Idaho History

Idaho History: Baseball has been played in Boise for 140 years

Boise has had many amateur, semi-professional and professional baseball teams since the first games were played here in the 1860s.

Some of the greatest players in the history of the game played in Boise, including several inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The first players in Boise Valley to be paid for their efforts were freelancers who would play for anybody if the money was right. Star athletes from one team could be hired away to play for a second team against a third.

More was at stake than town pride, since games were often played for a purse, winner take all, and side betting was active, even among the players.

Before there were organized leagues in Idaho, with rules governing players' ethical conduct, anything went.

For most of those early years, however, only a few of the best players got paid. Boise's chief rival at the beginning of the 20th century was Caldwell, as it had been throughout the 1890s.

So many local rooters wanted to go to Caldwell for a game played June 23, 1901, that three boxcars were added to an Idaho Central Railroad special train, after three passenger cars had been so packed that there wasn't even standing room.

The crowd, the Idaho Statesman said, was "the jolliest imaginable." The fans were all decked out with red ribbons, "official color of the Boise club."

The Columbia Band added to the jollification, and when the train pulled into Caldwell a crowd was waiting to greet the Boiseans.

In the dramatic style of the day, the paper said: "Caldwell held her breath, not knowing that Boise had so many ardent admirers of baseball and of her matchless club." Boise won the game 5-1, and fans whooped it up on the return trip to Boise.

When the Pocatello team came to play Boise that month, 2,000 rooters turned out to see the locals win 6-4.

The Statesman saw fit to taunt the visitors with this advice: "To Pocatello — keep the head cool in really warm weather. Second — learn to play ball — get baskets; let your boys learn to wear roller skates; plug the holes in your bats; hire a hall and tell how it all happened."

This was very different in tone from stories of the 1890s, which praised the efforts of visiting teams in the spirit of good sportsmanship.

The 1902 season began with the formation of a new Interstate League, probably so named with the hope that Oregon teams would join, although none did. Boise, Caldwell, Emmett and Nampa played under these rules: 12 players and one umpire constituted a team; admission was 50 cents for grandstand seats, 25 cents for bleacher seats; the winner of a game got 60 percent of the gross receipts, the loser 40 percent.

A game with Caldwell drew 2,000 fans on May 11, 1902, but as the weather got hot, attendance fell off.

Since the Boise league team played at the Natatorium Field at the end of Warm Springs Avenue, the owners of Riverside Park, closer to Downtown, decided to compete by forming a team of their own. The Statesman reported on July 3, 1903, that the Riverside players were all under contract, making this one of the first truly professional teams in Idaho.

Boise's first venture into a recognized professional baseball league came in 1904, when veteran promoter and baseball legend "Honest John" McCloskey came to town to manage the Boise Fruit Pickers in the Pacific International League.

He had founded the famous Texas League in 1887 and had managed teams in Sacramento, Calif.; Houston; Savannah, Ga.; Montgomery, Ala.; Louisville, Ky.; Dallas; Great Falls, Mont.; and Tacoma, Wash. before becoming a founder in 1902 of the new Pacific International League in Butte, Mont., where he led the Miners to the championship in 1902.

In the league's last season, 1904, McCloskey led the Boise Fruit Pickers to the championship with a record of 82-49.

In reporting on McCloskey's remarkable career, the Idaho Statesman said: "Honest John is known to be unalterably opposed to betting of any kind, whether upon the result of a game, the result of a series of games, or a pennant race. He holds that betting debases the great American game, which is conceded to be the cleanest sport on earth."

Next week I'll tell the story of the greatest pitcher Boise ever had, and one of the most successful of all time, who is not in the Hall of Fame. Can you name him?