SABR

Jack Spring

This article was written by Jim Price.

Starting pitcher and reliever, high school phenom, and long-term professional, winning minor-league manager, state championship coach, and honored administrator, Jack Spring left few stones unturned in a baseball career that spanned almost half a century. Although he played 18 seasons, a few in the big leagues and many in Triple-A, the Baseball Hall of Fame may be out of the question. Nonetheless, Spring has been named to three halls of fame. And if there were a shrine for matchmakers, he’d be a candidate for that, as well.

At age 78 in 2011, Spring had lived most of his life in Spokane, Washington, a city that has turned out several top athletes, including Ryne Sandberg, John Stockton, Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, and, decades ago, Boston Braves pitching star “Lefty” Ed Brandt. Sandberg has been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Stockton, who spent his entire NBA career with the Utah Jazz, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Spokane-area high schools have produced nearly two dozen major-league ballplayers, most recently southpaw reliever Jeremy Affeldt.

Spring graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 1951, played a season at Washington State University, turned pro with the Spokane Indians (Western International League), and zipped through the Philadelphia Phillies organization to make his major-league debut in 1955. Before the lean left-hander called it quits in 1969, he had played all or parts of eight big-league seasons with seven teams. A starting pitcher in his early minor-league years, Spring became a permanent reliever when he reached the prime of his career with the American League’s Los Angeles Angels in the early 1960s. During his major-league career, he put up a 12-5 record with a 4.26 earned-run average. Helped by a decade as a young starter, he won 107 minor-league games with 104 losses and a 3.53 ERA.

When Spring retired from professional baseball, following a final season with the hometown Spokane Indians, he went into teaching and coaching, spending his entire career at West Valley High School, a few miles east of downtown Spokane.

Jack Russell Spring, the last of three children, was born in Spokane on March 11, 1933. His father, Ralph Joseph Spring, a Michigan native, operated a shingle mill on the city’s north side. His mother, a Spokane native born Marguerite Russell, was the daughter of a brick and tile factory manager. Ralph and Marguerite had married on June 6, 1925. Their first child, a boy named Ralph Eugene, was born the next year. James Douglas followed as the family settled into the Perry neighborhood, almost right behind Grant School, about a mile southeast of downtown on Spokane's South Hill.

Jack was a toddler of 2½ when his mother died of tuberculosis on October 9, 1935. She was only 30. Young Ralph, known as June, and Jim stayed with their dad. But Jack went to live with his grandparents, the Russells, whose home was just a few blocks up the hill. “My mom’s sister, Aunt Liz, took care of me and pretty much raised me,” Spring said. “When my dad remarried, he moved to Sandpoint, Idaho. I went along and went to school there through the fourth grade. Then my dad was divorced, and I went back to Spokane to live with my grandparents.”

Surprisingly, Spring didn’t play a bit of organized baseball until the summer following the seventh grade. “I played first base in the park league at Grant Park, right behind the school,” he said. “The park director, a man named John Goodman, recognized that I threw pretty good. But I didn’t start to realize it until my freshman year at Lewis and Clark High School. I started playing American Legion ball that summer. And the next summer (on July 27, 1949), I threw a no-hitter (against Sedro Woolley) for the Oscar Levitch Jewelers team in the state tournament at Seattle.”

Four more no-hitters followed over the next three years, including another in Legion play. As a sophomore, in 1949, he was Lewis and Clark’s second pitcher behind Curt Bloomquist, a hard-throwing right-hander who bypassed professional baseball for the insurance business and regional stardom in the semipro ranks. LC shared the city championship in Spring’s junior season. The Tigers went unbeaten the next year, when Spring, first baseman Ed Bouchee, and catcher Bill Farr were the team’s three best players.

Spring and Bouchee were on their way to the major leagues. Farr didn’t play as a pro, but the Los Angeles Dodgers chose his son, Ted, with the 18th pick in the 1973 draft. The younger Farr, also a catcher, hit with power and had a fine throwing arm. A persistent shoulder injury forced him to retire after five seasons in the minors.

Lewis and Clark’s coaches recognized Spring’s all-around athletic ability. And Spring considered Elra “Squinty” Hunter, the school’s immortal basketball coach, his greatest influence. “I wanted to teach and coach because of my admiration for Squinty,” he said. “He made a big impact on me.” As it turned out, Hunter, whose career encompassed four state championships and 21 league titles, kept his young charge on more than one career path.

