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June 11, 2010

BP Unfiltered

This Week in Minor League History: June 7 - June 13

by Geoff Young

In our previous installment, I marvelled at the fun minor-league team names that pop up throughout history. Because you cannot have too much fun, I humbly submit the following: Ft. Dodge Gypsumites, Waterloo Microbes, San Jose Prune Pickers, Muncie Fruit Jars, Petaluma Incubators, Vincennes Alices, Holland Wooden Shoes, Kirksville Osteopaths, Lincoln Abes. With reality like that, who needs fiction?

None of these fine teams played a role in what follows. That's okay; we'll have fun anyway...

June 7

1925: The Longview Cannibals and Mt. Pleasant Cats of the East Texas League consolidated to become the Longview-Mt. Pleasant Longcats. It's like the time Fred and Barney couldn't decide whether to name their boat Nautical or Seaworthy, and so compromised with Nau-Sea.

1992: David West, Larry Casian, and Greg Johnson of the Portland Beavers combined to no-hit the Vancouver Canadians. West and Casian both enjoyed big-league careers. West, part of the 1989 trade that sent Frank Viola from Minnesota to the Mets, went 31-38 with a 4.66 ERA over parts of 10 seasons. Casian, whose name sounds vaguely like a body of water upon which Fred and Barney might sail their vessel, went 11-13 with a 4.56 ERA over parts of nine.

June 8

1959: Frank Howard of the Victoria Rosebuds hit three-run homers in three consecutive at-bats against the Austin Senators. Howard, age 22, hit .371/.417/.745 for the Rosebuds, pounding 27 home runs in 63 Texas League games. He added 16 more at Spokane of the Pacific Coast League. The next year, he hit 23 for the Los Angeles Dodgers and was named National League Rookie of the Year. Howard would go on to hit .273/.352/.499 in nearly 1900 big-league games, pounding 382 homers (246 with the Washington Senators). He also threw very hard.

1980: Holyoke Millers left-hander Frank DiPino no-hit the Reading Phillies. DiPino went 7-0 for the Millers, with a 1.30 ERA, before being promoted to Triple-A Vancouver, where he spent most of the next two seasons shuttling back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. In 1983, DiPino saved 20 games for the Houston Astros, who acquired him from Milwaukee in the Don Sutton deal. In 1989, while with the Cardinals, DiPino went 9-0 in 67 appearances. For his career, he was 35-38 with a 3.83 ERA and 56 saves. And no, you're not the only one who confuses Frank DiPino with Jerry DiPoto.

1982: Southpaw Sid Fernandez of the Vero Beach Dodgers no-hit the Ft. Lauderdale Yankees. The 19-year-old Fernandez was named Florida State League Player of the Year despite making just 12 starts there before being promoted to Triple-A. It helps that he led the FSL in strikeouts. The former third-round pick (taken one spot ahead of future teammate David Cone) would be "traded" to the Mets for Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz following the 1983 season. "El Sid" would become part of a good, young rotation in New York and go on to win 114 games over 15 seasons.

1988: Right-hander Scott Nielsen of the Columbus Clippers no-hit the Maine Guides. Yep, that's what Nielsen did. He also went 9-11 for the Yankees and White Sox from 1986 to 1989.

June 9

1889: Omaha Omahogs (seriously?) infielder Johnny (aka Jack) Crooks homered four times against the St. Paul Apostles (!), becoming the first player in Organized Ball to accomplish the feat. Crooks went on to play eight seasons in the big leagues, hitting .241/.386/.322 for the Columbus Solons, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, and Louisville Colonels. He led the National League in walks in 1892 and 1893.

1943: Baltimore Orioles right-hander Stephen Gromek hurled 18 scoreless innings against the Rochester Red Wings. The game was called due to rain, ending in a 0-0 tie. Gromek won 16 games for Baltimore that year before winning 123 for the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers from 1941 to 1957. Gromek's best season came in 1945, when he went 19-9 with a 2.55 ERA for the Indians.

1959: Frank Huelsman died at age 80. Huelsman won five minor-league batting titles in a career that stretched from 1897 to 1916. His lifetime batting average was .342, and he broke .400 three times. Huelsman's age 39 and 40 seasons for the Salt Lake City Skyscrapers are particularly impressive:

Year Age  AB   H HR   BA  SLG
1913  39 473 200 22 .423 .723
1914  40 258 112 23 .434 .845

Huelsman, an outfielder, spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues, hitting .258/.322/.371 for five teams.

1977: Randy Bass of the Tacoma Twins hit four homers in a game. Bass enjoyed a few cups of coffee in the big leagues, hitting .212/.284/.326 over parts of six seasons before excelling in Japan, where he is perhaps best known for being denied a shot at Sadaharu Oh's single-season home run record by Oh himself.

1993: Albany Polecats right-hander Garrett Stephenson no-hit the Macon Braves. Stephenson won 39 big-league games from 1996 to 2003, including 16 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000 (which garnered him marginal support in Internet Baseball Award balloting that year).

