Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘South Atlantic League’ Category

1979-1993 Greensboro Hornets

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Greensboro HornetsWestern Carolinas League (1979)
South Atlantic League (1980-1993)

Born: 1979 – Western Carolinas League expansion franchise
Re-Branded: 1994 (Greensboro Bats)

Stadium: World War Memorial Stadium

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1979: Cincinnati Reds
  • 1980-1984: New York Yankees
  • 1985-1987: Boston Red Sox
  • 1988-1989: Cincinnati Reds
  • 1990-1993: New York Yankees

Owners:

Western Carolinas League Championships: None
South Atlantic League Champions: 1980, 1981 & 1982

 

The Greensboro Hornets joined the Class A Western Carolinas League in 1979. Larry Schmittou owned the Class AA Nashville Sounds, along with a coterie of country music stars including Conway Twitty, Cal Smith and Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys. Under Schmittou’s management, the Sounds became one of the most popular and financially successful minor league baseball franchises in the country in the late 1970’s. Schmittou and his group turned their sights next on Greensboro, purchasing the Hornets as an expansion club for $25,000.

Schmittou, who remained in Nashville, installed Tom Romenesko as General Manager and the duo set out to replicate the Sounds success. The team ran promotions virtually every night in 1979. A Used Car Night drew 8,215 fans to World War Memorial Stadium. A visit by Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Feller attracted 5,000. On August 22, 1979, the Hornets broke the stadium attendance record when 12,602 fans showed up for a game.

Change was afoot in 1980. The Western Carolinas League re-branded itself as the South Atlantic League. The New York Yankees replaced the Cincinnati Reds as the Hornets’ parent club. The Hornets won the first of three consecutive South Atlantic League titles that summer. A Yankees prospect named Don Mattingly led the circuit with a .358 batting average.

The Hornets Major League affiliation shuffled several times during the rest of the 1980’s. Both the Reds and the Yankees would return for second stints in town. Schmittou’s group sold the Hornets for a reported $900,000 in 1989 to Raleigh, North Carolina businessman Steve Bryant.

Around the same time, the Hornets got embroiled in legal disputes with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and their owner George Shinn over the use of the “Hornets” moniker. Bryant appeared to prevail in a legal settlement in 1991 that allowed Greensboro to continue to use the name. Nevertheless, the team re-branded itself in 1994 as the Greensboro Bats.

By the dawn of the 1990’s the Yankees were back as Greensboro’s Major League sponsor. A teenage Derek Jeter appeared briefly for the Hornets in 1992 and then played the entire summer in Greensboro in 1993. Jeter made an astonishing 56 errors (!) for Greensboro at shortstop in 1993.

The former Hornets franchise remains in Greensboro and continues to play the South Atlantic League. The team moved into a new ballpark in 2005 and is known as the Greensboro Grasshoppers today.

 

Greensboro Hornets Memorabilia

 

Links

Western Carolina League Programs

South Atlantic League Media Guides

South Atlantic League Programs

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1988-1993 Augusta Pirates

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1988 Augusta Pirates ProgramSouth Atlantic League (1988-1993)

Born: October 1987 – The Macon Pirates relocate to Augusta, GA
Re-Branded: 1994 (Augusta Greenjackets)

Stadium: Heaton Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners: 

South Atlantic League Champions: 1989

 

The Augusta Pirates were a Class A farm of the Pittsburgh Pirates for six seasons during the late 1980’s/early 90’s.  The franchise relocated from Macon, Georgia in 1988 after years of effort by Bill Heaton to bring pro baseball back to Augusta after a quarter century absence.  Heaton became a part-owner of the team and Augusta’s modest new minor league ballpark was named for him.

Notable Augusta players included Moises Alou (’88), Tim Wakefield (’89) and Esteban Loaiza (’92).

The club was re-branded as the Augusta Greenjackets in 1994 in keeping with a broader trend of minor league clubs carving out their own brand identities separate from the Major League parent clubs.

