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1974-1978 Hampton Gulls

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Hampton GullsSouthern Hockey League (1974-1977)
American Hockey League (1977-1978)

Born: October 1974: The Fayetteville Arsenal relocates to Hampton, VA
Folded: January 31, 1977
Re-Born: 1977
Folded Again: February 10, 1978

Arena: Hampton Coliseum

WHA Affiliation: Cincinnati Stingers

Team Colors:

Owners:

SHL Championships: None
Calder Cup Championships (AHL): None

 

Virginia’s Hampton Gulls hockey team formed in 1974 as an expansion franchise in the tiny Southern Hockey League. The club was intended for Fayetteville, North Carolina but arena problems there led to the hasty relocation to Hampton just days before the start of the 1974-75 season. Hampton’s 10,000-seat Coliseum was available because the American Hockey League’s Virginia Red Wings vacated the building that fall to move to the nearby Norfolk Scope.

The Southern Hockey League worked as a farm system to the World Hockey Association, the 1970’s major league rival to the NHL. The WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers served as the parent club of the Gulls.

The Gulls offered their head coaching job to 41-year old John Brophy. Often cited as the inspiration for Paul Newman’s Reggie Dunlop character in Slap Shot, Brophy was a legendary minor league enforcer over 18 seasons in the Eastern Hockey League. The Gulls job was Brophy’s first full-time coaching gig and he would stay with the Gulls for the team’s entire run in Hampton. He later became a head coach in both the WHA (Birmingham Bulls) and the NHL (Toronto Maple Leafs).

The Gulls played for the Southern Hockey League championship in the spring of 1976, losing to the Charlotte Checkers in the finals.

The Southern Hockey League folded on January 31, 1977, midway through the circuit’s fourth season. The Gulls were in first place with a 32-16-2 when the league closed its doors.

The Gulls re-grouped to join the American Hockey League for the 1977-78 season, but their stay was a short and unhappy one. The franchise folded on February 10th, 1978 after playing just 46 games of an 81 game calendar. The Gulls had the worst record in the AHL at 15-28-3 when they closed their doors.

Pro hockey returned to the Hampton Coliseum 11 months later with the formation of the Hampton Aces of the Northeastern Hockey League.

John Brophy returned to the region to coach the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League in 1989. The Admirals, who played out of the Scope in Norfolk, won three ECHL championship under Brophy during the 1990’s.

 

Hampton Gulls Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Ex-Gulls coach John Brophy died in his sleep on May 23, 2016 at age 83. CBC Obituary.

Former Gulls owner Charles Wornom died on February 26, 2017 at the age of 88. The Daily Press obituary.

 

Links

Southern Hockey League Programs

American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 7th, 2017 at 4:44 am

1979-1981 Hampton Aces

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Hampton AcesNortheastern Hockey League (1979)
Eastern Hockey League (1979-1981)

Born: January 1979 – The Jersey Aces relocate to Hampton, VA
Folded: Postseason 1981

Arena: Hampton Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners: Mike Schmidt and Jim Humphrey

NEHL Championships: None
EHL Championships: None

 

The Hampton Aces were a low-level minor league hockey team in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The club started out as the Jersey Aces in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in the fall of 1978. Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt was one of the team’s financial backers. After the team flopped in the Philly suburbs, Schmidt and his partner abruptly moved the club to Virginia midway through the club’s debut season.

The Aces played for the Northeastern Hockey League championship in the spring of 1979. They were defeated by the Erie Blades.

Prior to the club’s second season, the Northeastern Hockey League re-branded itself as the Eastern Hockey League. The league struggled to stay afloat with just six members. The Aces also struggled, finishing in last place in 1980 and again in 1981.

The Aces folded along with the rest of the EHL in the summer of 1981.

 

Hampton Aces Memorabilia

 

Aces Video

 

Links

Eastern Hockey League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

May 13th, 2017 at 2:46 am

1972-1973 Peninsula Whips

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Peninsula Whips ProgramInternational League (1972-1973)

Born: November 23, 1971 – The Winnipeg Whips relocate to Hampton, VA.
Died:  September 1973

Stadium: War Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The Peninsula Whips were a minor league baseball team out of Hampton, Virginia that served as the top farm club of the Montreal Expos in 1972 and 1973.  Hampton hosted minor league baseball nearly every season from 1963 through 1992, but typically in the Class A Carolina League.  The two-year run of the Whips in the early 70’s marked the only time that Hampton had a Class AAA ball club, just one step below the Major Leagues.

Top Whips players included pitcher Steve Rogers (’72 & ’73) and catcher Gary Carter (’73).  Rogers went on to 5 All-Star selections with Expos.  Carter, who played just 8 games for the Whips in 1973, was an 11-time National League All-Star who earned induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

During the 1973 season, the Peninsula Whips drew just 48,680 fans for 70-odd home dates.  In September of that year the Expos pulled out of Virginia and shifted their Class AAA operation to Memphis, Tennessee, where that city’s Class AA club drew 113,425 in 1973 .

