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Archive for the ‘Senior Professional Baseball Association’ Category

1989-1990 Winter Haven Super Sox

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Senior Professional Baseball Association (1989-1990)

Born: 1989 – SPBA founding franchise.
Folded: 1990

Stadium: Chain of Lakes Park

Owner: Mitchell Maxwell et al.

Senior League Championships: None

 

The Winter Haven Super Sox were one of eight original franchises in the Senior Professional Baseball Association which began play in November 1989.  League founder Jim Morley came up with the idea of a Florida-based pro league for players aged 35 and over. Somehow, he managed to move the idea from cocktail napkin to launch in less than 12 months.

The SPBA offered generous salaries in the $5,000 – $15,000 per month range, so luring recently retired ex-Major Leaguers was not a problem.  Future Hall-of-Famers Rollie Fingers and Ferguson Jenkins were among the bigger names to join the league, along with former Baltimore Orioles skipper Earl Weaver.

The Super Sox were owned by 37-year old Broadway producer Mitch Maxwell, who went to school just outside Boston at Tufts University.  True to their name, the Super Sox loaded their roster with former Boston Red Sox players, including Bill Campbell, Bernie Carbo, Cecil Cooper, Butch Hobson and Rick Wise.  The ringmaster was player-manager Bill “Spaceman” Lee, pictured on the cover of the team’s yearbook (above right).  Lee’s dual role lasted only seven games, before he was relieved of his managerial role. The Spaceman never belonged in management anyway.  Extending the Red Sox fetish, the Super Sox also made their home at Winter Haven’s Chain of Lakes Park, Boston’s long-time spring training home-away-from-home.

The Super Sox were the second worst team in the league with a 29-43 record.  Attendance was also rough. The club attracted just 19,033 fans for the entire 36-game home calendar (529 per game) according to Kenn Tomasch’s SPBA retrospective over at Kenn.com.

After the 1989-90 season, owner Mitch Maxwell attempted to move his club to Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium. But the Chicago White Sox, who used the facility for spring training, objected to the team playing in their facility. The Sarasota City Commission rejected a lease deal with the Super Sox by a 3-2 vote in May of 1990.

With the Sarasota move dead in the water, Maxwell folded the Super Sox shortly thereafter and bought the SPBA’s West Palm Beach Tropics franchise instead.  But the league made it only one month into its second season before folding abruptly in December 1990.

 

Downloads

1989-90 Senior Professional Baseball Association Attendance Summary

Senior Professional Baseball Association Standard Player Contract

 

Links

Senior Citizens” – Kenn Tomasch, Kenn.com.

Senior Professional Baseball Association Programs

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1989-1990 St. Lucie Legends

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St. Lucie LegendsSenior Professional Baseball Association (1989-1990)

Born: 1989 – SPBA founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1990

Stadium: St. Lucie County Sports Complex

Owner: Joe Sprung

Senior League Championships: None

 

The St. Lucie Legends were one of eight original franchises in the Senior Professional Baseball Association, which debuted in November 1989.  The SPBA was a Florisa-based winter time league, which played a 72-game schedule between the end of the World Series and the start of spring training.  Players had to be 35 years of age or older, except for catchers, who could be as young as 32. The SPBA’s oldest player was 54-year old Ed Rakow of the West Palm Beach Tropics, who last played in the Major League in 1967.

The Legends had some great names, including 1971 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Vida Blue, 1977 National League MVP George Foster, and former Major League All-Star Bobby Bonds.  Six-time All-Star Graig Nettles, whose 22-season Major League career concluded one year earlier in 1988, signed on as player-manager.

St. Lucie LegendsDespite the pedigree of top stars, the Legends were a league doormat. They lost 20 of their first 23 games and cost Nettles his manager’s post. Bonds replaced Nettles as manager for the remainder of the season.

The team also had severe financial struggles.  Actually, the entire Senior Baseball concept was a bust throughout Florida.  The SPBA averaged just 921 fans league-wide during the 1989-90 season. St. Lucie was one of the worst markets with average attendance of only 607 fans for 36 home games.

Team owner Joe Sprung tried to unload the team midway through the season without success.  The Legends ended up bouncing two payrolls towards the end of the season, nearly resulting in a player walkout.  The team managed to complete the 1989-90 season and finished dead last at 20-51.  The club folded shortly thereafter.

The SPBA contracted to six clubs – including expansion teams in Arizona and California – and attempted a second season in the winter of 1990-91. The league lasted only a month before folding abruptly in December 1990.

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Each SPBA team was allowed up to three players with no Major League experience.  The Legends signed a 31-year old ex-minor league catcher named Chuck Fick. The pinnacle of Fick’s playing career was 19 games in triple-A in 1983.  Fick then went Hollywood, playing bit parts as ballplayers in films like Mr. Baseball and The Sandlot.  Prior to joining the Legends in 1989, his most recent catching experience was as the perplexed California Angels backstop dealing with Leslie Nielsen in the 1988 hit comedy The Naked Gun:

 

Downloads

1989-90 Senior Professional Baseball Association standard player contract

1989-90 Senior Professional Baseball Association Attendance Figures

 

Links

Senior Professional Baseball Association Programs

“Senior Citizens” – Kenn Tomasch’s SPBA retrospective on Kenn.com

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1989-90 Orlando Juice

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Senior Professional Baseball Association (1989-1990)

Born: 1989 – SPBA founding franchise.
Folded: Postseason 1990

Stadium: Tinker Field

Owner: Phillip Breen

Senior League Championships: None

 

32-year old  Jim Morley dreamt up the concept for the Senior Professional Baseball Association in January 1989.  Morley played one season of minor league baseball in the San Francisco Giants farm system before moving to Colorado Springs and finding success as a commercial real estate broker.  On vacation with his girlfriend at the Great Barrier Reef, Morley felt distracted by the cash flow challenges of his newly opened independent realty office.  Morley later told the author David Whitford that he considered several new ventures as a means of generating some quick cash, including a bead store and a balloon delivery service. Ultimately, inspired by Senior PGA Tour, he settled on a baseball league for players ages 35 and older.

