Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1977-1992 Maine Mariners

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Pelle Lindbergh Maine MarinersAmerican Hockey League (1977-1992)

Born: 1977 – AHL expansion franchise
Moved: May 22, 1992 (Providence Bruins)

Arena: Cumberland County Civic Center

NHL Affiliation:

  • 1977-1983: Philadelphia Flyers
  • 1983-1987: New Jersey Devils
  • 1987-1992: Boston Bruins

Team Colors:

  • 1977-1987:
  • 1987-1992:

Owners:

Calder Cup Champions: 1978, 1979 & 1984

 

The Maine Mariners were a popular minor league hockey club that played for 15 seasons at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center. The Mariners’ glory years came in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as the top farm club of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Maine won the American Hockey Leagues’s Calder Cup in each of their first two seasons. Future Flyers stars such as Pelle Lindbergh, Ken Linseman and Pete Peeters developed in Portland.  Maine led the AHL attendance for four straight seasons from 1979 through 1982.

Maine MarinersA special thrill of the Flyers era was the annual December exhibition game against touring Soviet teams. The contests packed in standing room only crowds and (usually) brought out the best in the Mariners. The first Cold War in December 1977 saw the two-month old Mariners shock Moscow Dynamo 1-0. In 1978, the Mariners beat up on Traktor Chelyabinsk 6-3.

On Christmas Eve 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Detente was over and, with it, the annual Soviet hockey tours of America of the 1970’s. But a Russian touring squad known as the Moscow Selects was already in the States on tour. Two days after the invasion, the Selects came to Portland. A franchise record crowd of 7,095 packed the Civic Center. For the first time, the Russians got the best of Maine, pasting the locals 7-2.

In the summer of 1983 the Philadelphia Flyers sold the Mariners to the lowly New Jersey Devils. The Mariners won their third and final Calder Cup in April 1984, capping off their first winter as a New Jersey farm club. But ultimately the sale to the Devils’ organization marked the start of the club’s decline. During the 1986-87 season, the Mariners bottomed out at a franchise-worst 3,361 fans per game. The Devils shifted the money-losing club to Utica, New York in April 1987.

Team President Ed Anderson quickly organized a group of investors to restore hockey to Portland. The AHL approved a new Maine Mariners franchise during the summer of 1987, affiliated with the nearby Boston Bruins. The Mariners retained their traditional Flyers’ colors of orange, black and white even during the Devils’ era. But with the arrival of the new franchise and the Bruins partnership in the winter of 1987, the Mariners shifted to Boston’s black, white and gold color scheme.

The Bruins era failed to recapture the on-ice glory of the Flyers years. The black-and-gold Mariners posted only one winning season (1987-88) in five years. The economic recession of the early 1990’s and Maine exorbitant workers compensation costs squeezed the club financially. The Mariners shut down their Maine operations in April 1992 and moved to Providence, Rhode Island a month later, where they play on today as the Providence Bruins.

 

Maine Mariners Memorabilia

 

Maine Mariners Video

1989 Mariners TV commercial

 

In Memoriam

Goaltender Pelle Lindbergh (Mariners ’80-’82) died on November 11th, 1985 from injuries suffered the previous night while driving drunk. Lindbergh won both AHL Rookie-of-the-Year and Most Valuable Player honors with Maine in 1981. He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding goalkeeper of the 1984-85 season several months prior to his death. He was 26.

E.J. McGuire, the Mariners final head coach (’91-’92) died of cancer on April 7, 2011 at age 58.

 

Links

A major among the minors“, Kathy Blumenstock, Sports Illustrated, February 18, 1980

American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs

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1961-1962 Kansas City Steers

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1961-62 Kansas City Steers Media GuideAmerican Basketball League (1961-1963)

Born: 1961 – ABL founding franchise
Folded: December 31, 1962

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Kenneth A. Krueger

ABL Championships: 1963* (*Sort of…)

 

The Kansas City Steers were one of the best entries in Abe Saperstein’s short-lived American Basketball League. The Harlem Globetrotters impresario aimed to compete with the NBA in major markets around the country and succeeded in luring top talent to the circuit.

