Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1973 Wilson Pennants

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Wilson PennantsCarolina League (1973)

Born: 1973
Died:
Postseason 1973

Stadium: Fleming Stadium

Owner: Marshall Fox

 

The small city of Wilson, North Carolina fielded numerous minor league baseball teams between 1908 and 1973.  Wilson’s local nine were typically known as the “Tobs” (short for “Tobacconists”) through various iterations and leagues, but when long-time minor league operator Marshall Fox arrived in town in early 1973, he chose the rather generic “Wilson Pennants” for his new Carolina League entry.  Fox would stay only one season and the summer of 1973 would prove to be the last one for pro baseball in Wilson.

The Pennants were a co-op club, meaning they had no formal affiliation with a Major League franchise.  Co-op arrangements are largely unheard of today (they’ve been supplanted by fully “independent” baseball leagues), but they were relatively common in the 1970’s.  Forced to scramble for the spare parts and left overs of other teams, co-op clubs typically sucked. And the Pennants were no exception, cycling through three field managers (including a one-game stint by team owner Marshall Fox) and finishing dead last in the six-team Carolina League at 52-88.

There were a few highlights.  A 22-year old named Steve Hardin hurled a perfect game for the Pennants against the Winston-Salem Red Sox on April 18th, 1973. Hardin struck out 12 and only allowed one ball out of the infield. Hardin finished the 1973 season with a 4-10 record and never played another inning of pro baseball.

The Pennant who enjoyed the greatest success was pitcher Tom Johnson, who went on to appear in 129 games for the Minnesota Twins between 1974 and 1978. In 1977, Johnson won a remarkable 16 games out of the bullpen for Minnesota.

The Pennants quietly folded up shop after the 1973 season and pro ball never returned to Wilson.  The collegiate Wilson Tobs of the amateur Coastal Plains League continue to play out of Fleming Stadium to this day.

 

==Downloads==

1973 Wilson Pennants vs. Salem Pirates Roster Sheet

 

==Links==

Carolina League Media Guides

Carolina League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

April 28th, 2015 at 1:17 am

1978-1997 Memphis Chicks

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Memphis Chicks YearbookSouthern League (1978-1997)

Born: 1977
Died: 1997 – The Chicks relocate to Jackson, TN.

Stadium: Tim McCarver Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The re-hatched Memphis Chicks (1978-1997) were a popular Class AA minor league baseball entry in southwestern Tennessee for two decades.  The city’s previous ball club, Memphis Blues, left town amidst financial problems in late 1976, leaving Memphis as the largest American city without pro baseball in 1977.

Memphis real estate developer Avron Fogelman remedied that the following year with his acquisition of a franchise in the Class AA Southern League.  Fogelman was a serial sports investor who also held a piece of the Memphis Tams of the American Basketball Association and owned the Memphis Rogues of the North American Soccer League.  In 1983, he would become co-owner of the Kansas City Royals and the following summer would see the Royals become the new Major League parent club of the Chicks.

Fogelman was also a passionate collector and sports historian.  Upon launching the team in late 1977, he presided over a name change for the city’s baseball stadium from Blues Stadium to Tim McCarver Stadium.  The tribute was unusual in that Memphis native McCarver was not only still alive but, at just 35 years old, was still playing Major League Baseball.  Born one year apart, Fogelman and McCarver were reportedly Little League teammates in Memphis decades earlier.

The team also adopted the name of Memphis old Southern Association ball club, the Memphis Chicks (1912-1960).  McCarver had actually played for the Chicks during their final season in 1960.  The original “Chicks” were short for “Chickasaws”, a Native American tribe native to the region.  But the new Chicks of 1978 did not seem to claim the expanded Native American identity.

In their early years, the Chicks were a farm club of the Montreal Expos from 1978 to 1983.  The Expos had exceptional minor league talent and future All-Stars such as Tim Raines and Tim Wallach came through town in the late 1970’s.  These were also the peak years of Chicks attendance, with over 300,000 fans coming through the turnstiles each summer.  The club’s 1980 mark of 322,000 fans was the most for a Memphis team since 1948.

