- Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers
Dan Raley, an editor with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and award-winning former sportswriter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, presents the twenty-seven year history of the Seattle Rainiers baseball team in his book Pitchers of Beer. Raley acknowledges Dave Eskenazi, a devoted Rainiers fan and the source of the fifty-two photographs included in the book, for his assistance and collaboration. He characterizes Pitchers of Beer as a work of personal value, which he shares with Eskenazi and all Rainiers’ fans. Raley skillfully blends chronological narrative with asides featuring major figures in the team’s history, creating a complex picture of the rise and decline of the Rainiers set against the backdrop of Seattle’s growth and maturation during the Depression, World War II, and post-war eras.
According to Raley, professional baseball in Seattle had an uneven fifty-year existence prior to the Rainiers. In 1937, local “brewery mogul” Emil Sick purchased the financially challenged Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Sick, a savvy businessman, changed the team’s name to the “Rainiers” after a brand name of one of his beers and began construction of a new stadium that would bear his family’s name. The new owner treated the team as a business, hired experienced baseball men, and adopted a strategy of signing the best local talent with the hopes of creating a bond between the citizens of Seattle and the Rainiers. Sick’s investment proved a success by winning multiple PCL championships, drawing high average attendance, and creating local baseball heroes such as Edo Vanni and Fred Hutchinson. Raley quotes former Washington governor Dan Evans about the change brought by the Rainiers in Seattle: “When Sick came along, that was like the Major Leagues. That was a real jump in Seattle’s growth. He sold a lot of beer, but it created a lot of kids who suddenly said, ‘We’re winners’” (p. 33).
While Pitchers of Beer focuses on the Rainiers and the personalities associated with the team, the most fascinating feature of the book to this reviewer is how Raley interweaves the team’s history with how events and innovations from the 1940s to the 1960s had an impact on Seattle, its citizens, and its hometown baseball team. The mobilization of World War II served as the first major event. After the fall of France in June of 1940, Congress awarded contracts to the Boeing Company and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The increase of war industry jobs in the Seattle-area transformed it from a sleepy, mid-sized city in the Northwest to one of the more important cities on the West Coast. After the U.S. entered the war in 1941, the war effort left gains the Rainiers could have made with an increased fan base unrealized because many popular players volunteered for service, the government banned night games, and travel restrictions complicated scheduling.
After World War II, the Boeing Company introduced Americans, including baseball teams, to a travel revolution with the invention of the jet airliner. Also in the post-war era, Rainiers management met the expansion of television into the game with skepticism at first but then welcomed broadcast fees. In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, and the New York Giants moved to San Francisco—bringing Major League Baseball [End Page 358] to the West Coast. Even though the Rainiers had a twenty-year record of competitive baseball, strong attendance, and overall profitability, Sick’s failed attempt for the Rainiers’ inclusion in the major leagues during this expansion proved to be the first sign of the team’s decline. The franchise lasted seven more years, changed ownership, and ultimately disbanded.
Raley accomplished his goal of preserving and celebrating the history of a team with which many Seattleites still hold a sentimental bond. His conversational tone and informal writing style makes Pitchers of Beer accessible to a general audience. While the book is ideal...