Greetings to you as this most bizarre of baseball summers (or lack thereof) is winding to a close. Since the last Occasional Minor News Informational in late June, I’ve probably worked on the site more than any other two-month stretch since Minor League Geek was launched nearly three years ago. Lots to share, so let’s dive right in.
The biggest news around MLG HQ is that Uni Watch published another article that I put together. This one was centered around the history of the Utica Blue Sox, one of the weirdest and most likable teams from the dusty corners of the minors. The article seemed to have been very well-received, and it was great to hear from people who had a personal connection to the Blue Sox. One reader reached out because his dad was on the Blue Sox in 1982 and 1983, which is just about the luckiest time and place for any minor leaguer to be. Not only did he play against John Elway (’82 Oneonta Yankees) and face down a young Dwight Gooden (’82 Glens Falls Mets), but because he was on the Blue Sox in those most famous of seasons, he and his Utica teammates got to go out for beers with Bill Murray and be written up/photographed for People and Playboy magazines. I took some new close-up photos of the People spread and emailed them, and his dad was able to identify himself in the team photo. Very cool. If you’d like to read “When Sox Were Blue,” here’s the MLG site version and here’s the Uni Watch link.
This was the second time that I had written a minor league-based feature for Uni Watch, with the other being “You Can’t Spell Pillbox Without IL” from last August. (If you’re curious, read the site version because the Uni Watch version doesn’t have the pictures hosted anymore.) I’ve really enjoyed working with weekend/August editor Phil Hecken over the years, and we’ve talked about continuing with some MLG content moving forward. I’m hoping to write one of these articles about as often–every two-months–as I do an OMNI. I’ll mention here that my original Uni Watch article this summer was focused on the branding history of the Syracuse Chiefs, particularly in relation to the Native American imagery. It started as a way for me to feel like I was contributing a tiny bit to the conversations around race equity that have been roiling this year. The night before the piece was set to run, the main guy behind Uni Watch felt that it was inappropriate to run the article with some of the Native American imagery–regardless of intent or context. I respect that decision and am very satisfied with how the replacement story about Utica came together and was received. But if you’re interested in reading the Syracuse story, here’s a link to where I put it up here at MLG.
Leading up to the publishing of the Utica article, I put a lot of effort into cleaning up the site. It’s like having house guests expected to your home. There was some basic tidying up and also some deep-cleaning, I guess you could say. Most notably, I finally straightened up some of the pages I reference the most–3 of 4, Indy/Co-op, and Weird Teams. That doesn’t mean these pages are complete, but they are at least organized and ready to be added to systematically. In my digging into the Indy/Co-op history, I stumbled upon two (two!) teams to add to the Same Name, Different City page. One of my trusty archival researchers (who may or may not be my brother) was able to uncover some fantastic images of the old Burlington Bees. No, not the Bees we know and love–these were the ancient Burlington Bees of Burlington, North Carolina. Who knew?
Every time I set out to clean up the site, I’m humbled and baffled by some of the errors that have missed until now. I mean, the Butte Copper Kings are a team that I reference constantly due to their weirdness and connection with other parts of and people in the minors. Yet in the past couple years since I made their page, I somehow missed a glaring and hilarious error. I fixed it, but not before I took a screenshot.
Oops! People. Do not hesitate to email me if you notice any error. Please reach out if you come across a misspelling, a wonky hyperlink, whatever. If you have any feedback on my grammar or writing ability, I’ll take that too. I’m always trying to improve the site and improve my skills. Of course, something as funny as “Butter Copper Kings” should almost be kept around in perpetuity.
Beyond housekeeping, there’s some new regular content on the site as well. On the Hall of Famer page, I’m as far back as the class of 2014, adding in pages for Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas. There were no 2013 inductees that meet the MLG criteria, but 2012 had one with Barry Larkin. Larkin was one of my absolute favorite players growing up, so that will be fun. Actually, making those pages is always fun. They take maybe an hour or two, and most of it is mindless photo searching and editing, so I’m able to zone out and do it while listening to a ballgame. The finer things in life.
