This page is a showcase of defunct minor league teams that are just….well….weird. It’s a bit conceptual and subjective, but I feel the need to appreciate and acknowledge these teams. Let me be clear–there have been many, many minor league teams that could be called “weird” when you compare them with the average pro sports team. But the teams on this page are a cut above and have multiple weird things about them. I don’t have any selection criteria, but I know a weird team when I see one. And when I see one, I’ll put it on this page.
Like the other pages on this site, this list is live and I add to it as I discover more teams that are just really weird.
Very weird teams
Alamance Indians Why weird? Back in the 1940s, there was a Cleveland affiliate in Burlington, Iowa that took on their parent club’s nickname. The Burlington Indians played in the defunct Central Association from 1947-1949. From 1986-2010, there was a Appy League Cleveland affiliate in Burlington, North Carolina also called the Burlington Indians. This is a rare incidence of same name, different city. That’s neat, but it’s not really that weird, right? But wait, there’s more! There was a third Cleveland affiliate based in Burlington, North Carolina that existed in the Carolina League from 1958-1964. Both online and print sources indicate that this team was also called the Burlington Indians. Using the 3 of 4 Rule, this would likely mean an identity merger with the Appy League club. It’s a gray area, but something I’ve encountered multiple times as I’ve worked through the DIA. Not that weird. But then I started digging deeper and found plenty of evidence that the Carolina League team was actually called the Alamance Indians, named after the North Carolina county that contains Burlington. I hate to get out my tinfoil hat, but I must mention that the sources calling this team the Burlington Indians are heavily influenced by one Miles Wolff, a man known for his unique revisionist history tendencies and his constant efforts to connect new team and league identities with same-named entities from the past. He did it with the Northern League and the American Association, two indy leagues he once helmed that have included numerous vampire identities. It’s happened with several minor league clubs he has had an ownership stake in: the Durham Bulls, Butte Copper Kings, Utica Blue Sox, and the Appalachian League’s Burlington franchise–a team that is one of Wolff’s last holdings as he has eased into retirement. The currently-operating Burlington Royals used to be, you guessed it, the Burlington Indians, 1986-2006 version. Did Wolff’s desire to connect the two same-named but disparate Alamance County-based teams lead to him omitting Alamance from the encyclopedia and, thus, from common history? Who knows, but it definitely makes them a weird team. Usually “Very Weird Teams” require some icing on the cake, so how about this: the team was also apparently sometimes called the Indians of Alamance, a rare nickname/place name reversal. Very, very weird team.
Bend Rainbows Why weird? Some years back, I discovered that there was a team from Bend, Oregon, that played in for Northwest League for two seasons in the early Seventies and was called the Bend Rainbows. Great name, I thought, seemingly a pun on the arc-like nature of rainbows and how they resemble a straight, flexible object being bent. Cool stuff, but there are multitudes of winking team names in minor league history. No biggie. But more recently, I discovered the likely true origin of the Rainbows nickname: the team’s connection to Hawaii. I go into detail in this article–the thrust is that Bend was an expansion team in the NWL that was owned by the Pacific Coast League’s Hawaii Islanders. The Islanders, a Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, had their own farm team. So, yeah, that’s pretty darn weird. But topping it off is the ridiculous fact that actor Kurt Russell, in between stints on Disney sound stages, made his professional baseball debut with Bend in ’71. That’s weird, wild stuff. In ’72, the team was moved to Walla Walla, Washington, where they continued as a Hawaii affiliate, playing as the Walla Walla Islanders. That team name is not quite as alluring as the Bend Rainbows, but I’ll grant the WW-Islanders honorary weird team status. After all, Kurt Russell was on that team as well.
Blue Mountain Bears Why weird? Here we have an independent one-year wonder that played in the Northwest League in 1983. That’s weird enough to catch attention, but does it qualify the Bears for this elevated status of weirdness? Let’s review. As difficult as it is to believe about a team that played as (relatively) recently as ’83, there has not been a widespread consensus around what this team was actually named. I dig into it in granular detail on this page. As it turns out, basically every resource (including the Encyclopedia and Baseball Reference) had the name wrong. It wasn’t just the “Walla Walla Bears.” It wasn’t the ridiculous “Walla Walla Blue Mountain Bears.” It was the Blue Mountain Bears. Discovering the true name for this team made them less weird in some ways, yet more weird in others. They used a regional place name of the “natural feature” variety–a rare practice that didn’t reach its peak until the 1990s with the likes of High Desert, Piedmont, and Cape Fear. Beyond the moniker, the story of the Bears–a team that tried to survive in Walla Walla despite mounting operational debt and the previous tenant (the Walla Walla Padres) selling pieces of the stadium fence after they left town in ’82–is a classic “this would never happen today” story from the dark ages of the minors. It got weird.
Butte Copper Kings Why weird? Since the upheaval, independently-operating teams in the affiliated minor leagues have been few and far between. But not in Butte, Montana, where the Copper Kings had three separate indy stints in the Pioneer League. One of these stretches was in the mid-Eighties, and in the middle of it (1986), the Copper Kings simply stopped existing for an entire season, only to start up again in ’87 like nothing happened. But that’s not all. The team had a local history-based nickname and timeless logos like the crudely-drawn, armless, bearded king and the double-horseshoe-makes-B that was basically a ripoff of the Billings Mustangs’ M, only rotated 45 degrees. What else? Omar Vizquel talked about them in a Ken Burns documentary. Miles Wolff was once a part owner. Oh, Bill Murray too. Also, they were the first team to ever suit up players in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ organization–a full two years before the MLB team played a game. Basically, just stare at this 1996 picture of their mascot (Donkey-Hotey) for a while and tell me that the Butte Copper Kings weren’t a weird team.
