The Yakima Bears of Yakima, Washington, is a defunct minor league identity that existed for a cumulative total of 32 seasons in two distinct eras. The first version of the Bears identity existed from 1949-1957 as a non-affiliated member of the Class B Western International League, which became the Northwest League while Yakima was a member. The second version of the Bears rebooted in the Northwest League in 1990, and played for 23 seasons before relocating.
The first Yakima Bears begin with the 1949 season, when the Yakima Packers changed their nickname. In those days, the Class B Western International League had clubs scattered throughout Washington, Oregon, and southern British Columbia. In the Bears’ inaugural season, only one team had a major league affiliation–the Victoria Athletics, who were affiliated with the Yankees, oddly enough. For the 1955 season, the league changed its name to the Northwest League, and expanded its footprint to include Idaho while simultaneously dropping the Canadian teams (and thus, the International designation) from its ranks.
There really isn’t much to say about the original Yakima Bears. Though there were a good handful of future major leaguers who wore the Y cap, none of the names stand out. The team was unaffiliated until 1958, and that was the year (according to Baseball Reference) that they changed their name to the Yakima Braves. The great people at Ebbets Field Flannels have recreated the navy blue Y cap; as well as made a t-shirt from an amazing old logo depicting a bat-wielding bear wrapped up and pushed aloft by a tornado formed by the Y in Yakima–the base of which also forms the base of the B in Bears. That’s good stuff. But not good enough to keep the Bears from hibernating for about thirty years.
The second incarnation of the Yakima Bears began following the 1989 baseball season, when the Northwest League’s Salem (Oregon) Dodgers were moved north to Yakima. The new Bears retained their affiliation with Los Angeles, and even used Dodger blue as a primary team color. Their first cap logo was a stylized cursive letter Y rendered in gold on the blue caps, and the team’s primary logo was a bear paw clutching a baseball. Some notable future big-leaguers who wore the Y during the Dodgers era include Pedro Astacio, Todd Hollandsworth, Paul Konerko, Ted Lilly, David Ross, and Shane Victorino.
The Los Angeles affiliation continued through the year 2000. In that last year with the Dodgers, the Bears underwent a major redesign of their uniforms and logos. Black and white became the predominant team colors, with red, navy, gold, and brown elements thrown in. Their new logo was a friendly brown bear wearing a cap (not dissimilar from that worn by the 1940s-era team) and resting a large bat on its shoulder. The bear’s left arm apparently circled underneath the chin so perfectly that it also looks (particularly from a distance) like the “double chin” of an especially portly bruin. After that first year with the chocolate bear, Yakima linked up with the Arizona Diamondbacks–just in time for their World Series-winning season in 2001. Alums in the D’Backs era who sported the chocolate bear cap include Dan Uggla, Chris Carter, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Gonzalez.
By the end of the decade, the Bears were languishing at or near the bottom of the Northwest League’s attendance lists, and they made another attempt to drum up interest with a visual redesign. They took a conservative approach–reducing colors to black, silver, and red; and introducing a more serious and angry bear.
It didn’t work so well. Following the 2012 season, the Bears were forced out of their natural habitat and relocated to Oregon, where they were re-identified as the Hillsboro Hops. Without affiliated baseball in town, Yakima fans have had to grin and bear it ever since.