Idaho’s baseball heritage

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

My wife, Barb, and I were in Lewiston this week for the NAIA World Series. In my mind, even though I live in the land of the Blue Turf, it’s the best sporting event in Idaho. It’s also an annual reminder of the great baseball heritage of the Lewis-Clark valley, as well as the rest of Idaho.

Several years ago, when our current governor was a member of congress, he and I were spending an evening out on the town in Washington, D.C. During the evening we ran into Congressman Mary Bono and had a drink with her and her then boyfriend. He told me that he had lived in Idaho at one time. The, correcting himself, said that he had actually lived across the border in Washington. It turned out that he had played baseball at LCSC and lived in Clarkston.

The University once had a great tradition of baseball, fielding teams from 1890 until 1980.

Some of the greats coming out of that program included Bob Dillinger, who played for the Browns, Athletics, Pirates and White Sox, and Frank Reberger, who played for the Cubs, Padres and Giants. Bill Stoneman, another former Vandal, spent eight years as general manager of the Los Angeles Angels and was the most successful general manager in the team’s history.

Certainly the two best baseball players with Idaho roots were Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew. Johnson played for the Weiser Kids in 1906-07 and went on to become one of the first five members elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Killebrew grew up in Payette and also ended up in the Hall of Fame.

A number of well-known players came through Lewiston playing for the Lewis-Clark Broncs. I can remember getting to know Rick Monday when he was renting the basement apartment in a friend’s home in Clarkston.

Probably the best known product of the Broncs was Reggie Jackson. He wrote about his time in Lewiston in his memoir, “Reggie,” and got most of it wrong, apparently mistaking his time in Lewiston for his time in Birmingham, Alabama. But he did have fond memories about spending time at Bojacks.

After his retirement from baseball, Jackson would team up with commentators Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell doing commentary on ABC sports. Keith Jackson was another sports personality who got this start in Lewiston. But his start was as a disk jockey working for KLER.

Another valley connection to Reggie Jackson was the late Mike Miltenberger from Clarkston.

Mike had a terrific arm and pitched in Single A ball for two seasons. When he was playing for Fresno in the California League, he pitched against Reggie Jackson twice. Jackson was playing for Modesto. Mike wasn’t one to brag about his accomplishments, but he did once tell me, with a big grin on his face, that he had a perfect record of striking Jackson out every time he pitched against him.

One of this year’s blockbuster movies is “42” the story of Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and the integration of major league baseball. The little known Idaho connection with this story is with Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who recruited and signed Robinson in 1947.

In 1911, Rickey graduated from law school at the University of Michigan. He and two of his classmates looked around for a place to settle and make their fortune. They decided that Idaho’s best attorney was probably William E. Borah and with Borah in the Senate, his former clients just might be available. They moved to Boise and opened shop. But by 1913, with few clients, Rickey left Boise, joined the front office staff of the St. Louis Browns, and went on to make history.

Baseball is, and always will be, America’s sport, and it’s great to know that Idaho has played a significant role in that baseball tradition.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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