Memphis Chicks ProgramThe Chicks’ moment in the national spotlight arrived in 1986 when Fogelman signed Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winning running back to a baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals.  Jackson started his baseball career with the Chicks and landed the team on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July 1986.  Jackson hit .277 with 7 homers and 25 RBIs for the Chicks in 1986 and was in Kansas City by the end of the summer.

Fogelman sold the team in 1988 and the team changed hands several times in rapid succession over the next few seasons.  The Chicks won their only Southern League championship in 1990.  David Hersh, the team’s final owner, purchased the club in 1992.  Hersh made an aggressive push for a new ballpark to replace Tim McCarver Stadium, but failed to win over city leaders.  Blocked in Memphis, he moved the franchise to Jackson, Tennesee in 1998 where it became the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.

The Chicks were immediately replaced with a Class AAA expansion team in the Pacific Coast League, the Memphis Redbirds, who began play in 1998.  Redbirds owner Dean Jernigan, who operated the club under an unusual not-for-profit model, was able to get the new ballpark built that Hersh could not.  $80.5 million AutoZone Park opened in 2000.

 

==Memphis Chicks Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other

1991

1991 8/31/1991 vs. Huntsville Stars ?? Program Scorecard

 

==Slideshow==

 

==Key Players==

  • Bo Jackson
  • Tim Raines

 

==Links==

Southern League Media Guides

Southern League Programs

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1964 Wytheville A’s

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Wytheville Athletics ProgramAppalachian League (1964)

Born: 1964 – Affiliation change from Wytheville Twins.
Died:
1965 – Affiliation change to Wytheville Senators.

Stadium: Withers Field

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The small Western Virginia town of Wytheville (Pop. 8,211 circa 2010) played hosted to professional baseball off and on from 1948 until 1989.  Major League parent clubs typically didn’t stay long – in 25 summers with baseball, the Wytheville club changed names 11 times.   The Kansas City Athletics one-summer partnership with Wytheville  in 1964 was typical of these short commitments.

As Kansas City’s Rookie League farm team in the Appalachian League, Wytheville hosted the A’s youngest prospects, most of whom were spending their first summer away from home playing pro ball.  The oldest players on the ball club were 22 years old and the Wytheville A’s even fielded a couple of 17-year olds.  One of the 17-year olds was Joe Rudi, who played 8 games for Wytheville in 1964 and would have the best Major League career of any one on the team.  Rudi later won three World Series and appeared in three All-Star Games for the Oakland A’s in the early 1970’s.

Following the 1964 season, Kansas City pulled out and the Washington Senators came in.  The team became the Wytheville Senators prior to the 1965 season.

Eric & Wendy Pastore have photos of what’s left of Withers Field in Wytheville on their excellent Digital Ballparks website.  The grandstand remains, but the diamond was converted into a public park in 1993.

 

==Links==

Withers Field on DigitalBallparks.com

Appalachian League Media Guides

Appalachian League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

March 16th, 2015 at 8:15 pm

1961 San Juan Marlins / Charleston Marlins

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Charleston MarlinsInternational League (1961)

Born: November 28, 1960 – The Miami Marlins relocate to San Juan, PR.
Died: October 8, 1961 – The Charleston Marlins relocate to Atlanta, GA.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owner: Bill MacDonald

 

So how, exactly, did the capital of West Virginia end up with a minor league baseball team named for a tropical saltwater sport fish for a few short months in the summer of 1961?

At the dawn of the 1960’s, a colorful, corpulent South Florida multi-millionaire named Bill MacDonald bought the forlorn Miami Marlins of the Class AAA International League.  The Marlins were the top farm club of the Baltimore Orioles at the time.  MacDonald was a sportsman – he owned a stud farm, a share of the Tropical Park race track and he would later promote the first Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight in Miami.  The Marlins were rather unloved in Miami.  A particular sore point for MacDonald was the team’s lack of a profitable local radio deal.

