The unique history of the Portland Mavericks

Portland Mavericks

After a 44-year hiatus, the Portland Mavericks will return to action as a part of the four-team independent Mavericks League coming to Volcanoes Stadium this summer — the Volcanoes bought the rights to the Mavericks for an undisclosed amount earlier this year. 

Although they haven’t played an official game since 1977, the Portland Mavericks have an incredibly unique history in the minor leagues. They played their home games at Civic Stadium — now known as Providence Park, home to the Portland Timbers. 

The Mavericks joined the Class A Northwest League (NWL) as an independent club after the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) left the city in 1972 and became the Spokane Indians. 

The Mavericks were owned by actor Bing Russell, an ex minor league player — although he was much more well known for playing the role of the deputy on the show Bonanza. Russell was also the father of Hollywood star Kurt Russell, who played for the Mavericks in their inaugural season. 

When Russell held open tryouts in June of 1973, a total of 150 of minor league castoffs and ex-big leaguers showed up to attempt to salvage their respective baseball careers.

At the time, the Mavericks were the only independent professional baseball team in the country and players were paid just $300 per month. 

Many thought it would be difficult for an independent team to compete against recently drafted players that were being groomed for the major leagues — Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart, Mike Scioscia and Pedro Guerrero all played against the Mavericks — but this rag-tag group of players were consistently one of the best teams in the NWL for five straight seasons. 

In 1973, the Mavericks finished the season with a 45-35 record and won the NWL south division title, despite many hijinks throughout the season — manager Frank Robinson, a longtime minor leaguer, was suspended for the year after punching an umpire. 

The Mavericks went 50-34 the following year, finishing in second place in the newly formatted NWL west division. After the season, Russell hired Lenny Moss to be the team’s general manager — the first female, and first Asian-American, general manager in professional baseball history. 

In 1975, the Mavericks won their second division title in three seasons. Jim Bouton, an aging knuckleballer who pitched in the majors for nine seasons, made five appearances for the Mavericks and posted a 4-1 record with a 2.20 ERA — Bouton was also the inventor of Big League Chew. However, Portland lost in the championship series to the Eugene Emeralds. At the one championship game that was hosted in Portland, the Mavericks attracted more than 5,000 fans. 

After winning the division yet again in 1976, the Mavericks had their best season in franchise history in 1977, going 44-22, which was the best record in the league. The Mavericks hosted the Bellingham Mariners in the championship series.

The deciding game three of the series was in Portland and had 7,805 fans in attendance — in contrast to the 575 fans who were on hand to witness game one of the series in Bellingham. The Mavericks lost the game 4-2 in their last ever contest at Civic Stadium. 

While the Beavers struggled mightily with attendance numbers in the early ‘70s, that was never an issue for the Mavericks. In three of their five seasons in Portland, the Mavericks attracted more than 100,000 fans. The 125,300 fans that came to watch the Mavericks over 33 games in 1977 is still an attendance record for the short-season Single-A level. 

When the Pacific Coast League expanded in 1978, Major League Baseball (MLB) took interest in Portland once agains as a spot for a minor league affiliate. The Portland Beavers rejoined the PCL in 1978 and the Mavericks were shut down after the league paid Russell a total of $206,000 when Russell took the matter to arbitration. 

Along with Bouton, Larry Colton, Jeff Cox and Dick Rusteck all played in the big leagues either before or after playing with the Mavericks. The Mavericks batboy was Todd Field, who went on to become an Academy Award nominated writer and director. 

In 2014, Netflix produced a documentary called The Battered Bastards of Baseball, which is all about the Mavericks five-year run in the NWL and the influence they had on independent baseball in the years to come.