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Ben's Biz: Spokane pays tribute to King Carl

Carl Maxey was Washington state royalty in and out of the ring
March 8, 2024

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE.

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE.

Some Minor League alternate identities are self-evident, while others have a significant backstory that requires no small amount of explanation. The Spokane Indians’ King Carl identity, released earlier this week, falls into the latter camp and is all the better for it.

The Indians -- High-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies -- will suit up as King Carl on two occasions during the 2024 season. The crisp, retro-style uniforms feature a red, black and gold color scheme, with the primary logo depicting a crown-bedecked boxing glove. It’s all a tribute to Spokane’s own Carl Maxey, who overcame a difficult childhood en route to becoming a boxing champion, lawyer and civil rights leader.

“He was quite the person in this area back in the day, and his name has lived on,” said Spokane Indians senior vice president Otto Klein. “His family is still in the Spokane area. His son has a law firm, and his grandson is part of the law firm. We started looking into more about his life, asking how we could celebrate him and be a part of [Minor League Baseball Black baseball initiative] The Nine, and be a part of integrating into the Black community better than we have in the past. This just made perfect sense.”

Maxey, born in Tacoma, Wash., in 1924, was orphaned at 2 years old and adopted by a family in Spokane. His adoptive father left the family and his adoptive mother died shortly thereafter, leading to Maxey's placement in a Spokane orphanage that later forced him into a juvenile detention center after enacting a policy that prohibited having Black children in their care. A Jesuit priest, Father Cornelius E. Byrne intervened and brough Maxey and a classmate to Sacred Heart Mission in Idaho.

Byrne’s mentorship proved to be invaluable. Maxey went on to excel academically and athletically, earning his “King Carl” moniker after leading Gonzaga University to the 1950 NCAA boxing championship (he went 32-0 in his collegiate career). In 1951 he became the first Black man to graduate from the Gonzaga School of Law, and from there went on to a distinguished 46-year career as a trial lawyer and civil rights leader. As the Indians put it in their press release, “Maxey tackled controversial cases, represented conscientious objectors and championed social justice until his passing in 1997.”

The King Carl logos and uniforms were exclusively debuted in the March 3 edition of The Black Lens, a Spokane-based publication dedicated to issues affecting the Black community. The project was a long time coming, with its genesis credited to a local community leader who helped found both The Black Lens and the Carl Maxey Center.

“Sandy Williams was an activist in this community,” said Klein. “When we reached out to her, she was the foremost leader, the pulse of, the Black community. She was uniting everybody in the Black community with this concept in mind and then, tragically, she passed away [in] a plane accident. … We carried this on for Sandy. We carried it on for Carl. A portion of the merchandise that we sell will go to the Sandy Williams Fund for the Carl Maxey Center. That makes it double rewarding.”

The Indians worked with San Diego-based studio Brandiose to create the King Carl logo, which is laden with symbolism. The colors on the points of the crown allude to the colors of Black history month; a tassel hanging from the crown denotes Maxey’s academic achievements; the laces of the glove resemble Maxey’s C.M. initials; the thumb of the glove includes the Indians feather logo and the top of the glove is stitched like a baseball.

In short: A fittingly deep representation of a deep subject, one whose legacy the Indians are now dedicated to promoting. Klein said that, as the months progress, the team and Black community leaders will brainstorm ways to celebrate Maxey at the ballpark and beyond.

“We call it the virtuous circle,” said Klein. “You put out an alternate identity like this. People like it and it creates noise. Buy merchandise and a portion of the merchandise goes to the [Carl Maxey Center] fund. And then the fund can give back to the community, and that’s what creates news. And then when you get the news, people are inspired to get the [merchandise] again.

“So, we want to make sure this virtuous circle keeps rolling.”


OK, that’s all I’ve got for you this time around. As always, get in touch at [email protected]. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.