The Rise of the Midwest League and the Decline of the Three-I League by Tim Rask: a short review

This is a review of Tim Rask’s short (12 page) article, which is available online.

Tim’s article examines how minor league baseball’s formerly-thriving Three-I League failed after a long, successful run. He attributes the failure to a number of causes, but identifies the main agent to be C.C. “Dutch” Hoffman, president of the Midwest League. Rask’s research, based largely on Iowa newspaper accounts, shows that Hoffman was able to consistently win territorial skirmishes with the older, faster league; he worked out a better strategy for franchise recruitment, and made better tactical use of baseball’s territorial rules.

A fine piece of research. Most minor leagues failed in the 1950s; we need more people examining why specific leagues succeeded.

Revision History:

Cradle of the Game by Mark Cryan: a short review

Well-executed but nonetheless fairly typical tourist-oriented ballpark guide. A few of the ballyards are not currently involved in anything resembling an organized league.

This book is more ballpark oriented than most similar guides; the teams which inhabit the yards are mentioned, but not usually featured. Also tells local attractions, hotel suggestions, and a survey of economical eats for each town.

The last few chapters are a little skimpy. It may be that there was less material to share, but it feels like the author was pushing the deadline and rushed through them.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

A Fan’s Guide Farewell

I’m no longer maintaining MWLguide.com. I stopped working on the site in March, when my project-driven job got out of hand, but I made the end official last week.

A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League was born early in 1996 late in 1995 as a Lansing Lugnuts weblog. The Luggies were new to Lansing, and I was hearing and reading nonsensical things about how the team and the Midwest League operated. My object was education; I wanted to explain what was going on. I’d been following minor league baseball in The Sporting News since the early 1960s and in Baseball America for over a decade, so I had a firm basic understanding of the ground rules. I’d been watching Midwest League games since the South Bend expansion, and had a feel for the realities of low-minor-league baseball. An incidental, and intended, side effect of the blogging project was that I learned to code text in HTML, something that seemed worth mastering.

Around mid-season I knew I wouldn’t continue the blog far past the end of the season; indeed, I’d decided to move my fan loyalties back to Battle Creek’s team. I mentioned this to Joanne Gerstner, who was covering the Lugnuts for the Lansing State Journal; she asked what I’d do instead. I said I’d probably build something about Midwest League history. Off such offhand responses, sometimes, are commitments made. I spent the winter laying the groundwork for the refocused MWL website.

In the mid-nineties all web designers were cowboys. There were no standards, and few examples to follow. I looked around and found no-one–literally, no-one–building a website anything like the one I had in mind. So I laid out a basic framework, and started assembling pages to fit the design. For a while that construction was pretty much catch-as-can, because I didn’t want to build a bunch of contentless shell pages. But an early project was to define a basic year/team/affiliate page and fill in the necessary information to meet a minimum spec. While I’m still not entirely satisfied with that solution, it filled a real need; you can find a fairly complete history for the league within the website.

Circumstance, not intention, forced an emphasis on the current season. When I started building the website, there was no unified coverage of Midwest League baseball on the web. In fact, there was little coverage of individual teams, as relatively few local newspapers had any serious web presence before, roughly, 1999. Baseball America and Minor League Baseball took years of experimentation to figure out how to do what needed done. While I enjoyed writing scouting reports on the teams, they were an enormous drain on my time. Their quality reflects that.

The site’s basic structure has worn well. I’ve worked backwards through League history, with some side projects to cover topics which don’t fit well in what is essentially a chronological structure. There are many gaps I’d like to fill, but I’m not going to get to those.

Emails often made my day. I heard from fans, from past and present players, from team radio voices, from former and would-be player girlfriends, from executives, from prospective team owners, from newspaper reporters. Over the years I received thousands of notes on a vast array of topics. A Danville fan told me about the joy of watching Butch McCord in his prime. One writer told about his mother boarding black players in Decatur. Another filled me in on a former player’s troubled life after baseball. A batboy told about his continuing friendships with players who’d shared the Dubuque dugout. Pat Neshek wrote me a delightful note after his MWL summer. Bob Sprout thanked me for writing up his remarkable season, as did Bob Lawrence for his; both were reminded of lost friends. The best email I ever received was from a kind lady in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who told me in detail how her family became unintentional hosts to a gentle giant named Juan Salazar, and fell in love.

A few final thank yous, for valued support, to Jon Mielke, Rich Hanson, Paul DuBois, Al Seeger, Jeff Yeo, and David Malamut, all of whom I’ve thanked before. Tim Rask, Brad Seward, Howie Magner, and Scott Sailor deserve special mention. A small host of others have encouraged me over the years. Couldn’t have done this without your help.


All that to say: Goodbye. It’s been fun. It’s time I did something else. See you at the ballyard.


Edit 3/10/2013: I located my archived copy of the original website the other day and discovered I’d written–and posted–two or three pages I’d forgotten. My first post turned out to be dated October 26, 1995.

Beating the Bushes by Frank Dolson: a short review

Nothing special, and dated, but worth a read if you’re interested in minor league baseball.

Nineteen largely-independent chapters, of varying quality on varying topics. The best are those on Jim Bunning, booze, and winter baseball.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip by Josh Pahigian: a short review

An adequate book, I’d say. All full-season official minor league ballparks are covered as of 2007 (which means that the new-in-2007 parks are mentioned, but not really described). (And yes, I know my review disagrees with zhejw about the coverage).

The Fodor book is better, though the coverage is less complete. Some of the older, similar, books are far better.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

Beloit in Midwest for 1970 (1969)

From the Waterloo, Iowa, Daily Courier dated April 10, 1969, on page 26:

(COURIER NEWS SERVICE)

DECATUR, Ill. — Beloit, Wis. plans to play baseball in the Midwest League, reported league president Jim Doster here Thursday morning, but not until the 1970 season.