Bouchee and Farr were good football players. Spring had tried the sport as a freshman and didn’t like it. But as his senior year began, coach Hal Jones had nearly talked him into turning out for wide receiver when Hunter happened by.

“You bird dog – Hunter’s favorite expression – get outta here,” the popular old coach told him. “Scouts are looking at you. Only one thing can happen to you playing football, and that’s bad. So why don’t you go shoot some baskets?”

Spring backed away from football, earned All-City honors for Hunter’s 18-2 basketball team, and opened his senior baseball season on April 19, 1951, with a 4-0 no-hit victory over Rogers that included 19 strikeouts. He made All-City again.

By then, Spring, Bouchee, and Farr were close friends. With matchmaking assists from Spring and his future wife, they became married friends for life. Spring recalled that “at the end of my freshman year, I was out at Liberty Lake, which used to have a resort out in the Spokane Valley. We saw these girls. It turned out they went to North Central High. I liked the looks of one of them and, somehow, I got her phone number. Finally, she agreed to go to a movie. Later, I lined Ed up with one of her friends, and then she lined up Farr with another friend.”

Farr and Ollie Hart married not long after they graduated from high school. Bouchee and Joanne Brand tied the knot almost a year later on May 17, 1952. Jack Spring and Vona Lee McLean married 25 days later, on July 11, 1952. Like Jack, Vona had lost a parent as a child. After her father died, her mother, Naomi, married Bob Nolan, who owned a taxi company. The Farrs, the Bouchees, and the Springs all remain married to their original spouses, and, although the Bouchees, longtime Chicago residents, retired to Arizona, the six of them talk frequently and visit as often as they can.

In the summer of 1951 Spring, beginning to fill out to 6-feet-1 and 175 pounds, and Bouchee, broad-shouldered at 200-plus, agreed to play baseball at Washington State. Spring also planned to turn out for basketball. Because high-school graduates couldn’t play Legion ball in those days, the two of them and Farr joined the City Boosters in the semipro Twilight League. Spring and Bouchee also hired out on weekends with Troy, Montana, which fielded a team for a series of annual tournaments held across the border in Canada. In August, Troy won the state American Baseball Congress tournament, earning a trip to the Western regionals in Watertown, South Dakota. “We both did well, playing against several ex-pros, and we won that,” Spring said. “That put us in the nationals at Battle Creek, Michigan, where we played Kalamazoo in a series for the championship.”

The best-of-five series went six games. After each team won twice with one tie, Kalamazoo claimed its second title in three years with an 8-4 victory. “I won the opening game,” Spring said, “but my arm was getting tired. In the final game, I tried pitching again. But I couldn’t do it.”

Spring and Bouchee then took up their studies. Spring played freshman basketball. Both lettered in baseball, one of the sports that allowed freshmen to participate in varsity competition. Spring won four games and lost four. Bouchee hit .302 and showed some power. Scouts were watching. On June 9 Bouchee signed a Spokane Indians contract. Longtime minor-league pitcher Don Osborn, the new manager of Spokane’s unaffiliated entry in the Class A Western International League, signed Spring two days later for $375 a month and 25 percent of any future sales price.

The 19-year-old former Lewis and Clark High School stars were well established by the end of the season. Bouchee made his professional debut on June 10. Spring pitched for the first time in the final inning of a 6-5 home loss to Wenatchee on June 16. He made his first start five days later, dropping a 5-1 decision to Wenatchee, and didn’t earn his first pro victory until July 27, when he defeated Lewiston 11-2 in the second game of a doubleheader. Although Spokane had a veteran staff that included Western International League standouts John Conant, John Marshall, and Dick Bishop, Spring worked 90 innings and finished with a 6-5 record and a 3.20 earned-run average. Bouchee, the regular first baseman, appeared in 98 games and batted .319. The Indians, who had won the 1951 pennant, finished second, six games behind Victoria.

That winter, team owner Roy Hotchkiss, presumably prompted by Osborn, signed a partial working agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies. The deal included rights to local boys Spring and Bouchee as well as shortstop Wilbur Johnson, a third-year professional player and a Gonzaga University student. Johnson, who became known as Moose, gained fame as a scout for the Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays.

By spring, Hotchkiss had unloaded most of his older standouts to make room for Philadelphia prospects. Future big leaguers Stan Palys and Jimmy Command headed the incoming talent, but the 1953 Spokane Indians needed 10 pitchers to win 75 games. Spring, who attended Gonzaga classes during the day, emerged as the ace and won 14 of them, going 14-8 with a 4.02 ERA. Although he walked 94 in 188 innings, his 157 strikeouts made him second in the league behind Marshall, who struck out 165 while winning 21 games for Lewiston.

