Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1994 San Antonio Tejanos

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Texas-Louisiana League (1994)

Born: 1994 – Texas-Louisiana League founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1994

Stadium: V.J. Keefe Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The San Antonio Tejanos were a failed independent baseball franchise that played for one summer during the debut season of the now-defunct Texas-Louisiana League (1994-2001).  The Tex-La league played mostly in older, outmoded ballparks in small cities left behind over the years by the Class AA Texas League.  Places like Alexandria, Amarillo and Beaumont.

The Tejanos were an exception to this model – sort of - but not in a good way.  San Antonio already had the Missions, the long-standing Texas League farm club where many top prospects of the Los Angeles Dodgers passed through on their way to Dodger Stadium.  And the Missions had just moved into a brand new ballpark for the 1994 season.  The Tejanos took up residence at V.J. Keefe Stadium, an obsolete stadium that the Missions left behind a few months earlier.   Add to that a lineup of anonymous castoffs and undrafted players and there was no obvious reason for local fans to choose a Tejanos’ game over a trip to see the Missions.  And they didn’t.  They independent team took a bath at the box office and left town after one season.

The Tejanos best known name was field manager Jose Cruz, the former Houston Astros All-Star outfielder.  The Tejanos did have one player on the roster would went on to make the Big Leagues.  Relief pitcher Todd Rizzo went on to appear in a dozen games for the Chicago White Sox in 1998 and 1999.

 

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Written by andycrossley

March 6th, 2014 at 12:34 am

1996-1997 Bangor Blue Ox

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Northeast League (1996-1997)

Born: December 8, 1995 – Northeast League expansion team.
Died: 1998 – The Blue Ox relocate to Quebec City, Quebec.

Stadium: Larry Mahaney Diamond

Team Colors:

Owner: Vincent Burns, Dean Gyorgy & Margot Gyorgy

 

The Bangor Blue Ox were a short-lived professional baseball team that played for two seasons in the independent Northeast League.  At the time, Bangor (pop. 33,000) had not hosted pro baseball since prior to World War I.

The team’s unique nickname derived from the legend of Paul Bunyan and his companion Babe, the Blue Ox.  Bangor is one of several communities that claims to be the birthplace of the folkloric hero and the city bosts a 31-foot tall, 3,700-pount statue of Bunyan.

The first player signed by the Blue Ox in March 1996 was 36-year old former Boston Red Sox hurler Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.  This would be one of Boyd’s many comeback attempts in the independent leagues and he played extremely well, posting a 10-0 record and 3.22 ERA for Bangor in 1996.  The Blue Ox had one other former Major League, pitcher Mike Smith, who appeared in 33 games in the Bigs between 1984 and 1989.

Boyd and Smith did not return for Bangor’s second season in 1997.  The team added former Boston Red Sox 1st round pick Bob Zupcic and ex-California Angels pitcher Joe Grahe, who was rehabbing from injury.  Grahe would return briefly to the Majors in 1999 with the Philadelphia Phillies.  He was the only Blue Ox player to go on to play in the Majors after leaving Bangor.

During the Blue Ox’s two-year run the team played at Mahaney Diamond on the campus of the University of Maine at Orono.  The club averaged just under 1,000 fans per game in both summers.  Team and league officials hoped that Bangor would build a new ballpark for the team.  But an October 1997 Bangor city council vote to float a $2 million bond to construct a ballpark for the 1999 season failed by a single vote and signaled the death knell for the Blue Ox in Bangor.

Team owner Vincent Burns, along with his son-in-law Dean Gyorgy and daughter Margot turned their efforts towards New Bedford, Massachusetts where there was some political support to build a new ballpark.  With the Blue Ox franchise gone dark for the 1998 season, the family worked on the New Bedford angle, but ran out of time before the Northeast League’s April 1998 deadline to secure commitment for a stadium in the southeastern Massachusetts port city.

With New Bedford going nowhere, the family sold controlling interest in the Blue Ox franchise to Dean Gyorgy’s former mentor at Baseball America, Miles Wolff in mid-1998.  Wolff, the former owner of the Durham Bulls and a long-time independent baseball enthusiast, moved the team to Quebec City where it began play as the Quebec Capitales in the summer of 1999.

Independent baseball returned to Bangor in 2003 with the Bangor Lumberjacks, who were once again members of the Northeast League.  But like the Blue Ox, the Lumberjacks only lasted two seasons before folding.

 

==Links==

Northeast League Media Guides

Northeast League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

March 5th, 2014 at 4:27 pm

1947-1949 Portland Pilots

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New England League (1947-1949)
Down East League (1950)

Born: 1947
Died: 1949 – The New England League ceases operations.

Stadium: Portland Stadium

Owners: Sam Aceto, Herbert Curry, et al.

 

The Portland Pilots were a Class B minor league baseball team in the New England League for three summers from 1947 to 1949.  The club started out as the woeful last place Portland Gulls during the first season of New England League in 1946.  Gulls owner John J. Haley ran out of money to pay his players late in the 1946 season and was ordered by League President Claude Davidson to find a buyer.

