ALL OVER THE MAP

Remembering ‘The Walla Walla’ wall at the Kingdome

Mar 31, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: 12:03 pm

walla walla...

Former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice with his wife, Constance Williams in front of "The Walla Walla" (Photo from the City of Seattle archives)

(Photo from the City of Seattle archives)

The Seattle Mariners’ annual campaign is underway as of Thursday’s opening night win over the Guardians at T-Mobile Park. Based on 2022’s incredible drought-ending playoff run, hopes are high all over Mudville for an exciting October 2023.

But let’s go way back to 1982. That was when they doubled the height of the right field wall at the old Kingdome, and held a contest to come up with a name for it.

As the story goes, the right field at Kingdome was a bit of hitter’s paradise – because of the ceiling with its dangling wires and hanging speakers, it felt like indoor “arena baseball,” and it was giving up too many homers. Seattle’s early-years pitching was not to blame, apparently. So, for the Mariners’ sixth season in 1982, the height of the right field wall was doubled to 23 feet.

The new and improved wall didn’t loom as large as the 37-foot Green Monster – the famous left field wall in Boston’s Fenway Park dating to the late 1940s –but Seattle’s version was big enough and new enough to warrant a name, and a naming contest, of its own.

That’s where Jack Taylor comes in.

He’s in his 60s now and lives in Snohomish County, and he’s a lifelong Mariners fan, not a fanatic, but a guy who has been to many games over the nearly 50-year history of the team. It was 41 years ago when Taylor heard on the radio at his workplace about the contest to name the new wall. He and his co-workers spent most of the day trying to think of good ones that meant something to Seattle and the Northwest.

“Somebody came up with ‘The Bulkhead,’ which I thought was pretty good,” Taylor told KIRO Newsradio on Thursday. “And we came up with other names throughout the day. I remember going through a door, and the minute my hand touched the door, I just knew what the answer was. The wall was twice as tall, and it needs to be called ‘The Walla Walla.’”

It’s a pretty brilliant suggestion that plays off a wall being doubled and using a Pacific Northwest place name (which is based on the anglicization of a Nez Perce term believed to mean “many waters”).

Taylor sent in his suggestion on a homemade postcard and included a sketch of the wall, which he drew himself. A few weeks later, the phone rang one evening at home. The news was good.

“The Walla Walla” had been chosen, and Taylor had won the contest.

Best of all, it wasn’t like multiple people had suggested that name, which often happens with sports naming contests, including for the team names of the Mariners and the Sonics. When the dust settled over in right field, only Taylor had thought of “The Walla Walla.” Genius is a lonely place sometimes.

For his labors, Taylor and his wife were flown to Anaheim to see the Mariners play the Angels in a three-game series and were given tickets to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and motel accommodations.

More than four decades later, Taylor still sounds pleased he won the contest and grateful for the prize package, which included miniature golf and food from Chicken Delight. And that’s a good thing since, as it turned out, winning the right field wall naming contest didn’t exactly translate into immortality.

“The name ‘Walla Walla’ never caught on like the ‘Green Monster’ or anything like that,” Taylor said. “But I did hear it from time to time. Dave Niehaus and the others would use the name from time to time, and that was always nice to hear.”

Circa 2023, a certain radio historian will admit to not having heard of “The Walla Walla” before or maybe forgetting about it so many decades later. Still, it was worth running down the facts through some basic shoe-leather journalism.

“The Walla Walla” does actually appear on several legit websites about baseball history and about the Kingdome, including the Wikipedia page for that beloved concrete icon.

For the team itself, the record is a little mixed.

Retired longtime Mariner executive and official team history guy Randy Adamack confirmed that “The Walla Walla” was indeed a thing in 1982 but said in an email that the name never really did catch on in a lasting way.

Early on Opening Day 2023, KIRO Newsradio also reached out to Voice of the Mariners Rick Rizzs.

In an email hours before the first pitch of the 2023 season, Rizzs wrote, “I do remember the name for the tall blue baggie which was our right field wall at the Kingdome. We did call it ‘The Walla Walla.’ I got there in 1983 and . . . I do remember Dave [Niehaus] and I referring to [it that way].”

As appropriate and brilliant as Jack Taylor’s “The Walla Walla” was back in 1982 – and as fun as it always is to say those soothingly repetitive syllables – maybe Rizzs’ “The Tall Blue Baggie” would’ve been a more memorable and durable choice.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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