The Calgary Cardinals were a short-lived farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals that played in the Rookie level Pioneer League in 1977 and 1978. The Cards entered the Pioneer League in June 1977 as one of two expansion clubs in the 6-team loop, alongside the Medicine Hat A’s. The ball club was founded by Russ Parker, a local baseball lover who made his money selling photocopiers.
Johnny Lewis, the Cards’ manager in 1977, was the first African-American field manager in the history of the Pioneer League dating back to 1939.
Following the 1978 season, the Montreal Expos replaced the Cardinals as Calgary’s parent club. The club was known as the Calgary Expos from 1979 until 1984. After the 1984 season, team owner Russ Parker purchased the Class AAA Salt Lake Gulls of the Pacific Coast League and brought the club north to Foothills Stadium, where it became the Calgary Cannons in 1985. The Expos and the Pioneer League left town to make way for the higher-level Cannons and moved to Salt Lake, meaning the two cities effectively swapped franchises.
The Sacramento Capitals were, for many years, the oldest and most successful franchise in Billie Jean King’s long-running World Team Tennis promotion. The Capitals played a league record 28 seasons and their six championships (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 & 2007) also remain a league-best.
The Capitals began life in the summer of 1986 at ARCO Arena, home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. During the 1970’s and 80’s, many Team Tennis franchises played in big NHL and NBA arenas, but as the league’s business model scaled down and stabilized in the 1990’s, most clubs shifted to country clubs and resort hotels with bleacher-style seating for a few thousand spectators. The Caps followed this model too, leaving ARCO after one season for the Gold River Racquet Club in 1987. After 15 summers at Gold River, the Caps spent most of the 2000’s playing at shopping center parking lots where they would erect and dismantle temporary stadia every July.
World Team Tennis is a co-ed sport and the doubles game factors prominently in the scoring system. Most WTT players are relatively unknown tour professionals, often doubles specialists. The league’s marketing plan is reliant on the signing of several “marquee players” each summer who serve as tent pole attractions to fill seats around the league. Andre Agassi was one such player for the Caps, playing three summers for Sacramento from 2002 to 2004. Anna Kournikova appeared for Sacramento during their final championship season in 2007. Michael Chang played for the Caps in 2009 and 2010. In other years, the Capitals featured no household names, but Northern California tennis fans could look forward to seeing superstars such as Pete Sampras and Venus Williams who came through town with opposing teams.
As stable as the Capitals seemed during their near-three decade residency, the franchise went through numerous ownership changes in its final years as the team’s various financial backers went through legal and financial troubles. Long-time owner Lonnie Nielson lost control of the team in 2010 after being charged in an embezzling scheme in his real estate business. He would be sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. Nielson’s partner Bob Cook took over the Caps on his own in 2011, but declared bankruptcy at the end of the year after his Le Rivage Hotel development in Sacramento went sour. The worst, however, was yet to come.
After Cook went bust, a former owner of the team, Ramey Osborne, stepped back into the picture and rescued the team with the help of a man named Deepal Wannakuwatte. Wannakuwatte presented himself as a successful entrepreneur who built a $100 million medical supply business in Sacramento. In fact, Wannakuwatte’s surgical glove company was practically worthless and his real source of wealth was a decade-long $150 million Ponzi scheme. No one was any wiser during the Capitals’ final two seasons under Wannakuwatte’s ownership in 2012 and 2013.
In early February 2014, Wannakuwatte announced that the franchise would move to Las Vegas and become the Las Vegas Neon after 28 years in Sacramento. Less than two weeks after he held his introductory press conference in Sin City, the feds closed in and arrested him. World TeamTennis revoked and disbanded the Las Vegas Neon franchise on March 5th, 2014, one month and one day after the club was introduced. Wannakuwatte plead guilty to fraud charges in May 2014 and is awaiting sentencing, which is expected to be upwards of 20 years in prison.
Sacramento Capitals promotional video for sponsorship sales. Circa 2011 or 2012.
This simple 6-page black-and-white match program arrived in the post from England today. This April 1984 international friendly saw the Tampa Bay Rowdies take on Leeds United during a brief pre-season tune up tour of England. It was one of the final overseason exhibition games played by a North American Soccer League club before the NASL (1968-1984) went out of business in early 1985.
Leeds was a 2nd Division English club at the time, but they dispatched coach Rodney Marsh’s young Rowdies squad with ease, 4-1. Rowdies rookie striker Roy Wegerle scored the lone goal for the visitors. Wegerle also turned out to be a bright spot in a grim last place campaign for the Rowdies in 1984. He scored 9 goals and won the final NASL Rookie-of-the-Year award.
