Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1983-1988 Watertown Pirates

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Waterbury PiratesNew York-Penn League (1983-1988)

Born: 1983
Died: 1989 - Affiliation change to Watertown Indians.

Stadium: Duffy Fairgrounds

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Watertown Pirates were the short season Class A farm club of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the New York-Penn League for six seasons from 1983 through 1988.

Tim Wakefield WatertownSeveral future Major League stars spent a summer in upstate New York city during the Pirates era, including Jay Buhner (1984), Moises Alou (1986 & 1987) and Tim Wakefield (1988).  Wakefield was in his first summer of pro ball after the Pirates selected him in the 8th round of the 1988 amateur draft.  He would later spend 20 years in the Majors as a knuckleball pitcher, retiring in 2011.  But Wakefield played first base for Watertown and never pitched an inning.

The Pirates played in a glum little econo-park called the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds.  At the end of the 1988 season, the Pirates moved their NY-Penn affiliate across the border to Welland, Canada and the Cleveland Indians moved into Duffy Fairgrounds.  The re-branded Watertown Indians played from 1989 through 1998 before departing for a shiny new ballpark in Staten Island.  Given the severely outdated nature of Duffy Fairgrounds, it’s unlikely that pro baseball will ever return to Watertown without a new facility.  The Fairgrounds are currently used for collegiate amateur baseball in the summer.

The Watertown Pirates are of minor note among minor league industry types as the first pro sports investment for sports psychologist Dr. Eric Margenau.  Margenau bought the team in 1986 with his partner in United Sports Ventures, Jay Acton (who was a prolific minor league operator in his own right).  Margenau would go on to own upwards of 20 different minor league baseball, hockey and Arena Football teams from the 1980′s through the 2000′s.

That’s longtime Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ed Ott plastered all over the cover of Watertown’s 1986 yearbook (above right).  Ott, who was part of Pittsburgh’s 1979 World Series championship team, managed Watertown in 1986.

 

==Links==

New York-Penn League Media Guides

New York-Penn League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

July 15th, 2014 at 12:58 am

1968-1969 Savannah Senators

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Savannah SenatorsSouthern League (1968-1969)

Born: November 1967 – The Washington Senators shift their Class AA farm club to Savannah.
Died: 1969

Stadium: Grayson Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Joe Buzas

 

Pro baseball returned to Savannah, Georgia in the spring of 1968 after a six-year absence. The new club was the Savannah Senators, Class AA affiliate of the American League’s Washington Senators.

The Savannah club formed out of the complicated annual re-shuffling and horse trading of Major League farm clubs.  Washington pulled their Class AA franchise out of York, Pennsylvania in the Eastern League in November 1967 and agreed to shift it to the Southern League and Savannah’s Grayson Stadium under the management of long-time minor league operator Joe Buzas.

The Savannah Senators didn’t fare well in either of their seasons in the Southern League.  In 1968 the Sens finished 57-79, avoiding last place in the six-team circuit thanks only to the ineptitude of the Evansville White Sox.  The 1969 squad, under field manager Hub Kittle, finished in the cellar at 59-76.

Kittle provided one of the Sens better moments in 1969.  The 52-year old manager, who made his own minor league debut as a 20-year old pitcher back in 1937, activated himself for a single game, becoming the oldest player in Southern League history.  Eleven years later, Kittle would do it again, activating himself as a 63-year old pitcher for the Class AAA Springfield (IL) Cardinals for a single game.  Kittle, who passed away in 2004, remains the only ballplayer to pitch professionally in six different decades.

Following the 1969 season, Savannah’s Major League affiliation passed from Washington to Cleveland and the ball club was re-branded as the Savannah Indians for the 1970 campaign.

Prominent Major Leaguers who spent time with the Savannah Senators included Larry Biitner, Toby Harrah and Fred Stanley.

 

==Links==

Southern League Media Guides

Southern League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

July 14th, 2014 at 1:34 am

1985-1990 Sumter Braves

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South Atlantic League ProgramsSouth Atlantic League (1985-1990)

Born: 1985
Died: 1991 – The Braves relocate to Macon, GA.

Stadium: Riley Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Atlanta Braves

 

The Sumter Braves were the Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves in the South Atlantic League during the late 1980′s.  It was a flush era for the Braves farm system and many of the future stars of Atlanta’s National League dynasty of the 1990′s came through Sumter on their way up the ladder.

Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine went 9-6 in 26 starts for Sumter as a 19-year old in 1985.  Ron Gant and Mark Lemke split time at 2nd Base for that 1985 club.  Lemke returned in 1986 and belted 18 home runs, tops on the club.  Future All-Star David Justice, then 20 years old, add 10 homers and 61 RBIs.

Ryan Klesko and Mark Wohlers arrived in 1989.  Both returned to Sumter in 1990 as well and both would become key contributors to Atlanta’s 1995 World Series championship team.

