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Destined for Greatness: Remembering the Legendary 1970 Spokane Indians 50 Years On

September 18, 2020

"The Best Minor League Team in the Second Half of the 20th Century" SPOKANE, Wash. - The Spokane Indians 1970 championship team will always be known as one of the greatest teams in minor league baseball history. Chance would have it thought that the team that would go down as

"The Best Minor League Team in the Second Half of the 20th Century"

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Spokane Indians 1970 championship team will always be known as one of the greatest teams in minor league baseball history. Chance would have it thought that the team that would go down as one of the winningest teams ever almost didn't happen.

In 1956, the Spokane Indians were in trouble. Failure to pay off debts and the condition of Ferris Field left Spokane without a team in 1957. That was also the same season the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants announced that they would make the move to the other side of the country to Los Angeles and San Francisco - a move that would cause a major shake up in the Pacific Coast League. The Angels, Los Angeles' PCL team for more than half a century, became the property of the Dodgers. The team needed to move, and Spokane came calling.

Building a Ballpark

In November of 1957, Dodgers executive Dick Walsh sat down in the Spokane Club with a committee of Spokane businessman and discussed why Spokane deserved a team. The leader of the group W.O. "Bill" Allen, who was County Commissioner at the time, developed plans to update Ferris Field and get the Triple-A team to Spokane.

The Dodgers said "yes" to the proposal on December 2nd. Three days later, the city of Spokane and Spokane County announced that they would build a new ballpark, which would become Avista Stadium - this was the final piece that sealed the deal with the Dodgers.

So on January 9, 1958, construction began and less than four months later the Indians began their journey in Triple-A baseball. The team had success and failure between 1958 and 1969, with six winning seasons and one PCL Championship title. In 1968, manager Roy Hartsfield left Spokane, opening the door for Tom Lasorda, a former Dodgers player that had led the Odgen Dodgers (now Raptors) to three consecutive Pioneer League Championships.

Where the Pros Come to Play

In 1969, Tommy Lasorda took over as the manager for the Spokane Indians. That first season was up and down for the new managers, as the Indians finished in second place with a record of 71-73. Lasorda had the talent, with 20 future major league players on the roster, but the final record didn't show it.

When the start of the 1970 season arrived, the roster looked drastically different than it did the previous year. The Dodgers pulled many of the players up to the majors, and Lasorda was left with a new group of players, with only two returners from the 1969 team. The new roster consisted of some top prospects in the Dodgers organization including Charlie Hough, Tom Hutton, Bob O'Brien and a hard-hitting third baseman by the name of Steve Garvey.

In addition to the new arrivals, some prospects that struggled in 1969 blossomed into outstanding players in 1970. Shortstop Bobby Valentine, the top prospect in the Dodgers organization, had been known as an error machine, committing 93 errors in two seasons with Spokane. However, in 1970 he was able to fix the problem on his way to the PCL MVP Award that season.

A Winning Machine

Steve Garvey joined the team a third of the way into the season and had an immediate impact, hitting .319 with 15 home runs in just 95 games. Pitcher Charlie Hough, who was just beginning to master his signature knuckle ball, had an amazing year. Coming out of the bullpen for the majority of the season, he notched 12 wins and 18 saves with a minuscule 1.95 ERA. The 1970 Indians also boasted left-handed hitting outfielder Bill Buckner. He hit .335 with 74 RBIs during the regular season, a strong mark that helped him move up to the Major Leagues in 1971.

Spokane needed no help capturing the 1970 Northern Division, winning by a whopping 26 games. Garvey was once quoted as saying that they could lose 9 out of 10 and still gain half a game lead in the standings. The team won the 1970 championship easily as well, outscoring the Hawaii Islanders 36-0 in the four-game sweep.

The team also had its setbacks, but that's what made the magical year even more special. Indians outfielder Bill Buckner broke his jaw in early May and played with his mouth wired shut for a month. First baseman Tommy Hutton broke his hand in a head-on collision at first base on June 11. That didn't stop the Indians, who in mid-June had a six-game lead on second place Portland, and promptly won the next nine games to extend their advantage.

Starting third baseman Bill Russell was called up for military service in July, but Garvey took over for him and showed the Dodgers that he was more than ready to be a big league player. The majority of the players came from the 1968 draft, which is still considered by many baseball pundits as one of the best draft classes of all time.

"There were a group of us who we just destined to be Dodgers," Garvey would say a few years later. Garvey, Russell and Davey Lopes would go on to make 3/4 of the Dodgers infield for the next decade.

The 1970 Spokane Indians were destined for greatness. In total, the players would go on to account for 23 World Series appearances, 21 All-Star selections and on National League Most Valuable Player Award - Garvey's in 1974.

About the Spokane Indians - The Spokane Indians are the Short Season Class "A" affiliate of the Texas Rangers and play at Avista Stadium. The Spokane Indians Team Store is available for online orders and curbside pickup.