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Seattle author revives story about 1946 Spokane Indians baseball team, bus crash

Courtesy of Eric Vickrey

Seventy-eight years ago, the Spokane Indians baseball team was involved in one of the worst tragedies in American sports history. Its bus crashed as the team embarked on a road trip.

The story was the subject of an historical novel by Mary Beth Bollinger in 2006. Now, baseball researcher and writer Eric Vickrey has written about the team and the accident in a new book, “Season of Shattered Dreams.”

ERIC VICKREY: “The crash occurred on June 24 of that season. It was about two months in. The Spokane Indians were playing very well. They were six games above .500 in the thick of the pennant race. The team traveled in a coach bus that was a pre-war charter bus. As with many things in our country, the infrastructure had kind of fallen into disrepair during the war. The majority of the goods and equipment and so forth had gone to the war effort. A couple of the players, I found letters, one of the players had complained about how lousy the bus travel was a month before the crash. On June 24 of that year, the team was traveling west across the state to the next series in Bremerton when the accident happened near Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountains.”

The driver swerved to avoid an oncoming car. The bus went off the road, down a steep ravine, and burst into flames. Nine people lost their lives. Seven, including the bus driver, survived.

The accident itself makes up only one chapter in Eric Vickrey’s book. The rest is about the season itself, told though the stories of three players.

ERIC VICKREY: “The first is Jack Lohrke, who was on the bus when it left Spokane, but he was pulled off the bus in Ellensburg as the team ate dinner, when he got a call that he was being called up to the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League. So Jack, who had already survived the Battle of the Bulge and was nearly in a plane accident as well earlier in his life, was pulled off the bus about an hour before it crashed and he later played in the big leagues with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. He later did security work for the CIA, so he had a really fascinating life. I thought his story needed to be told. I also focused on Vic Pacetti, who was the youngest player on the team and, by all accounts, a surefire big leaguer. He was only 18 years old in 1946 and he was one of the nine players killed in the accident. Being able to bring his story to the light, given how talented of a prospect that he was, I thought was important. The player I focused on was Ben Geraghty, who was 33 years old at the time of the accident. He survived the crash and went on to have a long managerial career in the minor leagues and also managed Hank Aaron in Jacksonville in 1953, so another fellow who had a really interesting life and a long baseball career.”

Geraghty and Lohrke survived the crash, but Vickrey writes the experience deeply affected them. Despite Geraghty’s highly successful career as a minor league manager, he was an alcoholic throughout and died at the age of 50. Lohrke was given the nickname Lucky, but he never took to it, nor did he seek out chances to talk about the team and the crash.

About a week after the accident, the Indians’ 1946 season resumed. The team was mostly repopulated with players borrowed from other teams, except for two players who weren’t on the bus.

ERIC VICKREY: “Joe Faria and Milt Cadinha, two pitchers, had traveled separate from the team in one of the players’ convertibles, so another interesting occurrence of happenstance. They were not on the bus and so, after Jack Lohrke was called up by San Diego and, of course, the other players had been killed or injured in the accident, they were the only two players left and the owner, Sam Collins, filled out his roster any way he could by signing semipro players or players who had been released by other minor league organizations and it turned out to be a pretty unsuccessful run. The team was 30 games under .500 after they resumed play that season.”

Vickrey uses letters and other documents he obtained to tell the story about the team. He was able to secure cooperation from the families of several team members.

ERIC VICKREY: “The descendants were very eager to tell the stories. These were nieces of two of the players who, in many ways, feel like their uncles’ stories have been forgotten over time, so they were very eager to share those memories and that information for the book.”

Eric Vickrey is the author of “Season of Shattered Dreams” about the 1946 Spokane Indians baseball team and its tragic mid-season bus accident that killed nine people. He lives in Seattle.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.