Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1976-1978 Cleveland Barons

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Cleveland Barons NHLNational Hockey League (1976-1978)

Born: July 14, 1976 – The California Golden Seals relocate to Cleveland, OH.
Died: June 14, 1978 – Merger with Minnesota North Stars

Arena: Richfield Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners: 

Stanley Cup Championships: None

 

Cleveland flirted with the National Hockey League a number times over the years. The city’s minor league club, the Cleveland Barons (1929-1973), were wildly popular in the post War period. The Barons applied unsuccessfully for admission to the NHL during the 1950’s. And believe it or not, the Montreal Canadiens even considered a move to Ohio during the Great Depression.

Major League hockey finally arrived in 1972 with the formation of the World Hockey Association. The WHA sought to challenge the NHL and made an immediate splash by luring away NHL stars such as Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent and Derek Sanderson. Nick Mileti, owner of the Barons and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, secured a WHA franchise for Cleveland, to be known as the Crusaders. The debut of the Crusaders in the fall of 1972 marked the end of the Barons era after nearly 50 years. Mileti shipped his minor league club out of town to Jacksonville, Florida in January 1973. Mileti also set about development of an 18,000-seat modern arena for his Cavs and the Crusaders franchises – the Richfield Coliseum.

The Coliseum opened in 1974 in a rural area between Cleveland and Akron. The Crusaders failed to catch fire during four seasons in Cleveland, either downtown at the old Cleveland Arena or at the gleaming new Coliseum. By the spring of 1976 the WHA club was on its last legs. New Crusaders owner Jay Moore reportedly held talks to lure the NHL’s troubled Kansas City Scouts to the Richfield Coliseum to replace his WHA club. Cleveland was on the verge of its long-awaited NHL moment. But it wouldn’t involve Moore or his flirtation with the lowly Scouts.

Jack Evans Cleveland BaronsAcross the country, San Francisco hotelier Mel Swig watched an arena deal for his California Golden Seals NHL franchise collapse. Swig’s minority partner in the Seals was George Gund, a scion of Cleveland’s Gund banking family. With hopes for a new arena in the Bay Area dead, Gund persuaded Swig to move the Seals to his native Cleveland. The NHL approved the move on July 14, 1976. The WHA’s Crusaders moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in early August.  Swig and Gund revived the old Barons moniker for their franchise, hoping to re-kindle Cleveland’s hockey glory days. By the time the ink was dry, the Barons had just six weeks to promote the arrival of the NHL in Cleveland before opening night.

Things went sideways immediately. Four of the Barons’ first eight homes games attracted fewer than 4,000 fans to the Richfield Coliseum. The Barons remained in the brutal Adams Division, where the Seals finished in last place the prior two seasons. The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres were league powers of the era. The Toronto Maple Leafs were competitive. The Barons languished in a distant 4th place.

By January 1977, just six months into the Cleveland experiment, majority owner Mel Swig was financially exhausted. He petitioned his fellow NHL owners for a loan to keep the Barons afloat through the end of the 1976-77 season. Then he proposed his players defer 27.5% of their paychecks for five months. On January 31, 1977, Swig missed the team’s payroll. Just as it appeared the Barons would humiliate the NHL by folding in midseason, NHL Players Association chief Alan Eagleson brokered a last minute deal. The union loaned the club $600,000, matched by $350,000 from Swig and $20,000 from each of the other NHL clubs. The $1.3 million bailout allowed the Barons to finish the season.

The Barons finished the 1976-77 in last place in the Adams Division with a 25-42-13 record. Seals holdover Dennis Maruk led the team in scoring with a 28-50-78 line. In June 1977, Swig sold the Barons to George Gund and his brother Gordon for $5.3 million in cash and promissory notes. The Barons now had committed local ownership and a full offseason to promote the team for the first time. It didn’t matter.

On the ice, the 1977-78 Barons performed a near replica of the previous winter’s futility. They finished last in the Adams Division with a 22-45-13 record. Dennis Maruk led the team once again with 36 goals and 35 assists. Behind the scenes, the Barons didn’t experience the degree of acute financial peril that they had the previous winter under Swig’s ownership. But attendance remained distressingly low at the Coliseum. The Barons made their final appearance on April 9th, 1978, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 7,364 in Richfield.  Over the course of two NHL seasons the Barons never once sold out a game.

In June 1978, the NHL allowed a merger of the Barons with another financially distressed club, the Minnesota North Stars. As part of the transaction, the Gund brothers took over ownership of the North Stars and the Barons ceased to be.

The death of the Barons on June 14th, 1978 stands as the last time a franchise in one of the “Big Four” North American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) went out of business.

