Columbus Clippers

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1977-present

 

The Columbus Clippers of Columbus, Ohio, is a minor league baseball team that currently plays in the International League, serving as Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The Clippers have been an even-keeled franchise in the International League since their founding in the 1970s, and have also been an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, and Washington Nationals.

At the time when the Clippers raised their mast, metro Columbus had been devoid of professional baseball since 1970, when the International League’s Columbus Jets had moved from Ohio’s capital to West Virginia’s, playing as the original version of the Charleston Charlies. During those fallow years, Columbus’s local governments secured taxpayer funding for an extensive renovation of the city’s Great Depression-built Cooper Stadium. In the lead-up to the 1977 season, the Charleston franchise was moved back to Columbus.  Incidentally, the “Charlies” identity was seamlessly continued when the IL’s Memphis Blues were moved to Charleston in the same off-season. That franchise, after a remarkably byzantine series of relocations and rebrandings, now plays as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Redbirdstadiumaerial

Under the watchful eye of General Manager George Sisler, Jr., son of the storied Hall of Famer, the transition back to Columbus was a rousing success. In the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, the story of the Clippers’ inception is highlighted as an early harbinger of what the Encyclopedia calls “The Revival” of minor league baseball: “In 1977, Columbus, Ohio, without baseball for six years, saw its county government pump more than five million dollars into its old park, refurbishing the stadium and bringing back a team. It was a remarkable sum  for a government to spend on a minor league park, but the results were immediate. Seventh place Columbus drew 457,251 fans, a total almost unheard of since the boom days of the late 1940s.”

Sisler and company organized a committee tasked with establishing a brand identity. Reportedly, hundreds of possible names were submitted to the local newspaper, and the committee narrowed it down and selected “Clippers.” Reasons cited for the selection include alliteration and the connection between Columbus (as in Christopher Columbus) and a nautical theme. It was a curious choice for a city in the center of a state in the center of the nation, but a successful one nonetheless. It should be noted that Columbus’s use of Clippers predates that of the NBA franchise (then in San Diego) by one year, and the two names have coexisted for several decades now.

1976-1995 patch

The Clippers, perhaps riding a wave of post-Bicentennial patriotism, chose red, white, and blue as team colors. The team commissioned a sharp-looking logo (for its time) consisting of a clipper ship with sails supported by a giant baseball bat and a ball in place of a crow’s nest. The ship’s multi-colored sails, proudly swelling with air, propelled the ship forward at a 45 degree angle of progress. The ship was often seen encircled by a letter C for Columbus–similar to the Chicago Cubs’ letter but more ovaline. The logo appeared on the chest of pinstriped home white uniforms and on the sleeve of powder blue double-knit road tops. Original caps were blue with the oval C, sans ship logo.

1977 whitson

The first MLB team to captain the Clippers was the Pittsburgh Pirates. The nautical connection between the two teams may cause some to think the pairing was an influence on Columbus’s identity, but avast, no, this was a case of a “non-DimDer with incidental affiliation.” The Pirates/Clippers connection only lasted two seasons, but those happened to have been in the lead-up to Pittsburgh’s run at “We Are Family” Championship glory. Some of the young players who passed through Columbus en route to notable big league careers are Al Holland, Don Robinson, Ed Whitson, and Pascual Pérez.

In 1979, on the heels of another World Series run, the New York Yankees signed on with the Clippers in what would be a 28-year marriage that proved immediately successful. Led by future MLB All Stars like Dámaso García, Ron 1982 DonDavis, and Dave Righetti, Columbus sailed to their first of three consecutive Governors’ Cup championships. The Eighties were a bountiful decade for prospects, and included the likes of Don Mattingly, Buck Showalter, Otis Nixon, Tim Burke, Stan Javier, José Rijo, Bob Tewksbury, Doug Drabek, Jay Buhner, Roberto Kelly, Randy Velarde, Al Leiter, Bernie Williams, and even football star Deion Sanders. As they were a Triple-A team, the Clippers also hosted last gasps for washed up baseballers like Bert Campaneris, who donned the striped pillbox cap and olde tyme baseball uniforms in the International League’s centennial celebration in ’83.

Throughout their first full decade, Columbus had a remarkably consistent branding aesthetic–made easy by the fact that their original pinstripes matched the Yankees’ preferred home look. Eventually some changes came into play, such as switching the road jerseys from 1991 BW3powder blue to New York-esque gray and midnight blue (almost black), but the main colors and logo remained intact for what is an eon by minor league standards. But as the eighties gave way to the promotional and branding boom of the nineties, some updates were in order. Firstly, the oval C on the cap was switched out for the full logo–the C with the clipper ship tucked into it. Navy blue jersey tops were used here and there. And in 1990, the Clippers introduced a swashbuckling mustached mascot named Captain Clipper. Apparently he terrified children. Columbus, in a midguided attempt to make him more friendly, crafted a new, clean-shaven face for the Captain that made him look like a psychotically-smiling doll come to life. Mercifully, the Captain was phased out in the mid-90s in favor of Lou Seal, a lovable pinniped that exists (in updated form) to this day, where he prowls the park with a parrot sidekick.1994 UD jeter

Oh, and there were players. The new decade brought more Yankees prospects to aging Cooper Stadium, including Jim Leyritz, Brad Ausmus, J.T. Snow, Bob Wickman, and Sterling Hitchcock. 1994 was a watershed year for Columbus alums, as two future Hall of Famers–young Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera–stopped by on their way to their Bronx debuts, as well as standouts like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. The Yankees were building a dynasty, and the Clippers were happy to be towed along for the ride.

