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Wenatchee Chiefs were league champs

Editor’s note: A version of this story first published in The Confluence, a historical quarterly magazine produced by the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center. To learn more, visit wenatcheevalleymuseum.org.

Wenatchee has long been a baseball town. From informal games between the barbers and bartenders or Morris Hardware vs. the Elks Club to today’s college-age AppleSox, baseball teams have drawn loyal, cheering fans to local parks for 125 years. A professional minor league, class B team called the Wenatchee Chiefs played here from 1937 to 1965, with Recreation Park as its home field.

The Chiefs belonged to the Western International League for their first 13 years. They played a full season of 144 games — 72 at home and 72 on the road — against teams from Yakima, Spokane, Tri-Cities, Lewiston (Idaho), Bellingham, Tacoma and Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia. In their best year, 1939, the Chiefs drew 90,000 fans to home games that were mostly played in the evening. Ticket prices were 40 cents for Rec Park grandstand seats and five cents for the bleachers. Kids who couldn’t afford admission would peek through holes in the grandstand fence; they were known as the Knothole Gang.

“The lights in Rec Park were terrible,” recalled Wes Crossley, an umpire who called games in Wenatchee. “They had old rusty reflectors and you couldn’t see a thing. The first two innings of my first game, I missed a dozen pitches. I told the catcher, Bucky Bales, ‘I can’t see anything!’ He came back, ‘How’d you like to hit here?’”

The 1939 Chiefs team was the first to win a league pennant. Coached by the popular Glenn Wright and owned by tavern/hotel proprietor Charles Garland, the team led the league in hitting with three players all batting over .320. In one doubleheader, the Chiefs hit 13 home runs! Six men from the 1939 team went on to play in the major leagues. The team also was league champion in 1946.

The Chiefs played in the Class A Northwest League from 1955 to 1965. Rival teams were from Yakima, Tri-Cities, Spokane, Salem, Eugene and Lewiston. During those years, the Wenatchee players earned $350 a month and $2.50 per diem when on the road. They were proud of their teamwork, enjoyed camaraderie and relished the adulation of their fans. “Playing with the Chiefs was the most fun I ever had in my life,” said former pitcher Glenn Isringhaus in 2012. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center hosted a large exhibit on the Wenatchee Chiefs in 2012. The museum’s current exhibit, “Tomfoolery: Vintage Fun from Wenatchee Cycle and Toy,” features toys and games that recall the nostalgia of the era of the Wenatchee Chiefs.

Chris Rader edits the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s quarterly historical magazine, The Confluence.