Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Midwest League’ Category

1995-2002 Michigan Battle Cats

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Michigan Battle CatsMidwest League (1995-2002)

Born: September 14, 1994 – The Madison Hatters relocate to Battle Creek, Michigan
Re-Branded: 2003 (Battle Creek Yankees)

Stadium: C.O. Brown Stadium

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1995-1998: Boston Red Sox
  • 1999-2002: Houston Astros

Owners:

Midwest League Champions: 2000

 

Once upon a time, there was a new minor league baseball entry in the Midwest League to be known as the Battle Creek Golden Kazoos. Locals took a dim view of the name – hated it, actually. But the absentee owner lived in Virginia and it’s not clear that community uproar alone would have been enough to silence the Golden Kazoos.

Andy Milovich – Director of Media Relations 1994-1995

My recollection is that we held a Name the Team contest when our owners had been committed to something Kazoo related from Day One.  We intimated the disdain for Kalamazoo by many residents of Battle Creek and shared our sincere concern for the choice as a staff with our ownership, but we were ultimately overruled.  The name was met with local anger <in Battle Creek> and little enthusiasm from Kalamazoo as expected.  Kazoos itself wasn’t the problem, but the attempt to force Kalamazoo tie-ins on the Battle Creek community while running a sham contest that undermined the community trust. 

Enter local oddball George Hubka. Kazoos officials were slow to register their name after the November 1994 announcement. Hubka swooped in and poached the trademark in December. Hubka claimed, at the time, that he intended to use the Battle Creek Golden Kazoos name for a co-ed barnstorming baseball team. The parties headed to court. Less than a month before Opening Day, team officials took a mulligan on the name. They unveiled the ‘Michigan Battle Cats’ name on March 9th, 1995 along with a somewhat hideous new logo (top right).

Andy Milovich

The ownership was committed to sticking to their guns, but ultimately George Hubka gave them an out when they realized the bitterness wouldn’t wane.  They’d expected people to come around, but ultimately got a free do-over from Mr. Hubka.  They should have held a George Hubka Bobblehead Giveaway with him holding a kazoo for doing them a favor. 

The Battle Cats advanced to the 1995 Midwest League championship series in their debut season. They were swept in three games by the Beloit Snappers. The team drew 171,794 fans to C.O. Brown Stadium this summer. The franchise would never again equal that number during twelve years in Battle Creek.

Michigan Battle CatsAfter four years as a Boston Red Sox farm club, the Houston Astros became the Battle Cats’ parent club in 1999. The 1999 Battle Cats squad had a spectacular starting rotation that featured future Major Leaguers Roy Oswalt (13-4, 4.47), Tim Redding (8-6, 4.97) and Johan Santana (8-8, 4.67).  Oswalt became a three-time All-Star and earned the second most Major League wins in Houston Astros history. Santana became a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner with the Minnesota Twins.

In 2000, the Battle Cats won their first and only Midwest League championship. They swept the Beloit Snappers in three games in a rematch of the 1995 Midwest League finals.

Crowds at C.O. Brown Stadium dropped precipitously after the team’s inaugural season. The Battle Cats changed hands several times and none of the team’s three ownership groups were local to Michigan. Attendance bottomed out at 66,088 fans in 2001, a 60% drop from the team’s peak in 1995. The figure placed the Battle Cats next-to-last in the 14-team Midwest League in 2001.

Andy Milovich

The name controversy really undermined the momentum and any potential for success. The market size and stadium location as it related to the interstate presented some challenges, but the sham contest betrayed the community trust in a significant way.

The anger was so intense that I recall our Chief Operating Officer Tim Cullen being threatened at knife point outside of a bar late one night. The initial reaction to having professional baseball was very solid. They’d have a flagship of their own. But we really missed the mark with the Golden Kazoos name and everyone in the office saw it coming. 

Following the 2002 season, the New York Yankees replaced the Houston Astros as the franchise’s parent club. The Battle Cats were re-branded as the Battle Creek Yankees prior to the 2003 season. The franchise moved to Midland, Michigan in 2007 and became the Great Lakes Loons.