1996: Macon Braves left-hander John Rocker no-hit the Charleston (SC) RiverDogs. Rocker split time between Macon and the Durham Bulls that season, going 9-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 28 starts. Two years later, he was converted to a reliever and enjoyed immediate success for the Atlanta Braves, saving 38 games for them as a 24-year-old in 1999. Then he said some things, left town, and soon found himself out of baseball.

June 10

1931: The Houston Buffaloes' Homer Peel (no relation to Emma) singled into a triple play against the Dallas Steers. According to The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (2nd ed.), after plating Ed Hock with his drive to right, "...Peel and two other Houston base runners were retired in run downs... The weird play included three putouts and seven assists as six Dallas players took part in the play." Then Margaret Dumont opened the door and everyone spilled out on to the floor.

1975: The Waterloo Royals won their 13th straight game and 26th of 27 en route to a 93-35 record and Midwest League championship. The Royals were led by 19-year-old league MVP Willie Wilson, who went on to become one of the best baserunners ever. The team also featured a rookie undrafted free agent pitcher named Dan Quisenberry, who turned out to be quite the ballplayer and quite the man.

1979: Lodi Dodgers skipper Stan Wasiak earned his 2000th minor-league win. When Wasiak retired after the 1986 season, he did so with a record 2530 victories to his credit. He also played more than 1500 minor-league games but never did reach The Show.

1984: Left-hander Bob Kipper of the Redwood Pioneers no-hit the San Jose Bees. Kipper would lead the California League with 18 wins and a 2.04 ERA at age 19. He made the big-league Angels out of spring training the next year and, after two disastrous appearances against the Oakland A's, was dispatched to Double-A, then to Triple-A, then to the Pirates in a trade for John Candelaria, George Hendrick, and Al Holland. I can think of better ways to handle a first-round pick than the Angels handled Kipper, who won 27 games over eight seasons before becoming a minor-league pitching coach.

1990: John Lipon of the Lakeland Tigers notched his 2000th minor-league managerial win. Lipon had been a middle infielder for the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox in the '40s and '50s. He hit .259/.346/.324 with 10 home runs over parts of nine seasons.

June 11

1936: Durham Bulls southpaw Johnny Vander Meer racked up 19 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory over the Norfolk Tars. He allowed just one hit, to Norfolk pitcher Joe Bob Mitchell (who himself allowed only two hits). Vander Meer won 19 games for Durham before being recalled to the big-league Cincinnati Reds a year later. He went 119-121 with a 3.44 ERA in 12 seasons and change, most famously spinning back-to-back no-hitters in 1938.

1946: Rocky Mount Rocks left-hander Bill Kennedy struck out 25 in a game against the Goldsboro Goldbugs, giving him 176 in 87 innings. He would lead the league with 28 wins, a 1.03 ERA, and 456 strikeouts in 280 innings that year. Kennedy won 151 minor-league games from 1940 to 1960, adding 15 more (against 28 losses) at the big-league level.

1966: Good day for strikeouts. Greenville Mets right-hander Nolan Ryan matched his age, with 19 of them in a shutout victory over the Statesville Tigers. Ryan would finish the season 17-2 for Greenville and later turn out to be a pretty good big-league pitcher, winning 324 games, tossing seven no-hitters, and amassing a record 5714 strikeouts en route to Cooperstown.

1982: Yankees second-round pick John Elway, an outfielder out of Stanford, reported to Oneonta, where he hit .318/.432/.464 with four homers and 13 stolen bases in 42 games. Thus marked the end of Elway's baseball career, although things worked out okay for him.

June 12

1937: Dallas Steers right-hander Firpo Marberry no-hit the Galveston Bucaneers. Marberry, "the game's first true reliever" whose final big-league campaign had come a year earlier, won 18 games in the minors at age 38. Most of his glory years came while pitching for the Washington Senators, for whom he notched 117 of his 148 wins.

1989: Arkansas Travelers southpaw Jeff Fassero no-hit the Jackson Mets. The former 22nd-round draft pick took 5 1/2 years to reach Triple-A and didn't make it to the big leagues until age 28. Once there, he stuck around a while, winning 121 games and saving 25 more over parts of 16 seasons.

June 13

1976: Iowa Oaks right-hander Chris Knapp no-hit the Evansville Triplets. The former first-round pick would go 36-32 with a 4.99 ERA over parts of six big-league seasons before heading back to the minors for a few years and retiring at age 29. Knapp was the 11th pick overall in what turned out to be a wretched first round of the 1975 draft (Rick Cerone, Dale Berra, and Clint Hurdle were the big prizes). The White Sox would have been better off taking Lou Whitaker (fifth round) or Andre Dawson (11th), but as Fassero reminds us, the draft is full of surprises.

1993: Huntsville Stars right-hander Tanyon Sturtze no-hit the Chattanooga Lookouts. Sturtze went 5-12 with a 4.78 ERA for the Stars that year, which goes to show you that anyone can have a good night. Sturtze spent part of 12 seasons in the big leagues, going 40-44 with a 5.19 ERA for seven teams. In 2002, for the Devil Rays, he led the AL in losses, hits allowed, earned runs allowed, walks allowed, and batters faced. It didn't taste very good, but at least the portions were big.

* * *

Just another week in the life of the minor leagues...

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