Michigan Battle Cats
The Michigan Battle Cats of Battle Creek, Michigan, played eight seasons in the Midwest League. In that time, they served as a Single-A affiliate of two major league teams–the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros.
The Battle Cats began when the one-year wonder Madison Hatters were moved east to Battle Creek. By many accounts, the team was to be originally called the Battle Creek Golden Kazoos, which would have been a name better-suited for this current era of minor league branding rather than merely mildly-wacky nineties. After being met with local and legal opposition, the team scrapped the kazoo moniker. The replacement identity, Michigan Battle Cats, was interesting in its own right. Choosing a whole state place name is always a curious decision when the team isn’t the only tenant in the state, and one has to wonder how the West Michigan Whitecaps felt about choice. For the nickname, the Battle adjective was evidently a Battle Creek reference and the Cats portion was tacked on because, well, minor league teams like to be named after cats. During the days of the Battle Cats, other minor league nicknames included Hillcats, River Cats, and Rock Cats.
Green, black, gold, and brick red/burgundy were chosen as primary colors. Their brand was based around a capital M (not unlike Michigan university’s) that has morphed into a menacing green wildcat. The bizarre creature’s clawed forelegs were the M‘s “legs” and the central v-shaped portion of the letter housed the cat’s furrowed brow, piercing eyes, and bared fangs. For the primary logo, the M-cat stood looking down, paws aligned, with a 3-D home plate-shaped sign behind it declaring the team name. For the cap logo, the M-cat looked straight on, with one extended further in an aggressive manner. This cat was ready for Battle.
And battle they did. Though the Madison franchise had been affiliated with the Cardinals, the move to Battle Creek included a switch of affiliation to the Boston Red Sox. It was a fairly productive four-year stretch that yielded alums like Carl Pavano, Rafael Betancourt, and Shea Hillenbrand. In 1999, the Battle Cats shifted to an affiliation with the Houston Astros, and that would pay immediate dividends, with Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt in the ’99 rotation. Others to come through in the Astros days include John Buck and Chad Qualls. Like the Boston era before it, the affiliation with Houston lasted only four years.
2002 is a somewhat notable year in the history of the minor leagues, because it was the last year that any MLB team had multiple affiliates at either of the two full season Single-A levels. The Oakland A’s had two “high-A” California League teams (Modesto and Visalia) and the Astros had two “low-A” teams, with the Battle Cats and Lexington Legends. For the 2003 season, the lumps were ironed out and each MLB team had one of each–the pattern we see today. Houston stuck with Lexington, and the Battle Cats signed on with the New York Yankees. Rather than continue the brand, the team opted to rebrand entirely, and became the Battle Creek Yankees. After just a couple of years, they changed again to become the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays. Shortly after that, the team was sold to an ownership group that moved them to a new stadium in Midland, Michigan. The Great Lakes Loons play in the Midwest League to this day, and the Battle Cats were scratched from the lineup long ago.