Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Eastern League’ tag

July 11, 2007 – Eastern League All-Star Game @ Norwich, CT

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2007 Eastern League All-Star Game
July 11, 2007
Dodd Stadium (Norwich, CT)
Attendance:

Eastern League Programs
18 pages

 

It’s only appropriate that a minor league farm club of the San Francisco Giants would suffer a “fog out”, even if that team happened to be located 3,000 miles away in Norwich, Connecticut.  Unfortunately for the Connecticut Defenders (2006-2009), the fog rolled in on the night of the 2007 Eastern League All-Star Game, the league’s showcase event and a boon for the sagging box office fortunes of the Norwich nine.

Minor league baseball came to Norwich in 1995 with the construction of 6,270-seat Dodd Stadium in 1995 and the arrival of the New York Yankees double-A farm club in the Eastern League.  Originally known as the Norwich Navigators, the club drew annual crowds in the 250,000 range during the Yankees era from 1995 to 2002.  But after the Yankees withdrew the affiliation and the Giants came in for the summer of 2003, Navigators ticket sales dropped 30% to an all-time low of .  Boxing promoter Lou DiBella bought the ball club in April 2005 and announced  re-branding campaign, resulting in the new military-themed Connecticut Defenders identity in 2006.  Norwich attendance continued to bring up the rear in the Eastern League, however, ranking dead last in the 12-team circuit in 2006 and again in 2007.

Five years removed from the Yankees departure, Norwich had a relevant baseball event again when the All-Star Game came to town in July 2007.  The Defenders responded with a near sell-out for the day long festivities, including a pre-game Home Run Derby.  The fog began to roll in about two hours before game time.  Just as the home run derby was about to begin, a concession stand fire alarm went off, requiring an evacuation of the stadium.  Sergio Santos of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats allegedly won the Derby, sending balls deep into the fog banks now hanging over the outfield and (one presumes) over the walls beyond.

The All-Stars fumbled through most of three innings, but officials called the game at 2-2 after a routine fly ball descended from the mists and nearly plonked Defenders outfielder and All-Star John Bowker.

“What next, locusts?” asked Defenders chief Lou DiBella in comments published by The Reading (PA) Eagle.  “The plague? We held off the rain, but who would have thought the fog would be so thick we’d have to separate it with our hands?”

What was next for DiBella, inevitably, was to move the team.  The Defenders lasted two more money-losing summers in Norwich before departing for Richmond, Virginia in 2010, still under DiBella’s ownership.  The Richmond Flying Squirrels assembled a front office dream team lead by long-time Reading Phillies exec Chuck Domino and former Altoona Curve GM Todd Parnell.  The Flying Squirrels led the Eastern League in attendance during their 2010 inaugural season with announced totals of 463,842.

With the departure of the Defenders and the Eastern League, Dodd Stadium got a new tenant in 2010 with the arrival of the Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League.  The NY-Penn League is short season A-ball, with only half as many home games (36) as the Eastern League and the expectation is that this amount of baseball is more appropriate for a modest-sized city like Norwich.

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1993 Albany-Colonie Yankees

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1993 Albany-Colonie Yankees Yearbook
Eastern League Programs
64 pages

I plucked this one from the files when I read of the recent arrest of former Yankees phenom Brien Taylor for cocaine trafficking.   Taylor might have been one of the great power-pitching left-handers of the 1990’s alongside the Seattle Mariners’ Randy Johnson.  Certainly that’s what the New York Yankees expected when they made the 19-year old fireballer out of North Carolina’s East Cataret High School the #1 overall pick in the 1991 amateur draft. Taylor’s ticket was his fastball, which clocked as high as 99 mph in high school.  During his senior year, he struck out 213 batters in only 88 innings.

Taylor’s family held out through the summer of 1991, rebuffing lowball offers from the Yankees and threatening to enroll Brien in junior college instead.  Jeff Passan wrote a great retrospective on the Taylor negotiations for Yahoo! Sports in 2006.  With assistance from agent Scott Borras, Taylor’s mom Bettie, who worked in a seafood processing plant, ultimately faced down the Yankees negotiators and secured a record $1.55 million signing bonus for Taylor.  At the time, it was the largest bonus paid to a draftee in the history of professional baseball.

Taylor pro debut came in 1992 with the Ft. Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League.  By all accounts, he lived up to the hype, striking out 187 batters in 161 innings and posting a miserly 2.57 ERA.  Taylor headed to Albany-Colonie in the double-A Eastern League out of spring training in 1993.  Every thing was on schedule for Taylor to be a fixture in the Yankees rotation by 1995 at age 23.

The summer of 1993 in Albany turned out to be Taylor’s peak.  He won 13 games and continued to strike out bushels of opponents (he also led the league in walks issued).  Baseball America named him the game’s best prospect that year.  Back home in Beaufort, North Carolina in December 1993, Taylor and his cousin drove to the home of a man who assaulted his brother Brenden in an earlier dispute.  In the altercation that ensued, Taylor was knocked over and suffered a catastrophic tear to the labrum and capsule of his pitching arm.

After surgery, Taylor sat out the 1994 season.  He lost his control and 8 mph off his fastball.  The Yankees let Taylor go and he puttered around the low minors as late as 2000, but never again rose above A-ball after the fight.  He became the second #1 overall pick in the amateur draft to never play in the Major Leagues, following Steve Chilcotte, the New York Mets #1 pick in 1966.