 

==Links==

South Atlantic League Programs

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Written by AC

September 22nd, 2015 at 11:56 am

1987-1994 Charleston Wheelers

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Charleston Wheelers ProgramSouth Atlantic League (1987-1994)

Born: 1987 – South Atlantic League expansion franchise
Re-Branded: October 25, 1994 (Charleston Alley Cats)

Stadium: Watt Powell Park

Team Colors: Green & Blue

Owners:

South Atlantic League Champions: 1990

 

Charleston, West Virginia went without pro baseball for three summers after the Charleston Charlies pulled up stakes for Maine in late 1983.  The Charlies were a triple-A club just one step removed from the Major Leagues.  But by 1983, Charleston was the smallest Class AAA city in America by population. So it was little surprise that when pro ball returned with the formation of the Charleston Wheelers in the spring of 1987, local hardball fans had to accept a demotion to the Class A South Atlantic League.

The Wheelers were a “co-op” club that first season – a dreaded (if not entirely uncommon) status in minor league baseball at the time.  Without a true Major League parent club, the Wheelers cobbled a roster together with table scraps from six organizations. Nevertheless, the team finished with a respectable 66-72 record and the summer attendance of 97,563 counted for third best in the South Atlantic League.

Trevor Hoffman Charleston WheelersThe Wheelers had a two-year run as a Chicago Cubs farm club in 1988 and 1989. In 1990, the Cincinnati Reds replaced the Cubs and the Wheelers had their finest hour, sweeping the Savannah Cardinals to win the SAL championship.  The biggest name on the team was 22-year Trevor Hoffman.  Hoffman, of course, would go on to become one of the greatest closers in Major League history for the San Diego Padres.  But with the Wheelers in the summer of 1990, he was a weak-hitting infielder struggling to hang on in the Reds system. Hoffman would begin his conversion to pitching the following summer.

Wheelers attendance peaked at 185,389 during the 1991 season.  Wheelers’ box office declined sharply in the summers to follow, crashing to 110,118 in 1993. Shortly after the 1993 season ended, original owner Dennis Bastien unloaded the Wheelers in a three-way swap.  Bastien effectively traded the Wheelers to George Shinn (owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets) for the Class AA Nashville Xpress of the Southern League. Shinn then immediately sold the Wheelers back to a large consortium of Charleston businessmen, led by Wheelers  accountant Mike Paterno.  The new owners ran the club as the Wheelers for one final summer in 1994 before re-branding the team as the Charleston Alley Cats in 1995.

The former Wheelers/Alley Cats franchise continues to play in Charleston to this day.  After yet another re-branding in 2005, the club is known today as the West Virginia Power.

 

==Links==

South Atlantic League Programs

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1963-1994 Spartanburg Phillies, Traders, Spinners & Suns

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Spartanburg PhilliesWestern Carolinas League (1963-1979)
South Atlantic League (1980-1994)

Born: 1963 – Western Carolinas League expansion franchise.
Moved:
1995 (Kannapolis Intimidators)

Stadium: Duncan Park

Major League Affiliation: Philadelphia Phillies

Owners:

Western Carolinas League Champions: 1966, 1967, 1972, 1973 & 1975

 

For more than three decades, Spartanburg, South Carolina was one of the first destinatons for young prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.  The city’s glory days as a Phillies farm club came in the mid-1960’s.  The Spartanburg Phillies won back-to-back Western Carolinas League titles in 1966 and 1967.  The 1966 Spartanburg club, featuring a middle infield combo of Larry Bowa and Denny Doyle, had a 91-35 record and was ranked #78 in the Top 100 minor league teams of all-time as chosen by the National Association in 2001.

