The dawn of the nineties was a fascinating time for the minor leagues, as the entire system was in the middle of a rapid transformation. Though the eighties saw something of a revival in fan interest in the minors, creative branding/promotion, etc., it took time to shake off the “Subsistence Years” in the sixties and seventies, when the minors as we know them were close to simply being quashed out altogether in favor of instructional complexes in static locations.
This revival was given a shot in the arm in the later eighties, due in no small part to the success of Bull Durham, as well as a general uptick in interest in baseball history. By the mid-nineties, the minors were well on their way to the level of vitality that we see today. Sports Illustrated took note of this surge, and in the summer of 1990, devoted essentially an entire issue to the minor leagues.
In the issue, various writers hit all the familiar minor league beats: profiles of prospects struggling to make the Show, older players struggling to hang on to their dream, wacky promotions, stadium negotiations, spinning turnstiles, nostalgia, and even a rudimentary form of the sort of prospect prognostication that baseball fans are saturated with today. There are many photos, long-form articles, info boxes, editorials, etc. On this page, I’ll go through the issue and share some MLG observations.
The teams that are featured prominently in articles include the Medicine Hat Blue Jays, Durham Bulls, Charlotte Knights, Salinas Spurs, Toledo Mud Hens, and Pittsfield Mets. Other teams who are briefly mentioned or appear in snapshots include the Madison Muskies, Clinton Giants, Buffalo Bisons, Columbus Mudcats, Albany-Colonie Yankees, Martinsville Phillies, Reading Phillies, Wausau Timbers, Quad City Angels, El Paso Diablos, London Tigers, Gastonia Rangers, St. Petersburg Cardinals, Portland Beavers, Tacoma Tigers, and Greenville Braves. There are even more teams mentioned peripherally, but in those cases, the team is secondary to the player or the situation described.