After one summer at the helm in Miami, Bill MacDonald announce a scheme to move the Marlins to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where a lucrative radio contract beckoned.  The International League approved the shift in late November 1960.  It was a decision that MacDonald’s fellow I.L. owners would soon come to regret.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles transferred their Class AAA farm club to Rochester, New York and the Marlins became an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals stocked San Juan with several top prospects, including 19-year old catcher Tim McCarver, slick fielding shortstop Dal Maxvill and pitching ace Ray Washburn (16-9, 2.34).  All three would go on to spend most of the next decade in St. Louis.

The San Juan Marlins opened on April 17, 1961 against the Toronto Maple Leafs before 6,627 fans at Sixto Escobar Stadium.  Mark Tomasik at the St. Louis Cardinals blog Retrosimba notes that it was also opening night of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  Not the most auspicious start to the I.L.’s latest Caribbean adventure.

Rival I.L. clubs immediately began complaining about high travel costs to San Juan.  Barely two weeks into the season, the league reversed course and demanded that Bill MacDonald return his team to the mainland.  The promoter balked at first, though Marlins attendance in San Juan plummeted following the promising opening night gate.  After 15 home dates, Marlins attendance in San Juan totaled only 25,759 fans.  MacDonald finally capitulated on May 17, 1961 after just one month in Puerto Rico.  But rather than try to make peace with Miami, MacDonald took his ball club all the way to Charleston, West Virginia.

Charleston’s long-running Class AAA team, the Charleston Senators, went under five months earlier.  The city was eager to get pro baseball back and offered MacDonald a $1.00 lease on Watt Powell Park.  The Charleston Marlins debuted in West Virginia on May 18, 1961, beating the Jersey City Jerseys (yes, their real name) in front of 3,608 locals.

The Marlins were strong ball club under field manager Joe Schultz, finishing 88-66.  But Charleston was still one of the smallest AAA cities in the country.  MacDonald wasted little time leaving town following the season.  On October 8, 1961, MacDonald moved his team to Atlanta, where the franchise became the Atlanta Crackers (1962-1965).

The International League has never returned to the Caribbean.

 

==Links==

The Many Faces of Mr. Mac“, Gilbert Rogin, Sports Illustrated, February 17, 1964

International League Media Guides

International League Programs

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1946 Youngstown Gremlins

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Youngstown Gremlins ProgramMiddle Atlantic League (1946)

Born: 1946
Died: 1947 – Re-branded as the Youngstown Colts.

Stadium: Idora Park

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio was a fixture in the Class C Middle Atlantic League between 1939 and 1951.  The team identity changed every couple of years (Browns, Gremlins, Colts, A’s) and there was no baseball in the Steel Valley at all from 1942 to 1945, as the Mid-Atlantic went dark during the meanest years of World War II.  The local nine were known as the Youngstown Gremlins (the best name of the bunch, IMO) for only one season, when the Mid-Atlantic League came back to life in the post-war summer of 1946.

The Gremlins played at Idora Park, site of Youngstown’s historic amusement park.  The Jack Rabbit roller coaster loomed over right field.  The amusement park closed in 1984 following a devastating fire.

There’s no clear record online of whether the Gremlins had a Major League affiliation in 1946.  Between the unusual name and the fact that only one player from the club ever advanced to the Major Leagues, I’d hazard a guess that the team was independent.  Ace pitcher Johnny Kucab (12-1, 1.86 ERA) was the brightest light at the not-quite-young age of 26.  He would later pitch three seasons in the Majors for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1950-1952.

Another compelling figure was the team’s manager, Paul Birch.  Birch played some sporadic minor league baseball, but his better sport was basketball.  He starred at Duquesne University in nearby Pittsburgh and was playing for the Youngstown Bears in the National Basketball League (a forerunner to the modern NBA) in 1947 when he signed on to manage to Gremlins during the summer months.

Birch would later become Head Coach of the NBA’s Fort Wayne Pistons from 1951 through 1954.  Birch would resign his Pistons job under pressure in the fall out from the Jack Molinas point shaving scandal in 1954 and never worked in the NBA again.  Birch passed away in 1982.

 

==Links==

Youngstown Baseball Has a History Dating Back to 19th Century“, Vince Guerrieri, DidTheTribeWinLastNight.com

Middle Atlantic League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 15th, 2015 at 2:17 am