Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1964-1967 Joliet Explorers / Joliet Chargers

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Joliet Explorers ProgramUnited Football League (1964)
Professional Football League of America (1965-1966)

Born: 1964 – UFL expansion team.
Died: Postseason 1967 – The Joliet Chargers cease operations.

Stadium: Joliet Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

  • 1964: John Cantieri
  • 1964-1967: Joliet Explorers Inc. (numerous local investors)

 

The Joliet Explorers were a low-level minor league football team formed in 1964 as an expansion club in the United Football League.  The UFL had teams in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and the province of Quebec.  The Explorers were the league tomato can that fall, posting a record of 0-14.  Their opponents outscored them 591-144.

John Amos played briefly for the Explorers during that futile 1964 campaign.  At the time, Amos was a vagabond minor league running back.  In the 1970’s he got into acting, and would play James Evans, Sr., the father on Good Times from 1974 to 1976.  He’s been in dozens of other major film and TV roles, including playing meteorologist Gordy Howard on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Major Grant, the traitorous henchman who battles Bruce Willis on the wing of a passenger jet in Die Hard 2.

At the end of the 1964 season, the United Football League split apart.  The more ambitious teams partnered with defectors from the Atlantic Coast Football League to form the Continental Football League in February 1965.  Joliet fell in with a second faction that was content to remain a low-budget, regional league.  This group formed the Professional Football League of America in early 1965, which consisted of six teams from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska.

Punching bags in the UFL, the Explorers turned around their fortunes in the PFLA.  After posting an 8-1-1 regular season record in 1965, the Explorers swept the Grand Rapids Blazers in a two-game championship series.  The Explorers were competitive again in 1966 at 6-4-1, but finished just outside the playoffs.

In May 1967, Joliet struck an affiliation with the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League.  As part of the deal, the team changed its name to the Joliet Chargers for the 1967 season.  The Joliet Chargers went 10-2 in 1967 and then defeated the Alabama Hawks 31-20 in the PFLA Championship Game to claim their second title in three years.

The Chargers folded following the 1967 season.

 

==Links==

United Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 21st, 2014 at 10:59 pm

1976 Chicago Ravens

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Chicago Ravens ProgramInternational Women’s Professional Softball Association (1976)

Born: January 1976 – IWPSA founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1976 – The Ravens cease operations.

Stadium: Windy City Softball Complex (4,000)

Team Colors:

Owner: Fred Huebner

 

This cool-looking (if somewhat weathered) fast-pitch softball program comes from deep inside our One-Year Wonders file …

The Chicago Ravens were founding members in the International Women’s Professional Softball Association (WPS, for short) in the bicentennial summer of 1976.  WPS was yet another concoction of Dennis Murphy, the prolific promoter who helped launch countless pro leagues from the 1960’s through the 1990’s, including the American Basketball AssociationWorld Hockey Association and World Team Tennis.  The Ravens played at the Windy City Softball Complex, a facility with temporary seating for 4,000 fans in suburban Bridgeview, Illinois.

The Ravens’ top player was 28-year old Donna Lopiano, a former star with the Raybestos Brakettes, a legendary amateur team in her native state of Connecticut.  Lopiano played for the Brakettes from 1963 until 1972 before retiring to pursue a career in collegiate sports administration at the dawn of the Title IX era.  The Brakettes entered WPS in 1976 also, becoming the Connecticut Falcons franchise.  Lopiano reportedly agreed to play for Chicago rather than re-join her former teammates in the interests of creating more parity for the league.  She appeared only in weekend games for the Ravens, while holding down her job as Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Texas during the week.

The Ravens finished their only season with a 57-63 record and then lost to the eventual champion Connecticut Falcons in the first round of the playoffs.  Following the 1976 season, six of the ten original WPS franchises went out of business, including the Ravens.  The shrunked league managed to hang on for three more summers before folding in the spring of 1980.

Donna Lopiano went on to become one of the most influential voices in women’s sports, most notably as CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation from 1992 to 2007.

