Oregon Baseball Heritage

Press release from
Oregon State Senator Peter Courtney 5-7-08:

Oregon’s baseball heritage

Former Oregon high school stars Jacoby Ellsbury of Madras and Jed Lowrie of Salem are getting a lot of attention for their play with the Boston Red Sox this year, but Oregon’s baseball roots — even the connection to the Red Sox — go way back. Ellsbury, a left-handed hitting outfielder from Madras, will probably soon hook a short homer around Pesky’s pole down the right field line in storied Fenway Park. Did you know that Johnny Pesky, the former Red Sox infielder for whom the pole is named, is a Portland native? In fact, he once worked as a volunteer groundskeeper at old Vaughn Street Stadium in Portland under the legendary Rocky Benevento.

Vaughn Street had long been torn down by the time I moved to Oregon in 1969, but stories about the old wooden ballpark are the stuff of legends. Like the one about the time that Portland Beavers right fielder Herm Reich used a hidden ball and a cloud of smoke from the adjacent foundry to steal a home run from an opponent. The way Steve Cohen tells it in Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History, San Diego’s Earl Rapp hit a monster fly ball to right that simply disappeared in smoke — the thick black smoke that on gray days created a thick low-hanging cloud over the park. Reich raced back leaped high against the wall, fell to the ground and got up with a baseball. Rapp was called out. The Beavers ran off the field and the Padres ran on, much to Rapp’s dismay. Portland players later revealed that Reich used slight of hand and another ball to record the “out.”

The Beavers and Padres played in the old Pacific Coast League, an unclassified league that many considered a possible third major league before the Dodgers and Giants moved to the West Coast in 1958 and changed the face of baseball. The league’s most famous player was probably Joe DiMaggio. Long before Joltin’ Joe hit in 56 straight major league games for the Yankees he had a 61-game hitting streak which began — you guessed it — at Portland’s Vaughn Street Stadium.

  • Dennis

    Don’t forget other greats like Luis Tiant, Lou Pineilla, “Suddent Sam McDowell and catcher Ray Fosse. Of course, local Beavers that are part of the storied tradition include George Freese (#1o), Jim Greengrass and Louis Marquette. The good ol’ days were certainly that. The baseball was pretty much on par with the MLBs and the announcers Bud Blackburn and Rollie Truit just added to the baseball experience at Multnomah Stadium.

  • CA Sam

    Nice to see Oregon tooting it’s baseball horn. But you guys can’t hold a candle to the dozens of greats from Joe DiMaggio to Tony Gwin who come from CALIFORNIA.

  • eddie

    Unfortunately, your reminiscences imply a stability and continuity in Portland baseball that doesn’t exist. The Portland Beavers are in actuality the Albequerque Dukes, relocated here in 2000. Oddly, enough the Dukes aka Beavers have a colorful history beginning in 1915, and including such notables as Mike Piazza, Paul Konerko, Orel Hershiser, Darryl Strawberry, Fernando Valenzuela, Tommy Lasorda, and Mike Scioscia. (Can you tell they were a Dodgers Franchise?)

    The Beavers which played in Vaughn Street would either be the original Beavers (1903-1917) which relocated to Sacramento, or the second “Lucky Beavers” (1919-1972), who demolished Vaughn Street in 1956, and are currently located in Las Vegas as the Dodgers minor league team, the 51s.

    Portland really SHOULD have a solid connection to baseball, rather than our bizarre faux-urban chic, hip-hop and gangsta basketball thing… but that will take a real push to join the major leagues, a push that will never be allowed as long as certain major money players have a vested interest in keeping sports competition out of the city. Personally, I’d love to see the old rotting cube of Veteran’s Memorial torn down and a Veteran’s Baseball Stadium rise in its place.