Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘American Association 1902-1997’ Category

1962-1997 Oklahoma City 89ers

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Oklahoma City 89ersAmerican Association (1962 & 1969-1997)
Pacific Coast League (1963-1968)

Born: 1962
Re-Branded: 1998 (Oklahoma RedHawks)

Stadium: All Sports Stadium

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1962-1964: Houston Colt .45s
  • 1965-1972: Houston Astros
  • 1973-1975: Cleveland Indians
  • 1976-1982: Philadelphia Phillies
  • 1983-1998: Texas Rangers

Owners:

American Association Champions: 1992 & 1996
Pacific Coast League Champions: 1963 & 1965

 

The “89ers” (1962-1997) is the best known appellation of Oklahoma City’s long-running Class AAA minor league baseball team. The team’s name derives from the Land Rush of 1899, the same frenzied appropriation and settlement of former Native American lands that inspired the University of Oklahoma’s “Sooners” nickname.

The team began play in 1962 as the top farm club of Major League Baseball’s Houston Colt .45s expansion franchise. The 89ers essentially took the spot of the Houston Buffs in the Class AAA American Association after the Buffs were displaced by the Colt .45s. The American Association disbanded after the 89ers debut season in 1962. The 89ers shifted to the Pacific Coast League in 1963 and won their first championship that summer, defeating the Spokane Indians in a seven-game series.

The 89ers would win another PCL championship in 1965. Major League’s baseball’s 1969 expansion round brought about a need for more Class AAA farm clubs. So the American Association was resuscitated and Oklahoma City moved back to the Midwest-based league.

The ball club fell on hard times during the mid-1970’s. The 89ers’ long-time affiliation with Houston ended in 1973. The lowly Cleveland Indians replaced Houston as the 89ers’ parent club from 1973 to 1975. Ownership changed hands four times between 1971 and 1978 as crowds dwindled at All Sports Stadium.

Oklahoma City 89ersA key moment in the club’s resurgence occurred in 1976. A new owner (Harry Valentine) and new parent club (Philadelphia Phillies) arrived on the scene that summer. Valentine gave the team’s advertising account to a local woman named Patty Cox of the Cox Advertising Agency. Cox’s firm created the 89ers’ ubiqituous “Goodtime Baseball” ad campaigns of the late 1970’s. The following summer, Valentine promoted Cox to General Manager, making her the first female GM in Class AAA ball. When Valentine decided to unload the club in 1978, Patty Cox put together a local ownership group to keep the team in OKC. Cox and her husband Bing Hampton would operate the 89ers for the next decade. Crowds grew from 172,996 in 1978 to 364,247 in 1985.

Cox and Hampton helped to engineer the team’s revival without the benefit of much winning. After winning the Pacific Coast League title in 1965, the 89ers endured a nearly 30-year drought before winning their next title in 1992. But, of course, some terrific ballplayers passed through town in the interim. J.R. Richard won 10 games for the 1972 89ers. Future Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg played the entire summer in OKC in 1981. Ruben Sierra came through as a 20-year old phenom in the Texas Rangers system in 1986. Sierra returned to town 14 summers later, by which time the 89ers had become the RedHawks, to launch an improbable late career comeback with the Rangers.

After the 1989 season, Jeffrey Loria bought the 89ers from Bing Hampton and Patty Cox Hampton for a figure variously reported as $3.8 or $4.6 million. It was 49-year old New York art dealer’s first baseball investment. He would later go on to own the Montreal Expos and Florida/Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball and infuriate baseball fans in two countries. Loria sold the 89ers for $8 million in 1993.

1997 marked the end of an era for Oklahoma City baseball in many ways. The American Association folded at the end of that season. The 89ers moved back to the Pacific Coast League and were re-branded as the Oklahoma RedHawks for the 1998 season. The ball club also moved out of 35-year old All Sports Stadium and into the new $34 million Bricktown Ballpark.

The former 89ers franchise still plays in OKC today. The team has been known as the Oklahoma City Dodgers since 2015.

 

Oklahoma City 89ers Shop


Baseball in Oklahoma City by Bob Burke

Oklahoma City 89ers Memorabilia

 

89ers Video

The 89ers defeat the Indianapolis Indians to claim the 1996 American Association crown. September 14, 1996.

 

In Memoriam

Field manager Grady Hatton (89ers ’63-’65) died of natural causes at age 90 on April 11, 2013.

Manager Jim Bunning (89ers ’76) was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 and the U.S. Senate representing Kentucky in 1999. He passed away on May 26, 2017 at the age of 85.

