Texas League (1968-1970)
Dixie Association (1971)
Texas League (1972-1973)
International League (1974-1976)
Died: November 8, 1976 – The Blues franchise is revoked and later moved to Charleston, WV
Stadium: Blues Stadium
The Memphis Blues were the local minor league baseball club for the Bluff City from 1968 until 1976. The Blues started out as the Class AA farm club of the New York Mets in the Texas League from 1968 until 1973. (This included a one-year run in the Dixie Association in 1971, which was a temporary partnership of the Texas League and the Southern League, who played an interlocking schedule that summer.)
The Mets’ years didn’t produce an especially noteworthy roster of future Major League stars. Jim Bibby, John Milner, Ken Singleton and Craig Swan were among the more successful Blues graduates of the era. But the team was strong by Class AA standards, winning Texas League crowns in 1969 and 1973.
In 1974 the Blues switched Major League affiliations to the Montreal Expos and made the leap from Class AA to Class AAA by jumping to the International League. Future Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter was a standout for the 1974 Blues, belting 23 home runs and knocking in 83. Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine came through town in 1975, headlining a bumper crop of prospects headed to Montreal.
In September 1975, team owner Dr. Bernard Kraus hired 31-year old former American League Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain as the Blues’ new General Manager. McLain was (and still is, as of 2014) the last man to win 30 games in a single season (1968). But he was an odd choice to run the business operations of the club. McLain’s career was derailed in the early 1970’s partially by arm problems, but also by a well-publicized gambling addiction, get rich quick schemes, bankruptcy and numerous suspensions from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Two months later, in November 1975, Kraus sold off the deep-in-debt Blues to Jerry Bilton of Kansas City, a high school friend of McLain’s.
Along with the management shake-up, the Montreal Expos also pulled out of town after two seasons. The Houston Astros became the Blues’ parent club for the 1976 season. Top players included Art Howe, Terry Puhl and Joe Sambito. Floyd Bannister, the #1 overall pick in the 1976 amateur draft, also made one start for Memphis during his quick ascent to the Majors.
By the end of the 1976 season, the Blues franchise was in serious financial straits. McLain departed and former owner Bernard Kraus briefly regained control of the team in September 1976, but was unable to secure new investors to recapitalize the insolvent ball club. In November 1976, the directors of the International League revoked the franchise for failing to pay league debts. The same month, the Blues were effectively moved to Charleston, West Virginia where they became the “new” Charleston Charlies, replacing another International League club of the same name that shifted to Columbus, Ohio earlier in the year.
Local businessman Avron Fogelman immediately began efforts to bring pro baseball back to Memphis. Fogelman secured a franchise in the Class AA Southern League. After a summer without baseball in 1977, Fogelman’s Memphis Chicks began play in 1978 and played until 1997. Triple-A baseball returned in 1998 with the Chicks’ departure to Jackson, Tennessee and the arrival of the Memphis Redbirds expansion team in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.
Former Blues owner Dr. Bernard Kraus died of heart disease on November 9, 1978 at age 59.
1976 Blues field manager Jim Beauchamp died of leukemia on Christmas Day 2007 at age 68.
1974 Blues catcher and future Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter died of brain cancer on February 16, 2012. Carter was 57.
September 9, 1975 Memphis Chicks Hire Denny McLain Press Release
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