Seattle Now & Then: Baseball’s ‘Western Wonder’ Vean Gregg — 1922 and 1925

(Click and click again to enlarge photos — and these severely horizontal gems fairly demand to be enlarged!)

THEN1: When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer printed a closer image from this March 28, 1925, photo shoot for Vean Gregg Service Station at 2006 Rainier Ave., the headline read “3 Gallons and You’re Out.” However, Vean is not in the picture. The station bore the Gregg name through 1927. (David Eskenazi collection) Here, thanks to automotive informant Bob Carney, are the years and makes of the cars (from left): 1920-21 Dodge touring car, 1922-24 Studebaker roadster (behind front row), 1923-24 Oldsmobile coupe, 1922 Chandler two-door sedan, unidentified, 1925 Nash two-door sedan, 1920s Model T Ford with cargo box (behind front row), 1925 Willys-Knight touring car, 1922-1925 REO Speedwagon truck, 1920s Model T Ford.
NOW: On the same triangular lot, celebrating the Vean Gregg Service Station site 96 years later are (from left) baseball historians David Eskenazi and Eric Sallee, the owners of eight vintage cars from the Evergreen As and Gallopin’ Gertie Model A clubs and Daniel Tessema and Mesh Tadesse of today’s YET Oil and Brake Services. Here are the names of the car owners and their cars (from left): Win & Cathy Brown, 1931 Tudor Delux; Christy & Robert McLaughlin, 1931 Blindback Sedan; Rich Nestler, 1930 Coupe; Steve Francois, 1931 Delux Roadster; Ahna Holder & Tammy Nyhus, 1931 Roadster; Don Werlech, 1931 Coupe; Dale Erickson, 1931 Coupe; and John Hash, 1931 Victoria.

(Published in the Seattle Times online on March 18, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on March 21, 2021)

Baseball’s ‘Western Wonder’ knew how to fuel a negotiation
By Clay Eals

On a late-1950s Saturday morning when I was a tyke, my Kentucky-born dad beckoned me to the living room and pointed at the CBS Game of the Week on TV. “Take a look: The pitcher’s a southpaw.” I peered at the screen and blurted out, “He’s left-handed, too!”

This lefty appreciated the impromptu vocabulary lesson. And trust me, in this righty world, lefties give each other a certain recognition and respect. Of course, that extends to Vean Gregg.

What, you haven’t heard of Gregg? Obscurity can’t dim the fact that among early big-league pitchers, the Chehalis native, raised mostly in the Eastern Washington border town of Clarkston, was a phenom.

THEN2: Vean Gregg, the lanky, 6-foot-2, 180-pound “Western Wonder,” shown at age 37 in 1922, winds up for the Seattle Indians. Newspaper crop marks are intact in this scrapbook photo. (David Eskenazi collection)

Nicknamed the “Western Wonder,” Sylveanus Augustus Gregg dazzled in 1911 as a Cleveland Naps rookie. The 26-year-old won 23 games and topped the American League with a 1.80 earned-run average. The fierce Ty Cobb called him the toughest lefty he ever faced. Gregg became the only 20th century hurler to win at least 20 games in his first three years in the majors.

Then came severe, mysterious arm pain and so-so seasons. A plasterer by trade, he even abandoned the pro game for three years. But he built a delightfully local comeback.

For the Seattle Indians based at Dugdale Park (future site of the storied Sicks’ Seattle Stadium and today’s Lowe’s Home Improvement on Rainier Avenue), he won 19 games in 1922, led the Pacific Coast League in earned-run average in 1923 and, with 25 wins, spurred the team to its first PCL pennant in 1924.

Gregg could taste a big-league rebound. In February 1925, with the Washington Senators calling, his brother, Dave, a journeyman righty who ended up pitching just one inning in the majors, opened a service station one-half mile north of Dugdale on Rainier Avenue. In this owner-dominated era, the siblings hatched a plan.

The trick was to name the station for Vean. “The idea,” says Eric Sallee, who with fellow Seattle diamond historian David Eskenazi has written extensively about Gregg, “was to prove to the Seattle and Washington team owners that he had another way to earn a living besides baseball.”

The ploy worked. The Senators snagged him for $10,000 and three players. But arm pain and humdrum performances soon resurfaced. He split that season with Washington (his last stint in the majors) and a Class A minor-league team. Other than one-third of an inning with Class AA Sacramento in 1927, his professional career was over. After pitching for semi-pro teams, he retired in 1931. For 37 years, he ran a Hoquiam sporting-goods store and cafe called The Home Plate. He died in 1964.

