Have you ever wanted to pursue a professional career in sports? Were you just not quite good enough or didn’t get the opportunity you feel you deserved?
Well than this article is for you. This is the story of the Portland Mavericks baseball team.
The Mavericks were something between a myth and a real squad. The Mavs were a professional baseball team that was not affiliated with Major League Baseball in any way. In the early 1970s the MLB took away Portland’s class AAA MLB affiliated team, the Portland Beavers. The Beavers were not drawing solid attendance numbers, which ultimately led to their demise.
This left the opportunity open for another baseball team to come into town. And shortly thereafter, Bing Russell purchased the territorial rights for baseball in the city of Portland. He purchased the rights for $5,000 and quickly launched the Mavericks baseball experiment.
His son, actor Kurt Russell, pushed his dad hard to make the team a reality. Without Kurt, it’s possible that the Mavericks would have never existed at all.
The Mavs fielded their first team by holding open tryouts. No call-ups, draft picks, or coach favorites. Plain and simple, the best players made the roster.
This is either an example of baseball at its purest or chaos at its finest; it all depends on perspective.
When the Mavs team was finally assembled, they had a ragtag group of players. These guys liked to cause trouble, but it never got in their way of winning on the field, or more importantly, succeeding in life.
Before we dive into some of the after-baseball careers of these players, let’s first look at the shenanigans.
To start off with, the bus. The team rolled into opposing cities in a brightly colored red bus, the vehicle matched the “streetwalker” uniforms that the team wore on the field. To add to the confusion of onlookers, instead of the bus reading “Portland Mavericks Baseball Team”, the apostrophe was misplaced and it read, “Portland’s Maverick Baseball Team”.
The synchronicity was beautiful, and it summed up the team perfectly.
To add to the fun, catcher Jim Swanson decided to put a loudspeaker on the bus. The bus would play loud music with lyrics such as “Here come the bad, bad Portland Mavericks. Lock up your daughters.”
I’m not sure how the rest of those lyrics go, but I’m guessing that most of that song is highly inappropriate and normally would not be blaring on a city street.
Frank Peters, manager of the club, said there was only one rule on the bus: “dope smoking in the back.” The players would also run to one side of the vehicle and stick their rear ends out the window, effectively mooning unlucky bystanders.
This should give you an idea about the high level of professionalism Portland showed as a collective unit.
Another fun aspect about the Mavs was their honorary fire-broom waver. Third Baseman Joe Garza would climb the dugout and shake around, well, a broom set on fire. This occurred whenever the Mavs had an opportunity to sweep an opponent. Instead of calling it a sweep, Portland fans renamed it the “joegarza.”
The Mavs also liked to drink, a lot. The team was known to be a group of party boys. Peters used his bars as a farm system of sorts; he paid his players to bartend at one of the establishments he owned. They were basically an offshoot version of a fraternity that happened to win baseball games in the midst of their party.
Just to add to the hi-jinx, the team also had a real life dog as their mascot, a Labrador puppy. The puppy offered a unique home-field advantage; the pooch would run around the field to buy extra time for relief pitchers warming up on the mound. Fido would do his best to escape umpires and policeman, as it ran in a manic dash across the field.
If the attendees in the stadium were lucky that day the pup might drop a deuce on home plate, only adding to the hysteria.
One thing that is important to note is that the Mavs were actually a really talented baseball team. The squad won four out of five division titles all while breaking attendance records in the process. In the 1973 season, the team had a combined attendance of over 83,000 fans. This broke the single A record.
Many of these players had either played college ball and/or were low level picks in the MLB draft. These were not talent scrubs; they were experienced ball players.
Sadly for the Mavs, they were not able to capture a “single A” league championship. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Owner Kurt Russell from making custom championship rings for all the players. The rings were fitted for the middle finger, because why not?
The Mavs only lasted five years, but what a legendary run it was. The organization was born in 1973, and died in 1977.
Portland’s run ended because the MLB was threatened by their sudden rise. In 1978, MLB offered Russell $26,000 to buy back the rights. Instead, he counter offered the MLB $206,000 and the deal was made. The case eventually went to court where Russell won; either way he walked away with a big payday.
After their playing days, some of the members on this team went on to be extremely successful in the real world.
Pitcher Larry Colton was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Rob Nelson along with the help of other teammates, came up with the bubble gum brand “Big League Chew.” Even the batboy, Todd Field, found success outside of the Mavs. Field was nominated for an Academy Award as a director for the movie titled “In The Bedroom.”
The story of the Mavs has been told via a documentary on Netflix titled “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” I would highly recommend watching this film.
The Mavs were arguably the most popular single A baseball team of all time. And they were more than just a group of misfits, they were ballplayers.
Man though, it would be nice to drink a beer or four with one of those players and hear some untold stories. As for now, the legend of Portland’s Maverick baseball team lives on.