If I had to choose between baseball and beer, I’d be one sober son of a bitch.
Thankfully, life, like baseball itself, contains multitudes. Not only can I have baseball and beer, but I can have them both at the same time. [Editor’s note: What did we do to deserve this rich and rewarding existence? The answer is nothing.] In fact, I am enjoying both as I type these words, in much the same way no fewer than 10 gentlemen below are enjoying both as they get their picture made.
This is the official team portrait of the 1974 Portland Mavericks, and it’s one of my favorite things in the entire world. There's all the beers they're drinking, of course, but there are a number of other reasons to love it, too.
There are 35 people in the picture, 24 of which aren't even looking at the camera. Twenty one have a bandana on their person, which, as you probably know, is not part of any baseball uniform. Eight of the players have their eyes closed. Two have their uniform on backwards. And yes, there is also one dog. For what it’s worth, the dog is also not looking at the camera. In fact, most of the humans who aren’t looking at the camera appear to be looking at the dog, and I can’t really blame them, because he seems like SUCH A GOOD BOY.
To be perfectly clear: this was a professional baseball team. These men were all paid living wages to play on a Class A independent minor league sports organization. (I’m unsure how the dog was compensated. Hopefully lots of treats and petting.)
I'm fixating on all these lovely details as a way to prove to you, in short order, that the Mavericks were a fun and wild and utterly unique team. Their antics, and their surprising prowess, has been documented to a much greater depth in the Netflix film, The Battered Bastards of Baseball. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I highly encourage all of you to watch it.
There are a few other things worth knowing about the Portland Mavericks. The first is that the team was owned by Bing Russell, the famed actor who appeared in more than 50 episodes of Bonanza, and was killed more than 100 times in various Western films throughout his career. (Imagine being fictionally killed that many times. Wild.) Bing was also the father of other famed actor, Kurt Russell. Incidentally, Kurt also played on the Portland Mavericks.
The entirety of the Portland Mavericks inaugural roster was culled from open tryouts, in which more than 150 hopefuls from across the country tried to make the team, including one man who hitchhiked all the way from Tennessee. In that first season of 1973, the manager of the team, Hank Robinson, was suspended for punching an umpire in the face.
Big League Chew, the ever-popular shredded gum inspired by chewing tobacco, was invented in the Mavericks bullpen. Since its very humble beginnings, more than 750 million bags of Big League Chew have been sold.
The Mavericks had a tradition called JoGarza, in which, as the team was nearing a series sweep of their opponent, utility player Joe Garza would stand on top of the dugout waving flaming brooms in the air, much to the delight of the Maverick faithful and to the chagrin of the opposing team.
Amongst this uncanny cast of characters was also Reggie Thomas, arguably the best player on the team. There are three very important things to know about Reggie. One: he took a limo to every home game despite living just a block from the stadium. Two: he once pulled a gun on his manager because he was not in the starting lineup. And three: no one has seen or heard from Reggie since 1984, and it is rumored that he is a part of the witness protection program due to his status as an FBI informant.
You just can’t make this stuff up. And that’s part of what I love so much about baseball. It’s so quirky and so full of offbeat people and unbelievable stories. People like Dock Ellis, who threw a no-hitter while on LSD. Stories like the husband-and-wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson, who used a Sudoku-like method to develop the schedule for all of Major League Baseball for 20 years, fending off the likes of MIT, Stanford, and IBM along the way. And tales like the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night, which devolved into a full on riot in which Cleveland fans, completely blitzed on dirt cheap brews, stormed the field and attacked the Texas Rangers with knives, chains, folding metal chairs, pieces of stadium seating, and yes, empty beer bottles. OK, so maybe baseball is sometimes as terrifying as it is wonderful.
Happy Opening Day, everybody. Here’s hoping the 2018 season of Major League Baseball gives us at least one story even half as interesting as any of these. Let's make the Mavericks proud.