The Albuquerque Dukes of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was a team identity that existed for a cumulative total of 49 seasons. Teams called the Dukes played in seven non-consecutive eras, in six different minor leagues, and at several levels within the NAPBL system. In addition to operating independently in some of these time periods, the Dukes also had affiliation stints with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Athletics, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The first team called the Albuquerque Dukes played for one season (1915) in the defunct Class D Rio Grande Association. These Dukes played against teams like the Las Cruces Farmers and Phoenix Senators, and folded (along with the rest of the league) after that one season. A handful of future major leaguers played in Albuquerque that season, though none would go on to significant careers in baseball.
After more than a quarter century of dormancy, the Dukes identity was reborn in 1942, this time in the Class D West Texas-New Mexico League. By the forties, the farm system model had caught on throughout the minors, but the Dukes remained independent. They folded after that 1942 season, but started up again in within the same league in 1946. This version would stick around for an even ten years, and during that time, the league operated at both Class C and then B in the mid-fifties. The most prominent Duke during this time was major league All-Star Hersh Martin, who tried to revive his career in the New Mexico desert. In the earliest images of the Dukes that I’ve found, players are wearing a cap with a chunky, serifed letter A and a jersey with Dukes across the chest in block letter font. Ebbets Field Flannels did a reproduction of their 1951 cap, and the color choices were royal blue and red.
After the 1955 season, the West Texas-New Mexico League went belly-up, and the Dukes found a new home in the high-level (at the time) Class A Western League. For the first time, the Dukes had a major league parent club; the New York Giants in 1956. They were independent in ’57, but then linked up with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. Those three seasons were all that the Dukes played in that league, with future major league manager of the year John McNamara being the most notable alum. In 1958, the Western League folded up the tent and Albuquerque was homeless once again.
After a one-year hiatus, the Dukes resurfaced in the low Class D Sophomore League in 1960, competing against teams like the El Paso Sun Kings and Carlsbad Potashers. An affiliation with the recently-relocated Kansas City Athletics was forged, and José Santiago would suit up for the Dukes en route to an All-Star major league career. The Sophomore League crumpled in ’61, right at the beginning of the era of minor league baseball that is sometimes called the Subsistence Years.
Fortunately for the Dukes, they landed in the rock-solid Texas League without missing a beat. The A’s continued to serve as parent in 1962–the last year of the league’s Class D designation. Future Athletics to play for Albuquerque that year include future All-Star John O’Donoghue and Dick Green, a mainstay of Oakland’s Swingin’ A’s era. That year, the Dukes wore caps with a simple Old English-style letter A, which coincidentally looked a lot like the Philadelphia Athletics’ old cap logo. Their jerseys featured branding elements that would pop in the later years of the Dukes, such as a sleeve patch with a New Mexico Zia Sun emblem, and Dukes reading across the chest of home unis, rendered in a cursive script.
Change came for all of minor league baseball following the 1962 season, and the Dukes were no exception. As the Texas League switched to the newly created Double-A designation, Albuquerque had a new parent club in the Los Angeles Dodgers. For three seasons, the Dukes moniker was used by the franchise, and future Dodgers like Wes Parker and Bill Singer took to the grass at old Tingley Field, as well as some young players who would go on to successful careers as major league managers–Jeff Torborg and Hall-of-Famer Bobby Cox. The last Double-A season for the Dukes was in 1964, after which the franchise was renamed to the Albuquerque Dodgers. The COTOB team would play up until 1971, and during that time, a brand new stadium was erected in Albuquerque with the hope of attracting a Triple-A franchise.
Albuquerque’s wish came true in 1972. The Dodgers helped facilitate a move of their Triple-A affiliate, the Pacific Coast League’s Spokane Indians. As the PCL franchise was transitioning into their sparkling new home, Albuquerque Sports Stadium, team brass considered the idea of changing their name and visual identity. A newspaper survey asked fans if they would prefer the team to continue the Albuquerque Dodgers identity or to dust off the old Dukes. The Dukes won out, apparently upsetting their Los Angeles parents, and Albuquerque went to the drawing board to come up with a distinct visual brand. For a detailed history of the process told by the designer himself, I can’t recommend this video enough.
The Dukes were ahead of their time in terms of their visual brand. Uniforms were bright hues of red and gold, and the caps had a unique logo of a Zia Sun with a capital A in the center. Jerseys featured the word Dukes rendered in a very distinct 1970s font of interlocking letters, and an unforgettable smiling cartoon conquistador. In the early days, gold was the primary uniform color, with red details. Over time, the colors would be reversed, with red being the identifying look.
The Dodgers, who had gotten comfortable in in New Mexico over the prior decade, served as parent club to the new team. In fact, Tommy Lasorda was sent to Albuquerque to cut his teeth as a manager. In the 1970s, an impressive list of alums accumulated quickly, including many of those who would go on to find top-level success as major leaguers. That decade featured Dukes like Ron Cey, Charlie Hough, Davey Lopes, Rick Rhoden, Steve Yeager, Pedro Guerrero, Dave Stewart, Rick Sutcliffe, Bob Welch, and Mike Scioscia.
By the eighties, Albuquerque had been making tweaks to their brand, such as the aforementioned switch to red pullover jerseys. Also, the smiling conquistador crept his way into prominence, culminating with a mid-eighties switchover to being the focal point of the primary and cap logos. The Zia Sun didn’t leave, however, as a close look reveals that the conquistador had the symbol emblazoned on his morion helmet. On the diamond, that decade bore the typical Triple-A bumper crop of alums, including notables like Alejandro Peña, Sid Fernandez, John Franco, Orel Hershiser, Mike Devereaux, Mariano Duncan, Ramón Martínez, Darrin Fletcher, and John Wetteland.
By the nineties, the bright red pullovers were replaced by button-down jerseys in conservative home white and road gray. Red was still the dominant team color, with gold relegated to mere accent status. The last decade of the Dukes could not have produced a better group of future major leaguers, headlined by Hall of Famers Pedro Martínez and Mike Piazza. Others included José Offerman, Eric Karros, Raúl Mondesi, Eric Young, Pedro Astacio, Todd Hollandsworth, Chan Ho Park, Paul Konerko, and Éric Gagné.
By the turn of the millennium, the once-shiny Albuquerque Sports Stadium was the oldest park in the Pacific Coast League, and the team’s absentee franchise owners began to look for greener pastures. Portland, Oregon, a traditional PCL city, had lost their team to Salt Lake in 1993, and there were parties interested in getting a team back in the Rose City. Following the 2000 season, the Dukes were moved, and the franchise took on the dormant Portland Beavers identity. The Beavers eventually moved to Tucson, as a placeholder team, before settling in El Paso, Texas. The El Paso Chihuahuas play in the Pacific Coast League to this day, and the Dukes identity was conquered long ago.