 

Cleveland Barons NHL Shop



Cleveland Barons NHL Logo T-Shirt

Forgotten Glory: The Story of Cleveland Barons Hockey by Gene Kiczek

 

Cleveland Barons NHL Memorabilia

 

Barons Video

1977 Cleveland Barons highlights and interview clip from WJW-TV in Cleveland.

 

In Memoriam

Original club owner Melvin Swig died of cancer on May 14, 1993 at the age of 75. New York Times obituary.

Head Coach Jack Evans died of prostate cancer on November 10, 1996 at age 68.

Barons co-owner George Gund III passed away on January 15, 2013 after a bout with stomach cancer. Gund was 75 years old.

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 14th, 2017 at 2:57 am

2010-2012 Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants

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Sioux Falls Fighting PheasantsAmerican Association (2010-2012)

Born: February 17, 2010 – Re-branded from Sioux Falls Canaries
Re-Branded: March 26, 2013 (Sioux Falls Canaries)

Stadium: Sioux Falls Stadium (“The Birdcage”)

Major League Affiliation: Independent

Owner: Bill Sexton, Gary Weckwerth, Don Dunham Jr., Chuck Hey & Brian Schoenborn

American Association Championships: None

 

Sioux Falls, South Dakota has been one of the most stable outposts of the independent baseball movement. The Sioux Falls Canaries were one of the founding franchises in the Northern League in 1993 and will embark on their 26th season in the spring of 2018.

The Canaries did experience a disruption in the force from 2010 through 2012 when new owners re-branded the ball club with grim results. The transition started in December 2009 when the owners of Sioux Falls’ popular amateur hockey team, the Sioux Falls Stampede, purchased the Canaries from long-time owners Terry Prendergast and Mike Veeck. Bill Sexton, the new ownership group’s main financier, was a part-owner of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. New Managing Partner Gary Weckwerth had a history with the Canaries. He served as the Canaries’ first General Manager from 1993 to 1995.

Sioux Falls Fighting PheasantsThe new owners changed the ball club’s identity in February 2010. The Fighting Pheasants were “a lot tougher and meaner bird”, noted Weckwerth, and better represented South Dakota’s hunting heritage. The change also name-checked South Dakota’s old Aberdeen Pheasants minor league club (1946-1971). More changes were afoot. The team parted ways with the Canaries’ energetic long-time President John Kuhn and merged the team’s front office operations with the Stampede USHL hockey team.

Local fans were less than enthusiastic about the changes. On the field, the Pheasants were phantastic fantastic. Sioux Falls had the best record in the American Association at 63-33 under manager Steve Shirley. They lost the league championship series to the Shreveport-Bossier Captains. But box office at the Birdcage nosedived 35% from 2009. The team’s gate of 86,518 was off nearly 50,000 fans from the Canaries’ numbers the prior summer.

By June 2011, one month into the Fighting Pheasants’ second season, Weckwerth was sounding alarm bells in the press. Ticket sales dipped another 12% to 76,549.

Sioux Falls Sports, LLC unloaded the Pheasants on the eve of the 2012 American Association season. The new ownership group, fronted by long-time sports exec Tom Garrity, took over in May 2012 just two weeks before opening day. The team played out a third and final season under the Pheasants name. Fortunate weather helped attendance surge back over the 130,000 mark – in line with Canaries numbers in the years before the re-branding.

Garrity’s group changed the ball club’s name back to Canaries in March 2013.

 

Links

American Association Programs

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1985-1990 Jacksonville Expos

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Jacksonville ExposSouthern League (1985-1990)

Born: 1985 – Re-branded from Jacksonville Suns
Re-Branded: 1991 (Jacksonville Suns)

Stadium: Wolfson Park

Major League Affiliation: Montreal Expos

Owner: Peter Bragan Sr.

Southern League Championships: None

 

Professional baseball was on life support in Jacksonville, Florida when Birmingham, Alabama car dealer Peter Bragan purchased the city’s Class AA Southern League franchise in 1984. The city had allowed 30-year old Wolfson Park to fall into disrepair. The park’s roof, which covered the entire, grandstand was rotting. Bragan recalled to The Florida Times-Union in 2004 that he often came to the stadium in the mid-1980’s to find homeless people sleeping in the bleachers.

Jacksonville’s ball club had been known as the “Suns” since 1962. But Bragan agreed to adopt the branding of the team’s Major League parent club, the Montreal Expos, for the 1985 season. Attendance was meager during the Bragan family’s first season – 82,907 fans for a 72-game home calendar.

But the Bragans set about fixing up Wolfson Park as best they could and Montreal began to stock Jacksonville with outstanding prospects. Attendance doubled to 164,772 in 1986 and continued to rise every year for the rest of the 1980’s. Future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson won eleven games for Jacksonville in 1987 while future National League MVP Larry Walker belted 26 homers. The Expos finished with the best record in the Southern League that summer at 85-59.