The Gulls were bailed out by local contractor Sam Aceto, sign shop owner Herbert Curry and hotelier William Richard in August 1946 which allowed the team to complete the season.  Prior to the 1947 season, the first full campaign under Aceto’s leadership, the team was renamed the Portland Pilots.

Maine native and former Major League Del Bissonette was the Pilots’ skipper in 1947 and 1948.  Bissonette briefly managed the Boston Braves of the National League at the tail end of the 1945 season.  In 1949 former Boston Red Sox infielder Skeeter Newsome took over as a 38-year old player-manager.

During the 1948 and 1949 seasons the Pilots were a farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies.  In 1949, the New England League started out with eight clubs, but Fall River, Lynn, Manchester and Providence went out of business during the summer, leaving just Portland three other clubs to complete the season.  Portland won the league playoffs in 1949 defeating the Springfield Cubs in the finals.

After the season the New England League folded.  The Pilots played one final season as a semi-pro team in the all-Maine Down East League in the summer of 1950 before vanishing for good.

After the New England League folded, pro baseball didn’t return to Portland, Maine until the formation of the Class AA Portland Sea Dogs in 1994.

 

==Links==

New England League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

February 28th, 2014 at 2:16 am

1998-2003 Cook County Cheetahs

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Heartland League (1998)
Frontier League (1999-2003)

Born: 1998 – The Will County Cheetahs relocate to Crestwood, IL.
Died: 2004 – The Cheetahs are re-branded as the Windy City Thunderbolts.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owners: David Arch et al.

 

The Cook County Cheetahs were a low-level independent pro baseball team in Crestwood, Illinois, a south suburb of Chicago.  The team’s origins trace back to the Will County (IL) Claws (1995) of the obscure North Central League, who were later renamed the Will County Cheetahs (1996-1997).

In 1998 the Cheetahs, now playing in the shaky Heartland League, were lured from Romeoville, Illinois to Crestwood with the promise of a new $3.7 million, 2,500-seat baseball stadium.  The team adopted the Cook County Cheetahs name with the move, but construction on Hawkinson Ford Field was not complete in time for the season, so the Cheetahs played the 1998 season at a temporary facility, Howie Minas Field, in Midlothian.  That summer the Cheetahs won the last championship of the Heartland League, which barely managed to complete the season and folded soon afterwards.

In 1999 the Cheetahs joined the Frontier League, a much more stable and reputable Midwest-based independent league that began play in 1993.  Hawkinson Ford Field opened and the Cheetahs hit an attendance peak of 86,248 fans for the 1999 season.

Attendance dwindled in subsequent seasons.  Crestwood mayor Chester Stranczek, a former minor league baseball player from the 1950′s and an early champion of building Hawkinson Ford Field, began to publicly criticize the management of Cheetahs’ owner David Arch.  During the summer of 2003, Stranczek announced that he would not renew the team’s lease when it expired following the 2004 season.  In September of that year, Arch sold the Cheetahs for a reported $700,000 to a group led by former State Senator Patrick O’Malley.  O’Malley had been another early proponent of building Hawkinson Ford Field and helped secure state funding for the project in the late 1990′s.

The new ownership group re-branded the team as the Windy City Thunderbolts prior to the 2004 season, bringing the Cheetahs era to an end.   The Thunderbolts continue to play in Crestwood today.

Undrafted Australian pitcher Chris Oxspring (14 appearances, 2000) was the only Cook County Cheetah to go on to play in the Major Leagues.  He appeared in 5 games for the San Diego Padres in 2005.

 

==Links==

Frontier League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

February 25th, 2014 at 2:10 pm

1971-1983 Savannah Braves

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Dixie Association (1971)
Southern League (1972-1983)

Born: 1971
Died: August 1983 – The Braves announce they will relocate to Greenville, SC.

Stadium: Grayson Park

Team Colors:

Ownership: Atlanta Braves

 

The Savannah Braves were the Class AA farm club of the Atlanta Braves for 13 seasons from 1971 to 1983.

Several notable Braves prospects made stops in Savannah on their way to the Majors, highlighted by future National League Most Valuable Player Dale Murphy (Savannah 1976) and future N.L. Cy Young Award Winner Steve Bedrosian, who pitched for Savannah in 1979 and 1980.

39-year old Ball Four author Jim Bouton won 11 games for Savannah in 1978 en route to his improbably comeback to the Majors with Atlanta later that summer.

On the front office side, Miles Wolff landed his first baseball job as a General Manager for the SavBraves in the early 1970′s.  Wolff later purchased the Durham (NC) Bulls of the Carolina League and owned the club when the Kevin Costner-Susan Sarandon classic Bull Durham was released in 1988.  In 2004, ESPN’s Page 2 named Wolff one of the Top 10 pro sports owners of the past quarter century.

During the summer of 1983, the city of Greenville, South Carolina promised the Atlanta Braves a brand new ballpark and a commitment of 2,000 season tickets if they would move their Class AA farm club for the 1984 season.  Atlanta owner Ted Turner, who grew up in Savannah, agreed to the deal and the club left town for South Carolina in late 1983.

The SavBraves were immediately replaced at Grayson Park by the Savannah Cardinals (1984-1995) of the Class A South Atlantic League.

 

==Links==

Southern League Media Guides

Southern League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

February 24th, 2014 at 5:04 am