OTD 1996: Earl Weaver elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

Earl Weaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Aug. 4, 1996. (Photo by Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver (center) was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Aug. 4, 1996. (Photo by Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

On this day in 1996, Earl Weaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Best known as a fiery, World Series-winning manager of the Baltimore Orioles, he also led the Fox Cities Foxes to a league championship in the early 1960s.

The Fox Cities Foxes were a predecessor team to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and were still part of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League (commonly referred to as the Three-I League) when Weaver managed the Appleton-based team in 1960 and 1961. The Three-I League disbanded in January 1962, resulting in the Foxes and two other teams (Burlington and Cedar Rapids) moving to the Midwest League that year.

Weaver led the 1960 Foxes to an 82-56 record and the league championship. Fox Cities players included RHP Dean Chance, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 1964; first baseman Boog Powell, who was named the AL MVP in 1970; catcher Cal Ripken Sr., who would play for the Foxes again in 1962 and manage the Orioles (including sons Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken) in 1987; LHP Pat Gillick, who was general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays when the team won back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993; and Weaver himself, who batted .233 in 30 at-bats.

The 1960 Fox Cities Foxes team photo. (Courtesy of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers)

The 1960 Fox Cities Foxes team photo. (Courtesy of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers)

Weaver was a full-time manager when he returned to the Foxes in 1961. The ’61 team didn’t fare as well as the ’60 squad, finishing 67-62. He spent six more seasons managing in the Orioles farm system before leading the big-league team for 17 years.

This photo of Earl Weaver wearing a Fox Cities Foxes uniform is marked "Aug 62" -- probably when it was developed. Weaver managed the Elmira Pioneers that year. (Photo from the MEARS Online Auctions website)

This photo of Earl Weaver wearing a Fox Cities Foxes uniform is marked “Aug 62″; that’s probably when it was developed. Weaver managed the Elmira Pioneers that year. (Photo from the MEARS Online Auctions website)

You can read more about Weaver and the 1960 Foxes in this article by Timber Rattlers broadcaster Chris Mehring.

Posted in Baseball Hall of Fame, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Midwest League, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Blue Jays sign Santana to minor-league deal

Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter for the New York Mets in 2012. (AP photo by Kathy Kmonicek)

Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter for the New York Mets in 2012. (AP photo by Kathy Kmonicek)

LHP Johan Santana took a step forward in his comeback attempt Thursday by signing a minor-league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Santana hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2012, when he went 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 117 IP for the New York Mets. He is a two-time Cy Young Award winner (2004 and 2006 with the Minnesota Twins), but hasn’t consistently pitched effectively since 2010 because of various injuries. He turns 35 on March 13.

Santana pitched for two different Midwest League teams when he was a Houston Astros farmhand. He pitched in 29 MWL games — two with the Quad City River Bandits in 1998 and 27 with the Michigan Battle Cats in 1999. He collectively went 8-9 with a 4.85 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 167 IP.

Posted in Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits | Leave a comment

Better call Saul? River Bandits did in 1999

Former Washington Nationals RHP Saul Rivera saved 23 games for the 1999 Quad City River Bandits. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Former Washington Nationals pitcher Saul Rivera saved 23 games for the 1999 Quad City River Bandits. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

It appears AMC has a hit in “Better Call Saul,” the prequel series to “Breaking Bad” that premiered earlier this month. This prompted me to wonder how many men named Saul played professional baseball, and, of course, whether any of them played in the Midwest League.

Only two men named Saul ever played in the major leagues — Saul Rogovin, who pitched for four teams over eight seasons, and Saul Rivera, who pitched in parts of five MLB seasons, mostly for the Washington Nationals.

Rogovin led the American League with a 2.78 ERA in 1951, a season he split between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. He never played in the Midwest League, but Rivera did in 1999.

Rivera was impressive in his 60 appearances for the Quad City River Bandits (a Minnesota Twins affiliate at that time), going 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA, 23 saves, 102 strikeouts and 36 walks in 69.2 innings. He gave up only 11 earned runs and finished 54 games.

In addition to Rogovin and Rivera, 26 men with the first name Saul played in the minor leagues. Only one is still active in affiliated baseball: 19-year-old RHP Saul Martinez, who pitched two innings for the Houston Astros in the Dominican Summer League last year. It is possible he eventually will become the next Saul to pitch for the River Bandits, because the team is now affiliated with the Astros.

Posted in Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits | 3 Comments

New South Bend mascot name chosen by fans

An abbreviated automobile name outraced a political moniker as “Stu” was revealed Friday as the name of the South Bend Cubs’ new mascot.

The team asked fans to submit name suggestions and vote on four finalists — Stu, Colfax, Harry Berry and Ben D. Bear — in a month-long contest held on its Facebook page. Stu and Colfax faced off in the finals, and Stu won by a six-percent margin.

Stu is short for Studebaker, the vehicle manufacturer that was founded in South Bend and based there for 111 years. From 1994 to 2014, South Bend’s Midwest League team was called the Silver Hawks, named after one of the car models produced by Studebaker.

The runner-up name, Colfax, is a nod to a famous politician from South Bend. Schuyler Colfax served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives during the Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson administrations, and was Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president.

Team owner Andrew Berlin previously said the new mascot will not replace old mascot Swoop, as both will make regular appearances at Four Winds Field. (See an image of the new mascot here.)

Berlin’s affiliation with the Chicago Cubs deepened Friday when he became a minority owner in the team. He also owns shares of the Chicago White Sox. He sold his Chicago-based packaging company for $1.43 billion last year.