Postscript: In 2011, local folk hero George Hubka re-surfaced to pull his trademark squatting trick against a hot air balloon festival. In comments to Alex Nixon of The Kalamazoo Gazette, Hubka changed his story about why he trademarked the Golden Kazoos nickname nearly two decades earlier. Now it wasn’t to protect his co-ed exhibition baseball concept after all. Hubka’s Golden Kazoos were to have been a ‘Buffalo Ball’ team, staging ball games for parties and special events with a ball fashioned from dehydrated cow manure.

Sometimes there’s a man.

 

Michigan Battle Cats Memorabilia

 

Downloads

2018 FWiL Interview with Kazoos/Battle Cats Director of Media Operations Andy Milovich

 

Links

Midwest League Media Guides

Midwest League Programs

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1964-1983 Wisconsin Rapids Twins

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Wisconsin Rapids TwinsMidwest League (1964-1983)

Born: 1964: Re-branded from Wisconsin-Rapids Senators
Moved: 1984 (Kenosha Twins)

Stadium: Witter Field

Major League Affiliation: Minnesota Twins

Owners: Paper Cities Baseball Association

Midwest League Champions: 1973

 

Text coming soon…

 

Wisconsin Rapids Twins Memorabilia

 

Links

Midwest League Media Guides

Midwest League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

August 14th, 2017 at 9:37 pm

1989-1993 Waterloo Diamonds

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1991 Waterloo Diamonds ProgramMidwest League (1989-1993)

Born: 1989 – Re-branded from Waterloo Indians
Moved: 1994 (Springfield Sultans)

Stadium: Municipal Stadium (5,400)

Team Colors:

Owners: 

Midwest League Championships: None

 

The Waterloo Diamonds were the last professional baseball team to make a home in the Eastern Iowa city of 68,000. The departure of the Diamonds in 1994 brought to an end a largely uninterrupted 90-year minor league tradition stretching back to the formation of the Waterloo Microbes in 1904.

The Diamonds formed in 1989 after the Waterloo Indians Midwest League franchise lost its Major League affiliation with the Cleveland Indians. The team operated in 1989 as a co-op operation, receiving players from both the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres organizations. Co-op teams are typically awful and the 1989 Waterloo Diamonds were no exception. The club finished 47-89.

On July 6, 1989, the Diamonds hosted the Clinton Giants at Municipal Stadium in Waterloo. The team’s battled to a 3-3 tie through 19 innings before the game was suspended due to curfew shortly before 1:00 AM. The game resumed in August 1989 and the clubs played another six innings before Mike King won it for Waterloo with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 25th inning. It was the longest game in Midwest League history.

The Diamonds struck a parent club deal with the San Diego Padres in 1990. The team’s on-field fortunes improved only marginally. The team’s only winning campaign was the 1991 season (75-63). The 1991 club had a strong pitching staff that included future Major League regulars Bryce Florie, Lance Painter and Tim Worrell. The team returned to its losing ways in 1992 and 1993.

The Diamonds’ economic situation was even grimmer than the on-field product. Waterloo itself was in severe decline in the late 1980’s. The city’s Rath Packing Company, a major meatpacking employer, closed its doors in 1985. Manufacturing jobs were in decline. The U.S. Census showed a 12.5% decline in Waterloo’s population between 1980 and 1990.

In 1990, Major League Baseball and minor league baseball operators negotiated a contentious update to the Professional Baseball Agreement that governed relations between big league teams and their farm clubs. The new PBA shifted a greater burden for operating expenses to minor league owners and, most important, imposed stringent new minimum standards for ballparks that phased in during the early 90’s. The Agreement spurred the ballpark construction boom of the 1990’s and the resulting economic renaissance of the minor leagues. But it also marked the death knell of pro baseball for many small cities that lacked the political will or economic resources to build new stadiums. Waterloo’s dilapidated Municipal Stadium was a far cry from complying with the new standards.

