"History is the essence of innumerable biographies," wrote historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). Here is another contribution, a biography of William Wallace McCredie. Life teaches lessons, and here are three from his: follow your dreams; engage in public service; and don't provoke your family into suing you.
William Wallace -- "W.W." -- was born in Montrose, Pennsylvania in 1862. His father, a Union army officer, was killed at Gettysburg. The Washington Post described W.W. as a "former professional [baseball] player" who in his early days "was considered one of the best curve pitchers in the West and was regarded as of major league timber."
He moved to Portland, Oregon in 1890. W.W. practiced law in nearby Vancouver, Washington. Aspiring for more, W.W. served one term as a prosecuting attorney in Clark County, Washington; one term and part of another as a superior court judge in Vancouver; and he became a representative for Washington State in the U.S. Congress.
At the end of 1904, W.W. rekindled his passion for baseball when he bought Portland's professional baseball team (which became known as the Beavers) with his nephew, Walter. Walter was a former major leaguer who is the subject of his own SABR biography, found here. With Walter as its manager, the Portland club won Pacific Coast League ("PCL") pennants in 1906, 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914.
The McCredies made Portland baseball a family affair. Bill Rodgers, Portland's second baseman from 1911-14 and 1916-17, explained, "[t]he judge was president; Walter was manager; Hugh McCredie, Walter's first cousin, was business manager; and Alice, the judge's wife, sold the tickets and handled the cash money at the gate. The judge and Walter were absolute owners of the club. It was a 50-50 partnership, one of the best and soundest baseball organizations ever operated."
W.W. knew how to protect his investment. In 1906, the Beavers captured the McCredies' first pennant with a 115-60 record. The season almost stalled following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. However, W.W. personally came to the financial aid of the league to guarantee transportation costs for PCL ball clubs for the full season. He even reached into his own bank account to help one failing club.
W.W. shrewdly backed not only the Class A Beavers, but also Portland entries in the Class B Northwestern League (1909, 1911-14). In addition to offering local baseball every day in Portland, these farm clubs provided the Beavers with a stream of talent that included future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft.
Recognizing that ticket sales drive a team, the McCredies welcomed the 1912 season with a refurbished stadium, called Vaughn Street Park. The stadium, which was reportedly the finest minor league ballpark of its time, featured individual theater seats in the grandstand instead of benches. W.W.'s business plan was to make money through ticket sales, give each fan a comfortable seat with leg room, and sell concessions as cheaply as possible, even if the team makes no money from it.
Great teams eventually fade, and so did the Beavers. The fans and the owners grew tired of a string of losing seasons. In July 1921, W.W. announced, "new blood, not only in the club, but in management would be gratifying to many Portland fans." The McCredies sold the Beavers. Walter stepped aside as manager after the season ended.
Afterward, Walter dabbled in various baseball pursuits, and even returned to manage the Portland Beavers for a short time in 1934. What happened to his uncle W.W. has been lost to history... except for the lawsuit. It is a safe bet that the McCredies did not share Thanksgiving dinner together in 1930. Here's why:
According to a 1930 Oregon Supreme Court decision in a case called "McCredie vs. McCredie" -- never a sign of family harmony -- Etta McCredie, wife of Walter McCredie, sued W.W. McCredie. Walter testified that in the Fall of 1921, from the proceeds of the sale of the Portland baseball club, he bought bonds for Etta. Walter told W.W. that he had no insurance policy for his wife, and that he wanted to buy some bonds to fall back on "if things went wrong." He further testified that W.W. promised to take care of the bonds for him and to never touch them.
However, touch the bonds he did, for W.W. delivered them to Hugh McCredie, Walter's first cousin (and also a defendant in the lawsuit). Hugh then delivered them to a bank as collateral security for a loan.
Somehow Walter learned of these (alleged) shenanigans and filed a lawsuit. Instead of making things right with Walter and Etta, W.W. asked Walter to release Etta's bonds and to accept a note drawing six percent interest. W.W. predictably claimed that everything he did was with Etta's knowledge.
The Oregon Supreme Court ultimately affirmed a decision against W.W. and Hugh and held that they had to account to Etta for the income of the bonds; that W.W. had to deliver to Etta the bonds not held by the bank; that W.W. had to account to Etta for the coupons on those bonds; that W.W. had to pay Etta $10,000; and that W.W. and Hugh had to pay Etta's court costs for the appeal.
"It is curious how vanity helps the successful man and wrecks the failure," author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) wrote. So it apparently was with W.W. McCredie.
Walter McCredie died on July 29, 1934, on the eve of a Beavers game that was to be played in his honor. Yet the game went on and, as Walter had requested, all the proceeds went to his widow Etta. The final chapter on the McCredie era closed when William Wallace McCredie died the following year on May 11, 1935, at age 73.
The author wrote the biography of Walter McCredie, W.W.'s nephew for SABR's 2006 publication Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Mark Armour (editor), photos from the David Eskenazi collection. This companion piece grew out of the same research.
In preparing this article, the author relied on many issues of the Portland Oregonian, newspapers accessed through ProQuest, especially the Los Angeles Times, and a scrapbook of articles pertaining to the McCredies.