Sometimes a new piece of knowledge brings with it a certain sadness—grief, even—that one will not experience the sheer joy of discovery again. Once you learn about it, you wonder if anything will ever delight you as much. The 1970 episode of a beached and rotting sperm whale in Florence and a government agency’s doomed attempt at its removal is one of these discoveries. But there is hope. You can experience the joy again simply by sharing it. Like a happy-happy-joy-joy version of the video in The Ring, the way to protect yourself from potential sadness is to sit a friend down in front of a screen and call up the November 12, 1970, news segment with KGW’s Paul Linnman. In 2016, Kevin Herbst, ticketing director for the summer-league Portland Pickles, showed this epic news clip to team president Alan Miller and suggested the team do something to celebrate this amazing event.
That fateful day in 1970, Linnman was at the beach in Florence, on Oregon’s central coast. With the seashore officially designated a state highway since 1913, the task of removing the whale fell to the State Highway Commission, which considered but dismissed burning, burying, or cutting up rotting whale. Instead, the road engineers opted to use dynamite to, as the plan went, instantly convert the eight-ton mass into a harmless pile of beak-size bites for the circling seagulls.
There was a countdown. And then a blast. And then … massive whale chunks raining down from the sky on the beach, the dunes, the parking lot, and the spectators. An innocent car was destroyed. And the seagulls, possibly scared away by the blast, did not swoop in to carry the smelly bits away.
Fifty-two years later, and six years after Miller first learned of the exploding whale incident, the Pickles hosted Exploding Whale Night at Walker Stadium in Southeast Portland’s Lents Park, sharing that joy of discovery again with the fans in the stands and anyone watching the live-stream on the team’s YouTube channel. In addition to Herbst, Miller credits team GM Ross Campbell, assistant GM Parker Huffman, and this year’s intern cohort for “creating a vision of what this whale should look like,” and then actually building the thing, right there in the bullpen with supplies from team sponsor Mr. Plywood.
“I asked them what it would be on a scale from 10, the greatest explosion you’ve ever seen, to a whimper of a zero, and no one knew what it would be,” says Miller.
Already a long time coming, the eager fans—a chant of “Blow it up!” broke out at several times throughout the evening—had to wait more than three hours, the night lengthened by the third-inning Woof Wednesday dog parade (team mascot Dillon T. Pickle walked his pet inflatable alligator) and the whale of a run count on the scoreboard in the non-league game against the Willamette Wild Bills.
As the home team’s lead stretched into the double digits, Miller says he made the decision “to put them out of their misery and move on to the whale” be shortening the game from nine innings to seven. In addition to a possible mercy rule, the Pickles coaching staff was interested in saving the pitchers’ arms for this weekend’s league games in Corvallis, and there was also looming bedtime for many fans. “We have a whale we want to blow up and a number of children in the audience who would like to see that carnage happen,” announcer Mike Chexx declared on the live-stream broadcast as the stadium waited for that final out.
After it finally came (score 32–3, a Pickles record), there was a “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sing-along for the seventh inning stretch (there was no need to play the bottom of the seventh, but some baseball traditions must be observed even if the game is over), and then it was time. AC/DC’s “TNT” cranked in the stadium, with fans replacing the “Oi!” lyric with “Whale!” as they sang along. Team staff and interns, overseen by the ever-smiling Dillon T. Pickle, brought the whale out to center field, along with several buckets, water jugs filled with fake whale innards, and an inexplicable table.
The came the "explosion," a release of pink smoke you might see at Providence Park if the Portland Thorns scored several goals at once, with streaming whale "guts" shooting into the sky and something oozy seeping out at ground level. "What the hell is that thing?" shouted someone near the stadium's ambient mic.
exploding whale night needs an exploding whale on the field pic.twitter.com/dlLXyRYLN8— Portland Pickles (@picklesbaseball) July 21, 2022
Paul Linnman himself was even invited, but the retired news anchor, now 75, was reportedly out of town.
Two days later, Miller is still riding the exploding whale high. "It was awesome," he says.
The craft whale isn't the only marine animal to grace the field this month—there will be live lobsters for July 28's Portland, Maine, theme night, though none will be blown up. But fans hoping for more explosions just need to wait till next year.
“This is not the last time something will blow up at Walker Stadium,” Miller says with certainty, though exact plans for a follow-up next season are under wraps. “But no dynamite—this isn’t 1970!”