With the WIL expanded to 10 teams, Spokane struggled through the first half of a split schedule and wound up sixth with a 29-35 record, 11½ games behind Salem. Nonetheless, the Indians (46-32) won the tightly-contested second half by finishing one game ahead of Lewiston. Then, with three straight late-inning victories, they downed Salem in the best-of-seven playoff series, four games to two. Palys joined Spring on the all-league team. Recalling almost daily reports of his impending sale to Philadelphia, Spring, anticipating his 25 percent cut, said “I could divide almost any number by four.” Ultimately, Hotchkiss received $30,000.

Spring, now an official member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, leapfrogged Double-A ball to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League in 1954. He had a tough time, starting 13 times and working 16 times in relief. In 118 innings, despite a 3.13 earned-run average, he won only three games and lost 10.

The next season, 1955, he came out of camp with the big club, one of the extra men during the 30-day period when teams could carry 28 players. The Phillies opened at home, where Robin Roberts pitched a 4-2 victory over the New York Giants on April 13. “I was in the bullpen,” Spring said. “In the ninth, they told me to warm up. I could hardly stand up, let alone warm up.” Three days later, on April 16, the Phillies faced the Giants again, at the Polo Grounds in New York. Rookie starter Jack Meyer and reliever Steve Ridzik were raked for 10 hits, five of them home runs, in the first six innings.

“I came in and threw two hitless innings and struck out two,” Spring said, “It was quite a thrill. Unfortunately, the next time I pitched (May 3) was against Cincinnati. I came into a tie game with two men on base and two out in the sixth inning and got out of it. But, in the next inning, Ted Kluszewski hit a long home run. A couple of batters later, somebody else (Chuck Harmon) hit another one.” Spring took the loss and spent the rest of the year at Syracuse. With 19 starts among 30 appearances, he put up a 7-8 record and a 4.00 ERA in 135 innings.

In 1956 Spring, Bouchee, and Osborn were reunited at Miami of the International League. Bouchee had spent 1953 and 1954 in the Army and had hit .313 with 22 home runs playing for Osborn in 1955 at Schenectady of the Double-A Eastern League. With Miami, Bouchee prospered on a weak-hitting club, but Spring was lost in the shuffle on a staff that included top prospects Don Cardwell, Turk Farrell, and Jim Owens, as well as the apparently ageless Satchel Paige. Spring worked only 93 innings as a starter and reliever and finished 6-6, with a 4.06 ERA. Paige – “Oh, he was very impressive” – was about to turn 50, but he went 11-4 and 1.86.

“Don Osborn was a first-class guy,” Spring said. “He was easygoing, quiet and he knew the game and how to handle men. He helped me learn what professional baseball was about and how to deal with the ups and downs. Around midseason, I had two or three bad outings in a row and I was thinking about quitting. Don told me that I was still a prospect and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ My wife helped talk me out of it, too. Then I had a really good year the next year.”

Despite Spring’s reduced activity, Boston selected him that fall in the Rule 5 draft. He pitched just once for the 1957 Red Sox, a one-inning mop-up stint at Fenway Park in a 7-5 loss to Baltimore. He faced three batters and struck out two. Within days, he was optioned to the San Francisco Seals, where future Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Gordon led a mixture of prospects, minor-league veterans and ex-big leaguer Grady Hatton to the 1957 Pacific Coast League pennant. Spring joined the rotation and compiled an 11-9 record with a 3.19 ERA. It was the league’s last season before the major leagues came West.

Boston sent Spring to Minneapolis of the American Association in 1958. On June 28, after he had put up a 1-3 record in 49 innings, the Red Sox traded him to Washington for reliever Bud Byerly. Spring started one game and finished two others for the Senators, Nursing a sore elbow, he was hammered for 16 hits and 11 earned runs in seven innings. On July 11 the Senators sent him back to Boston. Several days later, the Red Sox traded Spring again, to Cleveland. The Indians farmed him out to the San Diego Padres of the PCL, where he was used as a starter. However, he completed only 48 innings for a 2-1 record.

