Carolina League Programs
The 1970’s were dark days throughout much of minor league baseball. Evidence of the industry’s decline can be found in this telling line from Burlington (NC) Times-News sports editor Bill Hunter‘s re-cap of the 1972 Carolina League All-Star Game played at his city’s Fairchild Park:
Attendance last night was 915, least in the history of the event, but not by much. Local officials were pleased with the turnout.
I suppose the lesson here is: aim low and you will never be disappointed.
The Carolina League only had six teams in 1972, down from eight a year earlier and on its way to just four by the middle of the decade. Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, was in Burlington for the All-Star game and local reporters quizzed him on the “dim future” of pro baseball. One topic was the so-called “Houston Proposal”, a plan put forward by Houston Astros owner Tal Smith to do away with the single-A tier of minor league baseball entirely and send all low level prospects to complexes in Arizona or Florida.
Burlington itself had a terrific team that summer. The Burlington Rangers won the Carolina League’s first half title, thanks in large part to a virtually un-hittable reliever named Steve Foucault who entered the All-Star Break 9-0 with 12 saves and a 0.24 ERA. The All-Star Game would be Foucault’s final appearance in Burlington. He had already received the call up to Triple-A Denver and would be in the Major Leagues with Texas by the following summer. But the locals really didn’t respond and the Rangers pulled only about 400 fans per game. Pro baseball would leave Burlington at the end of the 1972 season and wouldn’t return for 14 years.
The festivities kicked off with a luncheon at Huey’s Restaurant in Burlington. Bowie Kuhn delivered a speech, as did Negro League legend Buck Leonard, who was due to be inducted into the Hall of Fame the following month. Local baseball fans could enjoy lunch and the remarks from Kuhn and Leonard for $2.00 per person.
As for the game itself, it followed a conventional format of the era, which pitted the host team against an All-Star squad picked from the rest of the league. The All-Stars scored two runs in the top of the first against the Rangers and then failed to score again for the next 13 innings as the game dragged out into a 14-inning marathon involving 39 different players. The Rangers won it in the 14th on a RBI single by Pat Cluney, a career minor league playing his fifth and final season of pro ball.
The Carolina League was and is Single-A baseball, so even the league’s All-Star players face incredibly long odds of making it to the Majors. Most of the players in this game failed to make it, but an interesting exception was the contingent from the Salem (NC) Pirates, part of the especially robust Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. Of the five players that Salem sent to the game only one, Steve McFarland, failed to have a lengthy Major League career. Doug Bair pitched 15 seasons. Ed Ott played seven years for the Pittsburgh Pirates and won a World Series title in 1979. Dave Parker, who had three hits in this game, became a seven-time Major League All-Star, two-time World Series champion and won the National League MVP award with the Pirates in 1978. The fifth All-Star from Salem, Terry Collins, never made it to The Show as a player, but has spent nearly two decades as a Major League manager. He is currently the manager of the New York Mets, as of this writing.