Outfielder Danny Walton (89ers ’68-’69) was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1969. He passed away on August 9, 2017 at age 70.

 

Links

American Association Media Guides

American Association Programs

Pacific Coast League Media Guides

Pacific Coast League Programs

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1970-1984 Evansville Triplets

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Evansville Triplets ProgramAmerican Association (1970-1984)

Born: 1970 – American Association expansion franchise.
Moved: 1985 (Nashville Sounds)

Stadium: Bosse Field

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1970: Minnesota Twins
  • 1971-1973: Milwaukee Brewers
  • 1974-1984: Detroit Tigers

Owners:

American Association Champions: 1972, 1975 & 1979

 

Text coming soon…

 

Links

American Association Media Guides

American Association Programs

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Written by AC

October 3rd, 2015 at 11:30 pm

1978-1981 Springfield Redbirds

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Springfield RedbirdsAmerican Association (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – The New Orleans Pelicans relocate to Springfield, IL.
Moved: November 11, 1981 (Louisville Redbirds).

Stadium: Lanphier Park

Major League Affiliation: St. Louis Cardinals

Owner: A. Ray Smith

American Association Champions: 1980

 

The Springfield Redbirds were a Class AAA farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals that played for four summers at Springfield, Illinois’ Lanphier Park.

Key future Major Leaguers who came through Springfield during this era included Leon Durham (1979-1980), Tom Herr (1978-1980), Terry Kennedy (1978-1979), Donnie Moore (1980-1981) and Ken Oberkfell (1978) among others.

The Redbirds won the 1980 championship of the American Association, with Hal Lanier as field manager.

Prior to the Redbirds final season in Springfield in 1981, team owner A. Ray Smith signed a six-year contract with the city of Springfield to lease Lanphier Park for $50,000 per season through 1986.  But at the end of that summer, smelling a sweeter deal in Louisville, Kentucky, Smith broke the lease and uprooted his club for the second time in five years.  The American Association owners voted 7-1 to allow the move in November 1981.  The city of Springfield responded with a lawsuit against Smith and the league in December.

Ultimately, Smith paid a six-figure settlement to the city of Springfield and was allowed to run off to Kentucky.  In Louisville, the Redbirds became one of the top minor league attractions of the 1980’s and the first minor league team to attract one million fans in a single season in 1983.  Springfield, meanwhile, received a Class A Midwest League farm club – the Springfield Cardinals – in 1982 to replace the departing Redbirds.  The Cardinals played from 1982 until 1993.

 

Links

American Association Media Guides

American Association Programs

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Written by AC

October 12th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

1949-1960 Charleston Senators

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Charleston SenatorsCentral League (1949-1951)
American Association (1952-1960)

Born: 1948 – Charleston joins the Central League for the 1949 season
Folded: January 17, 1961

Stadium: Watt Powell Park

Team Colors:

Owners: Community stockholders

 

The Charleston Senators of 1949-1960 (actually two different franchises) were the most recent in a spate of minor league baseball clubs to operate under the “Senators” nickname in the West Virginia city during the first half of the 20th century.    Previous incarnations of the Sens played from 1910-1916 and again from 1931-1942.

Baseball returned to Charleston after World War II when the Senators joined the Class A Central League as a new Cincinnati Reds farm club for the 1949 season.  The Sens lasted three years as a Reds affiliate until the Central League itself folded following the 1951 season.

The 1952 season started with no baseball at Watt Powell Park.  But on June 23, 1952, the Chicago White Sox’ struggling Toledo Mud Hens farm club in the American Association moved to Charleston in mid-season.  The club took back the Senators identity on arrival in West Virginia and finished the year with a ghastly 46-107 record.

The Senators continued to be dreadful for the next two years as a White Sox farm club and again in 1955 as a parent-less independent team.  One highlight during the 1955 independent season was the arrival 39-year old former Negro League star Luke Easter, who bashed 30 home runs and drove in 102.  But the team itself was terrible again and finished 55-99.

Charleston SenatorsThe Sens’ fortunes finally changed in 1956 when the Detroit Tigers became Charleston’s parent club and stocked the team with young prospects, including Jim Bunning, Charlie Lau, and Hal Woodeschick.  In 1958, the Senators won their first and only American Association pennant with an 85-66 record.

The Tigers pulled out after the 1959 season and the Washington Senators as Charleston’s new parent club for 1960. (For the first and only time, Charleston’s long-standing Senators nickname – quite coincidentally – aligned with their Major League patron).  Although the Senators were typically a laughingstock Major League franchise, they stocked Charleston with a host of top prospects in the summer of 1960, including Jim Kaat, Don Mincher and Zoilo Versalles.