For the first time in a few years, I did a number-cruncher. For this one, I looked back at the numbers of non-affiliated teams in the affiliated minor leagues going back to the 1930s. The results were…relatively interesting if you’re into that kind of thing.
There are two new contributions to the DIA since June: the Southern Oregon Timberjacks and St. Catharine’s Stompers. It was a blast doing these two. Now that I’ve drilled back into the nineties–in ’98 now–I’ve been running into these short-lived bizarre identities that were around in the years that I first fell in love with the minors. God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, I hope to complete all of 1998 by the end of October and then I’ll really be in the mid-nineties fun zone. If you’re the kind of person who gets a thrill watching paint dry, follow my DIA progress here.
While we’re on the subject of weird teams from around Y2K, I received an email from a fellow named Bill who had found some outstanding early-80s Stockton Ports pennants at a Northern California thrift store. What’s especially interesting about these pennants is that they are proof that the Ports were using the Mudville identity for promotions as early as 1983. Many years later, the team would infamously change their official name to the Mudville Nine. I really appreciate that Bill took the time to share these gems with the rest of us minor league geeks.
Speaking of stuff, the Pro Line cap gallery somehow continues to grow. It’s now up to a ridiculous 88 caps. I found new additions in the Vancouver Canadians, Indianapolis Indians, and Portland Sea Dogs–that last one with the MLB logo (Marlins) on the side of the cap. For the longest time, the only side-logo one I had was from the Albany Polecats, and I wondered why the Orioles logo was on the side. A nice fella named Don, who has contributed several caps to the gallery in the past, sent me some photos of an outstanding Everett AquaSox cap with a Mariners side logo. Don revealed the reason for the side logo–they’re snapbacks. Neato!
Trifles aside, the Professional Baseball Agreement is only about one month away from expiring. With so much else going on in the sports world, there is much less attention directed to the story at this late stage in the process than I would have ever imagined in a pre-pandemic world. But J.J. Cooper at Baseball America has been keeping tabs on the story, and it has gotten very, very interesting. I’ve written six response articles since June, and if I were a bit more professional in my writing, I probably would have broken up those six into maybe ten shorter pieces. Visit my 2020 PBA Coverage page to check these out. Speaking of minor league news, let’s have a look outside the window at the wider world, eh?
News of Minor Interest
Ha! I should call it News of Major Interest for this edition. Let’s start with the biggest story, and one that I’m sure I’m underestimating in the moment: Sahlen Field, home ballpark of the Buffalo Bisons, has become the home field of the Toronto Blue Jays. The first game at Sahlen was on August 11, with the Jays “hosting” the Marlins. I watched a few innings, and it was…weird! Leading up to the game, I read some pieces (like this one) about the painstaking measures taken by folks in Buffalo to make the park feel like home for Toronto. But when the game started, I felt like I was watching a minor league game. Check it out.
Not the most scenic stadium vista in the majors! Check out those Buffalo fans on the other side of the highway.
Early in the game, Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernández (who played for Buffalo as recently as last year) nearly ate it on bullpen mound while chasing a fly ball in the right field foul ground.
It’s funny. I’ve long thought of Buffalo, one of the most powerful Triple-A markets, as being pretty close to the more lowly MLB clubs. But even Populous-designed Sahlen Field, essentially the crème de la crème of the minors, really looked and felt, well, bush league with major leaguers on the turf. But Sahlen Field has been working as the Jays’ home park for a few weeks now, and what is important is that it is working. Hats off!
I also have to share this screenshot I took of a graphic made by the Toronto broadcast team that displayed Bo Bichette’s hair evolution through the minors. Those teams are definitely some Blue Jays affiliates if I’ve ever seen ’em.
Moving right along. In the last OMNI, I briefly mentioned the Lemonade League. The LL is a one-season (hopefully) pivot by the Lansing Lugnuts, hosted entirely at their stadium. The “League” consists of two teams–the Lugnuts and their Copa alternate Locos identity–and the rosters are made up of mostly Midwestern collegiate players. Get this: the balls are bright yellow and kind of look like a lemon. And I didn’t really catch this before, but the league name is related to the “if life gives you lemons” proverb. This whole thing is almost too clever. Like how a batch of lemonade can be too sweet. Or too sour. Still, cheers to Lansing for coming up with the ultimate recipe for a weird baseball season. Read more here.
