Sunday, January 18, 2009

Levi McCormack

This baseball was autographed by Levi McCormack in 1952, and was sold on eBay in January 2009 for about $70. The auction stated the signature is authentic because the seller’s dad worked for the Spokane Indians in the 1950s and Levi gave him the ball at that time.

As a young boy, I’d met Levi McCormack a couple of times in the late 1950s. He was working for the US Postal Service as a mail carrier in Spokane, Washington. Our home on the south side was on his delivery route.

My neighborhood buddies and I were still in elementary school, but we knew McCormack had played with the Spokane Indians-- a minor league professional baseball team. We’d run or ride up on our bikes to say “Hi” to Levi McCormack. We were probably pests.

Yet, one day he showed us how to hold and throw a baseball. Another time we watched him flag down a milk truck and buy a quart of whole buttermilk and drink it down because it soothed his stomach. We’d never heard of buttermilk-- the most daring of our guys got a sip of it from Levi.

We didn’t know much more about Levi McCormack except that he was also Native American. But, somehow I also sensed he’d had his share of troubles.

From time to time over the years, I’ve wondered about Levi McCormack. I assumed he was in fact a Spokane Indian-- a member of the Spokane Tribe-- but only recently learned that he was Nez Perce. Most of the following information was gathered and gleaned from the internet. There’s probably more information about him out there. If you know of it, could you please post a comment or something. Thanks.

Levi McCormack was born in 1913 and died in 1974. He was 61 years old.

"McCormack was a star high school athlete growing up in Clarkston [Washington], excelling in baseball, basketball and football, and at Washington State College, where he once caught a 90-yard touchdown pass in the 1935 season against the University of Southern California at the Los Angeles Coliseum." (See the link to article by Dylan Kitzan, below, from which this information comes).

Newspaper articles from archives at Washington State University report an annual Nez Perce ceremony in 1937 at Lapwai, Idaho, where Levi McCormack and the Nez Perce were honoring the Dean of then Washington State College, located at nearby Pullman, Washington. Levi is listed as a 1935 WSC “Cougar” letterman, and an article describes him as a “former WSC football star.”


These clippings recognize the Nez Perce as establishing the Lolo Trail during buffalo trips into Montana, which opened the way for the Lewis and Clark expedition to reach the Pacific. They also confirm that Levi’s great uncle was a prominent and heroic chief with the Nez Perce who fought with Chief Joseph during the War of 1877. The present Nez Perce Reservation is located at Lapwai Idaho near Lewiston, not far from Washington's southeast border.

Levi McCormack is the smiling young man in the headdress in the far right of this picture.

Levi started out as a baseball star with the Lewiston Indians of the Idaho-Washington minor league, and was later acquired by the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League. He was also a member of the Spokane Hawkes (later, the Indians) of the Western International League, which later became the Northwest League. He played in other leagues and for other teams, including Portland, and it looks like the Seattle Rainiers. He played left field.

There are a number of good blog sites detailing the various minor baseball leagues, teams and stats of those players, that time and region. I’m not sure I’ve gotten these leagues correct.

Here is an excellent essay about Levi McCormack by Dylan Kitzan, from which much of the information here comes: http://http//

The Spokane Indians are now affiliated with the Pacific Coast League. "Created in 2007, the Rim of Honor celebrates individuals who have contributed to the Spokane Indians through their excellence on and off the field during the team’s 105-year history. McCormack was an all-star left fielder and helped lead Spokane to its Western International League title in 1941. He led the league with 191 hits that year. The four permanent members of the Rim of Honor are former Spokane Indians players Levi McCormack, Maury Wills, Dwight Aden, and former Spokane Indians manager Tommy Lasorda." That’s pretty good company, and tells of the caliber of McCormack’s talent.

With World War II under way, many of the league's top players had entered military service by the time the 1942 season rolled around. After 1942, the WIL, and many other minor leagues, shut down for the duration of the war. Levi McCormack served in the US Navy during WWII.

Play resumed in 1946. The Spokane Indians were a farm club of the Pacific Coast League's Oakland club. McCormack was 31 years old, and as a former Washington State footballer and veteran Western International League ballplayer, he was the team's most popular personality, known affectionately as "Chief."