Charleston lost $30,000 as a community run ball club during the 1960 season . The deficit was substantial enough to imperil the club’s prospects to play the 1961 season.  In addition, the Washington Senators were in the midst of moving to Minneapolis to become the Minnesota Twins. Washington owner Calvin Griffith got into a dispute with the American Association over the fee that the Sens would pay to displace the AA’s St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers franchises.  The American Association asked for $1.6 million.  The ever tight-fisted Griffith initially countered with $50,000. Charleston was caught in the middle of the dispute as both Griffith’s top farm club and a member of the Association seeking compensation from him.

The Major League club declined to bail Charleston out of its red ink.  After four months of trying to re-capitalize the ball club for the 1961 season, Sam Lopinsky, the President of the community stockholders, threw in the towel on January 17, 1961.

Baseball did return to Charleston and Watt Powell Park midway through the summer of 1961 when the Class AAA San Juan Marlins relocated from Puerto Rico in midseason. This created the unusual scenario of a West Virginia team named after a salt water sporting fish. But that is a story for another day.

 

Senators Video

24-minute documentary “Rounding Third: Watt Powell Once More” from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, circa 2004.  Great vintage footage of Luke Easter with the Sens.

 

In Memoriam=

Slugger Luke Easter (Senators ’55), was murdered in an armed robbery in Ohio on March 29, 1979.  He was 63.

Marvin Milkes was the Senators’ last General Manager in 1960. He later became GM of the Seattle Pilots and a prominent character in Jim Bouton’s landmark memoir Ball Four.  Milkes died of a heart attack while working out at a gym on January 31st, 1982 at age 58.

Zollo Versalles hit .278 in a 139 games for Charleston as a 20-year old in the summer of 1960.  Five years later, he was the American League MVP for the Twins.  Versalles died at age 55 on June 9, 1995.

 

Links

American Association Media Guides

American Association Programs

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Written by AC

December 28th, 2013 at 6:35 pm

1969-1981 Iowa Oaks

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Iowa Oaks BaseballAmerican Association (1969-1981)

Born: 1969
Re-Branded: February 1, 1982 (Iowa Cubs)

Stadium: Sec Taylor Stadium

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1969-1972: Oakland A’s
  • 1973-1974: Chicago White Sox
  • 1975: Houston Astros
  • 1976-1980: Chicago White Sox
  • 1981: Chicago Cubs

Owner: Ray Johnston

American Association Championships: None

 

The Iowa Oaks baseball team was a triple-A minor league club that played from 1969 to 1981 at Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines.  The franchise continues to exist today under the Iowa Cubs name.

During the Oaks era, the club was never especially competitive.  The Oaks only made the American Association playoffs once in thirteen seasons, advancing to the championship series in 1973, which they lost to the Tulsa Oilers.

Iowa Oaks BaseballIn April 1973, the Oaks signed 1968 American League Cy Young Award Winner and Most Valuable Player Denny McLain to a free agent contract.  The signing of the controversial McLain was made by the Oaks’ local management, and not by their parent club at the time, the Chicago White Sox.  McLain was the last man to to win 30 games in the Major Leagues, which he did at age 24 with the World Champion Detroit Tigers in 1968.  He would share the Cy Young Award again in 1969.  But he was suspended for much of the 1970 season for participating in a book making operation. When he did finally return, his game suffered due to a sore arm.  He made his final Major League appearance in 1972 and after his brief comeback attempt in Iowa, McLain was out of pro baseball before age 30.

Before the start of the 1981 season, the Oaks’ Major League affiliation passed from the Chicago White Sox to the Chicago Cubs.  After one final season under the Oaks name in 1981, the team was re-branded as the Iowa Cubs on February 1st, 1982.  The Iowa Cubs continue to serve as the top farm club of the Chicago Cubs to this day.

The re-branding of the team in the winter of 1981-82 coincided with the departure of longtime owner Ray Johnston, who founded the Oaks in 1969.  A Springfield, Illinois group offered Johnston a reported $600,000 to sell and relocate the Oaks to that city.  But the team was saved by Ken Grandquist, a member of the Oaks’ community steering committee since 1969. Grandquist spearheaded a local group to buy out Johnston for and save triple-A baseball for Des Moines.

Grandquist would own the Iowa Cubs for nearly two decades.  He died from complications of a stroke that he suffered in his skybox at Sec Taylor Stadium on opening day of the 1999 season.  He was 75 years old.

 

Iowa Oaks Memorabilia

 

Links

American Association Media Guides

American Association Programs

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Written by AC

April 1st, 2013 at 12:23 am

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