 

==Links==

IWPSA Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 21st, 2014 at 3:30 am

1967-1968 Chicago Mustangs

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Chicago Mustangs Media GuideUnited Soccer Association (1967)
North American Soccer League (1968)

Born: 1967 – USA founding franchise.
Died: 1968 – The Mustangs cease operations

Stadium: Comiskey Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Arthur Allyn Jr.

 

The Chicago Mustangs soccer club was a charter member of the United Soccer Association, a mid-1960’s effort to launch a first division professional league here in the States.  There were 12 member franchises representing 10 U.S. cities, plus Toronto and Vancouver.  Most of the clubs were backed by heavy-hitter investors from Major League Baseball, the NFL and the National Hockey League.  The owner of the Mustangs was Chicago White Sox boss Arthur Allyn Jr. and the soccer club played in Allyn’s South Side baseball stadium, Comiskey Park.

The founders of the United Soccer Association intended to begin play in 1968, but they felt compelled to bump their plans up a year when a rival circuit, the National Professional Soccer League, signed a TV contract with CBS and decided to start play in 1967.  With the accelerated timetable, the USA decided to import entire foreign clubs from Europe and South America to represent the league’s 12 cities in 1967.  The Chicago Mustangs were actually Cagliari Calcio, from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.  Cagliari was enjoying a run of success in the Italian Serie A at the time – they would win their only Scudetto in 1970.  However, the Italians did not bring all of their stars to Chicago.  Gigi Riva, the greatest player in club history and the all-time leading scorer for the Italian National Team, stayed home.

The Mustangs/Cagliari struggled through their only season in the United Soccer Association.  The club finished out of the postseason hunt with a 3-7-2 record.  Attendance was dismal too, with an announced match average of just 4,207 at Comiskey.  A bright spot was 23-year old striker Roberto Boninsegna, who led the circuit in scoring with 10 goals in 9 appearances.  Boninsegna would go on to score Italy’s only goal in the 1970 World Cup final against Brazil.

After the 1967 season concluded in financial ruin for both the USA and the NPSL, the former rivals merged to form the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1968.  That meant the contraction of one franchise in Chicago, as both leagues fielded a Windy City franchise in 1967.  The NPSL’s Chicago Spurs, based out of Soldier Field, moved to Kansas City, so the Mustangs continued on for a second season in 1968.   Cagliari and the other foreign ringer clubs would not return.  In 1968, all of the NASL clubs built their own rosters.

The all-new, multi-ethnic Mustangs were much improved in 1968.  Polish émigré Janusz Michalik led the NASL with 30 goals and 9 assists and won league MVP honors.  The club improved to 13-10-9, but this wasn’t quite good enough for playoff spot.  Attendance continued to be terrible though, dipping to under 2,500 fans per game at 45,000-seat Comiskey Park.

The NASL nearly folded after the 1968 season.  Membership shrunk for 17 clubs in 1968 to just 5 survivors for 1969.  The Mustangs were one of the casualties, withdrawing from the league in late 1968.  A semi-pro version of the Mustangs reportedly continued to play into the 1970’s.

Don’t miss Vadim Furmanov’s “A Sardinian Summer: the Forgotten Story of the Chicago Mustangs” over at Café Futbol.

 

==Chicago Mustangs Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1967 6/4/1967 @ Washington Whips T 1-1 Program
1968 5/8/1968  @ Los Angeles Wolves T 1-1 Program
1968 7/14/1968 @ New York Generals L 4-3 Program

 

==Key Players==

  • Roberto Boninsegna
  • Janusz Kowalik

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Mustangs owner Arthur Allyn Jr. passed away on March 22, 1985 at age 71.

 

==Links==

A Sardinian Summer: the Forgotten Story of the Chicago Mustangs“, Vadim Furmanov, Café Futbol, August 7, 2013.

From Amateur to MVP: Janusz Kowalik and the Chicago Mustangs“, Grant Czubinski, A Moment of Brilliance, February 11, 2014

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 20th, 2014 at 9:01 pm

1982-1994 Beloit Brewers

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Beloit Brewers Midwest League (1982-1994)

Born: 1982
Died:
1995 – Re-branded as the Beloit Snappers.

