L), and Manager Nick Whitehead. The Monograms began in 1896 when Cal Geil assembled some “neighborhood kids”, mostly from Central and North Central High Schools in a barn on East 12th and Pine St. with the idea of forming the best baseball team possible, saying that “the best substitutes would be just that.” Geil, 18 years of age, gathered kids from around, what was then called Central and North central on the East side of the Willamette. They practiced on a field known only as “The Graders” in the area of NE Flanders to NE Hoyt and NE 9th to NE 11th. Games were played at a place called the Buckman field site.

The Monograms played in Portland against team with names like South Portland, Goose Hollow, Slabtown, the Phoenix team, the Vancouver Maroons, Oregon City, and St. Helens. The team beat all comers setting up a playoff with the Washington State Champion Tacoma Four Spots for the right to go to San Francisco and play the California champion in a Pacific tournament sponsored by the San Francisco Examiner. The Monograms beat the Four Spots 10-1 to advance.

The team booked the steamer Columbia through their newly acquired business manager Morris Whitehead, and boarded with their equally new coach, Ed “Trilby” Rankin, and set forth for San Francisco. The trip started auspiciously when the Monograms star pitcher Howard Nash failed to make the trip due to illness, and proceeded to get worse as the entire team got seasick on the trip, and the catcher Danny Shea somehow got injured en-route as well.

The team was greeted with a parade, and 17,000 witnessed the first game the Monograms played in San Francisco ending in a 12-12 tie. The game was called due to darkness, although accounts say that the sun was still shining. Geil concluded that the game was called due to weariness of the players, and the fact that game officials smelled more profits if a second game was played the next day. It should be noted that Seals games at the time were pulling in barely 1,000 per game, so promoters looked to reap the rewards of two games instead of one.

The next day saw another 17,000 fans turn out to see the San Francisco beat the Monograms in a heartbreaking 16-14 loss. The Monograms had a 14-13 lead going into the 9th, but a substitute pitcher tossed a pitch over the plate that resulted in homer that drove in 3 runs. It is believed that the large crowds that turned out to see a California League team play a team from Portland planted the seed in the owners minds that would create the coup that resulted in two leagues merging under the noses of the Pacific Northwest League, and therefore creating the Pacific Coast League.