Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Didn't have a clue

I recently came across something that I thought I had thrown out a long time ago. It was a folder filled with reference type material from my first season of covering a professional baseball team, the now-defunct Niagara Falls Rapids.

I've mentioned the team a time or two. Like me, they were in their first season, too, in 1989. They played in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. Throughout that year, we figured things out together.

A lot has changed since 1989. Not only do the Rapids not exist, but many of the teams that were in the NY-P at the time do not exist. Also, entire careers have come and gone since that season and that's what I want to address.

In the folder were rosters from almost all of the NY-P teams in the league at the time. It was interesting to look back at those rosters and see which players had made it to the majors. Apparently, I had done it once before, because there were marks next to the names of the players who were big-leaguers.

The fascinating thing about this is how oblivious I was to the talent on the field when I covered them. I had no idea who would become a major leaguer and who would not. That's part of the old minor league advertising cliche -- see tomorrow's stars today. The only problem was that at that level -- at least for me at the time -- the players that would make the majors were a complete mystery. I was just starting out, so studying the draft or Baseball America or anything like that wasn't a thought. I imagine it wasn't a thought for a lot of people in 1989. Prospecting was in its infancy.

I thought it would be interesting to show the rosters here and see what players had made the big time. I'm not going to post all of them, but I will list which players from those '89 NY-P teams made the majors. It gives you a good indication of just how long a shot it is for someone at that level to even approach a big league team.

So, here were the guys that I probably should have asked for autographs from at the time if, you know, that wasn't a serious faux pas for a guy writing for a newspaper:

Auburn Astros
Affiliate of: Astros
Future major leaguers: Kenny Lofton, Shane Reynolds, Todd Jones, Donne Wall, Mark Small.

That is some kind of team for a Class A squad. Too bad I don't have a roster for this team. My guess is that the team didn't come to Niagara Falls that season because it played in the other division. We covered only home games, so if they didn't make it to the home park, I don't have the roster.

Batavia Clippers
Affiliate of: Phillies
Future major leaguers: Donnie Elliott, Paul Fletcher, Steve Parris, Joe Millette

Parris is the most notable major leaguer, pitching for eight seasons in the majors and going 11-4 for the Reds in 1999. Also, Bob Ayrault pitched for Batavia that year, but he wasn't with the team when I covered them.

Elmira Pioneers
Affiliate of: Red Sox
Future major leaguers: Peter Hoy, Jeff McNeely, Eric Wedge, Paul Quantrill

I don't have a roster for the Pioneers either. But I don't think Quantrill was with the team when I saw them. I do remember that the team was lousy, one of the worst in the league.

Erie Orioles
Affiliate of: Orioles
Future major leaguers: Tom Martin, Mike Oquist, Arthur Rhodes

Arthur Rhodes, referred to as "Art" on the roster, is one of only two players on any of these rosters that is still playing.

Among the notables on Erie that year was Pete Rose Jr. It was a very big deal when he came to town considering what was going on with his dad in 1989.

Also, you can see, by all the cross-outs and names added, how volatile minor league rosters can be. Often times, one of the first things you did to prepare for a game was figure out whether the roster they gave you was even close to what the team was featuring in the dugout.

Geneva Cubs
Affiliate of: Cubs
Future major leaguers: Gary Scott, David Swartzbaugh

Possibly the NY-P team with the least number of major leaguers on its squad in 1989. Neither player that made it did much in the majors.

Hamilton Redbirds
Affiliate of: Cardinals
Future major leaguers: Tripp Cromer, Mike Milchin

OK, I'm wrong already. The Redbirds had just two major leaguers, too. I'm sad that I don't have a Tripp Cromer card. He even played with the Dodgers in 1998 and 1999.

Jamestown Expos
Affiliate of: Expos
Future major leaguers: Scott Davison, Tim Laker, Glenn Murray, F.P. Santangelo, Matt Stairs, Brian Barnes, Pete Young

Wow, Matt Stairs! Unfortunately, if you click on the roster, you won't see his name, which means he wasn't with the team when I saw him. Neither was F.P. Santangelo or Brian Barnes. Some of the guys with a lot of talent breezed through the NY-P. They were there for like a week.

Tim Laker played for a number of major league teams. He was a Mitchell Report guy, but admitted to using steroids, which is the recommended course of action when you do such a thing. I also remember reading some story about Laker in which he conquered some huge health scare. I wish I could recall what it was. I'll have to look for that.

Niagara Falls Rapids
Affiliate of: Tigers
Future major leaguers: John Doherty, Ivan Cruz, John DeSilva, Mark Ettles

I listed DeSilva even though he's not on the roster. He was one of the first players from Niagara Falls to get promoted out of Single A ball.

Doherty was tremendous to talk to, my favorite interview subject of the entire season.

Oneonta Yankees
Affiliate of: Yankees
Future major leaguers: Brad Ausmus, Russ Davis, Orlando Miller, Sherman Obando, J.T. Snow, Mark Hutton, Frank Seminara.

I'm missing this roster, too. I don't believe Ausmus was with the team when I saw him.

Remember what a big deal Russ Davis was going to be? Another overhyped Yankee prospect.

Also, Miller graduated to my fantasy team in the mid-1990s. He did NOT fare well.

Pittsfield Mets
Affiliate of: Mets
Future major leaguers: Alberto Castillo, Pat Howell, Tito Navarro, Curtis Pride, Alan Zinter, Denny Harriger, John Johnstone, Dave Telgheder, Joe Vitko.

Pittsfield was the class of the league at the time. Not many teams could beat them.