Stadium: Harry C. Pohlman Field (3,100)

Team Colors:

Owner: Beloit Professional Baseball Association

 

The Beloit (WI) Brewers were the Class A Midwest League farm club of the Milwaukee Brewers from 1982 through 1994.  The franchise still operates today in Beloit, but has been known as the Beloit Snappers since a 1995 re-branding.

Since its founding in 1982, the Beloit ball club has been operated as a community-owned non-profit organization, known as the Beloit Professional Baseball Association.

Key ballplayers to come up through Beloit during the Brewers years included future Major League All-Stars B.J. Surhoff (Beloit ’85) and Greg Vaughn (Beloit ’87), 1992 American League Rookie-of-the-Year Pat Listach (’88).

 

==Links==

Midwest League Media Guides

Midwest League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 20th, 2014 at 7:17 pm

1963-1994 Spartanburg Phillies, Traders, Spinners & Suns

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Spartanburg PhilliesWestern Carolinas League (1963-1979)
South Atlantic League (1980-1994)

Born: 1963 – Western Carolinas League expansion franchise.
Died:
1995 – The Phillies relocate to Kannapolis, NC.

Stadium: Duncan Park

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

For more than three decades, Spartanburg, South Carolina was one of the first destinatons for young prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.  The city’s glory days as a Phillies farm club came in the mid-1960’s.  The Spartanburg Phillies won back-to-back Western Carolinas League titles in 1966 and 1967.  The 1966 Spartanburg club, featuring a middle infield combo of Larry Bowa and Denny Doyle, had a 91-35 record and was ranked #78 in the Top 100 minor league teams of all-time as chosen by the National Association in 2001.

Off the field, the Spartanburg teams of the mid-60’s were packaged and sold by Pat Williams, a young protégé of maverick promoter Bill Veeck and also of the Carpenter family that owned the Philadelphia Phillies.  Williams ran constant promotions and local fans responded.  In 1966, Spartanburg re-wrote the single season Class A attendance record.  Williams – a young man in his mid-20’s during his time in Spartanburg – would go on to become one of the mostly highly respected chief executives in the NBA, as General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

Spartanburg PhilliesThe Phils enjoyed another run of league dominance in the early 1970’s, winning Western Carolinas League crowns in 1972, 1973 and 1975.  But by the 1970’s, both Williams and the crowds were long gone.  Attendance at Duncan Park during the 1970’s was frequently under 500 fans per night, reflecting the broader existential crisis in minor league baseball around the country during that era.

As the 1980’s dawned, the Western Carolinas League re-branded itself as the South Atlantic League.  Spartanburg continued its long-time relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies, but starting in 1981 the team adopted a series of new names.  The ball club was known first as the Spartanburg Traders (1981-1982), then the Spartanburg Spinners (1983) and finally the Spartanburg Suns (1984-1985).  Meanwhile, in 1984, the Most Valuable Players of both the American League (Willie Hernandez) and the National League (Ryne Sandberg) were former members of the Spartanburg Phillies.

In 1986 the team took back the traditional Spartanburg Phillies name.  Two seasons later, the Spartanburg Phillies won the 1988 South Atlantic League crown, which would prove to be the city’s final minor league championship.

By the early 1990’s, Duncan Park was badly outdated and no longer met the minimum Class A standards set by the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. Spartanburg’s attendance consistenly ranked last in the South Atlantic League by this point.   While numerous small mid-Atlantic cities were willing to help finance new ballparks to lure minor league baseball, Spartanburg didn’t show the political will to upgrade Duncan Park.  Late era owner Brad Shover entertained numerous offers for the team in the 1990’s before finally closing a deal with NASCAR team owner Larry Hedrick in late 1993.  Hedrick operated the Phillies for one lame duck season in Spartanburg in 1994 before moving the team to a new ballpark in Kannapolis, North Carolina in 199

At the time of the move in 1995, the Philadelphia Phillies and the city of Spartanburg had the 5th longest relationship between a Major League ballclub and a minor league community.  The former Spartanburg franchise plays on today as the Kannapolis Intimidators.

 

==Links==

Western Carolina League Programs

South Atlantic League Media Guides

South Atlantic League Programs

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