Hampton/Newport News wound up back to the Carolina League in 1974 with a lowly Class A co-op team known as the Peninsula Pennants.

 

==Links==

International League Media Guides

International League Programs

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Written by AC

May 23rd, 2015 at 9:55 pm

1969 Peninsula Astros

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Peninsula AstrosCarolina League (1969)

Born: 1969 – Affiliation change from Peninsula Grays
Died: 1970 – Affiliation change to Peninsula Phillies

Stadium: War Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The Peninsula Astros were one of nine different minor league baseball teams to rotate through Hampton, Virginia’s War Memorial Stadium during the 30 summers between 1963 and 1992.  They were also one of the least durable, lasting just a single season as a Houston Astros farm club in the summer of ’69 before making way for a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate the following year.

Although just a low-level Class A farm team in the Carolina League, the 1969 Peninsula Astros featured a remarkable 14 players who eventually played in the Major Leagues, according to the guys over at Baseball-Reference.com.  Most notable among those were pitcher Ken Forsch, outfielder Cesar Cedeno, and slugging catcher Cliff Johnson, who led Peninsula with 11 home runs.

We found this colorful Peninsula Astros program on e-Bay recently, which included a sharp full color game-day roster insert full of vintage ads that you can grab in the Downloads area below.

 

==Downloads==

1969 Peninsula Astros vs. Raleigh-Durham Phillies Game Day Insert

 

==Links==

1969 Peninsula Astros Roster & Stats at Baseball-Reference.com

Carolina League Media Guides

Carolina League Programs

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Written by AC

December 7th, 2013 at 12:47 am

1976-1992 Peninsula Pilots / White Sox / Virginia Generals

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Carolina League (1976-1992)

Born: 1976
Moved: 1992 (Wilmington Blue Rocks)

Stadium: War Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

Legend has it that Joe Buzas purchased the Philadelphia Phillies’ foundering double-A farm club in Reading, Pennsylvania for $1.00 in 1978.  Miles Wolff entered the Durham Bulls in the Carolina League in late 1979 for an expansion fee of $2,417.  Buzas flipped the Reading Phillies to Craig Stein for $1 million in 1986.  By 1995, Stein pegged Reading’s value at $8 million.  Wolff sold the Bulls for a rumored $4 million in 1990, two years after the release of Bull Durham helped fuel the minor league boom.

During the 1980’s, overlapping events fueled a surge in minor league baseball valuations.  The 1981 Major League Baesball strike sparked media and fan interest in alternatives, of both the minor league and Rotisserie league varieties.  Wall Street traders and corporate investors development an interest, spurred in part by the merchandising bonanza of Bull Durham and the “if you build it they will come” entrepreneurial mantra of Field of Dreams.  This new breed of operator knew how to push and tug the levers of municipal politics like the mom-and-pops never dreamed of, fueling a stadium construction boom.

Investors clamored to get in but the supply of Major League farm clubs was fixed – a monopoly governed by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.  This meant that prices soared not only for profitable, well-operated clubs like Reading and Durham, but also for basket case clubs that struggled to maintain Major League affiliations in antiquated ballparks.  The membership itself – that was the thing.  Once you acquired one, you had a relatively portable asset with no small number of cities willing to float a bond for a gleaming new ballpark.  Basket case in point: the Peninsula Pilots of the Carolina League.

The single-A Carolina League set up shop at War Memorial Stadium on the Virginia Peninsula in 1963.  Adopting the “Peninsula” moniker, the ball club fed the appetites of baseball fans in the adjacent cities of Hampton and Newport News for the next dozen summers.  The club took on six different identities in a little more than a decade – Senators, Grays, Astros, Pilots, Whips, Pennants – as Major League parent clubs kicked the affiliate back and forth.

After a summer without baseball in 1975, the Philadelphia Phillies placed their single-A farm club in Hampton in 1976, ushering in a ten-year period of stability and on-field success for baseball on the Peninsula.  Under Phillies’ management, the Peninsula Pilots won Carolina League championships in 1977, 1979 and 1980.

The 1980 Pilots set a Carolina League record with a 100-40 record and swept the expansion Durham Bulls in the Championship Series 3 games to zero.  18-year old pitcher Roy Smith posted a 17-6 record, tops on a staff where five pitchers posted ten or more wins.  Bahamian outfielder Wil Culmer won the Carolina League batting crown with a .369 average and led the club in home runs with 18.  21-year old shortstop Julio Franco would go on to the greatest Major League success of any of the 1980 Pilots.  He drove in 99 runs and stole 44 bases for Peninsula that summer.

In 2001, baseball historians Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright ranked the 1980 Pilots #74 on a list of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time, compiled for MiLB.com to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Association.