The Cubs agreed to a four-year affiliation with South Bend’s Midwest League franchise after the 2014 season.

Posted in Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks | 1 Comment

Two former MWL broadcasters land big-league gigs

Two broadcasters who plied their trade in the Midwest League the past few years have gotten called up to the big leagues.

Wayne Randazzo, play-by-play broadcaster for the Kane County Cougars from 2012 to 2014, was hired by WOR-AM as a pregame and postgame host for New York Mets games. He occasionally filled that same role for the Chicago White Sox, served as a sports anchor and talk show host for WSCR-AM and WBBM-AM, and did some play-by-play work for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, ESPN, and Sports USA (college football).

Randazzo’s first job in Minor League Baseball was as a broadcaster for the Mobile BayBears from 2008 to 2011.

Also making the jump to the major leagues is Jared Sandler, who was a Great Lakes Loons broadcaster and ESPN 100.9 FM sports talk show host in 2012 and 2013. He landed a major-market radio job at ESPN Radio in Dallas in 2014, and starting this year, he will be a pregame and postgame host for Texas Rangers games.

Both Randazzo and Sandler also will serve as fill-in play-by-play broadcasters for their new teams. Good luck to both of them!

Posted in Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Mobile BayBears, Southern League | Leave a comment

Snowbound stadiums of the Midwest League, Feb. 2015 edition

The snowy scene at Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons, on Tuesday morning.

The snowy scene at Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons, on Tuesday morning.

For baseball fans, there’s a warm feeling associated with the start of spring training. But for those of us in the Midwest, single-digit temperatures and wind chills in the negative teens serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that it is still winter.

Since so many of us are stuck with cold weather right now, this seems like a good time for this offseason’s edition of “Snowbound Stadiums of the Midwest League.” Longtime readers know I enjoy posting (and sharing on Twitter) photos of MWL fields covered with snow. So, without further ado, here are some pictures shared recently by MWL teams.

I’ll start with this photo of Dozer Park, home of the Peoria Chiefs, from Tuesday. In terms of snow still on the ground, it looks like Peoria has gotten off easy compared to most other Midwest League cities.

Peoria Feb 17

Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods, is the southern-most stadium in the Midwest League. Still, it is blanketed in white after a storm dumped nearly a foot of snow on the Kentucky city Monday.

BG Feb 17

This was the snowy scene at Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs, on Sunday.

SB Feb 15

Here’s a look at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, earlier this month.

Feb 2 T-Rats

Finally, here is a look at the part of Fifth Third Ballpark that was rebuilt after last year’s fire. In the background you can see the new administration building and deck area being built by the West Michigan Whitecaps this offseason.

WM Feb 11

Posted in Bowling Green Hot Rods, Dayton Dragons, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, snowbound stadiums, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Former MWL manager & player Wendell Kim dead at 64

Former Clinton Giants manager and Decatur Commodores player Wendell Kim died Sunday at age 64. Although reports didn’t list a cause of death, they noted that Kim was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease after retiring in 2005.

Kim never reached the major leagues as a player — he topped off at Triple-A — but he enjoyed a lengthy career as a big-league coach for the San Francisco Giants, the Boston Red Sox, the Montreal Expos and the Chicago Cubs.

Kim managed 10 seasons in the minor leagues — six for the Giants, two for the Houston Astros, and one each for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Washington Nationals. His first two years as a manager were in the Midwest League, at the helm of the 1981-82 Clinton Giants.

Wendell Kim's 1982 Clinton Giants card

Wendell Kim’s 1982 Clinton Giants card

Kim managed only four future major-leaguers in the Midwest League, but two of them are recognizable names to fans who watched baseball in the late 1980s and early 1990s: RHP Mark Grant and catcher Matt Nokes.

Grant was the 1982 Midwest League Prospect of the Year. He went 16-5 with a 2.36 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 198.2 IP, completed 12 of his 27 starts, and pitched four shutouts. He also was the winning pitcher and most valuable player of the MWL All-Star Game that summer.

Mark Grant's 1982 Clinton Giants card

Mark Grant’s 1982 Clinton Giants card

Nokes also played for Clinton in 1982. He batted .215 with 3 HR and 23 RBI in 82 games.

(Fun fact: Grant and Nokes were born a week apart in 1963, on October 24 and October 31, respectively.)

Before his coaching career began in 1980 in the Texas League, Kim played seven seasons in the minor leagues (plus two games in 1980). His first season as a professional baseball player was in the Midwest League, with the 1973 Decatur Commodores. He batted .264 with 2 HR, 27 RBI and 10 SB in 110 games with the Giants farm club.

Kim’s Decatur teammates included a pair of hurlers who each went on to pitch over a decade in the major leagues, LHP Bob Knepper and RHP John Montefusco.

Knepper went 7-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 79 IP, completed six of his 11 starts, and pitched one shutout.

Montefusco went 9-2 with a 2.17 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 120 IP, completed 11 of his 12 starts (he pitched in 24 games), threw a shutout, and earned six saves.

The Commodores won the second-half Southern Division title that year. They were knocked out of the Midwest League playoffs by the Danville Warriors, who went on to lose to the Wisconsin Rapids Twins in the Midwest League Championship Series.

Baseball card images courtesy of The Trading Card Database (http://www.tradingcarddb.com/).

Posted in Clinton LumberKings, Midwest League, Texas League | Leave a comment