On June 24, 1946, a bus carrying Spokane’s manager and fifteen players was traveling over Snoqualmie Pass to Bremerton, headed down the western slope. When the bus driver saw a car coming up the pass crowding the center line, the driver steered right and slipped off the pavement’s edge. When he tried to correct back onto the asphalt, the bus struck the concrete posts and cables which served as a railing. The bus broke through and tumbled more than 300 feet down the ravine, bursting into flames as it went. At the bottom of the ravine, the injured — some of them still afire — scrambled out of the shattered windows or were unable to move and were burned to death. Only the charred framework of the wreck remained. Rescue squads led by state highway patrolmen were forced to slide down a rope to reach the scene of the flaming pyre.

Here are the detailed articles upon which the grisly information about the wreck is based:

The accident remains the worst in the history of American professional sports. Six men died at the scene and three more died within the next 48 hours. Levi McCormack was one of the few survivors.

"I saw the headlights coming toward us on the wrong side of the road," Levi McCormack, 33-year-old Spokane outfielder, told newsmen at Harborview county hospital. "The road was slippery. Our driver applied his brakes. We swerved across the road into the guardrail. We went through. We went down. I've never heard such hell. I don't know why we didn't smash the other driver. It might have been better." (From, below).

I am the shadow sinister called Fate.... I am the Master Umpire and I call the plays the way I see them. I have raised my arm, and nine grand boys are out. —SPOKANE INDIANS' MEMORIAL PROGRAM July 8, 1946. (From the Sports Illustrated article).

Eight of the nine victims had lived through the worst war in history, only to die on that bus. The Spokane Indians reassembled the team, relying largely on players called in from other teams. The Indians did not resume play until the Fourth of July, 10 days after the crash. Of the original team, only three were able to play again that season, and it does not appear that McCormack played again that season. Of the six survivors (not counting the driver, who also lived), all were seriously injured. Levi reportedly suffered head injuries. Only a few would ever play again, but not for very long. 1947 was Levi's last season.

Levi McCormack ran for Spokane County Coroner two years after he retired from baseball, running as a Democrat. He lost in the general election by a margin of two-to-one. It was his first election. I don’t know what exact year that was, nor whether or not it was his last election.

I'd like to hear that he enjoyed the rest of his life.


  1. I was just going through a few things on the internet not looking for any certain thing just browsing. My name is Timothy McCormack Levi's youngest son. My father lived a full and wonderfull life marreing Margaret Mcdonald in 1948 and fathered 7 children. Levi played 3 years with the Seattle Indians during the transition from the Indians becoming the Rainiers and playing in Sycks Stadium named after the owner of the Rainier brewing company, Emil Sycks. There are many stories of Levi out there many I have heard from his friends like Edo Vanni, who was known as Mr. Baseball in Seattle. Other friends like Bob Costello a fromer Spokane Indian pitcher. Royce this is very intregueing. You may contact me by e-mail if you wish

  2. A very nice piece on Levi McCormack. Thank you. I grew up obsessed with baseball and the Spokane Indians were Gods of sorts to me. The fact that a former player delivered our mail - I was proud to say hello to him and, like you, probably a pest and I imagine I even got him to sign my glove - was so incredible that I've since actually wondered if I hadn't somehow made it up. Your article confirms that Levi was in fact a mailman after he retired from baseball, so I know I'm not dreaming. As Chief Joseph is another of my life long heros, I was also touched to learn that Levi was Nez Perce and that his uncle had fought in those final wars...

    Here's hoping this finds you well and that this basbeball card video of a song - "The Only Church" - from my new album amuses you:

    Theo Hakola (Ted Blomquist)

  3. I've been going through my dad's work from during WWII at Pasco and posting some and came across this column on Levi McCormack who was leaving the Pasco NAS for sea duty. Glad to know that he made it through the war and had a successful life.

  4. Levi McCormack was my friends (Adelaide) dad and he was a lovely lovely man who was gentle, and very well liked by everyone who knew him. My mother was very fond of him too, I know he was very popular as a postal worker.and was popular with the people and kids on his route. Very sad day when he passed away.

  5. I went to Irving Elementary Grade School which was about 1 block away from the McCormack Home. Levi's son John (Jocko) McCormack was in my classes. I used to see Levi staring out of the picture window sometimes when I would pass by their house on my way back home after school let out. I missed a reunion of old students from Irving School last summer and I was told that Jocko attended it. My loss.
    Mark Maye 1968 Graduate of Irving School Spokane, Washington.