 

 

Written by andycrossley

May 4th, 2012 at 1:25 pm

April 22, 1959 – Lancaster Red Roses vs. York White Roses

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Lancaster (PA) Red Roses vs. York (PA) White Roses
April 22, 1959
Stumpf Field
Eastern League Programs
4 Pages

There are a handful of communities around the United States where fondness and attachment to a particular name transcends not only time but sport as well.  After Brooklyn’s beloved Dodgers moved to California in 1958, the name was revived for both a 1960’s professional football team (with Jackie Robinson as General Manager) and a 1970’s minor league basketball outfit.  Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania cheered on their Barons in both baseball and basketball for decades.

Today we’ve got a pair of rare programs from the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and its Red Roses of both baseball and basketball.  The first baseball team dubbed the Red Roses debuted in the Tri-State League in 1906 and lasted until 1914.  The selection of the Red Roses name was viewed as an affront by the Tri-State League’s White Roses from the nearby city of York, Pennsylvania and sparked an enduring rivalry.  When minor league baseball returned to both cities in the early 1940’s after the Great Depression, the Red Roses and White Roses nicknames were revived.

Meanwhile, a Red Roses basketball team joined the Eastern Professional Basketball League in 1946.  For much of the next decade, Lancaster sports fans could root for their Red Roses during both the summer and winter.  The original basketball team closed down in 1955 (another version would return in the 1970’s) and the Red Roses baseball team lasted only a few years longer, playing its final season in the summer of 1961.

This beautiful baseball scorecard is from a “War of the Roses” game in 1959 – near the end of the road for the Lancaster ball club.  By this time, the Red Roses were in the Eastern League, playing as a farm club of the Chicago Cubs.

Professional baseball returned to both Lancaster and York after long absences in the early 21st century in the form of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.  Although the rival clubs adopted new names, the Lancaster Barnstormers and the York Revolution continue to re-enact “The War of the Roses” series every summer, with the winner receiving the Community Cup.

Written by andycrossley

April 1st, 2012 at 1:38 pm

1980-1982 West Haven Whitecaps / West Haven A’s

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At the end of the 1979 season, the New York Yankees moved their double-A minor league affiliate from West Haven, Connecticut to Nashville of the Southern League.  The West Haven Yankees had made their home in Quigley Stadium for eight summers beginning in 1972.  The 1979 club was a particularly strong one, winning the Eastern League title with the help of future Major Leaguers like Dave Righetti, Willie McGee, Joe Lefebvre and Tim Lollar.

West Haven lost the Yankees, but it didn’t lose baseball.  New owner David R. Goldstein secured rights to West Haven and signed an affiliation with the Oakland Athletics, who agreed to transfer their Eastern League affiliation from Waterbury, Connecticut.  It must have seemed a dubious trade for Western Connecticut baseball fans, living a short commute from Manhattan.  Their beloved league champion Yankees were gone, replaced by an Oakland farm system mired in the decrepitude of the dying days of the Charlie O. Finley regime.  The Waterbury A’s finished the 1979 Eastern League season in dead last place, thirty-four-and-a-half games back of the West Haven Yankees.

Goldstein’s club adopted the nickname “West Haven Whitecaps” for the 1980 season.  Although it would later become a best practice in the minor league industry for Major League affiliates to develop their own local branding in this fashion, it was unusual at the time.  The Whitecaps wore the A’s green-and-gold uniforms with their own logo embroidered awkwardly on the right breast (see photo at right).

Ed Nottle managed the 1980 Whitecaps, as he had the 1979 Waterbury A’s.  The name change didn’t help. The Whitecaps finished 47-92, by far the worst record in the league and nearly twenty games behind the next club.  In fact, it was the second worst record in all of minor league baseball in the summer of 1980, surpassed only by Rocky Mount (NC) Pines (24-114) of the single-A Carolina League.

The team returned for the 1981 season and dropped the Whitecaps name, in favor of the more conventional “West Haven A’s”.  Nottle departed to manage Oakland’s triple-A farm team in Tacoma, Washington.  32-year old Bob Didier took over the reigns of a much stronger club and engineered a turnaround on the field.  The 1981 A’s finished in third place in their division with a 71-67 record.

The 1982 A’s were stronger yet, finishing with the league’s best record at 86-54 under Didier.  The A’s swept the Lynn (MA) Sailors in the championship series.  After the  championship series finale, West Haven owner David Goldstein vented to the press about his club’s lack of community support:  “The Mayor (Lawrence Minichino) wasn’t even here.  Neither was anyone from his office.  I think that says something about the kind of support we’re receiving from this city.”  Goldstein said the A’s would only return to West Haven “if worse came to worse” and that he was exploring a move or sale of the team to Albany, Burlington (VT), Pittsfield (MA) or Portland (ME).

On October 7th, 1982 a group of investors led by Ben Bernard, the former General Manager of the Eastern League’s Glens Falls White Sox, purchased the A’s from Goldstein for a reported price of $100,000.  Bernard’s group transferred the club and the Oakland A’s affiliation to Heritage Park in Colonie, New York, a suburb of Albany.

The franchise has relocated and switched Major League affiliations several times since, always retaining its membership in the double-A Eastern League:

  • Albany A’s (1983)
  • Albany-Colonie A’s (1984)
  • Albany-Colonie Yankees (1985-1994)
  • Norwich (CT) Navigators (1995-2005)
  • Connecticut Defenders (2006-2009)
  • Richmond (VA) Flying Squirells (2010-Present)

Downloads:

West Haven Whitecaps/A’s Sources

Written by andycrossley

June 6th, 2011 at 9:26 pm