Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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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

1943-1950 Racine Belles

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Racine Belles ProgramAll-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1950)

Born: 1943 – AAGPBL founding franchise.
Died: September 30, 1950 – The Belles withdraw from the AAGPBL.

Stadium: Horlick Field

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Racine (WI) Belles were charter members of the historic All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the war summer of 1943.  The Midwest-based AAGPBL was founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley when it appeared that the war and the military draft might imperil the continued operation of Major League Baseball.  The women’s league was originally conceived as a softball league in 1943, but evolved into a baseball competition through a series of gradual rules changes throughout the 1940’s.  The league used underhand pitching, for example, for its first few seasons.  Wrigley gave up the league after its first season when it became clear that Major League Baseball would survive the war.  But his gum advertising guru Arthur Meyerhoff took over management of the AAGPBL and kept it operating into the post-war era.

The AAGPBL found an audience in places like Racine – where Belles attendance would peak at a very respectable 102,413 fans in 1946 – and continued to operate until 1954.  The Belles won the first championship of the AAGPBL in 1943, defeating the Kenosha Comets.  They would win a second crown in 1946.

As late as 1947, Belles attendance topped 100,000, but interested declined rapidly in the summers that followed.  In 1949 attendance fell to 44,912 and the money-losing club was re-organized under the auspices of a non-profit organization the following winter.  Crowds continued to shrink (an estimated 30,000 admissions for the 1950 season) and Belles management announced it would withdraw from the AAGPBL in September 1950.

Rights to the Belles franchise and its players were later assigned to Battle Creek, Michigan under new management, though many of the Belles players declined to follow the club to Michigan.  The Battle Creek Belles played two further seasons, going out of business at the end of the 1952 campaign.

 

==Slideshow==

  • Racine Belles Yearbook
  • Racine Belles Program
  • Racine Belles Yearbook
  • Racine Belles Yearbook
  • Racine Belles Yearbook

 

==Links==

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 11th, 2015 at 5:01 am

1919-1930 Pittsfield Hillies

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Pittsfield Hillies ProgramEastern League (1919-1930)

Born: 1919
Died: 1930

Stadium: Wahconah Park

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The Pittsfield Hillies were a Depression-era minor league baseball team in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts.  They played in the Class A Eastern League and won league titles in 1919 and 1921.

 

==Downloads==

On July 3, 2004 former Major League pitcher and Ball Four author helped promote a vintage baseball game at Wahconah Park (still in use today as one of the oldest ballparks in America).  At the time, Bouton was part of a group trying to acquire an independent pro baseball team for Pittsfield, an effort that ultimately fell through.  The vintage game featured teams playing as the Hillies and their old Eastern League rivals, the Hartford Senators.  The exhibition attracted around 5,000 fans and was broadcast live on ESPN Classic with Bill “Spaceman” Lee as the color man.

Re-matches were played in Hartford later that July and back again at Wahconah in September.  You can still download a copy of the Wahconah Park Times game programs for these exhibitions at Bouton’s website here:

July 3, 2004 – Pittsfield Hillies vs. Hartford Senators vintage baseball game program

September 4, 2004 – Pittsfield Hillies vs. Hartford Senators vintage baseball game program

 

==Links==

Eastern League Media Guides

Eastern League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 2nd, 2015 at 4:23 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