Umpires know more than you think

Wes Crossley

Steve Kline

Editor’s Note: This story was written in March of 2015 and tells how Steve Kline of Chelan ended up playing for the New York Yankees right out of high school. He passed away on June 4, 2018 in Chelan. A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, June 23, 2-5 p.m., at Chelan High School. Wes Crossley passed away in 2017.

CHELAN- In 1965 a Chelan High School senior and baseball player signed a contract with the New York Yankees. How did a pitcher from a small town in North Central Washington draw attention from the New York Yankees organization? Ask former Chelan, now Wenatchee resident Wes Crossley and you’ll find out.

Crossley spent part of his childhood in a suburb of Detroit where he loved to play basketball and baseball. The family moved to Glendale, California when Wes was 13.

“I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven,” West said, “because you could play baseball year round there!” He learned the game very well in summer leagues, and playing outfield and catcher for Glendale High School, which won the Foothill League championship. Crossley was named MVP and an all-league player. He batted .500 his senior year and led the league in homeruns. He was put on California’s third string of all-state teams.

After graduation in 1950, Crossley signed a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and played four years in the minor leagues in Las Vegas, Bakersfield, and Albuquerque which won the pennant and the playoffs, then was traded to a San Antonio team in the Longhorn League. Crossley remembers there were 57 baseball leagues in the U.S. at that time.
Leg injuries and a request for a raise that was denied sent Crossley back home to California where he got a job as an umpire right away. He enjoyed the work and was soon officiating high school football, basketball and baseball games.

By 1961, Wes Crossley was a professional umpire for the Pacific Northwest League. He umpired for the Wenatchee Chiefs in 1965, the last year there was a professional baseball team in town.

Wenatchee World sports writer Dick Pieper brought the umpire up to Chelan for a golf game one day on the course adjacent to the city park. Crossley hit a wild shot which bounced over the Manson Highway onto the lawn of the Park Way Motel. He got a good look at the little motel when he retrieved his ball, and never forgot this inviting little town in such a beautiful setting, he said.

Race riots in the LA area and lung damage from working in a plastics plant had made life in southern California less than appealing. While umpiring in Eugene, Crossley glanced over a Seattle Times newspaper and noticed a for-sale ad for a small motel in Chelan. Crossley called the number in the ad, but it was the wrong motel. However, he got the news that the Park Way Motel was also for sale!

Properties were sold in short order and in April of 1966, the Crossley’s were loaded up and on their way to Lake Chelan, where Crossley began umpiring Chelan High School baseball games immediately.
Steve Kline was a senior and the pitcher on the league-winning Chelan Goats baseball team. “You know, umpires see them all. We know when we see something,” Crossley said, thumping the table emphatically. “When Steve began throwing pitches toward me, I thought ‘This guy is a major league pitcher!’.

“Well, I knew Eddie Taylor. He was an old umpire friend and he was a scout for the New York Yankees. I called him and told him he needed to come out and have a look at this kid,” Crossley said. “And that’s what he did. Eddie told me, ‘I like him. I’m gonna sign him.’ And that’s what happened, right there in Unit 3A of the motel!”

Wes Crossley estimates he officiated around 10,000 athletic contests. He and his wife Marcella managed their motel for 31 years. He also drove school bus for 25 years, making many trips to out-of-town games. Crossley also coached American Legion baseball teams for 13 summers. The kids in Chelan found out how much he knew about the game of baseball, he said.
Crossley was the instigator in teaching Cal Ripken, Sr. a lesson about openly slandering umpires in the media. He organized the six-man system that is used for World Series games to umpire a game in Pasco where Ripken was team manager.

“The sportswriters went bananas at how good we were,” Crossley said proudly, “how dedicated and professional we were. Ripken told me later, and privately, that he’d gotten the message. . .so I just got along fine with him after that.”
The man wears an enormous gold ring from being inducted into the State of Washington Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. Crossley made an impact in Central Washington as an American League coach. As most coaches do, he has followed the careers of aspiring ballplayers, and watched fifteen go on to play college ball, fourteen go professional, and five athletes get signed by professional teams.

Along with Steve Kline, they have included Don McCormick of Omak (whose father played for the Wenatchee Chiefs), Jerod Riggan of Brewster, and Ryan Doumitt and Dave Haverlo both of Moses Lake.

Crossley is full of fascinating baseball stories. A loyal Detroit fan, he is proud that he got to play in Tiger Stadium for the Fireman Midgets in full uniform at age 12. A champion of young people, his voice quiets and softens as he tells of a Chelan ballplayer from a struggling family who learned the game well enough to pitch for the Goats as a senior. The man has spent his life working with underprivileged children, perhaps following the example Crossley set.

As for Steve Kline, was Crossley’s assessment of a home-town boy from Chelan on the mark? Kline threw six no-hitters and two perfect games as a high school pitcher. He pitched four years for the New York Yankees with a 2.40 ERA, and threw 33 complete games in three years. Kline worked 30 years as a Portland lumber broker, has celebrated 43 anniversaries with his lovely wife Linda, and is coaching the Wenatchee Panther pitching crew. Wes Crossley knew more than most people thought.

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