South Atlantic League (1987-1994)
Born: 1987 – South Atlantic League expansion franchise
Re-Branded: October 25, 1994 (Charleston Alley Cats)
Stadium: Watt Powell Park
Team Colors: Green & Blue
South Atlantic League Champions: 1990
Charleston, West Virginia went without pro baseball for three summers after the Charleston Charlies pulled up stakes for Maine in late 1983. The Charlies were a triple-A club just one step removed from the Major Leagues. But by 1983, Charleston was the smallest Class AAA city in America by population. So it was little surprise that when pro ball returned with the formation of the Charleston Wheelers in the spring of 1987, local hardball fans had to accept a demotion to the Class A South Atlantic League.
The Wheelers were a “co-op” club that first season – a dreaded (if not entirely uncommon) status in minor league baseball at the time. Without a true Major League parent club, the Wheelers cobbled a roster together with table scraps from six organizations. Nevertheless, the team finished with a respectable 66-72 record and the summer attendance of 97,563 counted for third best in the South Atlantic League.
The Wheelers had a two-year run as a Chicago Cubs farm club in 1988 and 1989. In 1990, the Cincinnati Reds replaced the Cubs and the Wheelers had their finest hour, sweeping the Savannah Cardinals to win the SAL championship. The biggest name on the team was 22-year Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman, of course, would go on to become one of the greatest closers in Major League history for the San Diego Padres. But with the Wheelers in the summer of 1990, he was a weak-hitting infielder struggling to hang on in the Reds system. Hoffman would begin his conversion to pitching the following summer.
Wheelers attendance peaked at 185,389 during the 1991 season. Wheelers’ box office declined sharply in the summers to follow, crashing to 110,118 in 1993. Shortly after the 1993 season ended, original owner Dennis Bastien unloaded the Wheelers in a three-way swap. Bastien effectively traded the Wheelers to George Shinn (owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets) for the Class AA Nashville Xpress of the Southern League. Shinn then immediately sold the Wheelers back to a large consortium of Charleston businessmen, led by Wheelers accountant Mike Paterno. The new owners ran the club as the Wheelers for one final summer in 1994 before re-branding the team as the Charleston Alley Cats in 1995.
The former Wheelers/Alley Cats franchise continues to play in Charleston to this day. After yet another re-branding in 2005, the club is known today as the West Virginia Power.