Before the 1959 season, Cleveland shuffled Spring off to Dallas, which had joined the American Association with an eye toward attracting a major-league franchise. Spring stayed three years. In 1959, he responded with his finest season as a starter. On a losing club, he embellished a 15-13 record with a 2.87 earned-run average, 12 complete games, and six shutouts. At one stretch, he surrendered only three runs in 51 innings.

The franchise was renamed Dallas-Fort Worth in 1960. On March 10 the Kansas City Athletics acquired Spring’s contract as part of a new working agreement. He had arm trouble and struggled to a 5-11 record. In 1961 the expansion Los Angeles Angels became the parent club. Spring recovered to go 8-7 in 23 starts and, in August, in his tenth professional season, he found himself back in the major leagues. After nine appearances, with one start, he made his second start on September 4 in the first game of a doubleheader at Kansas City. He pitched into the eighth inning and came away a 4-3 winner. Six days later, at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, he beat the Chicago White Sox by the same score. His final start, at Chicago on September 16, resulted in an 11-4 victory, and he finished the season 3-0, with a 4.26 ERA.

The 1962 season was extraordinary. The Angels, eighth in their inaugural campaign, moved into newly constructed Chavez Ravine (Dodger Stadium) and improved to 86-76.

“We finished third with a bunch of guys rejected by somebody else,” Spring said. “Just being part of the group stands out. . . . Leon Wagner, Albie Pearson, Dean Chance, Bo Belinsky, Ken McBride, Tom Morgan, Ryne Duren, and Earl Averill. We were really a close group and had a lot of fun, a camaraderie like I’d never seen in pro baseball before.” Working exclusively in relief, Spring threw 65 innings in 57 games and had a 4-2 record. Five relievers shared 36 saves. He had six of them.

Spring fondly recalls his first American League outing in New York. It was Tuesday, May 22. “I remember coming out of the bullpen at old Yankee Stadium,” he said. “And I heard Bob Sheppard saying ‘Now coming in to pitch for the Angels . . . is number 41 . . . Jack Spring.’ And I thought, ‘That’s me.’ ” He went 2⅓ scoreless innings in a game eventually won by the Yankees 2-1 in 12 innings.

“Among managers, Bill Rigney was my No. 1,” Spring said. “He liked me, everybody knew their role, and he treated everybody alike. It didn’t matter if you were a star or the last guy on the bench.” Spring regarded Joe Gordon and Don Osborn, who spent several years as pitching coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as his other favorites.

In 1963 the Angels skidded back down the standings. Rigney mostly employed Spring as a situational reliever, often facing just one or two left-handed batters. Spring appeared in 45 games but pitched only 38⅓ innings with a 3-0 record. “A guy (Brent P. Kelley) wrote that I was among the first to pitch more games than I had innings,” he said. “Now, almost every team has a pitcher like that.”

Spring told Kelley, in an interview for his book, The San Francisco Seals, 1946-57, that Rigney had made a wise choice by moving him permanently to the bullpen. “I guess I wish that I would have made the transition sooner. Maybe I would have reached the major leagues sooner than I did and gotten in more years than I did. And I found out, kind of by accident, that I could pitch almost every day.”

The 1964 season was barely three weeks old when the Angels sold Spring to the Chicago Cubs. Spring pitched two perfect innings in a lopsided loss to the New York Mets on May 26. Otherwise, he usually pitched less than an inning and, on June 15, the Cubs sent him to St. Louis in what has come to be regarded as one of baseball’s most lopsided trades. The Cardinals also received outfielder Lou Brock and little-used pitcher Paul Toth in exchange for former 20-game winners Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens. In time, Brock was elected to the Hall of Fame. Broglio and Shantz, it turned out, were near the end of their careers.

“When the trade was made, I was home in Chicago,” Spring said. “My wife called out to me that they’re talking about it on the TV. Brock and I flew to Houston, where the game had already started. I went to the bullpen. They told me to warm up and go into the game. The catcher was Tim McCarver. I got to the mound, and he said, ‘Hi, Jack. I’m Tim. What do you throw?’ ”

Although the Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees that fall in the World Series, Spring wasn’t with them. That first outing against the Colt .45s resulted in four runs, three unearned. His second, a two-inning stint in St. Louis against San Francisco, ended with five unearned runs. After that, Spring said, the Cards wanted to send him to Triple-A Jacksonville. He didn’t want to go that far from home, refused to report, and moved his family back to Spokane. On July 9 the Cardinals sold his contract. “I was home about 10 days, when I got a call from the Angels. They had a farm team in Hawaii and wanted to beef the team up. I finished out the season and had a very good year.”

