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Baseball has a long history in Seattle

Baseball has long, storied history in Seattle

SEATTLE -- The history of professional baseball in Seattle is a far-reaching and rich one. Sure, everyone knows about the Mariners and their recent success. But how many people know about Dan Dugdale, a man who has been referred to as the father of Seattle baseball?

Many other people know about the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. What those people may not realize, though, is that the world-renowned research center was named for a man who was named the Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News in 1938. Hutchinson, or "Hutch" as he was referred to by many, won 25 games at the age of 19 for the Seattle Rainiers that year.

Just recently, the Mariners on July 9 honored a team of Seattle's past -- the Pilots, a team that spent one ill-fated year in the Major Leagues. But that wasn't the first taste of big-time baseball for Seattle, and Mariners fans know it certainly wasn't the last.

The following is a brief look back at the teams, people and events that have helped to shape the game of baseball in the city of Seattle as it is known today.

Much of the information for this article and all of the historic pictures in the accompanying photo gallery were provided by the David Eskenazi Collection and can be found in a book titled Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest. The photo gallery also includes photos of the current status of the sites of home fields of Seattle's baseball past.

PRE-SEATTLE RAINIERS

To tell the story of professional baseball in Seattle prior to the Seattle Rainiers is to tell the story of Dan Dugdale.

Although pro ball officially entered the city in 1890 with a team called "the Seattles," Dugdale's ties to baseball began six years before that in his hometown of Peoria, Ill. From 1884-95, Dugdale used his above-average talent as a catcher to play for 20 different teams in 13 different states.

In 1898, Dugdale arrived in Seattle seeking fortune from the Klondike Gold Rush. It only makes sense then that the first team he helped to build was the Klondikers. Later called the Rainmakers, Clamdiggers and Chinooks, the Klondikers were one of the pioneering teams in the Pacific Northwest League that became fully functional in 1901.

Keeping a baseball league in business at that time was no small feat, especially when there were other leagues competing for players and popularity. Dugdale was bought out in 1904 by the Seattle Siwashes of the Pacific Coast League and agreed to manage the Portland team in that league.

Then in 1907, Dugdale returned to Seattle and aligned the Siwashes with the Northwestern League. He also built Yesler Way Park on the corner of 12th Avenue and Yesler Way that year. While playing in that facility, the Siwashes were renamed the Turks and won the league pennant in 1909.

After another renaming, this time to the Giants, Dugdale again invested in a new stadium. Dugdale Park was located in Rainier Valley and was the first double-decker stadium built on the West Coast. The ballpark opened its gates in 1914.

In all, Dugdale's teams won five pennants and produced many future Major League players.

Then, in 1919, the Pacific Coast League returned to Seattle and formed a team called the Rainiers. The team was renamed the Indians two years later and won the first PCL championship for the city of Seattle in 1924.

Tragically, Dugdale Park was burned by an arsonist in 1932 on the Fourth of July. The act forced the Indians, who had previously called that park home, to move to Civic Stadium. Located where Memorial Stadium stands today, Civic Stadium was known for its concrete-hard infield and large wooden light poles that were in play if struck by a ball.

The next few years were tough ones for baseball in Seattle. It wasn't until 1937 when a man named Emil Sick came along that things started to turn around again.

SEATTLE RAINIERS

Although the Rainiers were charter members of the Pacific Coast League from 1903-06 and then rejoined the league in 1919 under the Indians title, it wasn't until 1937 when Sick bought the team and renamed them the Rainiers that the team began known as one of the marquee teams of the league.

From 1938-41, the Rainiers made six consecutive playoff appearances, winning pennants in three of those trips.

Previously known as the owner of the Rainier Brewing Company, Sick bought the team to help promote his brew. But Sick also opened his wallet for his new investment. In 1938, construction was complete on Sick's Stadium, a state-of-the-art ballpark for its time that was erected at the same place where Dugdale Park had been located.

Rainiers games became one of the most popular things to do in Seattle during Sick's ownership. Following the new stadium's opening, the Rainiers led the PCL in attendance 11 of the next 20 seasons. For five of those years, they led all of the Minor Leagues as well.