In 1982, the Phillies sold the Pilots to Joe Buzas, operator of their double-A club in Reading.  As with Reading, Buzas reportedly bought the Pilots for the price of that game program over there – one dollar.  A legend in minor league circles, it is believed that Buzas owned between 60 and 82 baseball teams at various times from 1958 until his death in 2003.  Buzas was the polar opposite of the P.T. Barnum-style minor league huckster who sought headlines with outlandish promotions.  Tight-fisted and hands-on, Buzas’ gift was to wring profit from a struggling ball clubs, even with only a few hundred fans seated in the grandstand.

“<Owning ball clubs> was his hobby.  He made a lot of money from it,” Gerry Berthiaume, one of his former General Managers recalled to The Hartford Courant in 2003.  “He wouldn’t spend it to market his clubs, but for the people who worked for him, he was a generous person.”

Buzas flipped the Pilots in 1985 to Williamsburg developer Gil Granger for $160,000.  The Phillies departed the same year after ten years on the Peninsula.  Granger signed a new, but ultimately short-lived, affiliation deal with Chicago of the American League and his club played as the Peninsula White Sox in 1986 and 1987.  During Granger’s final year of ownership in 1988, he couldn’t find a Major League parent club at all.  He changed the name of the team to the Virginia Generals and played as a “co-op” team, borrowing players from several different Major League organizations.  That summer Baseball America called the Granger’s Generals the “worst” and “wackiest” team in professional baseball.

Nevertheless, Granger was able to sell the club in 1988 to Jay Acton and Eric Margenau’s United Baseball for $600,000, nearly quadruple what he had paid three years earlier.

Acton ditched the Generals adventure and revived the Peninsula Pilots name for the 1989 season, but he was not immediately able to reclaim a Major League partner.   The club endured a second straight season as a co-op team, meaning the club had to pay many of the player-related costs typically picked up by the parent organization.

“Let’s face it.  We have a very bad image among farm directors,” Acton told the The Daily Press of Newport News in 1989.

“<The> ballpark that was in terrible shape.  The bleachers were broken, the little concession stands were trashed and it looked like no one had played baseball there for a very long time,” said John Tull, a 26-year old who arrived to work for the Pilots shortly after the Grangers sold to Acton & Margenau in October 1988.  “When I got there, the very first day, the GM they hired for me to work for resigned.  He said he could not work there.”

By opening day 1989, Tull, with only a one-year student internship under his belt, was the new General Manager.  The Pilots in those days often played to crowds of 300-400 fans.  The team had an unusually high number of rainouts because it didn’t own a tarp.  The small band of characters who ran the ballpark found ways to amuse themselves, if not always the Pilots faithful:

“Terry Armour, was our beat writer from The Daily Press/Times Herald.  Terry filled in as PA announcer once in a while.  He was a character.  One of the funniest guys I knew,” recalled Tull in 2011.  “Sometimes Terry would break out Harry Caray doing Take Me Out to the Ballgame for the crowd.  One night during the 7th inning stretch instead of Take Me Out to the Ballgame he started singing Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit over the PA instead.  Looking back it was funny.  At the time it was funny too.”

In 1990, Acton signed an affiliation with the Seattle Mariners – who provided the long-awaited tarp! – giving Peninsula its first parent club since the 1987 Peninsula White Sox.  The relationship with the Mariners would be rocky – literally.  During the 1991 season, the Mariners pulled several top prospects from Peninsula and refused to send others over their displeasure with the quality and safety of War Memorial Stadium’s uneven playing surface and replaced them with younger, greener players.  The Pilots responded by setting a Carolina League record losing streak of 22 games, a streak which they finally broke with a victory on the season’s final day.

“There is nothing like this,” the Pilots 1991 field manager Steve Smith told The Associated Press after setting the loss record.  “The beautiful thing about this is everybody contributed.”

During the 1991 season, Acton announced plans to move the club to Wilmington, Deleware, where city officials agreed to build a new ballpark.  War Memorial Stadium was now obsolete and would officially be in default of National Association minimum standards set to take effect in 1994.  Then in the offseason, Acton seemingly struck a $1.68 million deal to sell the Pilots to local developers Bob and Marilyn DeLuca, who would build a new 5,000-seat stadium to keep baseball on the Peninsula.  The DeLuca’s operated the club through much of the winter, but the deal fell through a month before the 1992 season.

As soon as the DeLuca sale fell through, Acton struck a new deal with former New York Mets star Bud Harrelson and Long Island investment banker Frank Boulton to sell the club to them at the conclusion of the 1992 season.  Harrelson operated the club essentially on loan during the summer of 1992, while final details of the $1.6 million sale were worked out.  At the conclusion of the 1992 season, Harrelson and Boulton moved the club themselves to Deleware where the former Pilots franchise plays to this day as the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

 

==Slideshow==

 

==YouTube==

 

==Links==

Carolina League Media Guides

Carolina League Programs

 

 

==Downloads==

2011 interview with former Pilots General Manager John Tull

Peninsula Pilots – White Sox/Virginia Generals Sources

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