Going The Rounds: Madcap Portland Mavericks were colorful, but seldom funny

An acclaimed new documentary could well attract an audience among Grays Harbor baseball fans with long memories.

The short but colorful history of the Portland Mavericks, who played in the professional Northwest League from 1973 through 1977, is covered in the Netflix documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” Among their opponents in the final two years of the franchise were the Grays Harbor Ports and Loggers (the mascot changed after Grays Harbor’s initial season).

The documentary has received almost universally positive reviews and was the subject of an excellent article by Larry Stone that appeared on the front page of last Sunday’s Seattle Times.

I haven’t seen the film as yet. But I probably would enjoy it, because it reportedly takes a warts-and-all approach that is true to the subject.

Owned by character actor Bing Russell (best known as the father of Kurt Russell, a much bigger cinematic star), the Mavs were a hard-playing, hard-living club that employed both once-famous players and assorted misfits who were unable to otherwise find a home in organized baseball.

Jim Bouton, the former New York Yankees and Seattle Pilots pitcher who authored the landmark tell-all book, Ball Four, attempted a comeback in Portland. Kurt Russell, a talented enough player to have been drafted by the California Angels before being injured, briefly played for his dad’s team.

I don’t recall either of the above appearing at Hoquiam’s Olympic Stadium. Bouton primarily pitched for Portland in 1975, a year before Grays Harbor was awarded a franchise. Baseball records show that Russell saw action in one Maverick game in 1977, but it likely wasn’t on the Harbor.

Reggie Thomas, the fiery Portland outfielder whom the filmmakers reported once pulled a gun on his manager for failing to include him in the starting lineup, was ejected from a Mavericks-Ports game I covered— and reportedly threatened the umpire on his way to the clubhouse. That, however, was far from an isolated incident.

Some reviews of the documentary, incidentally, refer to the Mavericks as the Northwest League’s last independent team (one not affiliated with a major league franchise).

Not true. The Ports/Loggers, who outlasted the Mavs by four years, were an independent operation (albeit with a less colorful roster) in all but one of their six seasons. As the Loggers, they won the 1978 league championship as an independent— one more pennant that the Mavericks claimed.

One myth that was perpetuated at the time was that the Mavericks were a rollicking, fun-loving crew who were as much entertainers as athletes. They were frequently described in print as the “madcap Portland Mavericks.”

Spectators who expected a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters, however, were sorely disappointed. The Mavs were relentlessly antagonistic toward opposing players and front-office personnel, umpires and, at times, even themselves.

They were about as zany as the half-sloshed, ex-con cousin that you can only stomach for about 10 minutes during family reunions. The Mavericks may have been fun-loving away off the field, but they were the last club you’d want your Little League team to emulate while on it.

My favorite Maverick story would have been too tame to have merited inclusion in the documentary, but it does provide some insight into the team’s character.

In the early years of the Grays Harbor franchise, Daily World writers (Ray Ryan, Robbie Peltola, correspondent Jeff Bogdanovich and myself) doubled as the official scorers at home games. This was a chore that produced a modest stipend from the league and seemed fun at first, but eventually became a pain in the derriere.

Tired of listening to Ray and I complain about the time it took to fill out the league’s extensive scoring form, Editor John Hughes eventually solved the problem by determining it was a conflict of interest to be paid by a league we were covering and banned us from scorekeeping. For the record, most newspapers in major-league cities have adopted a similar policy.

John’s decision was still a few years away, however, when I covered and scored a Ports-Mavericks game in 1976. The Olympic Stadium baseball press box had yet to be constructed, so I was stationed alongside public address announcer Jeff Snell at a small table (actually more of a glorified ledge) at the back of the screen behind home plate.

With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Grays Harbor’s lead-off batter reached base on one of those borderline plays that could have been ruled either an infield hit or an error (I can’t recall what I scored it). That player would up tallying the winning run.

Since the contest was over, I quickly packed up my gear and headed to the Grays Harbor locker room for post-game interviews. I was several yards from the table when I saw two Mavericks running toward the screen to confront Snell.

Unaware of the scoring decision, the infielder demanded the lead-off batter be awarded a hit. The pitcher was equally adamant that his teammate be charged with an error, thus rendering the run unearned.

Given the circumstances, it’s doubtful if Snell responded with his characteristic wit. If he had, it’s an even surer bet that the “madcap” Portland Mavericks wouldn’t have found it the least bit funny.

Rick Anderson: (360) 537-3924; randerson@thedailyworld.com.


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