Southern League (1978-1997)
Died: 1997 – The Chicks relocate to Jackson, TN.
Stadium: Tim McCarver Stadium
- 1978-1988: Avron Fogelman
- 1988-1989: Craig Stein & Steve Resnick
- 1989-1992: Mike Nicklous & Richard Addeo
- 1992-1997: David Hersh
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.
The 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.
- Bo Jackson
- Tim Raines