Off the field, Pat Williams, a young protégé of maverick promoter Bill Veeck, promoted the Spartanburg clubs of the 1960’s.  Williams ran constant promotions and local fans responded.  In 1966, Spartanburg re-wrote the single season Class A attendance record.  Williams – a young man in his mid-20’s during his time in Spartanburg – would go on to become one of the mostly highly respected chief executives in the NBA, as General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

Spartanburg PhilliesThe Phils enjoyed another run of league dominance in the early 1970’s, winning Western Carolinas League crowns in 1972, 1973 and 1975.  But by the 1970’s, both Williams and the crowds were long gone.  Attendance at Duncan Park during the 1970’s was frequently under 500 fans per night, reflecting the broader existential crisis in minor league baseball around the country during that era.

As the 1980’s dawned, the Western Carolinas League re-branded itself as the South Atlantic League.  Spartanburg continued its long-time relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies, but starting in 1981 the team adopted a series of new names.  The ball club was known first as the Spartanburg Traders (1981-1982), then the Spartanburg Spinners (1983) and finally the Spartanburg Suns (1984-1985).  Meanwhile, in 1984, the Most Valuable Players of both the American League (Willie Hernandez) and the National League (Ryne Sandberg) were former members of the Spartanburg Phillies.

In 1986 the team took back the traditional Spartanburg Phillies name.  Two seasons later, the Spartanburg Phillies won the 1988 South Atlantic League crown. It was to be the city’s final minor league championship.

By the early 1990’s, Duncan Park was badly outdated. The venue no longer met the minimum Class A standards set by the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. Spartanburg’s attendance consistenly ranked last in the South Atlantic League by this point.   While numerous small mid-Atlantic cities were willing to help finance new ballparks to lure minor league baseball, Spartanburg didn’t show the political will to upgrade Duncan Park.  Late era owner Brad Shover entertained numerous offers for the team in the 1990’s before finally closing a deal with NASCAR team owner Larry Hedrick in late 1993.  Hedrick operated the Phillies for one lame duck season in Spartanburg in 1994 before moving the team to a new ballpark in Kannapolis, North Carolina in 199

At the time of the move in 1995, the Philadelphia Phillies and the city of Spartanburg had the 5th longest relationship between a Major League ballclub and a minor league community.  The former Spartanburg franchise plays on today as the Kannapolis Intimidators.

 

Links

Western Carolina League Programs

South Atlantic League Media Guides

South Atlantic League Programs

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1985-1990 Sumter Braves

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Sumter Braves ProgramSouth Atlantic League (1985-1990)

Born: 1985
Relocated: 1991 (Macon Braves)

Stadium: Riley Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Atlanta Braves

 

The Sumter Braves were the Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves in the South Atlantic League during the late 1980’s.  It was a flush era for the Braves farm system and many of the future stars of Atlanta’s National League dynasty of the 1990’s came through Sumter on their way up the ladder.

Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine went 9-6 in 26 starts for Sumter as a 19-year old in 1985.  Ron Gant and Mark Lemke split time at 2nd Base for that 1985 club.  Lemke returned in 1986 and belted 18 home runs, tops on the club.  Future All-Star David Justice, then 20 years old, add 10 homers and 61 RBIs.

Ryan Klesko and Mark Wohlers arrived in 1989.  Both returned to Sumter in 1990 as well and both would become key contributors to Atlanta’s 1995 World Series championship team.

Attendance was notably weak in Sumter throughout the Braves era.  The team rarely sold more than 200 season tickets and average crowds were well below 500 per night.  Following the 1990 season, the Braves pulled out and moved their Sally League farm club to Macon, Georgia.  Sumter got a new team, the Sumter Flyers, in the South Atlantic League for the 1991 season.  The Flyers served the Montreal Expos, but they last only one season before leaving town as well.

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Sumter Braves General Manager (1987-1990) Ed Holtz died of an aortic aneurysm on October 6th, 1995.  He was 65 years old.

 

==Links==

South Atlantic League Programs

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Written by AC

July 4th, 2014 at 8:58 pm

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