Leeds star Peter Barnes, who earned 22 caps for England between 1977 and 1982, is pictured on the cover of the match day program. Barnes would leave England in the late 1980’s to wander the four corners of the world in search of football employment. One of his stops was Tampa Bay, where played in a dozen or so games for the Rowdies in the summer of 1990. By that point, the Rowdies were nearing the end, playing in the lower budget American Soccer League, which was a far cry from what the NASL had been during the Rowdies heyday.
The Minnesota Moose were a high-caliber minor league hockey team that played two seasons in the Twin Cities shortly after the departure of the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars for Dallas in 1993. The Moose played out of the Saint Paul Civic Center, but also played 14 dates at the Target Center in Minneapolis during their second and final season.
The Moose’ debut game in St. Paul on October 7, 1994 – a 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals – attracted 11,652 fans. Attendance dropped off quickly and the Moose finished the year ranked 12th in the 17-team International Hockey League with average crowds of 6,787 – a somewhat disconcerting result for an expansion team in what should have been its honeymoon phase. On the plus side, the team’s fun, eye-catching logo was a big hit. The Hockey News named the Minnesota Moose logo as the best in all of minor league hockey in February 1995 and the team would later claim an eye-popping $1.3 million in souvenir sales during their inaugural season.
On the ice, the Moose squeaked into the 1995 Turner Cup playoffs with 34-35-12 record. They were swiftly dispatched by the eventual champion Denver Grizzlies in a three-game sweep in the first round. Center Stephane Morin led the IHL in scoring with 38 goals and 71 assists. The team’s big name was Minnesota native Dave Christian, a 14-year NHL veteran and member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey “Miracle On Ice” squad. Christian finished second on the team in scoring with a 38-42-80 line.
In 1995 the City of St. Paul launched a courtship to persuade the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets to relocate to Minnesota. The prospect of the NHL returning to the Twin Cities further eroded interest in the Moose. Ultimately the Jets moved to Arizona instead, but the experience seemed to sap the enthusiasm of Moose ownership. A few days after the Jets’ move to Phoenix was revealed in December 1995, the Moose announced a sale and relocation of their own – to Winnipeg, of all places, to replace the Jets at Winnipeg Arena.
The Moose played out their second and final season in Minnesota as lame ducks. They missed the playoffs with a 30-45-7 record.
The franchise flourished in Winnipeg, lasting 15 seasons at the Manitoba Moose. The team was displaced by the NHL (and the Jets!) once again in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to become a revival of the Winnipeg Jets. The hockey franchise that started out as the Minnesota Moose in 1995 to Newfoundland and plays on today as the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League.
Whatever combination of business acumen or good fortune that led Buss and Robbie to collect NBA world championship and Super Bowl trophies, it never carried over to either man’s investments in pro soccer. Buss’ Lazers routinely had the worst attendance in the MISL, but the real estate investor seemed content to fund the Lazers (and other minor arena sports at the Forum) as a sort of sports management academy for his children. Robbie’s Strikers enjoyed some popularity as an outdoor soccer team in Fort Lauderdale in the late 1970’s, but the luster wore off when he moved the team to Minnesota and switched to the indoor game in 1984. Robbie was bleeding millions in Minneapolis and was less able to stick things out in the MISL than Buss – Robbie’s resources were stretched by the need to privately finance the construction of Joe Robbie Stadium for the Dolphins in Miami.
In the first weeks of 1987, the Lazers were en route to their third last place finish in five years of existence. Strangely, the team had never changed coaches, sticking with original hire Peter Wall even after a lifeless 13-35 campaign in 1985-86. This match against Minnesota would turn out to be the night that finally cost Wall his job. The Lazers had lost 13 of 16, including a humiliating shutout (the first in club history) the night before in Dallas.
Minnesota’s English sniper Alan Willey notched a hat trick in the first half as the Strikers leapt out to an early lead. Chris Dangerfield, Hector Marinaro and Mike Jeffries piled on the second half and Minnesota won the game 6-4. The Lazers dropped to 6-14 on the season and the Buss family finally relieved Wall a few days later.
Wall’s replacement, a recently retired player named Keith Tozer, would go on to become the all-time winningest coach in indoor soccer history. But that winning wouldn’t benefit the Lazers much – the team never won another playoff game before folding in June of 1989. The Strikers, meanwhile, went on to play in the MISL championship series in the spring of 1987 (their only good indoor season turned out to be a great one), but nearly folded anyway because of financial problems. They ended up hanging on for one more season thanks to a “Save Our Strikers” season ticket campaign, but folded for good in June of 1988.