All posts by IndyBallIsland

29. Baseball fan. I prefer indy ball and the minors over the majors. If it's summer, you can find me at a ballpark. The Washington Wild Things and the Pittsburgh Pirates are my "hometown" teams, but I'm always up for taking a baseball road trip! Follow me on Twitter: @kmthomp29

The Portland Mavericks – “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”

In the 1970’s, independent baseball leagues as we know them today were non-existent.  In 1973, there were no independent baseball teams in America, except for one: the newly formed Portland Mavericks.

When Portland, Oregon lost their MLB affiliated team, actor and former professional baseball player, Bing Russell, wanted to create a team of independent players that were capable of playing against the single-A affiliated teams in the Northwest League. These players were all guys who had something to prove. The majority of them had all been rejected or released from a team at some point in their playing careers. Others were just never given a shot in professional baseball. Guys came from all across the country to the open tryouts just for one more shot of living the dream.

The team was full of characters and known as one of the “nuttiest” teams in all of professional baseball, but somehow it all worked.  These “Battered Bastards of Baseball” (taken from a term used in pitcher Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four”) were a wild and wacky bunch who, in their five year existence, had a winning record in each season while taking the division title four out of five times (1973, 1975, 1976, 1977).

In a phone interview with the Seattle Times, Bouton described the team:  “Guys on the Mavericks were there for the right reasons. We wanted to play ball. We were at the end of the line, trying to scramble, put something together and get on the field, against all odds. That’s how badly the game of baseball grips you.”

The documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”, was released last year and is currently streaming on Netflix.  It features original footage filmed during the team’s five seasons as well as interviews with former players, employees, and Bing Russell’s son, actor and former Mavericks player Kurt Russell.

It’s just a feel good documentary that gives you an inside look at a truly great group of guys in baseball. The footage shows a team that just wanted to have fun playing ball and the city that welcomes them with open arms.  They were regular guys, and the fans flocked to the stadium in record numbers to watch these personable players. If you were a fan of the Portland Mavericks, you KNEW these guys.  There were no barriers between the players and fans.

This documentary highlights exactly what independent baseball is all about.

These players didn’t have the financial backing, young talent or support of a major league organization, but it never showed.   Even without “big league” money, the players still received $500 a month (more than some independent league players today) and had accommodations in every city until, as legend has it, they were banned from staying everywhere in visiting cities due to different indiscretions.

They were often known for their barroom brawls and reckless behavior because, as one player put it, they “didn’t give a (bleep). We wanted to kick your ass. Other teams tried to intimidate us sometimes, and we’d just laugh at them. We played as hard as we could between the lines. And we played harder outside the lines afterward.”

These “misfits” took their carefree attitudes, their bright red bus with mattresses and “Portland’s Maverick Baseball Team” mistakenly written on the side (note the apostrophe placement), their black Labrador “bat dog”, P.L. Maverick, and ultimately held their own in a competitive league.

Although they started out as the only independent team in the Northwest League in 1973, there were two other teams in the new Independent Division of the league during their last season. Even when the Mavericks were dissolved after 1977, the independent trend continued with four indy teams in place during the 1978 season.

Not only did the Portland Mavericks re-create the idea of independent baseball, they also created a lot of other interesting stories along the way.

Keeping with the independent theme, owner Bing Russell kept all corporate sponsorships outside the gates; something that was never done with affiliated teams and stadiums.

They hired the first female general manager in professional baseball, as well as the first Asian American general manager.

They also invented Big League Chew bubblegum.  One night in the bullpen, relief pitcher Rob Nelson came up with the idea for bubblegum in a pouch that resembled chewing tobacco.  Jim Bouton took the idea to Wrigley, and Big League Chew was born.

The Mavericks also had one of the rarest players in baseball, the left handed catcher.  During tryouts Jim Swanson, a southpaw outfielder, noticed that the other catchers were terrible. He caught growing up, but knew there were little opportunities for left handed catchers to shine in professional baseball. He grabbed his catcher’s glove, continued the tryout as a catcher, and won the starting job.