In 1996 (in which Columbus won their 7th Governors’ Cup) they underwent a relatively conservative brand redesign. The ship logo, though still facing the same direction, was refreshed for the digital age. A second row of sails made the ship more clipper-like and elegant, though the lines were thick and easily reproducible on replica caps and print media. The baseball bat on the ship was unmistakably standing in for the bowsprit rather than ambiguously hovering on the deck. The baseball design was moved down to the 1996 1 logosails, which were changed to white with the ball’s seam pattern on them. That seam pattern was about the only hint of red in the new color scheme–navy blue, royal blue, and silver. The C in the logo was fully rounded–very Cubs-like–yet still enclosed the ship. Eventually, some alternate logos were made, including one with the C-logo inside of a ship’s steering wheel and another with an italicized C with the ship superimposed over it.

Some of the standout players who rounded out the decade and played into the new millennium include Mike Lowell, Hideki Irabu, Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, Alfonso Soriano, Ted 2004-2005 canoLilly, Jake Westbrook, Robinson Canó, Melky Cabrera, and Tyler Clippard. But by the mid-Aughts, the Yankees had different plans. Cooper Stadium was over seventy years old at that point, and even with the costly renovations in the 1970s, New York was getting a wandering eye. In the 2006 PDC season, they signed on with the IL’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons franchise, renaming them in their image. The Yankees eventually bought a controlling interest in the Pennsylvania team and got a new stadium built. They now play as the RailRiders, the latest iteration of the old franchise that left Columbus in 1970.

The Clippers, in need of a new MLB parent club, signed on with the Washington Nationals in their early years. On the diamond, this was an unremarkable two-season stint that pre-dated the Nats’ prospect surge by a few years.2007 program Bret Boone briefly came out of retirement to take a few hacks alongside his brother Aaron. Some other somewhat notables during these years were Marco Estrada, Joel Hanrahan, and Craig Stammen. There were some slight uniform tweaks during the Washington years. A splash of red found its way back into the set, it became more common to see the italicized C logo on caps, and new uniforms copied the Nationals’ old beveled, arching font. But it was all very short lived. In 2007, the Franklin County government broke ground on a brand new ballpark, and the local fanbase anticipated another grand era of Clippers baseball on the horizon, with hopes set higher than a random affiliation with an unfamiliar MLB team on the east coast.

In the 2008 PDC season, the Cleveland Indians broke with the Buffalo Bisons (who went to the Mets in sort of a win-win) and signed on with the Triple-A club in their state capital.  The all-Ohio connection dovetailed with the opening of Huntington Park and a resurgence in fan interest. To commemorate the changes, the Clippers revamped their visual brand. They kept the same basic color scheme, emphasizing the navy blue and silver, but swapped the royal for a bright light blue. Red was retained as a alternate color. The clipper ship was updated yet again, though the 45 degree angle was maintained. This time, the baseball elements (bat, ball seams, etc.) of the ship were eliminated,2009 logo gray and the new clipper was more of a menacing battleship-with-sails. The italicized version of the C was kept, but altered to be more angular and hooked at the top, with the curve hinting at the shape of a full sail. The hook-like C became the primary cap logo, though another emblem was designed with the C cradling an anchor.

2015 lindor1

As the winds of fate would have it, this proved to be the most productive era in Cleveland’s farm system in a generation. Many core players on the 2016 AL Pennant-winning team spent time in the state capital, and other one-time Clippers have gone on to star in recent years for Cleveland and other clubs. Some of the bigger names are Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana, Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Jesús Aguilar, Francisco Lindor, José Ramírez, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber.

This is where we are today. The Columbus Clippers are (and have been) one of the most successful minor league teams in all of baseball, and a model Triple-A team. They typically rank near the top of the list of per-game average attendance among all minor league teams, and fans have the opportunity to become familiar with young players before they make the trip up the road to the big league club, as well as see familiar faces on rehab stints. We doff our tricorn hats and salute the Columbus Clippers, an anchor franchise in minor league baseball.

