Prior to 1998, it wasn’t uncommon to find teams that operated within the NAPBL ecosystem without one-to-one MLB affiliation, or any MLB affiliation whatsoever. In the early days of the minors, independence was the norm, but gradually the farm system concept took over the various leagues. The Pacific Coast League of the mid-twentieth century broke MLB affiliation completely for six seasons, playing with “Open” designation and becoming essentially a third major league.
After the post-1962 upheaval, independent clubs were dotted here and there throughout the minors, particularly at the lower levels, and this continued right up into the nineties. Some of the last hold-outs of one-to-one affiliation were “co-op” teams that drew their players from multiple MLB teams, or from other sources entirely–foreign leagues, washed-up free agents, etc. In the 21st century, we haven’t seen co-op teams, and independent teams are now relegated to the independent leagues. There is a strict one affiliate per MLB team per level rule in the top four levels of the minors, and even in the lower levels, each team has one and only one parent club. Some of the most recent co-op teams were the result of MLB’s 1998 expansion, and it is possible that future expansion may lead to more co-op teams. We’ll see.
Here is a running list of teams that were variously operated either independent of MLB affiliation, were co-op teams with multiple parent clubs, or had open designation. I am adding teams to this list as they are added to the DIA. Several teams that have gone defunct in recent years had independent stints in the pre-upheaval days, and those are listed separately.
Teams with independent or co-op stints in the post-upheaval era
Auburn Americans (1980)
Auburn Red Stars (1979)
Auburn Sunsets (1978)
Bakersfield Blaze (1995-1996) For their first two seasons as the Blaze, Bakersfield operated as an independent/co-op team. Though the roster was mostly stocked with Dodgers prospects, the Astros, Blue Jays, and Indians also contributed.
Bakersfield Outlaws (1978–1979)
Bend Bucks (1987, 1990-1991)
Butte Copper Kings (three separate stints) The Copper Kings did not have exclusive affiliation during their first season (1978), and they had players who were peripherally linked to the Mariners, Phillies, Rangers, and A’s. After some brief forays with the Brewers, Royals, and Mariners, the Copper Kings had another unaffiliated season in 1985. That year’s squad didn’t have a single future MLB player, and the Butte franchise was put on hiatus for the 1986 season. When they came back in ’87, they were a co-op team composed of undrafted free agents, plus players sent by the Brewers, Pirates, and Rangers.
Danville Warriors (1970) Co-op
DeLand Sun Caps (1970)
Gastonia Jets (1985)
Grays Harbor Mets (1979)
Grays Harbor Ports (1976)
High Desert Mavericks (1994) Going indy was a California League fad in the mid-nineties, though in some cases, it may have been involuntary. The Mavericks were an unwanted puppy for most of their 26 seasons, and had no fewer than eight MLB parent clubs. In that independent ’94 season, the Red Sox, Rangers, Braves, Royals, Indians, Giants, and possibly others sent peripheral players to Adelanto, plus there were a bunch of washouts who turned to the independent leagues shortly thereafter.
Jacksonville Suns (1970) This one is pretty straightforward. When the Double-A version of the Suns started up in the Southern League, they were a pure co-op team. The still-fresh Expos and Brewers sent their young players to Florida, and the roster was split more or less evenly between the two parent clubs.
Key West Conchs (1972-1973)
Key West Sun Caps (1971)
Miami Marlins (1982)
Middlesboro Cubsox (1963)
New Westminster Frasers (1974)
Orangeburg Cardinals (1973)
Portland Mavericks (
Raleigh-Durham Triangles (1970-1971)
Rocky Mount Pines (1980)
Rogue Valley Dodgers (1969)
Santa Clara Padres
St. Petersburg Devil Rays (1997) Expansion often causes these quirks, and this is a prime example. The St. Pete Devil Rays took to the field a full year before Tampa Bay, and the MLB team didn’t seem to have enough prospects to fill out the minor league roster. Several of the players were Mariners’ prospects, and this could be related to how the Orlando Rays were affiliated with Seattle in ’98.
San Jose Bees
Tri-City Triplets/Tri-City Ports (1973-1974)
Utica Blue Sox (1981-1985) Considering the team was bought by Miles Wolff, Bill Murray, etc., it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Blue Sox were independent for five years in the eighties. The rosters were bare in those years, but they hit paydirt with Larry Walker in ’85.
Visalia Oaks (1995-1996) When the Oaks identity first returned in ’95, they were a quintessential indy team, with lots of Japanese players and guys on the fringes of baseball. How do you ease sons of MLB greats (Bobby Bonds Jr., Reid Ryan) into a post-baseball existence? Send ’em to Visalia. In ’96, the Oaks were a clean co-op outfit, with the roster split between the Tigers and the yet-to-exist Diamondbacks. The expansion factor strikes again.
Pre-upheaval independence (teams that have existed in the modern era)
Albuquerque Dukes (multiple stints)
Billings Mustangs (1948)
Buffalo Bisons (multiple stints)
Stockton Ports (multiple stints)
Syracuse Chiefs (multiple stints)
Pacific Coast League “Open” era (1952-1957)
Los Angeles Angels
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Seals