by Howie Stalwick

The dusty little burg of Spokane Falls was so small and remote in 1890 that The Spokesman and Spokane Falls Review newspapers dutifully reported the names of all hotel guests and other visitors to the city.

Men's suits went for $5, hand-sewn shoes for $3, steak dinners for 75 cents. Telephone numbers had two or three digits, since the population of the city was just 25,000 and few people were using the newfangled invention. Newspaper ads ranged from the conservative sort for the Crescent department store ("Summer corsets for 75 cents") to surprisingly detailed ones for the treatment of "VD and lost manhood... and all functional derangements that result from youthful follies and excesses in after years."

The Great Fire of 1889 virtually destroyed Spokane Falls, but the city quickly rebounded, buoyed by the farming and mining industries and the recent arrival of the railroad. Trains connected Spokane Falls -- "Falls" was not dropped until 1891 -- and the rest of the rugged Pacific Northwest to the outside world and played a pivotal role in the arrival of professional baseball in the Northwest in 1890. In fact, Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma and Portland were charter members of the Pacific Northwest League.

Baseball, or "base ball" as newspapers often referred to the sport back then, had evolved in the mid-1800s on the East Coast. By 1890, the sport only recently had been refined: no longer were pitchers ordered to throw underhand, low or high, according to the batter's desire. Pitchers stood just 50 feet away from the batter (not the 60 feet, 6 inches we're familiar with today).

The arrival of pro baseball in Spokane Falls was greeted with considerable enthusiasm. The Spokesman noted that the "Spokanes" (PNL teams did not have official nicknames) had been practicing twice a day and "are now in perfect trim and by Saturday will be in the pink of perfection to play good ball" when professional baseball made its debut in the city on May 3, 1890.

A band played as a parade of horse-drawn carriages ushered the Spokane and Portland players through the downtown streets to the ballpark at Twickenham (later Natatorium) Park, in what is now west-central Spokane.

"If good ball playing will win the flag [league championship], it is ours already," Portland manager Dwyer told the Spokesman prior to the first game. (Newspapers rarely used first names back in the 1800s.)

"I prefer to let our playing show for itself," Spokane manager Barnes said. "I think the local papers have puffed us enough."

Puffed or not, the Portlands let the air out of the Spokanes by winning 8-7 in 11 innings. Many of the 1,662 spectators had arrived at the ballpark via electric cable cars.

"Umpire Cragin, attired in a natty light suit and blue cap, at 3:45 stepped into the diamond and called play," reported the Spokesman. "The men from Portland galloped gleefully to their positions on the field [yes, the home team batted first], and Mills, after rolling his bat in the dirt, stepped to the plate.

"Lengthy Tom Parrott, the idol of the city of 'Mossbacks,' was in the box [i.e., Parrott was Portland's starting pitcher]. He spit on his hands, hugged the sphere [baseball] to his breast and, with a lightning motion sent a perfectly straight ball sailing toward the plate.

"'One ball,' shouted the umpire, and the boys on the bleachers howled in simple delight that Spokane's first league season had begun."

The spirits of the home fans soured when Portland prevailed in the 11th inning... with the help of a 10th man, according to the Spokesman. "The umpiring was not satisfactory," the unidentified reporter wrote, "for nearly every close decision was in favor of Portland." Even the umpires of yesteryear were blind.

In the second game of the season, the Review and the Spokesman were critical of Spokane leftfielder Jevne for punching Cragin in the face after being called out on strikes, though the Review was quick to note that Jevne "is captain of the Spokanes and has their interest at heart."

The Spokesman said Jevne, "made a great mistake in losing control of his temper. The provocation was great, but no provocation would warrant a man in doing as he did. Such displays of ruffianism keep the ladies and the better class of men from attending ball games... Cragin will act wisely if he sends in his resignation. He may not intend to be unfair, but Portland has certainly had the best of nearly every close decision."

Verbal and physical abuse of umpires was so common place in baseball's early days that Cragin did not eject Jevne for punching him. Cragin did fine the player $10 (umpires routinely handed out $5 and $10 fines during games back then). The following day, the two men shook hands at home plate prior to the game, and the Review reported that the crowd roared its approval as "Cragin cheerfully excused Jevne."

Rival teams called for Jevne's suspension, but he continued playing for Spokane, though Manager Barnes fined him $100 (duly paid by sympathetic fans and reporters). Later in the season, however, Jevne and good buddy Tom Turner, Spokane's center fielder, were suspended by Barnes after showing up for a game drunk and wobbling their way into the ladies section of the Twickenham stands.

Jevne wound up being kicked off the team for good, but Turner rejoined the club a few days later after paying a $50 fine and, according to the Spokesman, agreeing "to abstain from his greatest enemy, John Barleycorn [liquor], upon whom he lays the entire blame for his recent escapade."

The remainder of Spokane's season was considerably calmer, and the Spokanes overcame the evil work of umpires well enough to capture the league championship. The Pacific Northwest League, however, temporarily disbanded after the 1890 season. Pro baseball came and went in the Northwest.

In more recent times, Spokane has fielded a professional baseball team every season since 1958 -- in the Pacific Coast League of Class AAA (the highest level of the minor leagues) from 1958-71 and 1973-82, and in the short-season Northwest League of Class A (the second-lowest level of the minors) in 1972 and from 1983 to the present.

Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda and Duke Snider managed here; Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm, Don Sutton and Stan Coveleski pitched here; National League batting champions Tommy Davis, Bill Buckner and Bill Madlock played here; and American League home run champions Frank Howard, Ken Williams, Bob Meusel and Gorman Thomas are among the thousands of others who have suited up for the city's professional baseball teams since the first one, way back in the Spokane Falls of 1890.

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