Of the guys listed there, Howell, Zinter, Harriger and Vitko weren't playing when I saw them. Curtis Pride was and that is why I knew Pride's story of being a deaf athlete long before he made the majors. Sadly, I don't have a baseball card of Pride, which I just discovered today. I'll have to fix that.

Team: St. Catharines Blue Jays
Affiliate of: Blue Jays
Future major leaguers: Carlos Delgado, Jeff Kent, Greg O'Halloran, Ryan Thompson, Nigel Wilson, Darren Brown.

Now that is an impressive group of future major leaguers! The team itself went 31-45. I'd blame the pitching but Delgado hit .180 and Kent .224.

As for the note at the top of the roster, I'll leave it to your imagination to figure out who Rhonda was. I'll just say that she is probably the reason why I didn't notice Delgado and Kent.

Utica Blue Sox
Affiliate of: White Sox
Future major leaguers: Johnny Ruffin, Brian Keyser

A very nondescript team in 1989, but they had a colorful history. The Blue Sox were once owned by author Roger Kahn, who wrote a book about them. They were later moved from Utica to Maryland by Cal Ripken Jr.

Watertown Indians
Affiliate of: Indians
Future major leaguers: Jerry DiPoto, Bruce Egloff, Garland Kiser, Brett Merriman, Doug Piatt.

All of the players from this team who made the majors are pitchers.

Also, I can thank the Watertown Indians for getting me a job. An article I wrote about a game bothered some of the '89 Watertown Indians (they didn't like the fact that some Niagara Falls hitters brushed them off as not very good). My future boss saw the story and I'm convinced it was one of the reasons why he hired me, because, good god, did he adore controversial stories.

Welland Pirates
Affiliate of: Pirates
Future major leaguers: Will Pennyfeather, Tim Wakefield, Paul Wagner

Here is the other player from these rosters who is still active -- albeit, barely -- Tim Wakefield. Wakefield pitched and played first base in 1989. He was in the middle of converting to pitching and trying to master the knuckleball.

It was terrific fun covering these teams that year. The summer of 1989 is one I will always remember for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it was my first time covering pro baseball.

It's fun to look back and see how young and clueless we were, both on and off the field.


  1. Cool stuff! Thanks for sharing. I played my high school baseball at the same field that the Binghamton Mets play on. I grabbed a few line up cards when they would be left in the dugout from the previous game. I know I still have them at my parents' house...it'll be fun to see which of those players made it to the majors.

  2. I'd have to say taking former minor leaguers and find out if they made the majors is a worthy pursuit.

    And it is interesting how these leagues shift over the years, with three Canadian teams then, and none for years.

  3. Ahhh a fellow NY-P league follower. I grew up in Elmira, so I was into the Pioneers. By '89 I didn't care though.

    I have a soft spot for the Utica Blue Sox. One night in '84 or '85, on the way to the Pioneers vs Blue Sox game, it started pouring rain. Absolutely pouring down. We had to pull the car over and wait for it to stop. About 15 minutes later, it stopped and we continued. Somehow I ended up hanging out with the visiting pitcher as he warmed up in the bullpen and he told me that he'd give me the ball if the game was called. We devised this plan so I could "sneak" it out of his glove so he wouldn't look like he was giving the ball away. That was awesome.

    For a while after that, I kept lookin' for his name in the NY-P boxscores and hoped he'd find his way to the majors. I don't remember his name anymore, but I wish I did. It'd be cool to track him down.

    I'd have to go back to Elmira and sift through the microfilm of old newspapers to find out what night that rainout was and hopefully it'd say who the scheduled starter was. Otherwise I'll never know.

  4. You missed Matt Stairs as an active player. He's still hanging around as a pinch hitter for the Padres just to terrorize Jonathan Broxton.

  5. Great post - there were some good players in there. Delgado, Jeff Kent.

    Also - Stairs is still active. He's on his 13th team, though it's the franchise he started with - he's 0 for 8 with a .333 OBP for the Nationals.

  6. I left out Stairs because he wasn't on the Jamestown roster that I showed or was playing with Jamestown when I saw them play.

  7. I don't about the actual roster in 89 but the cards issued for the Elmira Pioneers were:

    1 Alvarez David
    2 Diaz Johnny
    3 Dorante Luis
    4 Hanks Chris
    5 Hoy Pete
    6 Jenkins Garrett
    7 Michael Steve
    8 Morrison Jim
    9 Moore Bart
    10 Morelli Frank
    11 Mosley Tony
    12 Munoz Lou
    13 Perozo Ed
    14 Riley Ed
    15 Rivera Carlos
    16 Rosario Julio
    17 Rosfelder Chris
    18 Rush Andy
    19 Sanders Al
    20 Spencer John
    21 Witherspoon Richard
    22 Verdi Mike
    23 Kennedy Dave
    24 Dunn Field
    25 Smoll Clyde
    26 Robarge Dennis
    27 Morton Kevin
    28 Thompson Michael
    29 Locker John
    30 McNeely Jeff
    31 Quantrill Paul
    32 Wedge Eric

  8. That was the summer before my senior year of high school. I lived near Watertown and remember it well.

    '89 was the first year the Indians played in Watertown. The Pirates had an affiliate there from '84-'88 until they moved over to Welland. The biggest product of the Pirates' Watertown alumni was probably Moises Alou, for whatever that's worth. So while others think of him as the person who really should have been blamed in the Bartman incident...I remember that I saw him as a minor leaguer in the mid-80s.

    That Indians squad was a big deal (at least in the papers), and I definitely remember the news about Pete Rose, Jr. being in the league.

    Personally, I was a little bit miffed that the Yankees didn't have an NY-P affiliate.

  9. Nice post. The Phillies farm system was in bad shape in 1989.

  10. I could give you a Tripp Cromer card, on the wrong team of course.