Orlando Rays Why weird? This team identity began in 1997–using a marketing scheme based off Tampa Bay’s inaugural brand. Of course, this was one year before the Devil Rays played their first game, making them a pre-emptive COTOB….er….DimDer, since the Tampa team wouldn’t be called just the Rays for another ten years or so. In ’97, they were a Cubs affiliate, and Kerry Wood suited up for the Orlando Rays. That means that Wood played for a team that was named after a team that didn’t exist yet and that he would never play for. There was another one-year affiliation with the Mariners in ’98 before the team finally aligned with Tampa Bay–only to relocate/rebrand after five short seasons. To make matters more confusing, these Rays are not to be confused with the Orlando SunRays of the early nineties, which the team was previously called, and which sometimes called itself the Orlando Rays as sort of a nickname for their nickname. Oh, and the team was featured in the movie The Rookie, in which Dennis Quaid wears an Orlando Rays uniform. Yep. Weird team.
Queens Kings Why weird? This team was a one-year wonder and a placeholder team, so that’s a good start. It’s the only time that the NYC borough of Queens had an affiliated team, so now we’re getting somewhere. Despite being such a short-lived team, they had a very well-developed brand based around a wordplay place name/nickname combo, and created attractive logos and uniforms. That’s getting pretty weird. But what really pushes the Kings into weird-zone is that there is not a clear reason why the team even existed in the first place. It makes sense that an enterprising owner would seize the opportunity scoop up a New York-Penn League franchise (St. Catharine’s Stompers) when it came up for sale, and then wait a year until the Rudy Giuliani-greenlit Brooklyn Cyclones project was completed, but why not just keep the franchise in Ontario for one lame-duck season? It’s not like they would be making huge profits with a pop-up shop in Queens. My best speculative guess is that ownership preferred to hoard the franchise in New York City until the Brooklyn park was done. But if so, then why open the pocketbook for marketing costs and bedeck the players in such gorgeous garb? Weird team.
River City Rumblers Why weird? In the history of the Appalachian League, probably the most conservative long-tenured circuit in the annals of the minors, the Rumblers stand out like a sore, uh, rhino’s horn. Background: the Huntington (WV) Cubs were abandoned by their Chicago parent club after the 1994 season. Rather than slink away in shame, the good folks in Huntington tried their best to ride the crest of the Nineties branding revolution. While they aren’t the only uniquely-named, non-COTOB Appy League team in the modern era (the Princeton Patriots pop to mind) they were the last to hold this title–25 years ago now. And a nickname-for-place name in the Appalachian League? I believe that is unprecedented. While the other few unique Appy identities (like the Patriots) kept it close to the vest with their branding, the Rumblers trotted out a zeitgeisty black, teal, and purple ensemble and a fierce rhinoceros mascot. I hope they were able to sell enough hats to justify paying the graphic designer, because the Rumblers were only around for one unsuccessful season; operating as a co-op team that drew fringe players from no fewer than nine (nine!) MLB clubs.
Utica Blue Sox Why weird? What if I told you that there was a team called the Blue Sox who were at one time affiliated with the White Sox, and followed that up with a stint with the Red Sox? A coincidence, sure, but just another DimDer, right? Nope. The original Utica Blue Sox were called as such because they were a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate in the mid-twentieth century, and at that time the Phillies were often called the Blue Jays. So, Blue Sox is a DimDer of Bluejays, which was a nickname of the Phillies. Then the identity blinked out of existence for a quarter century, only to return when the Utica Blue Jays (a COTOB of the Toronto expansion team in 1977) became independent of affiliation in the early Eighties before signing on with the Phillies, then the White Sox, then the Red Sox, and then the Marlins. Head spinning yet? Well, there’s more. There are sources that say that in their first year with Florida, they were called the Utica Marlins or the Utica Blue Marlins or the Utica Teal Sox or (most likely) just the Utica Blue Sox. So to recap, the Blue Sox were named after the “Philadelphia Blue Jays,” went away, came back after the Utica Blue Jays changed their name, then affiliated with the Phillies, White Sox, Red Sox, and Marlins. Whew. That might be enough for this team to make the weird teams list on coincidence alone, but there’s more. At various times in the Eighties, the team was partly owned by Bill Murray, his brother Brian, Miles Wolff, author Roger Kahn, and Morganna the Kissing Bandit. Kahn wrote a book about the Blue Sox and they were profiled in People magazine. On the baseball side of things, they basically launched the career of Larry Walker, who the Expos plucked from Canadian obscurity and stashed in Utica during the team’s stretch as as indy club. Plus, they had a lot of interesting branding elements over the years, including just about every version of the letter U that you can imagine for a cap logo. The Utica Blue Sox may be the weirdest team.
Pretty weird teams
These teams have qualities that draw consideration for the vaunted status of weirdness. They are currently being vetted, in a multi-year process, for possible inclusion in the pantheon above.
Deerfield Beach/Winter Haven Sun Sox
Green Bay Bluejays
High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms
Port City Roosters
Rhode Island Red Sox
Santa Clara Padres
Walla Walla Islanders