After posting a 3-3 record and a 2.11 ERA, Spring went to Seattle, where the Angels relocated their Pacific Coast League affiliate in 1965. Then California sold him to Cleveland on June 14. This time, unlike 1958, Spring pitched for the Indians. He earned his final major-league victory on June 27, working five scoreless innings to complete a 15-inning, 10-7 victory over Kansas City. After 14 appearances that resulted in a 1-2 record, Cleveland returned him to the PCL, where he finished the season with Portland. His combined PCL record was 5-3.

Spring spent three more seasons with the Beavers. In 1966 he pitched in 59 games with a 4-1, 2.97 record. The next year, 1967, 69 appearances produced a 10-5, 2.45 record. After a 2-5 record and 4.06 ERA in 1968, Cleveland assigned his contract to the American Association. Having returned to school at Eastern Washington State College, now Eastern Washington University, and not wanting to play far from home, Spring quit.

That winter Tommy Lasorda, who had been promoted to manage Spokane for the Los Angeles Dodgers, phoned to ask Spring if he was willing to pitch for him in 1969. Seventeen years after he started, Jack rejoined the hometown team. He put up a 5-6 record with 13 saves for a group of prospects that included Bill Buckner, Bobby Darwin, Von Joshua, Fred Norman, and Bobby Valentine. “I could have played in 1970,” Spring said, “but I was getting close to graduation and needed to do my student teaching.”

He spent the 1970-71 school year at East Valley High School, close to the nearby Idaho state line, completed his degree work and hired on that fall at West Valley, which had just fired its baseball coach. He coached for 14 seasons, became the athletic director after the tenth, and remained so until he retired in 1995. As of 2011 Spring’s 1978 club remained the only Spokane area high-school team to win a state baseball championship.

“We did it with a bunch of great kids and a lot of luck,” he said. “We had a couple of good pitchers and good defense, and everything fell into place. In the championship game at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, we beat a team (Capital) out of Olympia, 2-1. Shortstop Ron Soss, probably my best player, had the winning hit in the sixth inning.” Kent Luedtke, a big right-hander whose father, Ed, a former West Valley star, had pitched for the Spokane Indians, threw a three-hitter.

Twice in his early coaching years, Spring accepted managerial jobs in the short-season Class A Northwest League. In 1972 he won a divisional title with Walla Walla, which finished with a 41-39 record. His 1976 Portland Mavericks won their division with a 40-32 record. Both teams lost in the postseason playoff series. Neither team included any serious prospects, but Spring managed actor Kurt Russell, who was his second baseman, in Walla Walla. Russell’s father, Bing, who had become the owner, hired Spring to manage Portland.

Spring is a member of the Washington State Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 1997 he was voted into the Washington Secondary Schools Athletic Administrators Association’s Hall of Fame. And in 2005, he was inducted into the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame in a class that included John Stockton.

Jack and Vona Spring had five children, daughters Vicki Spring Brown and Teresa Jordan and sons John, Mike, and Chris. Chris split a standout college baseball career between North Idaho College and Gonzaga. The Springs have six grandchildren.

Although he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008, Spring continued to live an active life and followed baseball closely. Because he played during an era when players needed five years of major-league service to qualify for a pension, he was particularly interested in the 2011 decision to disburse up to $10,000 to nonqualifiers. Spring had a little less than four years.

“I certainly had a wonderful career,” he said. “I don’t think I would do it any different. I had a great time. I traveled all over the country, met a lot of wonderful people, and made a lot of friends. I didn’t get rich financially, but I was very rewarded in other ways. It was a lot of fun.”

 

This biography is included in the book "Drama and Pride in the Gateway City: The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals" (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by John Harry Stahl and Bill Nowlin. For more information, or to purchase the book from University of Nebraska Press, click here.

 

Sources

Unpublished manuscript, “Indians: A Century of Baseball in Spokane,” by Jim Price

Face-to-face and telephone interviews with Jack Spring, various years

www.baseball-reference.com

www.baseball-almanac.com

www.espn.go.com

www.mlb.com

www.retrosheet.com

smws.us/champions.htm

www.Washington State Digital Archives

www.wilbaseball52.blogspot.com

Brent P. Kelley. The San Francisco Seals, 1946-57. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2002).

Washington State University sports information department

Dallas Times-Herald, Dallas, Texas

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington

Spokane Daily Chronicle, Spokane, Washington

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