The Expos pulled out of Jacksonville after the 1990 season. The Bragans signed a new working agreement with the Seattle Mariners and restored Jacksonville’s traditional “Suns” identity for the 1991 season. Peter Bragan Sr. owned the Expos/Sun until his death in 2012. His family sold the Suns ball club to Ken Babby in 2015 for a sum in excess of $20 million. Peter Bragan Sr. paid $330,00 for the team in 1984. In November 2016, Ken Babby changed the name of the former Expos/Suns franchise to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

 

Jacksonville Expos Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Expos owner Peter Bragan Sr. died of heart failure on July 7, 2012 at the age of 89. Florida Times-Union obituary.

Links

Southern League Media Guides

Southern League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 10th, 2017 at 8:00 pm

1974-1978 Hampton Gulls

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Hampton GullsSouthern Hockey League (1974-1977)
American Hockey League (1977-1978)

Born: October 1974: The Fayetteville Arsenal relocates to Hampton, VA
Folded: January 31, 1977
Re-Born: 1977
Folded Again: February 10, 1978

Arena: Hampton Coliseum

WHA Affiliation: Cincinnati Stingers

Team Colors:

Owners:

SHL Championships: None
Calder Cup Championships (AHL): None

 

Virginia’s Hampton Gulls hockey team formed in 1974 as an expansion franchise in the tiny Southern Hockey League. The club was intended for Fayetteville, North Carolina but arena problems there led to the hasty relocation to Hampton just days before the start of the 1974-75 season. Hampton’s 10,000-seat Coliseum was available because the American Hockey League’s Virginia Red Wings vacated the building that fall to move to the nearby Norfolk Scope.

The Southern Hockey League worked as a farm system to the World Hockey Association, the 1970’s major league rival to the NHL. The WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers served as the parent club of the Gulls.

The Gulls offered their head coaching job to 41-year old John Brophy. Often cited as the inspiration for Paul Newman’s Reggie Dunlop character in Slap Shot, Brophy was a legendary minor league enforcer over 18 seasons in the Eastern Hockey League. The Gulls job was Brophy’s first full-time coaching gig and he would stay with the Gulls for the team’s entire run in Hampton. He later became a head coach in both the WHA (Birmingham Bulls) and the NHL (Toronto Maple Leafs).

The Gulls played for the Southern Hockey League championship in the spring of 1976, losing to the Charlotte Checkers in the finals.

The Southern Hockey League folded on January 31, 1977, midway through the circuit’s fourth season. The Gulls were in first place with a 32-16-2 when the league closed its doors.

The Gulls re-grouped to join the American Hockey League for the 1977-78 season, but their stay was a short and unhappy one. The franchise folded on February 10th, 1978 after playing just 46 games of an 81 game calendar. The Gulls had the worst record in the AHL at 15-28-3 when they closed their doors.

Pro hockey returned to the Hampton Coliseum 11 months later with the formation of the Hampton Aces of the Northeastern Hockey League.

John Brophy returned to the region to coach the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League in 1989. The Admirals, who played out of the Scope in Norfolk, won three ECHL championship under Brophy during the 1990’s.

 

Hampton Gulls Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Ex-Gulls coach John Brophy died in his sleep on May 23, 2016 at age 83. CBC Obituary.

Former Gulls owner Charles Wornom died on February 26, 2017 at the age of 88. The Daily Press obituary.

 

Links

Southern Hockey League Programs

American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 7th, 2017 at 4:44 am

1963-1969 Harrisburg Capitols

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1969 Harrisburg Capitol-Colts ProgramAtlantic Coast Football League (1963-1969)

Born: 1963
Folded: Postseason 1969

Stadiums: 

Team Colors:

Owners: Mike Castiglia, et al.

ACFL Championships: None

 

The Harrisburg Capitols were a minor league football outfit in Pennsylvania’s capital city during the mid/late 1960’s. The Capitols were members of the Atlantic Coast Football League. The ACFL was a bus league with clubs clustered in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

In 1968 and 1969 the team served as a farm club for the NFL’s Baltimore Colts and went by the name “Capitol-Colts”.

After a promising 8-3-1 debut season in 1963, the Capitols were consistently awful. The team endured six straight losing seasons from 1964 until the club’s demise, including a winless 0-11 campaign in 1967 and a 1-11 mark in 1969.

Harrisburg Capitols

 

Harrisburg Colts Memorabilia

 

Links

Atlantic Coast Football League Media Guides

Atlantic Coast Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 2nd, 2017 at 4:14 am

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