The Steers’ starting five of Bill Bridges (F), Maury King (G), Nick Mantis (G), Larry Staverman (F) and Bumper Tormohlen (C) all played in the NBA. Bridges, a rookie of the University of Kansas in 1961, finished fourth in the ABL in scoring with 21.4 points per game in 1961-62. He was leading the league with 29.2 per contest when the league folded midway through its sophomore campaign.

The Steers posted the best record in the ABL in each of the league’s two seasons.  In 1961-62, the Steers went 28-12. They met the Cleveland Pipers in the ABL championship series in April 1962. The Steers blew out the Pipers by 25 points and 36 points respectively in the first two games in Kansas City. But they could not close the deal on the road in Ohio. The series  was due to return to Kansas City for decisive Game 5 on April 8th, 1962. That’s when things when haywire.

The Steers primary home, Municipal Auditorium, booked the Ice Capades for April 8th. The Steers booked the 1,500-seat Mason-Halpin Fieldhouse on the campus of tiny Rockhurst College for the title contest. Pipers owner George Steinbrenner (yes, that one) was outraged, believing Saperstein promised the series finale to Cleveland. As the teams bickered with each other and the ABL office, the Pipers no-showed for Game 5 at Rockhurst College. Rather than forfeit the game to the Steers, Saperstein decreed the game would now be played the following night, April 9th, 1962, at Rockhurst. This time the Pipers showed and dealt the Steers a crushing 106-102 defeat.

The Steers came back for the ABL’s second season in the fall of 1962. By now the league was on shaky ground. Only three of the league’s eight founding clubs remained in their original cities of a year earlier. Steinbrenner folded the league champion Pipers after a failed attempt to run off and join the NBA.

The Steers were once again the class of the league, racing out to a 22-9 record in the fall and early winter of 1962. But the ABL’s woes proved insurmountable, and the Steers closed their doors along with the rest of the league on New Year’s Eve 1962. The ABL declared the Steers to be league champions for 1963 by virtue of having the league’s best record at the time of closing.

 

In Memoriam

Forward Larry Staverman died on July 12, 2007 at the age of 70. After playing for the Steers, Staverman went on to become the first head coach of the Indiana Pacers in 1967.

Steers forward Bill Bridges passed away on September 15, 2015 from cancer at age 76. Kansas City Star obituary

 

Links

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

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1948-1954 Marion Marauders

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Marion MaraudersWestern Carolina League (1948-1952)
Tar Heel League (1953-1954)

Born: 1948
Folded: June 21, 1954

Stadium:

Major League Affiliation:

Owners:

Western Carolina League Championships: None
Tar Heel League Championships:

 

The Marion Marauders were a Class D minor league baseball club in the small North Carolina of Marion. The mill town on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains had a U.S. Census population of fewer than 3,000 residents in 1950. The town is best known as the site of a deadly 1929 textile mill strike that saw six striking mill workers gunned down by law enforcement. The Marauders’ seven-year run from 1948 to 1954 marked the only time pro baseball was played in Marion.

The Marauders started out as a founding franchise in the Western Carolina League in 1948. Marion’s player-manager that first summer was Major League vet Wes Ferrell.  Ferrell pitched for parts of 15 seasons in the Majors from 1927 to 1941 but primarily played in the outfield for the Marauders. Ferrell departed following the 1940 season.

In 1953 the Western Carolina League merged with the North Carolina State League to form the Tar Heel League. The Marauders were the class of the circuit that summer, thanks largely to a 29-year old journeyman pitcher named Kelly Jack Swift. Swift posted a 30-7 record. Some six decades later, Swift remains the last minor league pitcher to win 30 games in a season.

The Tar Heel League began the 1953 season with 10 clubs. By opening day of 1954, the loop was down to just four ball clubs and the end was near. The league gave up the ghost on June 21, 1954 with the Marauders sitting in 2nd place with a 26-26 record.