The triangular lot on Rainier still hosts a service station. It all reminds me of my usual advice to my daughter: Life is negotiable. And lefties get frequent practice.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are 25 additional photos, two book chapters and, in chronological order, 31 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archives (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Special thanks to local baseball historians Dave Eskenazi and Eric Sallee , Rich Nestler of the Evergreen A’s Model A Club and automotive informant Bob Carney, as well as Joseph Bopp, Albert Balch curator and Special Collections librarian at Seattle Public Library, for their assistance with this column!

With vintage clothing and equipment, Eric Sallee (left) and Dave Eskenazi have a catch on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Win & Cathy Brown and their 1931 Tudor Delux on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Christy & Robert McLaughlin and their 1931 Blindback Sedan on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Rich Nestler and his 1930 Coupe on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Steve Francois and his 1931 Delux Roadster on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Ahna Holder and her 1931 Roadster on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Don Werlech and his 1931 Coupe on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Dale Erickson and his 1931 Coupe on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
John Hash and his 1931 Victoria on the day of the “Now” shoot, Feb. 20, 2021. (Jean Sherrard)
Three Greggs (from left) Vean, circa 1924; Vean, 1910 with Portland Beavers; and Dave, circa 1912, Vaughan Street ballpark. (David Eskenazi collection)
Cy Young (left) and Vean Gregg, 1911. (David Eskenazi collection)
Plows Candy card of Vean Gregg, 1912. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg in The Sporting News supplement, Nov. 2, 1911. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg with Portland Beavers on Obak cigarette baseball card, 1910. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg on Portland Beavers, postcard, 1910. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg (left) with Boston Red Sox rightfielder and pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, 1914-1915. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg Service Station, 2006 Rainier Ave., March 28, 1925. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg Service Station, 2006 Rainier Ave., March 28, 1925. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg Service Station, 2006 Rainier Ave., March 28, 1925. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg Service Station, 2006 Rainier Ave., March 28, 1925. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg Service Station, 2006 Rainier Ave., 1925-1926. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg autograph. (David Eskenazi collection)
Matchbook cover from Vean Gregg’s The Home Plate, Hoquiam. (David Eskenazi collection)
Matchbook cover from Vean Gregg’s The Home Plate, Hoquiam. (David Eskenazi collection)
Token from Vean Gregg’s The Home Plate, Hoquiam. (David Eskenazi collection)
Vean Gregg portrait from the collection of Sam Thompson, who writes, “He was a friend of my dad’s many, many years ago. They owned service stations on Rainier Avenue at the same time. I remember going to see him in Hoquiam, probably around 1960, and being lifted into his arms. Haven’t thought about him in years until reading your article. Thanks for bringing back fond memories!” (Courtesy Sam Thompson)
April 21, 1910, Oregonian, page 8.
April 24, 1910, Oregonian, page 3.
Jan. 14, 1912, Billy Evans article. (Eric Sallee collection)
December 1912 Baseball Magazine article on Vean Gregg. Click the page to open the pdf. (Eric Sallee collection)
June 21, 1913, Cleveland Press. (Eric Sallee collection)
Jan. 12, 1922, Seattle Times, page 15.
Feb. 20, 1922, Seattle Times, page 10.
March 19, 1922, Seattle Times, page 19.
April 23, 1922, Seattle Times, page 34.
June 7, 1922, Seattle Times, page 14.
Jan. 14, 1923, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 37.
July 13, 1924, from a Seattle newspaper. (Eric Sallee collection)
July 7, 1924, Seattle Times, page 17.
July 13, 1924, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 54. (It turns out that the P-I was one year early with its 40th birthday celebration.)
Jan. 7, 1925, Washington Post. (Eric Sallee collection)
Feb. 17, 1925, Seattle Times, page 17.
Feb. 18, 1925, from a Seattle newspaper. (Eric Sallee collection)
Feb. 18, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 7.
March 29, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 34.
March 29, 1925, Seattle Times, page 22.
April 21, 1925, Seattle Times, page 28.
April 25, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 4.
May 8, 1925, Washington Post. (Eric Sallee collection)
June 8, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 9.
July 19, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 8.
June 27, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 7.
June 31, 1925, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 5.
Dec. 28, 1925, Seattle Times, page 17.
Feb. 19, 1926, Seattle Times, page 29.
June 5, 1931, Tacoma News-Tribune, page 21.
Aug. 31, 1933, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 4.
July 5, 1949, Oregonian, L.H. Gregory column, page 23.
Vean Gregg chapter of “They Tasted Glory” book. Click image to read pdf. (Eric Sallee collection)

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Baseball’s ‘Western Wonder’ Vean Gregg — 1922 and 1925”

  1. VEAN GREGG got a gas station named after him instead of a candy bar?
    Wonderful article and the blog extras are exceptional. Coincidentally, Oakland’s 19th century ballist GEORGE VAN HALTREN was also a lather or plasterer.

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