During the 1992 season, a freelance writer named Richard Panek embedded himself with the Diamonds for the entire season. Panek’s resulting book, Waterloo Diamonds, focused on the changing economics of Rust Belt cities like Waterloo and of Minor League Baseball. Though Panek’s account concludes prior to the final departure of the Diamonds from Waterloo, the book depicts the conditions that led to the end of pro ball in the city.

Chicago advertising executive Tom Dickson and his wife Sherrie Myers purchased the Diamonds in late 1993 with the aim of moving the team to a new ballpark in Lake County, Indiana. That idea was blocked by Major League Baseball’s territorial rules (the Cubs and White Sox objected). New ownership only exacerbated the Diamonds’ often contentious relationship with Waterloo’s political leadership. When city officials moved to increase the team’s symbolic $1.00 annual lease payment to $500,000 on the eve of the 1994 season, Dickson and Myers scrambled to move the team to Springfield, Illinois just weeks before opening day.

The Waterloo Bucks amateur collegiate team formed in 1995 to replace the Diamonds at Municipal Stadium. The Bucks enter their 23rd season of operation in 2017.

 

Waterloo Diamonds Memorabilia

 

Links

Waterloo Diamonds by Richard Panek (St. Martin’s Press, 1995) on Amazon.com

Midwest League Media Guides

Midwest League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

January 21st, 2017 at 4:41 pm

1982-1994 Beloit Brewers

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Beloit Brewers Midwest League (1982-1994)

Born: 1982
Died:
1995 – Re-branded as the Beloit Snappers.

Stadium: Harry C. Pohlman Field (3,100)

Team Colors:

Owner: Beloit Professional Baseball Association

 

The Beloit (WI) Brewers were the Class A Midwest League farm club of the Milwaukee Brewers from 1982 through 1994.  The franchise still operates today in Beloit, but has been known as the Beloit Snappers since a 1995 re-branding.

Since its founding in 1982, the Beloit ball club has been operated as a community-owned non-profit organization, known as the Beloit Professional Baseball Association.

Key ballplayers to come up through Beloit during the Brewers years included future Major League All-Stars B.J. Surhoff (Beloit ’85) and Greg Vaughn (Beloit ’87), 1992 American League Rookie-of-the-Year Pat Listach (’88).

 

==Links==

Midwest League Media Guides

Midwest League Programs

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Written by AC

December 20th, 2014 at 7:17 pm

1984-1992 Kenosha Twins

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Kenosha Twins ProgramMidwest League (1984-1992)

Born: 1984 – The Wisconsin Rapids Twins relocate to Kenosha.
Moved: 1992 (Fort Wayne Wizards)

Stadium: Simmons Field (3,000)

Major League Affiliation: Minnesota Twins

Owners:

Midwest League Champions: 1985 & 1987

 

The Kenosha Twins were the Class A farm club of the Minnesota Twins from 1984 until 1992.  The team played at historic Simmons Field (erected in 1920), which received a $350,000 face lift when the former Wisconsin Rapids Twins relocated to Kenosha in 1984.  Team owner Bob Lee, Sr. was a local plumbing contractor who had played minor league baseball as a young man.

The Twins won Midwest League championships in 1985 and 1987.  Future Major League All-Stars Chuck Knoblauch, Denny Neagle and Brad Radke headlined the prospects who came up through Kenosha in this era.

By the early 1990’s, attendance in Kenosha ranked near the bottom of the Midwest League.  Simmons Field no longer met the minimum facility standards established by the 1990 Professional Baseball Agreement, which delineated the relationship between Major League Baseball teams and their farm clubs.  At the end of the 1991 season, Bob Lee sold the team to Eric Margenau, a prolific minor league investor from New York City.  Margenau kept the ball club for one last lame duck season in 1992.  Margenau moved the team to Fort Wayne, Indiana for the 1993 Midwest League season where it became known as the Fort Wayne Wizards.

 

Kenosha Twins Memorabilia

 

Downloads

1986 Kenosha Twins Ticket & Advertising Brochure

 

Links

Midwest League Media Guides

Midwest League Programs

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Written by AC

November 7th, 2014 at 1:21 am

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