 

Links

The Invisible Fastball“, Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated, October 17, 2011 (The story of Kelly Jack Swift)

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Written by Drew Crossley

March 25th, 2017 at 8:44 pm

1978-79 Tucson Gunners

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Tucson GunnersWestern Basketball Association (1978-79)

Born: 1978 – WBA expansion franchise
Folded: 1979

Arena: Tucson Community Center

Team Colors:

Owners: Davis Burk, et al.

WBA Champions: 1979

 

The Tucson Gunners were a One-Year Wonder in the minor-league Western Basketball Association. The Gunners, like the rest of the league, operated for just one season during the winter of 1978-79. The WBA stretched from Tucson in the south up through California, Utah and Nevada to Montana and Washington in the north. The league attracted a number of out-of-work pros who lost jobs with the closure of the American Basketball Association in 1976, along with training camp cuts from the NBA.

The Gunners shared winter dates at the Tucson Community Center with the Tucson Rustlers hockey team. Like the Gunners, the Rustlers would also fold after just one season.

The Gunners were managed by former Detroit Pistons head coach Herb Brown. Brown assembled the best squad in the league. The Gunners topped the standings with a 32-16 regular season record. Top players included former ABA regular Al Smith and rookie guard Gerald Henderson. Henderson was a 3rd round draft pick of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs in 1978 who failed to stick in training camp.

The Gunners met the Reno Bighorns in the WBA championship series in late March 1979. The series came down to a deciding game 7 in Tucson on April 2, 1979. Smith and Henderson combined for 45 points as Tucson vanquished Reno 104-90.

It proved to be the team’s final contest. The Gunners folded a few months later, along with the other six WBA clubs. Gerald Henderson used his showcase in Tucson to make the Boston Celtics in 1979. He would go on to win 3 NBA titles over the course of a 13-year NBA career before retiring in 1992.

 

Links

Taking a Gamble on the Future“, Curry Kirkpatrick, Sports Illustrated, February 12, 1979

Western Basketball Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

March 22nd, 2017 at 2:01 am

2001-2003 New York Power

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2001 New York Power Media GuideWomen’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003)

Born: April 2000 – WUSA founding franchise
Folded: September 15, 2003

Stadium: Mitchel Athletic Complex (10,102)

Team Colors: Violet, Gold & Black

Mascot: Zap

Investor-Operator: Time-Warner Cable

Founders Cup Championships: None

 

The Power were the New York entry in the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first attempt at a pro soccer league for women in the United States. The club played on Long Island at the Mitchell Athletic Complex in Uniondale.

The Power fared well in the WUSA’s debut season of 2001. U.S. National Team striker Tiffeny Milbrett led the league in scoring and took home MVP and Offensive Player-of-the-Year honors for the league. Her 16 goals established a league record that was never equalled. Other key players included Milbrett’s USWNT teammates Christie Pearce and Sara Whalen, Norwegian international defender Gro Espeseth and Chinese National Team keeper Gao Hong.  The Power finished in 3rd place with a 9-7-5 record. They lost to the eventual champion Bay Area CyberRays in the playoff semi-final.

The club fell apart during an cursed 2002 campaign. Espeseth retired. Hong and Pearce missed time with injuries. Worst of all, Whalen suffered a career-ending knee injury and nearly died from post-surgery complications. The Power crashed to a last place finish. Their 3-17-1 record was the worst in the three-year history of the WUSA. New York also finished last in the league in attendance with announced figures of 5,575 per game.

The Power hobbled into the WUSA’s third and final season in 2003. Behind the scenes, WUSA officials quietly asked senior management of the league’s Boston Breakers franchise to oversee operations of the Power front office. On the field, the club bounced back somewhat under new Head Coach Tom Sermanni, finishing 5th with a 7-9-5 record. Match attendance dipped further to a league-worst 4,249 per game.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2003 WUSA season, the league’s cable company backers pulled their support. The Power and the rest of the WUSA went out of business on September 15, 2003.

 

New York Power Memorabilia

 

New York Power Video

2001 WUSA playoff semi-final. Power visit the Bay Area CyberRays at Spartan Stadium. August 18, 2001

 

Links

Women’s United Soccer Association Media Guides

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

March 11th, 2017 at 9:52 pm

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