On the subjects of beverages and questionable segues, there’s another team that I’d like to mention for the permanent record: the Lexington Legends. The Legends’ version of Covid-ball consisted of a series called the “Battle of the Bourbon Trail.” The series was done with the Frontier League’s Florence Y’alls, the Legends’ Bluegrass State brethren, who play just up the road. The Legends and the Y’alls each created two rosters of independent players. The Legends used their normal identity for one team, and their Copa identity, the Leyendas, for another. Florence had just retired their Freedom moniker after the 2019 season, so they simply brought it back alongside their new Y’alls name. What is most interesting about this series is that Lexington is slated to lose their PDC this fall. By coordinating with an independent Frontier League team, are they telegraphing their future home? We’ll see.
Odds and Sods
Over in Worcester, Mass., Polar Park had its “topping-off” ceremony, with the stadium’s final steel beam signed by workers and then set into place. Attendees for the ceremony included team co-owner (and Boston Red Sox exec) Larry Lucchino as well as architect Janet Marie Smith.
The WooSox will christen the park (hopefully) next year. The franchise they are replacing, the Pawtucket Red Sox, had their storied history end with a whimper, not a bang. Boston threw Pawtucket a bone by hosting their alternate training site at McCoy Stadium, but sadly, Rhode Island fans won’t get to see the PawSox one last time. I had a few of my worlds collide when one of my regular history podcasts, the Memory Palace, did an episode about the Pawtucket Red Sox. I knew that podcast creator Nate DiMeo was from Rhode Island, but I didn’t know that he worked for the PawSox as a teenager. Obviously, I couldn’t recommend the ten minute episode enough. Here’s a link.
Let’s point the compass south. Tennessee Smokies’ owner Randy Boyd unveiled a rendering for a possible future stadium in downtown Knoxville. The Smokies’ current stadium is in nearby Kodak, TN, where they’ve played for only about twenty years. If the Smokies move back to Knoxville, would they re-apply their old Knoxville place-name? Hard to say, but either way, I consider the Knoxville/Tennessee Smokies to be one team identity and recently outlined it on the 3 of 4 page. As for Randy Boyd, I’ll probably be thinking more about him this fall since he operates a handful of teams in the Appalachian League. The fate of that league will primarily rest in the hands of MLB clubs and Mr. Boyd.
Speaking of teams that are building new ballparks, progress on Beloit’s new park chugs along well and the team will be spared from the upcoming PDC cut-down. Now team owner Quint Studer is testing the pond waters regarding a possible name or brand change for the Snappers. This is of personal significance to me, as falling in love with the Snappers brand was a big boost in my burgeoning childhood minor league interest. Their logo, which has stood for a remarkable 25-ish years, is timeless. In the past, I’ve emailed with Chris Kretz, a graphic designer (and really nice guy) who was tabbed for drawing “Snappy” simply because his cousin was the team’s GM. I think the Snappers name is a terrific minor league moniker (up there with Grasshoppers and Lugnuts) and it should stay put. If Studer feels that the old brand needs to be refreshed, so be it. But the original Snappy will always be my favorite.
Another logo that I loved as a kid was the cartoonish conquistador logo that was used by the Albuquerque Dukes. Here’s an awesome vignette detailing how that logo was conceived and designed. With everything we’ve learned this summer about Albuquerque’s troubling history with Oñate imagery, my feelings about this logo have become a little complicated.
Speaking of complicated feelings surrounding historical imagery, the New York Times did a phenomenal exploration of the Spokane Indians’ brand history and connection with local Indigenous groups. As always, there is more nuance to the story than the loudest voices on social media would have you believe.
OK, people. That was a lot. I plan to check back around Halloween, and I think there’s a good chance that there will be a pillowcase full of minor league news to report then. Big thanks to MLG contributors like Brian, Leo, Mitch, Bill, and Don.
And big thanks to you for reading. Till next time.