“The National Assn. met last week in Tampa, Fla.,” said Doster, “and advised us that the Midwest League should operate with nine clubs this year, since most farm directors had already disbanded and players have already been assigned.”

A report Wednesday said the city would field a team for the 1969 season, making the league a 10-team operation, but that report was incorrect.

“We first went to Dubuque,” said Doster, “but we got a cool reception there about putting a tenth team in. Rockford, Ill. was our next choice, but we found commitments had already been made there for the baseball stadium.

“Then Mike Kelegian of Rockford went to Beloit and found them interested,” Doster added. “The have a stadium two years old which seats 3,000.

“I have now invited Mike Kelegian to the meeting of our board of directors April 20 in Davenport. If the directors so desire, he can make formal application for 1970.”

The odd abbreviations are in the article. I’m pretty sure Jim Doster didn’t actually speak that way.

The “Wednesday” report cited above was surprisingly specific: The team name was going to be the Braves, the 1969 affiliation would be a Tigers-dominated co-op, the 1970 affiliation would be with Cleveland, and Kelegian would likely move the team to Rockford for the 1970 season. None of these things happened.

The June 23 Burlington Hawk-Eye reported progress on the Beloit grandstand for the 1970 season, as did the July 12 Madison Capital Times.

Danville would (re)join the Midwest League as its tenth team for the 1970 season. Beloit and Rockford would both eventually join the league–Beloit in 1982, and Rockford in 1988.

And people wonder why I’m generally skeptical about franchise move reports.

Revision History:

A False Spring by Pat Jordan: a review

Perhaps the best book ever written about minor league baseball, A False Spring explores the reasons one youngster failed to fulfill his potential.

This is a powerful and frustrating memoir of Pat Jordan’s three summers pitching in the low minor leagues, written when the author was in his thirties. At heart, it’s an exploration of why he failed, and that story is pretty brutal: Much of the problem was immaturity; he comes off as a cocky kid, with obvious talent but no ability to put the talent to use. Except for a Winter Instructionals interlude, the path is ever downward, and the ending inevitable.

There’s a Midwest League connection: Jordan spent 1960 with the Davenport Braves. Unfortunately, it’s the book’s weakest chapter. The author knows this, and discusses the reasons; it’s closely tied to the greater failure of his baseball career.

The book’s honesty is absolutely painful, though occasionally a bit forced. And Jordan’s ability to sketch a portrait with a few sentences is really quite remarkable; almost everyone he turns his attention to comes to life on the page. I was particularly taken by his description of Travis Jackson’s need to be physically involved in baseball’s rituals, contrasted with his relative disdain for the ordinary necessities of the manager’s job.

The author describes his career as a series of unnumbered photographic slides, scattered purposelessly on a table. This fundamental inability to find a way to tie the episodes of his young life into a coherent whole was, he judges, the reason he failed so miserably. That’s perhaps not entirely fair, but it’s a good first approximation.


This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

Explaining the Peculiar Circumstance of Minor League Baseball

From Joseph Bosco’s The Boys Who Would Be Cubs, page 65 (I might have arranged these a little differently….)

The omnipresent, osmotic process by which the collective wisdom of the game is passed by the chosen who went before to the newly chosen who are attempting to follow.

Scouting departments might bird-dog, cross-check, and sign them. General managers and farm directors might set their monetary value and if, where, and for whom they will play. But it is the organization’s minor league staff of managers, coaches, and instructors who are responsible for teaching bonus-baby amateurs how to play, think and live as professional baseball players.

In the major leagues, American Legion, and NCAA they play the game. In the minor leagues they teach the game. Even as they live it, breathe it, do it, and talk it on-call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, from March till September.

Strikes me as an excellent summary of the circumstances of baseball in the low minors. And that very strange first sentence/paragraph is what Bosco actually wrote.

Revision History:

Baseball Benefits Battle Creek (1999)

From the 1999 Michigan Battle Cats yearbook; page 17:

We’re More Than Just a Game!

The Michigan Battle Cats Baseball Club brings many benefits to our area.

Tangibles

  • $200,000.00 The Entire Battle Cats player payroll is paid by the Houston Astros and spent in the Battle Creek area (Outside money infused into our economy.)
  • $100,000.00 Visitors spend thousands of dollars in area motels, shops and restaurants. (Visiting teams, umpires, scouts, officials, players’ families and fans.)
  • $200,000.00 The Battle Cats employ ten full-time front office staff who live in the area year-round (full-time local jobs are created.)
  • $100,000.00 The Battle Cats employ approximately 50 local people for summer jobs (Teachers, students, senior citizens, and other benefit from these jobs.)
  • $1,000,000.00 The Battle Cats local operation budget is spent almost entirely in the Battle Creek area (This includes transportation, team equipment, stadium and concession supplies, printing, advertising, and more).
  • $1,600,000.00 Total direct economic impact on the Battle Creek area.
  • $4,000,000.00 Total economic impact (2.5 turnover factor)

Intangibles

  • Media coverage brings regional and national attention to our area!
  • The only established professional sports franchise in Calhoun County!
  • Battle Cats players, staff and mascot are involved in the community!
  • Future Major League Stars (Donnie Sadler, Carl Pavano) are here today!
  • The Battle Cats provide wholesome, affordable family entertainment!

We’re Part of the Community!

Again, some hints about the team budget amongst the boosterism, though I’d advise you to take this with a grain of salt. Comparing with the 1976 Danville program’s similar blurb, we see that costs about tripled in two decades. Hmmm.

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