In 1978, affiliated baseball made its way back to Portland.  After the encouraging fan support for the Mavericks, Portland decided to bring AAA baseball back to the town.  When all was said and done, Bing Russell was paid $206,000 (a record breaking sum) to hand over the territorial rights.

If you have Netflix, I highly recommend checking out this documentary. It’s a baseball story that is much deeper than it appears.  Fall in love with the Mavericks like the citizens of Portland in the 70’s.

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is a story about baseball misfits and rejects who did things their own way and did it well.

Bing Russell’s quote sums it up best: “I love the game dearly and wanted it to go back to the straw hat and beer days when 250 towns had minor league teams and most of them were not supported by a major league franchise.”

The Pecos League – The Commissioner (sort of) Replies

After my Pecos League Exposed article was seen by thousands of people worldwide, one manager let the Pecos League Commissioner, Andrew Dunn, know what was going on.  Dunn emailed me (on Christmas Eve) asking that I call to “straighten out” my stories and “incorrect facts.”  I promptly emailed him back declining a phone interview.  I asked if he could please email me his side of the story because I wanted a written record of everything that was said.

Four hours later he replied and picked apart the Exposed article to give his explanations. However, the explanations seemed generic and appeared as if they were copied and pasted from different things.  The font was different throughout the explanations with one even using names of people I never referenced.

To make sure I got everything completely straightened out, I sent follow up questions on almost everything he said.  I have been waiting patiently for a response, but as of now, I have yet to receive a reply.

But in the interest of fairness, I would like to tell the Commissioner’s side of the story.  Here is the exact email I received from the Pecos League Commissioner, Andrew Dunn, with some notes I made after reading the email.

Since the TV show has aired there have been many people like yourself who are attempting to sabotage the league.  You don’t know many of the success stories and you are attempting to contact players to get the worst possible stories.

Why don’t you interview players released by the frontier league, because no one cares about that league, the Pecos League is the league everyone loves to have on the bottom.   You are one of the few baseball people that have came out to be truly against the league…

It is amazing how many people are fascinated with details of the league.   You might different because of connection to Wild Things we used to send many players to Washington and got a lot of players from them. I haven’t seen your articles except one.

(Author Note: There have been seven players that came to the Washington Wild Things from the Pecos League. Only one of those players was not released later in their season, but that player, Chris Smith, had already been in the Frontier League before going to the Pecos League.)

The Frontier vs Pecos is a decision a lot of players have to make, it is very tough to make the Frontier League as a rookie.  Playing in the Pecos has helped a lot of players.

We have had 14 Frontier League All-Stars who played in the Pecos League. 

(Author Note: I baseball referenced every player that was on an All-Star roster in the Frontier League from 2011 to 2014 (the entire length of operation for the Pecos League) and found that only two players were both a Frontier League All-Star and a Pecos League player – Vincent Mejia and Michael Oros.)

These are the statements that are outright false and should be modified: 

The league knows exactly what they are doing to these players. They make promises to players that never come true. They stretch the truth about pay and promotion opportunities. As one player put it, “they like to twist stories to trick kids into going into the league.  Many had been given false promises. It was just a mess.”

They try to take advantage of players and their dreams, especially with the taxi squad players.  Making players pay to play isn’t what “professional” baseball is all about.  The league also started taking advantage of players by putting new rules into effect regarding other leagues.

“The league takes advantage of players because they know most guys won’t quit.  They have nowhere else to go.  They also make them ONLY go to winter or spring leagues run by the Pecos.  If they go to the California Winter League, for example, those players cannot be signed.  They want all those guys to spend money on THEIR league and nowhere else.”

They also do a good job of stacking some teams with better players and resources.  One team was managed by a guy who only had coaching experience in little league.

“He knew nothing on how to coach young and some older men.  During spring training, he would leave to watch little league games because he was ‘bored.’  And he was the only one that was a ‘coach’ and supposed to evaluate players.”

Another team’s manager was flat out told not to expect to win more than 13 games all year.  Their budget was well below any other teams’ in the league.  They had no baseball operations, no marketing and no staff to help the team compete fairly against other teams.  The manager compared the Pecos League to the WWE where everything is predetermined in the league’s mind, and if you go against it, you’re gone.  The team went on to win 20 games over their “projected” total. The manager and team are both no longer a part of the Pecos League.

