“Baseball in Tacoma-Pierce County” by local sports historian Marc Blau (published by Arcadia Publishing) may be a small book (127 pages) but it holds a wealth of information. Everything from the Amocats (Tacoma spelled backwards, this team played from 1901 to 1906) to A.J. Zapp (whose 505-foot homerun hit over the 29-foot centerfield wall at Cheney Stadium on Sept. 1, 2004, is considered to be the longest dinger ever at the park) is included. Readers of all ages will enjoy strolling the base paths of the sport’s local history.
Blau tells the story through insightful commentary and hundreds of wonderful photos. The information is broken into five separate time capsules, beginning with amateur and semi-pro ball in the time frame 1874 to 1997. Readers will be amazed to read that there was a baseball field at 11th and L Streets and another, Tiger Field, at S. 38th and Lawrence. These were built to accommodate leagues based on ethnicity, business and communities, such as the Shipbuilders and Timber leagues.
The formation of Stanley’s Shoemen came about in 1955. Sponsored by Stan Naccarato and Morley Brotman, the team won the National Baseball Congress’ championship in 1956. Bob Maguinez was a player on the team, which was coached by Doug McArthur. Maguinez, who was an umpire and scout as well as a player, passed away in 2000. McArthur continues to work with the Tacoma Athletic Commission, golf, and in many community activities.
Professional baseball from 1890 to 1922 comes next, beginning with the inaugural season of the Pacific Northwest League in 1890. More new baseball parks sprung up, including one at South 14th and ‘L’ Streets. Along with Tacoma, teams from Seattle, Portland and Spokane Falls were the other participants in the early days of the PNL. Walter Johnson was one of the players for Tacoma during the league’s early years. Financial problems and the beginning of World War I caused teams to fold or suspend operation.
The Western International League took center stage, or maybe centerfield, in 1937, following a 15-year absence of professional ball in the area. The league was composed of teams from Tacoma, Spokane, Wenatchee, Yakima, Lewiston, Idaho, and Vancouver, Canada. The Tacoma Tigers really roared, winning WIL titles in 1937, 1939 and 1940. World War II caused play to be suspended from 1942 until 1946, but Tacoma never won another title before the team exited the league in 1951. Some of the recognizable names from this period include broadcaster Clay Huntington and players Dick Greco, Cy Greenlaw, Earl Kuper and Vince DiMaggio, who ended his career in a Tacoma uniform. The photo from Greco’s onfield wedding is amazing.
Fastpitch softball was most popular from 1943 to 1974 and included both men’s and women’s teams. Among the well-known names on the women’s teams was Louise Mazzuca, whose pitching career started at the age of 11. The Stadium High School graduate threw 35 no-hitters and nine perfect games. Her exploits on the diamond led to her induction into the Amateur Softball Association’s National Hall of Fame in 2007. She is one of only two women there from Washington State.
The book’s final chapter covers Tacoma’s second set of entrants in the Pacific Coast League, 1960 to the present. The first Tacoma team in the PCL played from 1904 to 1905. Tacoma got back into the PCL in 1960 when Cheney Stadium was built in just over three months after a group of Tacoma businessmen and politicians secured the transfer of San Francisco’s Minor League franchise from Phoenix. But it was the financial backing of Ben Cheney that sealed the construction. That park has been home to the Giants, Cubs, Yankees, Tugs, Tigers and Rainiers, and such spectacular players as Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Dusty Rhodes and the “Bash Brothers” Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. More recently there was Alex Rodriguez and Felix Hernandez, both of whom played here with the Rainiers. Even Ken Griffey, Jr. appeared in Tacoma in his only Triple A game, while rehabbing from a broken wrist in August 1995.
Along the way readers are introduced to such great local products as Ron Cey, Jon Lester, Aaron Pointer and Doug Sisk, and meet the Tacoma Timbers, a college semi-pro team, and the Tillacum Chiefs of Western State Hospital. The number of regional, state, league and national championships is astounding, and includes four outright and two shared PCL titles. The saga comes full cycle by closing with a drawing of the recently opened remodeled Cheney Stadium on the book’s last page.
Blau said that of all the individuals he talked to about the history of baseball in this area, Clay Huntington was the most fascinating “for a whole bunch of reasons,” including his broadcasting connections and his encyclopedic knowledge of all things sports. “I’ve been on road trips with Clay,” Blau added, “when we talked nothing but sports 24/7. I was in heaven.”
The book will be available for purchase, and autographing by the author at Fan Go-Round, a celebration of local baseball and softball history at Cheney Stadium on Sunday, May 1, from 1-5 p.m. There is no admission charge. The book can also be ordered by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. The price is $21.99.