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Home run hero

Celebrated former coach Jack Dunn reflects on baseball, life in Multnomah


One spring day last April, before a baseball game at Wilson High School, a member of the opposing team turned to his friend, pointed to an aging man sitting in the home team bleachers and said in a hushed, reverent tone reserved for talking about a living legend, “Do you know who that is? That’s Jack Dunn.”

by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - Jack Dunn reads from a passage in his book, 'From the Third Base Coach's Box,' near his home in Multnomah Village.To anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Oregon baseball history, Jack Dunn is a household name. He played minor league ball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Salem Senators and coached for Cleveland High School, Wilson High School and Portland State University.

This 84-year-old bastion of baseball has also lived in Southwest Portland’s Multnomah neighborhood on and off since he was 2.

Growing up with his family in a house off Southwest Alice Street — which he said may have been named after his grandmother — Dunn witnessed a pivotal time in the shaping of Southwest.

“I saw them build Barbur Boulevard,” he recalled. “When it came in, it was during the Depression. I was just a little kid, but I remember vividly … they had to allow the concrete to cure, and we could pull our wagons and things on that massive concrete strip that no trucks could drive on. … Under Franklin Roosevelt, the Works Progress Administration was designed to put people to work, and Barbur Boulevard was one of the projects.”

As the tireless workers paved Southwest Barbur Boulevard, the Multnomah neighborhood paved the way for Dunn and his friends to be immersed in baseball culture.

“At the time, there were no youth programs, there was no Little League, there was no Oregon I Sports,” Dunn said, but “John’s Market sponsored our baseball team when we got into the upper grades. … I think that speaks pretty well, reflecting back on it. … Times were tough economically, and still, people looked out for kids.”

He added: “I also was a batboy for the West Portland Merchants, the adult baseball team that played every Sunday. … I couldn’t wait to get there and batboy and run around and shag fly balls. So Multnomah had a great deal of influence.”

Dunn found other ways to pass the time in his neighborhood as well, though most of them were short-lived.

“I took tap dancing when I was 6. … For the community, the theater was the big thing, and one Friday night our dancing school … danced before the movie started, and I did the 'Sailor’s Hornpipe' and I thought I was going to die, I was so scared. That ended my dancing career,” he said, bursting into laughter.

His baseball career, however, was just beginning. After finishing eighth grade at Multnomah Grade School (now the home of the Multnomah Arts Center), Dunn attended and graduated from Lincoln High School.

Then, he started playing pro ball.

“I didn’t go directly to college,” he said. “I played minor league baseball in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1948, ’49, ’50 and ’51. The Korean War came along, and they said, ‘You’ve been going to college off and on; you have to stay in college or you’re in the front lines of Korea.’ I said, ‘Give me about two seconds to think that one over.’ I had no choice, so I stayed in college full time.”

Dunn redoubled his efforts to get his master’s degree in secondary education from University of Oregon, while also serving as part-time center fielder at Salem Senators home games.

“I would drive to Salem and play a game, drive back … then I would get up at 6 o’clock in the morning or so, then do two or three hours of studying for my student teaching,” he recalled. “I just about knocked myself out.”

Dunn’s involvement with both baseball and teaching was to continue. Shortly before graduating, Dunn was encouraged by a friend with whom he used to play, Cleveland High School’s baseball coach, to replace him while he taught with the Air Force. Dunn was later hired as a full-time teacher and kept on coaching at Cleveland for years before transferring to Wilson High School in the Hillsdale neighborhood of Southwest Portland, just a stone’s throw from where he had grown up and then lived with his wife, Jean, and their children.

“I knew in the back of my mind when I was at Cleveland that Wilson and Multnomah had always been a hotbed (of baseball), and I had an opportunity to transfer. … They were opposed to transferring within the district, but we won the city championship at both Cleveland and Wilson, so I’m kind of proud of that,” he said.

Dunn worked at Wilson from 1970 to 1974, winning Oregon Coach of the Year in 1973 and coaching the likes of seven-time all-star Dale Murphy, his two sons and Mike Clopton, now a longtime Wilson baseball coach himself.

“My coach said, ‘Take what I give you, improve on it and pass it on,’ and (Clopton) has done exactly that: He’s improved it and made it a solid program, where the emphasis is on academics as well as baseball,” Dunn said. “Mike is just an outstanding guy.”

After leaving Wilson, Dunn capped his career at Portland State, coaching for 20 straight winning seasons until he retired in 1994.

When his wife died three years later, Multnomah was there for him once again.

“I had trouble dealing with my brother’s death (when) I was like 21 … and then when my wife passed away, I said, ‘I cannot handle, emotionally, this situation of her passing,’” Dunn said. “I went to Multnomah senior center grief counseling; that helped me to deal with both those situations in a healthier manner. I’m indebted to them.”

Today, Dunn is a great-grandfather and a published writer and runs a baseball school at Alpenrose Dairy in Hayhurst. And he still lives in Multnomah.

“I had traveled enough around playing ball — I played in the South before civil rights; I had played in Virgina, I played in the Midwest, I played in Montana, I played Arizona, Texas and Mexico and probably some other place, so I had seen different parts of the country and recognized how nice this was,” Dunn said. “And instead of, as a kid, wanting to get out of this place, I found out, ‘Hey, this place ain’t too bad.’”