The PCL was regarded as the most competitive league in the country after the American and National leagues during the Rainiers' heyday. The quality of play was extraordinary, as evidenced by future Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal beginning their baseball careers playing for teams in the PCL.

While no Rainiers players went on to become one of these all-time greats, the franchise did have its share of hometown favorites that had excellent playing careers.

Three of the most prominent players from the Rainiers' back-to-back-to-back championships were "Kewpie" Dick Barrett, Bill Lawrence and Jo-Jo White. Barrett won more than 200 games as a Rainier, Lawrence was considered one of the best defensive center fielders of his time, and White played many successful seasons in the Majors before being traded to Seattle.

Perhaps the most famous Rainiers player of them all, though, only played one season with the team. Franklin High School graduate Fred Hutchinson quickly became a fan favorite because of his hometown roots and incredible success. In the team's first season, "Hutch" won 25 games as a teenager. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer named him Seattle Man of the Year for his brilliance on the mound.

Hutchinson was never able to pitch at that level again, but he did go on to manage for 12 seasons in the Majors with the Tigers, Cardinals, and Reds. Between Major League managerial stints, he returned to lead the Rainiers to the 1955 PCL pennant. He died of cancer at the age of 45 in 1964.

Meanwhile, the PCL began to lose its loyal following when the Major Leagues began to migrate to the West Coast. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the New York Giants headed to San Francisco before the 1958 season.

Businessman first, Sick saw the change coming and opted to sell the Rainiers to the Red Sox in 1960. While the team continued until 1968, it was never able to regain the popularity that it generated while under Sick's ownership.

SEATTLE PILOTS

The warning signs were all around, but no one was able to see them in time.

When the Athletics packed their bags in Kansas City and left for Oakland in 1967, Kansas City pressured Major League Baseball to give the city an expansion team. In order to keep the league's number of teams even, MLB decided to also grant the city of Seattle a franchise. Two years later, the Pilots became the first Major League Baseball team in Seattle.

Problems mounted from the beginning.

First, the Pilots had to pay the PCL $1 million for leaving the league. Next, Seattle did not have a ballpark up to Major League standards. Sick's Stadium had worked well for a Minor League venue, but it was not big enough to house Major League crowds and was outdated by the late '60s. Although King County voters approved a domed stadium that eventually became the Kingdome, there was not enough time to build it before the start of the 1969 season.

While Sick's Stadium was renovated for the Pilots, the improvements were not ready by Opening Day. Even more frustrating, there were issues with the water pressure and often players would have to go home or to their hotel to shower because there was no running water by the end of the game because fans used it all in the restrooms.

Even though the facilities were bad, the play on the field may have been worse. After winning their first game, the Pilots were only able to win four more during the first month of play. By season's end, their record was 64-98, 33 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins.

There were some bright spots. Tommy Harper was given the option to create havoc on the base paths and he took it to heart. Harper stole 73 bases that season, the most since Ty Cobb had stolen 96 in 1915. The team's pitching staff also amassed 963 strikeouts.

By and large though, the season was a bust. The hitting was bad, the pitching was lousy, and the attendance was horrible. When the season concluded, the Pilots were strained financially and the future of the Pilots did not look promising.

In the offseason, after many court proceedings and discussions behind closed doors, it was agreed that the Pilots would be moved to Milwaukee and renamed the Brewers. The man who bought the team eventually became the commissioner of baseball: Bud Selig.

The move also allowed for Seattle to be reconsidered for an expansion franchise. With the Kingdome constructed, there were no issues with out-of-date facilities. So when the 1977 baseball season began, the Seattle Mariners were part of it.

While the team did take awhile to become successful, there's little argument that the 1995 and 2001 seasons put together by the Mariners were two of the most exciting years of baseball that Seattle has ever seen.

And the history of baseball in Seattle continues into the 21st century.

C.J. Bowles is an associate reporter for MLB.com. For more information about "Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest," please go to http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/bookinfo/5097.html. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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