At the end of the 1979 season, the New York Yankees moved their double-A minor league affiliate from West Haven, Connecticut to Nashville of the Southern League. The West Haven Yankees had made their home in Quigley Stadium for eight summers beginning in 1972. The 1979 club was a particularly strong one, winning the Eastern League title with the help of future Major Leaguers like Dave Righetti, Willie McGee, Joe Lefebvre and Tim Lollar.
West Haven lost the Yankees, but it didn’t lose baseball. New owner David R. Goldstein secured rights to West Haven and signed an affiliation with the Oakland Athletics, who agreed to transfer their Eastern League affiliation from Waterbury, Connecticut. It must have seemed a dubious trade for Western Connecticut baseball fans, living a short commute from Manhattan. Their beloved league champion Yankees were gone, replaced by an Oakland farm system mired in the decrepitude of the dying days of the Charlie O. Finley regime. The Waterbury A’s finished the 1979 Eastern League season in dead last place, thirty-four-and-a-half games back of the West Haven Yankees.
Goldstein’s club adopted the nickname “West Haven Whitecaps” for the 1980 season. Although it would later become a best practice in the minor league industry for Major League affiliates to develop their own local branding in this fashion, it was unusual at the time. The Whitecaps wore the A’s green-and-gold uniforms with their own logo embroidered awkwardly on the right breast (see photo at right).
Ed Nottle managed the 1980 Whitecaps, as he had the 1979 Waterbury A’s. The name change didn’t help. The Whitecaps finished 47-92, by far the worst record in the league and nearly twenty games behind the next club. In fact, it was the second worst record in all of minor league baseball in the summer of 1980, surpassed only by Rocky Mount (NC) Pines (24-114) of the single-A Carolina League.
The team returned for the 1981 season and dropped the Whitecaps name, in favor of the more conventional “West Haven A’s”. Nottle departed to manage Oakland’s triple-A farm team in Tacoma, Washington. 32-year old Bob Didier took over the reigns of a much stronger club and engineered a turnaround on the field. The 1981 A’s finished in third place in their division with a 71-67 record.
The 1982 A’s were stronger yet, finishing with the league’s best record at 86-54 under Didier. The A’s swept the Lynn (MA) Sailors in the championship series. After the championship series finale, West Haven owner David Goldstein vented to the press about his club’s lack of community support: “The Mayor (Lawrence Minichino) wasn’t even here. Neither was anyone from his office. I think that says something about the kind of support we’re receiving from this city.” Goldstein said the A’s would only return to West Haven “if worse came to worse” and that he was exploring a move or sale of the team to Albany, Burlington (VT), Pittsfield (MA) or Portland (ME).
On October 7th, 1982 a group of investors led by Ben Bernard, the former General Manager of the Eastern League’s Glens Falls White Sox, purchased the A’s from Goldstein for a reported price of $100,000. Bernard’s group transferred the club and the Oakland A’s affiliation to Heritage Park in Colonie, New York, a suburb of Albany.
The franchise has relocated and switched Major League affiliations several times since, always retaining its membership in the double-A Eastern League:
- Albany A’s (1983)
- Albany-Colonie A’s (1984)
- Albany-Colonie Yankees (1985-1994)
- Norwich (CT) Navigators (1995-2005)
- Connecticut Defenders (2006-2009)
- Richmond (VA) Flying Squirells (2010-Present)