Attendance was notably weak in Sumter throughout the Braves era.  The team rarely sold more than 200 season tickets and average crowds were well below 500 per night.  Following the 1990 season, the Braves pulled out and moved their Sally League farm club to Macon, Georgia.  Sumter got a new team, the Sumter Flyers, in the South Atlantic League for the 1991 season.  The Flyers served the Montreal Expos, but they last only one season before leaving town as well.

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Sumter Braves General Manager (1987-1990) Ed Holtz died of an aortic aneurysm on October 6th, 1995.  He was 65 years old.

 

==Links==

South Atlantic League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

July 4th, 2014 at 8:58 pm

1964-1967 Santa Barbara Dodgers

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Santa Barbara DodgersCalifornia League (1964-1967)

Born: 1964 – Re-branded from Santa Barbara Rancheros.
Died: October 18, 1967  – The Dodgers relocate to Bakersfield, CA.

Stadium: Laguna Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Los Angeles Dodgers

 

The Class A Santa Barbara Dodgers (1964-1967) were the last pro baseball team to make their home in the coastal California city.  The franchise entered the California League in 1964 as a replacement for the short-lived Santa Barbara Rancheros (1962-1963), a former New York Mets farm club.

During the four summers that Santa Barbara fed the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system in the mid-60′s, a handful of notables played at the city’s Laguna Park on their way to the Majors.  Jack Billingham, who pitched for Santa Barbara in 1964 as a 21-year old, went on to win 145 games in the Majors between 1968 and 1980.  Don Sutton (Santa Barbara ’65) won 324 games in the Majors and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.  Charlie Hough won 14 games for Santa Barbara in 1967.  Hough went to pitch an incredible 25 seasons in The Show between 1970 and 1994 before retiring at age 46 with 215 career victories.

Mike Kekich was another Santa Barbara Dodgers alum.  Kekich, who spent parts of three seasons in Santa Barbara, was a pitcher of more modest accomplishment (39 career wins versus 51 losses) than Billingham, Sutton or Hough.  He is remembered largely for swapping wives and children with New York Yankees teammate Fritz Peterson in 1973 in one of the most scandalous trades in Major League history.  (Also one of the most lopsided …. Peterson is still married to the former Mrs. Kekich some forty years later.  Kekich and Marilyn Peterson broke up  soon after the swap.)

The Dodgers were plagued by low attendance in Santa Barbara.  At the end of the 1967 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who owned and operated the ball club directly, moved their California League franchise to Bakersfield, California.   Pro baseball has never returned to Santa Barbara.  Laguna Park, the home of the Dodgers, was demolished in 1970.

 

==Links==

California League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

June 29th, 2014 at 2:30 am

1976-1977 Corpus Christi Seagulls

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Corpus Christi SeagullsGulf States League (1976)
Lone Star League (1977)

Born: 1976 – Gulf States League founding franchise.
Died: 1977 – The Lone Star League ceases operations.

Stadium: Cabaniss Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Terry Ferrell

 

Thanks to former Corpus Christi Seagulls pitcher Raymond Harrison for posting this great Polaroid shot from 1976 to the Fun While It Lasted Facebook Page.  (He also provided the “Win A Date With A Seagull!” news clipping below).   Without Raymond’s search through the attic, we might never have found an image for his obscure pro club.

The Seagulls were the best team in one of the wackiest leagues of the 1970′s.  The ball club was founded in the year of the bicentennial as part of the six-team Gulf States League, which had teams in Texas and Louisiana.  The Gulf States League was an oddball loop within “organized” minor league baseball.  Although part of the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, which governed the farm teams for all of Major League Baseball, all six teams in the Gulf States League played as independents.  They didn’t have Major League Baseball parent clubs and therefore they had to forage for whatever left over talent they could find.

The Seagulls coach was Leo Mazzone, who would later go on to great acclaim as a pitching coach with the great Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990′s and with the Baltimore Orioles in the 2000′s.  Under Mazzone, the Seagulls won the Gulf States League championship in 1976, as much by simply surviving until the end of the season as anything else.  The Baton Rouge club folded midway through the season.  The Seguin Toros club attracted national media attention when its spendthrift owner refused to shell out for hotel rooms during a series in Corpus Christi.  He demanded his players make a 250-mile round trip drive each night instead.  The players revolted by camping out on a public beach between games instead.

Corpus Christi Seagulls

The Gulf States League re-organized in 1977 as the Lone Star League with all of the clubs now based in Texas.  Once again it was a six-team league, classified as single-A ball by the National Association, but still without Major League parent clubs.  Mazzone returned and the Seagulls were the best team in the league again.  But shabby finances crippled the league for a second straight summer and the playoffs were cancelled.   The Lone Star League and the Seagulls  faded quietly into history thereafter.

The Seagulls had a combined record of 103-54 during their two seasons of existence.

 

==Links==

Gulf States League Programs

Lone Star League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

June 26th, 2014 at 3:04 am