Player promotions also seem to be controlled and delayed by the league as they see fit.  Players were not traded when they wanted, and some players could guess why.

“Our goal there was to get picked up by better leagues, and rumors circled around that the ownership was dodging calls from teams in other leagues trying to buy our contracts.  I was trying to get released so that I could play in the NBC World Series in Wichita, but [the owner] wouldn’t release me from my contract since he had a team playing there too. The team I was going to play with ended up taking his team down, and the next day I had a contract in the Frontier League.”

(Author Note: I have highlighted this section in my Exposed article to let readers know that Dunn does not agree with any of these statements. However, each of these stories were confirmed by more than one player or manager during my interviews.)

 WHO IS GIVING FALSE PROMISES?  We have never given a false promise about promotion of a player or pay of a player.  The altitude averages 5400 feet of course it is a hitters league. 

The NBC World Series does not want players who played in a professional league within the season, but we released over 30 players to play in the NBC.  It is an amateur tournament.

The league has never held back a player… Players are naturally going to want to goto better teams within the Pecos League… All players would rather play in Santa Fe vs being in Raton. 

I haven’t sent a team there since 2009 so that guy is confused.  Totally unfactual statement..every team is given same payroll. 

2 pecos league managers are now managing in American Association

3 staff members are now working in MLB teams

213 players have been promoted to higher level leagues since inception.

(Author Note: The Official Pecos League website lists and says “187 players have been signed to higher level leagues.”)

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Taxi Players

The Pecos League inherited some principles and teams from the CBL which folded in 2010. Taxi players were required by CBL as a source of revenue…

They were eliminated in the Pecos League in 2013…Players paid to be on the team.

Many times taxi players turned out to be problems because they never got playing time.

My first goal of the league was to eliminate Taxi Players, I feel it not professional baseball.  As of the 2013 season Taxi Players were eliminated.    Walter McGowan was a taxi player and didn’t have the skill to play so Ryan didn’t play him. It is obvious he wrote the article… Ryan didn’t like Taxi players and want them…  there are no more taxi players.

(Author Note: I have absolutely no idea who Walter McGowan or Ryan are. I have never spoken to or about anyone with those names.)

Teams the league has not operated

Taos Blizzard 2013- ran by New York State League carried 40 players paid 22 of them…

I have heard a lot of complaining like in your article.

Ruidoso Osos 2011-worst situation ever, had private owner who turned on to be convicted murder…took all sponsorship money and left the tema with nothing

(Author Note: Yes. He went into a business deal with a person who was charged with voluntary manslaughter. Here is an article on the former owner, Clyde Woods: http://www.ruidosonews.com/ci_18940176)

Carlsbad Bats 2011-Unpaid Team with Taxi Players from the New York State League 

Pay

-We pay 22 players a set rate of money per week via direct deposit.

In 2014 There were 3 players that made over $5000 in salary and hat money from fans…

So all of your comments about players being unpaid are by players released or the players are lying… 90% of the players that say they weren’t paid were players that were released or the managers weren’t being honest by having them on the payroll….  We have implemented policies that clearly defines who is on the payroll and who isn’t…Some of the managers can’t add 22 players and don’t have the guts to release players and that is why that issue comes up…

All players in the history of the league were paid except for these two exceptions:

-In the 2014 Season Raton including July 4th… City of Raton decided not to charge admission for games including game that had 1000 people for one week so their players weren’t paid that week….

-In 2013 Season Las Vegas Train Robbers manager gave the keys to the travel bus to person that was helping the team to go and get food…. She crashed the bus in the parking lot… she was a canadian citizen and it was voided on insurance policy.. Team and league immediately paid for damage to other persons car out of pocket…  Manager tried to scapegoat around the problem and not pay the bill… His salaries were frozen until the bill was paid… the city stood behind  the team and league for doing the correct thing.  The bill was $3600

No player on Santa Fe Fuego, Trinidad Triggers, Roswell Invaders, Las Cruces Vaqueros, Raton Osos, Douglas Diablos, Las Vegas Train Robbers,  Bisbee Blue, Taos Blizzard, White Sands Pupfish, Alpine Cowboys…. Has not been paid what the payroll says they are owed

(Author Note: From my research, there were many players on these teams that were not paid; all confirmed by MULTIPLE players and managers.)