 

 

Ephemera

 

columbus-clippers-minor-league_1_2be656acd9cefdcbca714b1658a9565c

 

 

1977 berra
Yogi’s son in ’77

 

1978 holland
Al Holland in ’78

 

1978 scurry
Rod Scurry

 

1978 team photo

 

 

1979 garcia
First season as a Yankees’ affiliate

 

1979 davis

 

1979 team photo

 

1980 GM
Posing with the ’79 Governors’ Cup

 

1980 righetti

 

1981 clippers-program

 

 

1981 TCMA Buck Showalter
Buck in ’81

 

1981 DR

 

 

1982 Mattingly
Donnie Baseball in ’82

 

1982 DM

 

1983 program
The International League’s centennial celebration in ’93

 

1983 team photo
Throwback uniforms in celebration of the anniversary

 

1983 sisler
Sisler flashes the patch

 

1983 DM

 

1983 Balboni

 

1983 burke

 

1983 Nixon

 

1983 Campy
Campy’s last stand

 

1985-columbus-clippers-program
These cards look familiar

 

1986 drabek
1986

 

1987 AL
1987

1987 kelly

 

1987 Tewks

 

1988 buhner
1988

1988 velarde

 

1988-90 sanders
Prime Time in Columbus

1988-90 deion

 

1988-1990 sanders

 

1989 BW

 

1990 columbus team photo

 

1990 JL

 

1990 Leyrit

 

1991 BW1
1991

1991 TL

 

1992 ausmus
Brad Ausmus, 1992

 

1992 schedule

 

1992 snow

 

1993 hitchcock

 

Clippers and Yankees pro line
Pro-Line cap

 

1995 straw
Darryl Strawberry rehabbing in Columbus, 1995

 

1995 strawberry

 

1995 pettite

 

1995 jeter

 

1994 jeter
Jeets jumps over a Tide

 

1995 jeter pogs
Derek Jeter in pog form

 

1994-1995 SLU
Jeter’s time in Columbus was immortalized by Kenner Starting Lineup

 

1994-1995 Rivera
Mariano Rivera

 

1995 ud AP

 

1995 posada

 

1996 3 logo
New logos in 1996. But first…

 

mascot captain clipper 1990
…let’s check out the evolution of Clippers’ mascots. Here’s Captain Clipper in the early nineties.

 

mascot captain 1996
The objectively creepier “kid-friendly” version of Captain Clipper in the mid-nineties

 

mascot captain and lou 1996
Handing over the steering wheel to Lou Seal, 1996

 

2001 lou seal
Updated Lou, 2001

 

mascot lou and crash
Another update in the mid-2000s, as well as the addition of Crash the parrot

 

1996 2 logo
OK. Back to the new look in ’96

 

1996 posada

 

1997 irabu
Hideki Irabu, 1997

 

1997 medoza

 

1998 el duque
“El Duque” 1998

1998 lowell

 

1999 schedule lowell

 

1999 logo 2
Steering wheel alternate logo
1999 logo
Italicized C logo

 

2000 alt cap
Offering in the 2000 Star Struck catalog

 

2000 AS
Soriano in 2000

2000 soriano

 

2000 westbrook
Jake Westbrook, 2000

 

2001 lilly
2001

 

clippers pez
One of only two known minor league Pez dispensers in existence. This was a stadium giveaway in 2002. 

 

2002 henson
Drew Henson, 2002

 

2002 UD

 

 

2003 schedule

 

2004-2005 rc
Canó was a Clipper in ’04 and ’05

 

2005-2006 melky
Melky Cabrera, 2006

 

2007 hanrahan
Joel Hanrahan in 2007, the first Nationals year. Note the jersey font and italicized C on the cap.
2008 estrada
Marco Estrada, 2008
MiLB - Columbus Clippers 2007
Hanrahan in the road uni with Nats’ font

 

2008 TC
2008

 

2009 wordmark
2009: first year with Cleveland and a brand redesign

 

2009 cap logo

 

2009 logo red

 

2009 Brantley
Michael Brantley in ’09
2010 CC
Carlos Carrasco, 2010
2010 Carlos
Carlos Santana, 2010
2010 CS
Santana in red alternates

 

2010 gc
A logo to commemorate their 8th Cup

 

20110406Clippers-6270
Jason Kipnis, 2011

2011 Kipnis 3

 

2012 Kluber
Kluber in 2012

 

2012-derek-jeter-columbus-e1576344140567
Oyo Sportstoys made a figure of Jeter but erroneously put him in the 2012 uniform set

 

2013 kluber
2013
2013 salazar
Danny Salazar
2013 TB
Trevor Bauer, 2013
2014 bauer
2014
2014 aguilar
Aguilar, 2014
2014 jose ramirez
José Ramírez, 2014

2014 jose

 

2015 lindor2
Francisco “Mr. Smile” Lindor, 2015

2015 lindor3

 

2016 clev
2016
2016 clevenger
Clevenger in Columbus Jets throwbacks
2018 biebs
Shane Bieber, 2018

 

krash and lou seal

 

 

2009 logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best logo ever