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Spokane Indians A to Z: Recapping some of the most memorable players in team history

UPDATED: Wed., June 19, 2019, 10:59 p.m.

By Howie Stalwick For The Spokesman-Review

Professional baseball made its debut in the little burg of Spokane Falls way back in 1890. Thousands of baseball players have worn Spokane minor league uniforms since then, and we’ve compiled an A to Z list of individuals who have entertained local fans through the years.

Alan Foster accomplished one of the more amazing feats in minor league history when he no-hit the Seattle Angels twice in 15 days in 1-0 victories in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League in 1967. Foster, a prized Los Angeles Dodgers prospect, was just 20 years old.

Bobby Valentine won the Minor League Player of the Year award after leading the Indians to the 1970 Pacific Coast League championship. Valentine was a dynamic presence on offense – he hit .340 with 211 hits, 14 homers, 16 triples, 39 doubles, 80 runs batted in and 29 stolen bases in 146 games – but made a whopping 54 errors at shortstop.

Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman makes our list based solely on that fantastic nickname. One year after playing for Spokane in 1961, Coleman “helped” manager Casey Stengel’s expansion New York Mets team post a 40-120 record.

Dave Staton made a spectacular pro debut with the 1989 Indians when he led the Northwest League champions with a .362 batting average, 17 home runs and 72 RBIs in 70 games. He remains the only Triple Crown winner in NWL history.

Ed Bouchee, who starred at Lewis and Clark High and Washington State, was named National League Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News in 1957. The Philadelphia Phillies first baseman set career highs that year with a .293 average, .394 on-base percentage, .470 slugging percentage, 17 home runs, 35 doubles, eight triples and 76 RBIs.

Frank Howard led the American League with 44 home runs in 1968 and 1970. Since the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Howard played for the Washington Senators at the time, two of his nicknames were “The Capital Punisher” and “The Washington Monument.”

George “Highpockets” Kelly, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, drove in 94 or more runs in seven of his nine full seasons in the major leagues. The slugging first baseman led the National League with a career-high 136 RBIs for the 1926 New York Giants.

Howie Reed, trapped in the minors when the Dodgers pitching staff featured Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, found himself back in Spokane for the fourth straight year despite going 19-7 with a 2.75 earned-run average for the 1963 Indians. An 8-3 start in 1964 finally earned Reed a midseason promotion to the Dodgers.

Ian Kinsler, who has established himself as one of the best power-hitting second basemen in baseball over the past 14 years, hit just one home run in 51 games as a rookie pro with the Indians in 2003.

Jack Spring, working primarily in relief, compiled an 11-2 record during the Los Angeles Angels’ first four seasons (1961-64). The crafty left-hander, who starred at Lewis and Clark High and WSU, was the longtime baseball coach and athletic director at West Valley High.

Ken Harvey led the Northwest League with dazzling numbers – .397 batting average, .477 on-base percentage, .558 slugging percentage – as a rookie pro in 1999. He went on to hit .274 in four major league seasons, as his lack of speed, power and defensive prowess shortened his career.

Levi McCormack established himself as a fan favorite during his five seasons in Spokane. Service duties in World War II interrupted the outfielder’s baseball career, and injuries he suffered in the tragic 1946 Indians bus crash led to his retirement after the 1947 season in the Western International League (a forefather of the Northwest League).

Maury Wills was a career minor leaguer going nowhere when Spokane manager Bobby Bragan convinced him to become a switch-hitter. Wills soon found himself on two World Series champions with the Dodgers, and he set the modern major league record (dating back to 1900, and since broken) of 104 stolen bases in 1962. That same year, he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

Neftali Feliz earned Rookie of the Year honors in the American League in 2010. Feliz recorded 40 saves in 70 appearances and helped the Texas Rangers reach the World Series before bowing to San Francisco.

Orlando Mercado was billed as the Seattle Mariners’ catcher of the future when he was rushed to the majors at the age of 20. He wound up bouncing around to eight big-league teams in eight seasons and hit .199 with seven home runs before spending his final years back in the minors.

Paul Strand, who began his pro career as a 17-year-old pitcher with Spokane in 1911, enjoyed some success as a major league pitcher before moving to the outfield. He still holds the minor league record of 325 hits in one season, when he played in 194 games and hit .394 with 43 home runs for the 1923 Salt Lake City Bees when PCL teams played expanded schedules. The following year, he hit .224 with no homers in 43 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, then returned to the minors for good.

Quirk, as in Jamie Quirk – gimme a break; legendary Spokane baseball historian Jim Price says there’s never been a Spokane player whose first game began with Q – was best buds with Hall of Famer (and current Spokane Indians minority owner) George Brett when they played on the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately for Quirk, Brett’s otherworldly skills did not rub off on him. Quirk hit just .240 with 43 home runs despite hanging on in the majors for all or part of 18 seasons.

Ron Cey, a former Washington State standout from Tacoma, enjoyed a long and successful run with the Dodgers after hitting .328 with 32 homers and 123 RBIs for the 1971 Indians. Cey was Most Valuable Player of the 1981 World Series, when the Dodgers knocked off the New York Yankees.

Stan Coveleski, the first former Indian inducted into the Hall of Fame (1969), won 20 or more games five times in the majors. He also won three games in the 1920 World Series, leading Cleveland past Brooklyn.

Tommy Lasorda is the only former Spokane manager who was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager. He led the 1970 Indians – widely regarded as one of the greatest minor league teams of all-time – to the PCL championship, then won two World Series championships and four National League pennants in 21 years as manager of the Dodgers.

Umpire W.A. Cragin – yeah, we’re cheating on first names again – fined Spokane left fielder Fred Jevne $10 for punching him after a called third strike in 1890. It was not uncommon for umpires to hand out fines on the field back in the day.

Vince Picetti, a promising 18-year-old first baseman, was one of nine Indians who lost their lives when the team bus crashed and burned on Snoqualmie Pass in 1946. The fatality total remains the most in professional sports history in the United States.

Willie Davis may have put together the greatest season in Spokane baseball history in 1960. At 20 years of age, the blurry-fast center fielder was tabbed Minor League Player of the Year after leading the PCL with a .346 average, .556 slugging percentage, 26 triples (a league record), 216 hits, 126 runs and 30 stolen bases.

Xavier Turner hit .340 in 29 games for Spokane in 2016. The promising third baseman faded away after failing three drug tests in the minors (and one more at Vanderbilt University during the 2014 College World Series).

Yohander Mendez bounced around in the Texas Rangers organization for seven years with varying degrees of success (including 1-2 with a 3.78 ERA at Spokane in 2013), but he only made brief appearances in the majors with Texas.

Zack Greinke pitched in two games (with a 7.71 ERA) for Spokane shortly after being drafted sixth overall by Kansas City in 2002. Just two years later, the current Arizona Diamondbacks star began his highly successful major league career with the Royals.

Howie Stalwick, a former Spokane Indians beat reporter for The Spokesman-Review, retired in his hometown of Spokane in 2016. He may be reached at howiestalwick@frontier.com.

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