No staff member or employee has not been paid what the league has committed to pay them.

A lot of these no pay stories are what I would like to see, which player didn’t get paid on what team and what year, send player name team and year and pay period and we will look it up…

Most likely you will have a lot of situations where players were released or not on pay period…

We did not operate Ruidoso in 2011, Taos in 2013 or Carlsbad in 2011 so I have no idea what happened there…

You should have written a story on the 2011 Osos, it would have been much worse and much more detailed than what you had… and the team played well.  Those guys had a lot of stories to say.

Markets/Stadiums Playing Conditions moving forward

We are constantly trying to improve our playing conditions, markets and stadiums.  They need improvement and this has been addressed

Going into 2015 We have removed Bisbee, Douglas, Raton and Taos.

Those are all towns of 7000 or smaller in high school stadiums at best.

They are all high school fields with majorly unstable city governments and housing issues for players… Sponsorships get leaner each year.

We have replaced them with Las Cruces and Garden City KS

Garden City has a Frontier League quality playing surface with brand new field turf locker rooms and seating for 1100 in a historic ballpark.

Las Cruces had the best surface in the league in 2011-2012 and is in process of getting locker rooms and a population of over 100,000 that wants its pecos league team back.

Managers

We look to have our best crop of field managers in 2015 ever which is important in the Pecos League.

We are working a regular basis with 11 major league baseball teams and they are sending us players with intentions of having them on their radar and possibly signing them as they did this past year.

They love our league and like the fact that players will go there if they want to play ball…

___________________________________________________________________________________________

We are sorry that you do not like our league, we aren’t the Frontier League they have been around 20 years this will be our 5th year…  Even if we paid the same as Frontier League players would choose the Frontier League because of better markets, we will always be the league under the frontier league… all of these new leagues that are attempting to play will realize at some point how hard it is to play… They are all attempting to copy the Pecos League model and improve it.

As stated above, I have sent follow up questions to his email without a response.  Some things I asked included:

  • Questions about a story in the Garden City Telegram in Garden City, Kansas dated on December 21, 2014 that stated the following: “In a telephone interview late Friday, Dunn said that most teams in the league have an average budget of between $160,000 and $240,000 per season. Players, who usually are aged 25 and under, are paid between $300 and $500 per month.
    • How is $300 the lowest when $50 a week is league minimum? If the budgets per team are really that high, why is transportation, living, and food such an issue?  He told me that each team has the exact same budget, but right here it says they do not.
  • Why did he enter into a business agreement with a private owner who was a convicted murderer? Even a Google search will give information on the charges against the owner. Does he not do any background checking?
  • He stated that 3 players made over $5000 in salary and hat money. Does he incorporate the “hat money” into a player’s salary? That is not a salary paid by the league. And how does he know how much players are receiving? Is it officially accounted for by the league?
  • What measures are being taken to ensure that the mangers adhere to the rules about rosters and payroll? Is there new hiring criteria to hire the best managers for the 2015 season?
  • If the city of Raton decided not to charge for a game, how can he, as the commissioner, just decide not to pay the players their agreed upon salary. It isn’t on the city to pay the players, and it isn’t the players fault the city didn’t charge admission.
  • Same with the Train Robbers.  Even if the manager made a bad judgement call and something costly occurred, how can the league punish all the players that had nothing to do with it? Why not just get rid of the manager or stop his salary?
  • I asked for specific examples (dates, locations, who he met with…) of how the league is trying to improve their playing conditions, markets and stadiums. I also asked if he could name the 11 MLB teams he claims to be working with regularly.
  • Finally, I refused his inquiry to disclose the players’ names who claimed not to be paid. I suggested the solution would be for him to release his payroll records. He should be the one to publicly clear up these issues with his players.

It has been a week with no response to clear up any of these issues.  Meanwhile, I am continuing to receive messages from players who want to tell their stories.  Before I post more of those, I wanted to show Andrew Dunn’s side of the story, or at least the side he would answer questions about.