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1976 Baton Rouge Cougars

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Gulf States League (1976)

Born: 1976 – Gulf States League founding franchise.
Died: August 11, 1976 – The Cougars disband in midseason.

Stadium: Alex Box Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Billy Blythe

 

The Baton Rouge Cougars were a star-crossed independent minor league team that played part of one season in the mid-1970’s before disbanding.

The Cougars were part of the Gulf States League, which was a new Class A league organized for the 1976 season.  Although the Gulf States League was part of the National Association – the umbrella organization for “affiliated” minor league baseball clubs with Major League working agreements – the GSL was the one league in the NA that was explicitly independent.  None of the six teams, which were located in Texas and Louisiana, had a Major League parent club.  The GSL was a destination of last resort for minor league castoffs and undrafted free agents.

The whole league struggled mightily in 1976, but the Cougars had an especially tough time of it.  Team owner Billy Blythe bolted town after a couple of months to parts unknown.  Paychecks stopped arriving for the ballplayers and coaches around the time Blythe vanished and Louisiana State University evicted the ball club from its stadium for back rent in early August.  A judge in Harlingen, Texas issued an arrest warrant for Cougars manager Matt Batts for failing to pay a local hotel bill during a Cougars road trip.  (The warrant was tossed when league officials explained that hotel bills were the responsibility of the home team).

On the field, the Cougars were among the best teams in the league.  But with no paychecks, no ballpark and no owner, the players themselves voted to disband the club on August 11, 1976 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Two Cougars pitchers later went on to appear in the Major Leagues.  Tom Brown made six appearances as a September call-up with the Seattle Mariners in 1978.  The big success story was Terry Leach, who was a 22-year old rookie out of Auburn University with the Cougars in 1976.  Leach was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in January 1976, but the pick was voided (for reasons I can’t discover – anybody know?).  That left Leach without an organization following his 1976 graduation from Auburn, so he latched on with Baton Rouge and the GSL, appearing in 5 games with a 2-0 record.   Leach would go on to pitch for 13 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1981-1993 and win a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins in 1991.

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