Alaska author/historian Laurel Downing Bill shares the story of William Mulcahy, a baseball fanatic who arrived in Anchorage in the early 1900s and brought his passion for the game to the Last Frontier.
Before the new settlement had plotted out its main street on Fourth Avenue in 1915, baseball teams faced off near the mud flats to put bats to balls that Fourth of July. As far back as 1916, Anchorage had a regulation baseball diamond, built by the Bridge Engineers, located in what was known as Recreation Park in the railroad yards north of Ship Creek.
A press box, with private telephone communication to the newspaper office, provided avid fans with a play-by-play account of the games. And competition was keen, not only in Anchorage, but also with nearby communities like Knik and Seward. Fans who loved the game traveled by boat to Kern Creek, and then pumped themselves to Seward by handcars to catch a glimpse of the action.
For a short time, baseball was eclipsed by the clouds of World War I when Anchorage lost most of its able bodied men. Seventy-five percent of the town’s male population was eligible for the draft. The town did rally enough fellows for a special benefit game in 1918, however. The game between the Elks and the Masons turned out a little lopsided, with the Masons taking it 19-9, but the townspeople had a great time and netted $57.60 for the Red Cross effort.
The game developed even more when William F. Mulcahy, later known as “Mr. Baseball,” blew into the lusty, young railroad town in 1922 to work for the Alaska Railroad. He loved baseball and became president of the baseball league, as well as its treasurer, secretary, groundskeeper and ticket seller.
In 1947, Mulcahy was named Alaska’s first National Baseball Congress Commissioner, which was the beginning of a program that later carried the Anchorage’s Glacier Pilots and Bucs to several national championships.
The selfless Irishman was surprised when it was announced in 1951 that the new baseball field at Seventh Avenue and C Street was to bear his name. Considered one of Anchorage’s “Grand Old Men,” the community wanted to honor the man who, for so many years, stood for baseball in Anchorage. With seating for 750, Mulcahy Stadium held nearly half again as many as the earlier facility.
Following statehood in 1959, Alaska attracted a multitude of collegiate players who played at that stadium for teams like the Anchorage Bucs, Alaska Glacier Pilots, Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners. Many went on to play for the majors, including home run king Mark McGwire, fantastic pitcher Randy Johnson – who was called “the big unit” – and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
Who knows what future major league players we will watch on our ballfield in the years to come – but for now we have the World Series to tide us over until those collegiate boys of summer visit Mulcahy stadium again next year.
This segment of Alaska Story Time with Aunt Phil aired on CBS affiliate KTVA Channel 11 Daybreak on Oct. 19, 2015.