Morley paid $12.95 for a mail order book by a man named Jack Smalling, who compiled the last known addresses of several thousand retired Major League Baseball players for the benefit of autograph collectors.  He sent letters describing his idea to 2,200 ex-ballplayers who debuted in the Majors between 1969 and 1978.  Projecting salaries of $5,000 to $15,000 per month, it’s not surprising that he received hundreds of eager replies.  More remarkable is that Morley quickly assembled a small group of willing investors. The founders of the Senior League included future Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC owner John Henry.

Incredibly, barely 11 months after conceiving his idea, Morley stood on the field at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida presiding over opening night of his eight-team, Florida-based league.  The league attracted some big names, including Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Madlock, Bill Lee, Mickey Rivers, Rollie Fingers and Dave Kingman.  The 35-and-over rule was relaxed for catchers, who could be as young as 32.  Pitcher Ed Rakow, who made his Major League debut 29 years earlier in 1960 was league’s oldest player at age 54.

The Orlando Juice franchise had one of the league’s most active owners in Phillip Breen, although the true extent of Breen’s activities would only become apparent months later.  Breen’s Juice roster featured many familiar names from the 1970’s and 1980’s including Jose Cruz, Tom Paciorek, Pete Falcone, U.L. Washington and Bake McBride.  One of the most intriguing Juice players was Randy Bass, a legendary minor league slugger of the 1970’s who failed to stick in the Majors.  Bass went to Japan and became one of the great gaijin (American) superstars of the league. He won back-to-back Japanese triple crowns in 1985 and 1986.

The Juice were so-so on the field, posting a 37-35 record, and horrid at the box office, averaging a league-worst 400 fans per game.  Breen, meanwhile, took a hands-on role in the growing pains of the young league.  Breen served as President of Group One Mortgage in Southfield, Michigan and had more ready access to cash than some of the other fledgling owners.  When the Ft. Myers Sun Sox ran into early cash flow problems, Breen stepped in with the offer of a $550,000 start-up loan, although the league vetoed the proposal.  Later, when St. Lucie Legends owners Joe Sprung and Burt Adams ran out of funds, Breen recruited a friend, Lenny Woolf, as an angel investor who put in $400,000 to allow the Legends to finish the season.

But in December 1989, Breen’s facade began to collapse.  A routine audit at Breen’s employer, Group One Mortgage, revealed that payments from two other mortage companies, First Oakland Mortgage Company and Franklin Mortgage Company, had fallen behind.  Breen had purchased mortgages from both companies and then re-sold them to the governmental mortgage company, Freddie Mac.  Group One Mortage was making its payments on time, but with the originators in arrears on payments to Group One, the company was out $240,000 so far on the transactions.   Breen had personally approved the deals and promised an explanation and a quick fix to Group One owner Douglas Hardy.  When he stopped returning calls altogether, Hardy called the FBI.

On January 7th, 1990, Winter Haven Super Sox owner Mitch Maxwell reached Breen by phone to discuss a Senior League TV rights deal.  Their brief conversation was one of the final known contacts anyone would have with Breen.  The following day Breen skipped a schedule meeting with Hardy and the FBI. Then he vanished off the face of the Earth.

The ensuing investigation revealed that Breen’s scam to be much larger than the $240,000 originally detected.  First Oakland Mortgage and Franklin Mortgage were fictitious entities conjured by Breen himself.  The mortgages that Breen purchased from them were imaginary. But the funds paid out by Group One were not. They went to Breen to fund his baseball investments, boats, vacation homes and a brokerage account with $1 million stashed in it.  Even the $400,000 that Woolf put into the Legends turned out to be Breen’s dirty money which Woolf seems to have interpreted as either a gift or a loan.  The thefts went undetected, so long as Breen never fell behind on the interest payments due back to Group One. And if he did, he could also sell Group One another imaginary mortgage to raise the needed funds.  Why he failed to do so in December 1989 remains a mystery that Breen has never had to explain.  Breen has never been located.  The total scale of his theft has been estimated at $10 million.

After Breen’s disappearance, the Senior League had to cash in a letter of credit to fund the final Juice payroll of the 1989-90 SPBA season.  Unsurprisingly, the Juice folded after the season ended, along with three other clubs.   The SPBA returned in the fall of 1990 with two expansion teams in Arizona and California.  The circuit remained desperately under capitalized and folded in December 1990, midway through its second season.

Breen was featured in the November 20th, 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

 

Downloads

1989-90 Orlando Juice Roster (Pre-Season)

1989-90 Senior Professional Baseball Association Attendance Figures

Senior Professional Baseball Association standard player contract

 

Links

Senior Professional Baseball Association Programs

“Senior Citizens” – Kenn Tomasch’s SPBA retrospective on Kenn.com

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