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Pioneer League History


The Mountain States region has enjoyed a rich and entertaining history of baseball since the U. S. cavalry introduced a form of the game to the Indian tribes of the area after the Civil War.  Professional baseball began in 1901 with the Utah League (Ogden won the pennant), continued in 1909 with the Intermountain League (Helena won the championship), and resurfaced with the Union Association from 1911-1914. During this period, Great Falls won two championships while Missoula, Salt Lake City and Ogden won or tied for one pennant.  The Utah-Idaho League operated from 1926-1929.  The Idaho Falls club captured the pennant in the first two seasons and Salt Lake in the final year of 1928.
Professional baseball in the region collapsed with the stock market crash of 1929.  It took a decade but through the efforts of Jack Haliwell of Pocatello, Idaho, and others professional baseball returned in 1929 with the birth of the Pioneer League.  Haliwell became President of the new circuit with 6 teams in Salt Lake City, Boise, Ogden, Pocatello, Twin Falls, and Lewiston, Idaho.  The Twin Falls club overtook the Pocatello team, a Branch Rickey farm club, in the final week of the season to claim the inaugural season championship.  In 1940, Idaho Falls replaced Lewiston and remains as an anchor member of the League today to hold the national record for continuous years of one minor league team city in one league.  In the first era, the Pioneer League played as a full-season Class C league from 1939-1962 (suspended operations during WW II), and as a Class A league in 1963.  The League operated with a mixture of Major League farm teams and independent clubs.  In 1948, the League expanded to Montana with teams in Great Falls and Billings.  The Billings club was a farm team of the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, both owned by Bob Cobb, who also owned the Brown Derby restaurant.  His partners included Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, and Cecil B. DeMille.  In 1950, the most bizarre event at a ballpark in minor league history occurred when Great Falls GM, Nick Mariana, filmed a UFO over the stadium.  
Major League Baseball, in 1964, restructured to eliminate Class B-D leagues, and create short-season leagues playing roughly 1/2 seasons and opening after the close of college classes.  The Pioneer League became a short-season Rookie League with 4 teams all affiliated with Major League clubs and located in Utah and Idaho.  During this second era, the Pioneer League varied in the number of clubs operating during a season but returned to Montana and expanded into Canada, with the Montreal Expos in Calgary and the Toronto Blue Jays in Medicine Hat.  In 1973, the league incorporated as the Pioneer Baseball League.  By 1987, the PBL had jelled into a stable 8-team league.  In that year, the Salt Lake Trappers set a world record by winning 29 consecutive games.  Actor Bill Murray was a co-owner of the Trappers.  For a 17-year stretch (2003-2020) the PBL established a record by maintaining the same Major League affiliations:  Cincinnati Reds (Billings); L. A. Dodgers (Ogden); Arizona Diamondbacks (Missoula); L. A. Angels (Orem); Chicago White Sox (Great Falls); Colorado Rockies (Grand Junction); Milwaukee Brewers (Colorado Springs); and Kansas City Royals (Idaho Falls).
PBL operations were shut down for the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Major League Baseball, during that year, restructured for the first time since 1963 by eliminating 42 affiliations and taking over operations previously managed by the traditional leagues and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (MiLB).  The Pioneer Baseball League was the only formerly affiliated professional league left standing (the Appalachian League is an amateur wooden bat league).  In 2021, the PBL returned to its 1939 format to begin its third era operating as an MLB Partner League.  Orem suspended operations in order to relocate to northern Colorado and build its playing facility.  The Boise Hawks, formerly of the Northwest League, joined the PBL.
The inaugural 2021 PBL season proved eventful with a split-season, 2-division format.  The Missoula PaddleHeads captured the championship trophy.  The PBl implemented the internationally acclaimed PBL Knock-Out Round to replace extra-innings in tie games.  The league games drew a record 839,374 fans to best the previous mark set in 1949.  More than 25 pbl players were sold to MLB or foreign league clubs.  
In this 2023 season, the PBL clubs continue to provide professional baseball and the best of family entertainment.  The Northern Colorado Owlz return to play and are joined by the Glacier Range Riders, playing in Montana's Flathead Valley, to result in a 10-team league (Billings Mustangs; Great Falls Voyagers; Missoula PaddleHeads; Idaho Falls Chukars; Boise Hawks; Ogden Raptors; Grand Junction Jackalopes; and Rocky Mountain Vibes).