Eastern League (1972-1979)
Died: 1979 – The Yankees relocate to Lynn, MA.
Stadium: Quigley Stadium
West Haven, Connecticut hosted the Double-A farm club of the New York Yankees for eight summers from 1972 through 1979. West Haven served as an training ground for future Major League skippers Bobby Cox (1972), Doc Edwards (1973-1974) and Stump Merrill (1978-1979).
The Yankees rich farm system treated local fans to a number of future stars as they passed through Quigley Stadium on their way to The Show during the 1970′s, including Doc Medich (1972), Scott McGregor (1973), Damaso Garcia (1977), Willie Upshaw (1977), Ron Davis (1978), Dave Rightetti (1979) and Willie McGee (1979). West Haven also featured not one but two future Cy Young Award winners during this stretch in Ron Guidry (1974) and LaMarr Hoyt (1975-1976).
The job of minor league farm teams is to develop talent for the parent club. Winning ballgames is a secondary consideration, but the West Haven teams of the 1970′s were the class of the Eastern League on the field. The Yankees won Eastern League titles in 1972, 1976, 1977 and 1979 during their eight-year stay.
Off the field was another matter. The 1970′s were something of a nadir for minor league baseball generally. During West Haven’s 1976 championship season, only 23,000 fans came out to watch the club’s 70-odd home games, belying the notion that everybody loves a winner. Attendance improved to 75,000 annually by 1979, but the club had continual trouble with dilapidated 4,000-seat Quigley Stadium. In fact, Quigley, built in 1947, wasn’t even the nicest ballpark in town. That honor belonged to Yale Field, which had no lights at the time and therefore was unsuitable for minor league ball.
Lloyd Kern, who owned the team with Robert Zeig from 1977-1979, recalls arguments with West Haven city employees in the midst of ballgames over when to turn on Quigley’s dim stadium lights in the twilight. At the end of the 1979 season, the Yankees pulled out and shifted their Double-A farm club to Nashville in the Southern League. Kern and Zeig quickly reached a new deal with the Seattle Mariners and announced plans to change the name of the team to the West Haven Sailors, in honor of their new nautical-minded patrons. Meanwhile, the first-time baseball owners were growing fed up with the nickle-and-dime attitude of West Haven city officials.
“West Haven would not upgrade the lighting system at the park on a timely basis or improve our clubhouse facilities,” Kern told Fun While It Lasted in 2011. “Lynn <Massachusetts> was willing to put in a new lighting system and do some upgrades at the ballpark. Unfortunately, there were no other alternatives at the time.”
The Mariners would never set sail in West Haven. Kern and Zeig pulled up stakes in the fall of 1979 and moved to Fraser Field in Lynn, Massachusetts to play as the Lynn Sailors in the summer of 1980. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s shifted their Double-A farm club in Waterbury, Connecticut across the state to West Haven for the 1980 season. Known as the West Haven Whitecaps and saddled with the wreckage of the A’s farm system during the death wheeze of the Charlie O. Finley regime, the club finished with the second worst record in all of minor league baseball in 1980. It was a long way to fall for Connecticut fans who were spoiled by Yankees prospects and championship runs for most of the previous decade. The A’s lasted three years in West Haven, leaving at the end of the 1982 season and minor league baseball never returned to Quigley Stadium.
Lloyd Kern sold the Lynn Sailors in 1981. The Eastern League franchise that once was the West Haven Yankees still exists today. After stops in Lynn, Vermont and Canton, Ohio, the club plays on today as the Akron Rubber Ducks, a Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
Quigley Stadium’s wooden grandstand was deemed unsafe and demolished in 1987. In the early 1990′s, Yale Field installed lights and Eastern League baseball returned to West Haven in the form of the New Haven Ravens, who lasted for a decade from 1994-2003. The Ravens were followed at Yale Field by a short-lived independent club, the New Haven County Cutters of the Northeast and later Can-Am League, who played four seasons from 2004 to 2007.