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Top 5 Black Players in Spokane Indians History

January 18, 2022

In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great

In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.

While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”

Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Spokane Indians.

Tommy Davis

A native of Brooklyn, NY, Tommy Davis moved west with the Dodgers organization and reached Spokane in 1959. The sweet-swinging outfielder was an absolute wrecking ball for the Indians that year, finishing the season with a league-leading .345 average, 211 hits, 32 doubles, 18 home runs, 78 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, and more walks (40) than strikeouts (29). He had a cup of coffee with the Dodgers that season, striking out in his lone at-bat before joining the team full time in 1960. Davis captured back-to-back National League batting titles in 1962 (.346, league-leading 153 RBI) and 1963 (.326), helping the team to a World Series title in 1963. Injuries prevented Davis from continuing his Hall-of-Fame trajectory, but the Indians alum still finished his career with a pair of All-Star appearances, two batting titles, and more than 2,100 hits over 18 big league seasons.

Willie Davis

After signing as an 18-year-old out of Mineral Springs, AR, Davis quickly proved the minors were no match for his prowess at the plate and speed on the basepaths. He captured the California League MVP with the Reno Silver Sox in 1959 and earned a promotion to Spokane the following year. Davis showed his first season was no fluke, hitting .346 with 26 triples and 30 stolen bases for the Indians as he again captured the league MVP award. Still just 20, Davis earned a late-season call-up with the Dodgers and hit .318 in 22 games. He took over as the full-time centerfielder in 1961 and would remain a fixture there through the 1973 season, winning World Series titles in 1963 and 1965. Davis wrapped up his 18-year career with 398 stolen bases, 182 home runs, 1,053 RBIs, and over 2,500 hits, and still holds the Los Angeles Dodgers record for longest hit streak at 31 games.

Dave Henderson

A first-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 1977 draft, Henderson reached Spokane in 1980 and held his own as a 21-year-old, slashing .279/.366/.422 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs in 109 games. He returned to Spokane in 1981 and improved his power and plate discipline (.279/.385/.504) to earn a promotion to Seattle. Hendu was a solid performer for the Mariners over the next 4.5 seasons before being traded to Boston in 1986, where his performance in that year’s World Series (.400, 6 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI) nearly led the Red Sox to their first championship since 1918. Henderson split the following season with Boston and San Francisco before breaking out with Oakland (.304, 24 HR, 94 RBIs) as a 30-year-old in 1988. He would remain in the Bay Area through 1993, helping the A’s to a World Series title in 1989 and earning an All-Star appearance in 1991. Hendu retired following the 1994 season with 197 home runs, 1,324 hits, and a career WAR of 27.6.

Don Newcombe

Newcombe spent two years with the Negro League's Newark Eagles before embarking on an historic MLB career with the Dodgers, Reds, and Indians. The towering right-hander was named Rookie of the Year for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 after finishing 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA and league-leading five shutouts, also becoming the first black pitcher to start a World Series game that same year. He earned All-Star nods the next two seasons (leading the league in strikeouts in 1951) before serving in the Korean War from 1952-53. He struggled in his return to Brooklyn the following season but rebounded with 20 wins and a World Series title in 1955. Newcombe had a season for the ages in 1956, posting a 0.989 WHIP and winning 27 games to earn league MVP and baseball's first-ever Cy Young Award (which was awarded to only one pitcher in all of baseball at the time). "Newk" spent two more seasons with the Dodgers before finishing out his big league career with the Reds (1958-60) and Indians (1960). He signed with the Dodgers and attempted an MLB comeback with the Spokane Indians in 1961 (where he was teammates with fellow Negro League alum Curt Roberts) but struggled to a 4.96 ERA over 25 games. Newcombe, always a good hitter for a pitcher, wrapped up his playing career as a first baseman/outfielder alongside Larry Doby for Japan's Chunichi Dragons in 1962.

Maury Wills

The speedy infielder from Washington, DC, spent seven seasons in the minors before reaching Spokane in 1958, where Indians manager Bobby Bragan convinced a struggling Wills to pick up switch-hitting. That decision changed the course of Wills’ career, as he would go on to become one of the most decorated MLB players in Spokane history. Wills hit .253 with 21 stolen bases in first season in Spokane before improving to .313 in 1959 to earn a late-season promotion to the Dodgers. He became a full-time player in 1960 and led the National League in stolen bases for the next six years, highlighted by an MLB record 104 in 1962 as he captured the NL MVP award. Wills won World Series titles with Los Angeles in 1959, 1963, and 1965 while also earning five All-Star appearances and a pair of Gold Glove awards. He retired following the 1972 season with a .281 career average, 2,134 hits, and 586 stolen bases. Wills would later become just the third Black manager in MLB history, following Frank Robinson and Larry Doby, when he helmed the Mariners in 1980-81. His son, Bump Wills, graduated from Spokane’s Central Valley High School and spent six years in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs.

Honorable Mention

Curtis Terry: “Big Rig” spent time with Spokane in 2016-17 before a breakout season in 2018 (.337, 15 HR, 60 RBIs) earned him the Northwest League MVP award. Terry reached the majors with the Texas Rangers in 2021 and signed with the Minnesota Twins in the off-season.

Jay Gainer: A 24th-round pick by the San Diego Padres, Gainer captured the league batting title in 1990 (.356, 10 HR, 54 RBIs) and helped lead the Indians to their fourth consecutive NWL championship. He reached the majors with Colorado in 1993 and homered on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues. Gainer later managed the Yakima Bears and currently serves as head coach at Davis HS in Yakima.

Dee Brown: The 14th-overall pick in the 1996 draft by the Kansas City Royals, Brown captured the NWL MVP award as a 19-year-old in 1997 after slashing .326/.404/.564 with 13 HR, 73 RBI, and 17 SB. He spent part of eight seasons in the majors and played for more years in Japan before embarking on a career as a coach.

Ken Harvey: A first-team All-American with Nebraska in 1999, Harvey was drafted in the 5th round of that year’s draft by the Royals and won the NWL batting title with Spokane that season with an eye-popping .397 average. Harvey spent just four years in the majors, but earned an All-Star appearance in 2004, and currently works as a coach in Kansas.

Carl Edwards Jr.: A lowly 48th-round pick out of Prosperity, SC, the “String Bean Slinger” was absolutely electric for the Spokane Indians in 2012, striking out 60 over 47 innings with a 2.11 ERA and 0.957 WHIP. Edwards went on to win a World Series title with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 and has posted a career 3.77 ERA in 206 big league appearances.

About the Spokane Indians

The Spokane Indians are the High-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies located in Spokane, Washington. Avista Stadium is home to the $5 Kids Bench Seat courtesy of MultiCare. Parking at all Spokane Indians games is FREE. The Spokane Indians office and team store hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM.