The Portland Beavers of Portland, Oregon, played a cumulative total of 92 seasons in the Pacific Coast League, in four non-consecutive eras. Though the team existed exclusively in the PCL, the league itself went through many changes during the years that Portland was a member. The PCL (and by extension, the Beavers) held five level classifications–Class A, Class B, Double-A, Triple-A, and “Open,” the latter of which effectively designated Portland as a major league team for six seasons in the middle of the 20th century. Suffice it to say that the tale of the Beavers is an integral part of the story of minor league baseball, and of baseball itself.
The franchise that became the Portland Beavers was founded in 1903, the inaugural year of the Pacific Coast League. The Portland franchise was called the Browns, and then the Giants, before finally settling on a nickname provided by a newspaper contest–the Portland Beavers. The team won the PCL championship in their first year playing as the Beavers, and the name stuck.
What we now think of as minor league baseball is quite different than how it operated over a century ago. In those days, the leagues were localized and teams did not typically have affiliation with any major league clubs–with players of varying ages clinging to rosters year after year. From 1910 to 1915, Portland had an unofficial affiliation/relationship with the Cleveland Indians, but it wasn’t in the same sense as the farm system model that would come to define the minors a few decades later. The early Beavers were something of a dynasty in the six-team Pacific Coast League, and won four more championships by the middle of the teens decade. The 1915 team featured future Hall-of-Famer Stanley Coveleski.
During these years, the team sported a wide variety of uniform/cap styles; some of which can viewed in grainy old photos, and others that have been lovingly recreated by skilled hands at Ebbets Field Flannels. One constant through the years, and through many years to come, is an emphasis on the letter P for Portland. In the early days of the Beavers, the letter was creatively rendered in many ways–from Old English to block lettering to looping script. This was just the tip of the iceberg for the many P’s yet to come in the ensuing century.
The first version of the Beavers, however, played a mere twelve seasons before winking out of existence for the first time. Due to World War I travel restrictions, the Beavers withdrew from the PCL following the 1917 season. Though a Portland team played the 1918 season in the Pacific Coast International League, the league already had a team called the Vancouver Beavers. They played that season as the Buckaroos, and thus, the Portland Beavers identity would remain exclusively with the Pacific Coast League.
Following the Buckaroo season, the Beavers were reborn for the PCL’s 1919 season, and this version of the team would go on to play a remarkable 54 consecutive seasons in the golden age of the Pacific Coast League. Though the Beavers teams of the twenties weren’t particularly successful on the field, they featured some notable players, including a 1922 stint by multi-sport legend Jim Thorpe. By the middle of the decade, the Beavers had a working relationship with the Philadelphia Athletics, and Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane was among the many future A’s to cut their teeth (buck teeth?) in Portland.
The Beavers continued to experiment with uniform variations over the next few decades, including pinstripes and raglan sleeves; and in colors ranging from navy to bright red. By the time they won their next championship, in 1936, their jerseys featured a beaver emblem on the breast. If you squint, the beaver shape kind of makes a letter P. By the War years, the team was often informally referred to as the “Lucky Beavers,” and this luck bore out with another championship in 1945.
The star of the team right in the middle of the 20th century was Eddie Basinski. The spectacled infielder’s tenure with the Beavers lasted from 1947-1957, before Basinski went off to spend a few years playing in the majors. Basinski was a violin-playing fan favorite who would go on to be inducted in the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame.
It might seem odd that such a talent would stay in the minors for so long, but it’s important to note that in those days, the PCL was essentially a major league. In 1952, the league dropped their minor league designation and played as “Open” for six seasons, before the dream of a third major league was vanquished by the Dodgers and Giants expanding the footprint of the majors all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
When the Pacific Coast League resumed its role as a Triple-A feeder league for the majors, the Beavers began to forge affiliations with MLB clubs. In the late fifties, Portland bounced around with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and then back to the Athletics–who by that point had moved to Kansas City. At the dawn of the sixties, the Beavers linked up with St. Louis, and wore uniforms that were a play on the Cardinals’ birds-on-bat jersey script. In this case, it was Beaver-on-bat. Also during this time, a new cap was designed featuring an elegant cursive P logo. This basic design would have more staying power than others, and would resurface in future years.
Having major league affiliations did not preclude the Beavers from independently signing players, and in 1961, they opened the pocketbook for none other than the mythic Satchel Paige. Considering that Satch was 56 at the time, this was little more than a cash-grabbing gimmick and, I suppose, a way for future baseball fans to have another anecdote to share about the Portland Beavers.
Portland affiliated with the Cleveland Indians from 1964-1969, and this would prove to be a fruitful era for future major league standouts. Luis Tiant, Sam McDowell, and Lou Piniella suited up for Portland in these years. The ever-fluid Beavers brand was updated in the sixties, and keeping with the groovy, Day-Glo styles of the day, they introduced bright orange as a complementary color to navy blue. Though the Beavers featured many, many different drawings of beavers to serve as unofficial logos/mascots over their early years, this time saw something of an “official” logo pop up for a few years–a left-handed batting beaver.
In 1970, Portland affiliated with the new Milwaukee Brewers. In 1971, they switched to the Twins. In 1972, they bounced back to Cleveland, but this would prove to be yet another stopping point in the epic of the Beavers. After that season, the team was moved to Spokane, Washington.
There was a five year gap in which the minor league team that played in Portland was not the Beavers, but the unaffiliated, infamous Portland Mavericks, who played in the Class A Northwest League. But that’s a story for another day.
The Beaver tale picks up in 1978, when the PCL expanded and our furry little friends returned. They resumed affiliation with Cleveland, but only for one season before inking a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates that would carry them into the eighties. Pascual Perez pitched for Portland, and Luis Tiant returned in 1981; albeit under different circumstances than when he wore the P two decades prior. The Beavers sported a variety of interesting cap logos during this time–coming out of the gate with dark red/burgundy and white as new team colors. Though I cannot fully substantiate it, it seems that the team wore caps with a cartoon beaver’s face logo in the 1978 season. As best as I can squint, the cap shown at right is the same as those worn in the ’78 team photo above.
By 1979, the team had switched to a short-lived logo with the old cursive P superimposed on a semi-circle. It seems that the idea was to make a hidden letter B that borrowed the top loop from that of the P. I could be wrong here, but this wouldn’t be too out of place in an era that produced “hidden-stuff” logos like that of the Expos and Brewers, as well as the NHL’s Hartford Whalers and many others. By 1980, the team had switched to black caps with a simple, oversize block P.
In 1983, the Beavers affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies, and the two teams held onto each other for four years. Darren Daulton is the biggest name to come through in those years, but they were also notable for the Beavers’ uniforms that were heavily influenced by the parent club. Portland did their best to approximate Philly’s color scheme and iconic typeface, and someone had the inspiration to simply turn the Philadelphia P cap logo upside-down to form a lower case b for Beavers. Another logo that came along in the Phillies era was a fairly crudely-drawn cartoon beaver mascot, often seen posing with a bat cocked over his shoulder as if he were to explode in a rage and knock someone’s teeth out. This “mean beaver” logo would have surprising staying power, and would even make it to the caps eventually.
Yet another affiliation change came in 1987, when Portland inked a PDC with the Minnesota Twins. At least this one lasted a good seven years. In that first Twins year, future Moneyballer Billy Beane took his cuts at Civic Stadium. Many members of Minnesota’s 1991 World Series team came through in the ensuing years, including Brian Harper, Kevin Tapani, and Paul Sorrento.
Portland’s red and black caps during most of the Twins era featured a letter P with an underline that was cleverly created using the same font and style as Minnesota’s M logo that they wore in the late eighties and nineties. In 1993, the Beavers switched from the knock-off P on their cap logo to the mean beaver himself, front and center. This would would only last one season, however, as the Beavers would be relocated yet again–this time to Salt Lake City, Utah.
For most of the nineties, the baseball void in Portland was once again filled with a Northwest League team–in this case, the Portland Rockies. However, after the 2000 season, the PCL’s Albuquerque Dukes were moved to Portland and once again, the Beavers were resurrected.
The new Beavers were affiliated with the San Diego Padres, a team (or team identity) that, ironically enough, once competed with Portland during the golden era of the Pacific Coast League in the middle of the 20th century. The Padres would remain affiliated with the Beavers for the rest of their days. There were not many notable prospects to come through in this time (Everth Cabrera appears to be the only later All-Star), though the Padres sent many notable rehabbers and last-gaspers to Portland–including the great Rickey Henderson.
The new Beavers went with a conservative, throwback look; featuring red and black as team colors and a traditional cursive P for a cap logo. A new beaver mascot was created, with this one being a scrawny, shaggy beast with one eye closed. Even he wouldn’t last long, though, as the Beavers made one last, final change to their look. For the 2008 season, the team switched from red and black to navy and powder blue; and the cap logo was a cursive P with a happy beaver cradled in the loop. The new primary logo featured a revamped version of the late sixties batting beaver, enclosed in a roundel featuring “Est. 1903,” in reference to the first professional Portland baseball teams from over 100 years previous.
Indeed, it had been a long journey with many twists and turns, though there was one more sad story left to tell. When the city of Portland decided to convert the Beavers’ ballpark into a soccer stadium, the Beavers were left scrambling to find a new lodge. Public will was not in their favor, and the team was sold to the Padres’ ownership group. This group moved the PCL franchise to Tucson to serve as a temporary placeholder while they tried (and failed) to build their own stadium near San Diego. After that, the team was sold yet again and became the El Paso Chihuahuas.
The story of the Beavers is one of the most drawn-out, complex, and ultimately interesting tales of any professional baseball team. There doesn’t appear to be any current movement to create another new version of the team, but if the story of the Portland Beavers has taught us one thing, it’s that history is dammed to repeat itself.