An Anniversary, a day or four late. And a thank you.

Nowadays the wp.com domain resolves to the WordPress website, but fifteen years ago that WP stood for Web Pages. On January 24 of 1996 I began work on what would evolve into MWLguide.com, but the site’s original URL was www.wp.com/JOWO/. The first page, built from a template supplied by my Web Pages host, was an early draft of this biographical page–that bio’s structure remains basically theirs–and two days later I’d composed A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League in Lotus Word Pro and uploaded it to the site. Within a week I’d started what was originally a weblog, about the inaugural season of the Lansing Lugnuts. I’ve discussed the evolution of the site into a Midwest League history effort elsewhere, and shan’t repeat that here.

I moved the site to MWLguide.com–and off the WP domain–on December 1, 1997. As you likely know, a few months back I stopped maintaining that website; what you probably don’t know is that SABR now owns the site (speaking loosely) and moved the content to their servers as the year changed. My thanks to SABR, and especially to SABR webmaster Peter Garver, for taking steps to preserve fifteen years’ work. It’s much appreciated.

And my thanks to John Skilton and his Skiltech support team (especially Wade Minter) for their unfailing helpfulness over the course of a long, and still continuing, business relationship. That, too, is much appreciated.

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.

Midwest League Rosters

For the past few months, I’ve been compiling (or creating, in some cases) electronic rosters for every Midwest League team, organization, and season. I’ve been collecting the basic resources for several years; the recent effort’s been more about getting things into a useful shape than actually acquiring the data. The compilation effort has been–and continues to be–an odd combination of automation and manual handling; it turns out that much of the work is tweaking the data.

The last (still ongoing) step consists mostly of comparing the Baseball-Databank list of major league players to the lists I’ve collected and assembled; that comparison could be simplified somewhat if I’d automate it, but the error rate would be unacceptable. For each fourteen-team season my programs generate a list of about 140 "likely matches," of whom roughly fifty turn out to be false positives. Most non-matches are obvious when I eyeball them, but the edge cases can be maddening. That’s necessarily manual work, folks.

Today I’ve begun posting that effort to the MWLguide.com website. I’ve begun with Appleton, and will work alphabetically through to Wisconsin Rapids over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, at this time my presentable data only goes back to 1989, so I’ll need to repeat the effort as I complete the earlier years (coming; it’s just slow work, as I’ve suggested). But this is clearly the most-wanted missing feature for MWLguide.com, so it seems worth posting the incomplete lists and promising further cleanup. I expect I’ll have "complete" lists (see Less Thans, below) posted early in the upcoming season.

Miscellaneous Notes

Errors. This is the sort of project where every possible error is more or less guaranteed to occur. Please tell me if you find something wrong. Thanks.

The Sporting News. A project like this tends to generate a love/hate relationship with your best source–in this case, the Sporting News Guides. The quality of the Guides is more variable than you’d imagine (for instance: Don’t Trust the 2005 Edition), and there are some systematic issues which everyone finds annoying. Nonetheless: TSN has discontinued publishing most of their baseball annuals, and I miss them.

Name changes are problems, as are some common nicknames. David Ortiz called himself David Arias when he played in the MWL. Albert Belle went by Joey. Ervin Santana was Johan. (There are others like this; I recognize a few.) And many minor league sources list players by their proper names, which means my programs may miss major leaguers who went by Dick, or Bill, or Tom at the major league level (though I’d likely notice the match if they went by Rich, Willie, or Thom). The main advantage of getting this right is the demographics; I can get the birthdate right, and show a pointer to his big league career. I’d be grateful to be notified if you spot someone I missed. Thanks.

On the roster, but didn’t play. David Eckstein sat on the Michigan Battle Cats’ bench for a few days in 1997. Rick Ankiel, officially disabled at the time, spent the entire 2002 season on the Peoria roster. Neither appeared in any games. Neither pattern is particularly unusual, but they’re not documented very well. I’m including those I notice.

Less Thans. Prior to about 1964, the TSN Guides don’t reliably list players who played only a few MWL games. Baseball researchers call these players "Less Thans," and they’re a bane of our existence. I list the Less Thans that I, or my sources, know about, but it’s really quite clear that hundreds of folks who played two or four games in the Midwest League are not listed in the historical record.

Birthdates. It’s absolutely amazing to me how many players’ birthdates changed between their MWL summer and their major league career. It’s clearly always been common for players to shave a couple years off their age when they sign their initial contract. This isn’t exactly news, but I didn’t realize the practice had continued into the modern era. (Note: It appears that the stringent transportation ID requirements imposed by the Feds in 2002 have largely put an end to this practice.)

I’ve got more information. I have all years’ rosters in electronic form, and will post those as I get to them. I have all managers, most coaches, and most trainers. I have some front office staff. I have most umpires, though there are some reliability issues because the available lists are typically produced in March. I intend to mark the MWL All-Stars in the same way I’ve marked the major leaguers. And the Hall of Famers. I’ve numbers, positions, birthdates, hometowns, and other information for many players; transcribing those from paper may be next winter’s big project. Also: The database contains information I’m not posting to the website. It does not contain any statistics; other folks are working on that.

Seasons, and Organizations. I plan to create lists showing everyone who played in a specific season. I likewise intend to post roster pages for the MWL’s major league affiliates.

SABR. SABR’s Minor Leagues Committee is working on a similar, but much larger, project. Just wanted to mention it; it promises to be my favorite SABR resource. I’ll be sharing my database with that project team in the near future.

Copies? If you want a copy of the database, or a subset, drop me a line. We can negotiate about formats

You want to help? Data donations are welcome. Please put the information in a spreadsheet. Please include first and last names, preferably in separate columns; columns for year and team are also essential. I’m pretty sure I can wrestle any spreadsheet into MySQL, and then to the site. Thanks.

Revision History:

Minor League Franchise Continuity

If you explore MWLguide.com, you’ll discover that I’ve devoted quite a bit of digital ink to tracking franchise moves. Specifically, every Cities page shows predecessor and successor franchises, and the History pages include charts which explicitly track those changes. It’s easy to take this stuff too seriously, and I occasionally consider deleting it.

On October 10, someone (identified as 192.251.56.254) made several edits to the Wikipedia page devoted to the Great Lakes Loons, a minor league baseball team located in Midland, Michigan. The explanatory note–it reads "07 update"–disguises several revisions to the team history sidebar; in essence, the editor deleted all references in that column to the team’s predecessor franchises. This undid a bunch of changes user Spammeraol had made on August 20 with the explanation "The team was not founded in 2007, they moved and were renamed, the article traces there [sic] history before that." In my opinion, the recent edit is correct, though there’s certainly room for debate.

Edit 12/19/07: I see that the “history” has been restored….


Consider:

From The Sporting News, September 5, 1956 (page 37–mentioned in my previous post):

Paul Friz, who owned the former Terre Haute franchise in the Three-I League, was reported interested in bidding for a berth in the Midwest League next season. Friz headed a delegation of 50 fans from Terre Haute who attended the Mattoon-Paris game, August 25.

And this from TSN of November 27, 1957 (page 51):

The Mattoon Athletic Association has notified President Clarence Hoffman of the Midwest League that it will not operate a club in 1958. Mattoon was the remaining charter member of the league, which was organized in 1947. President Rodger W. Hayes said the decision to withdraw was made with regret.

And on February 26, 1958 (page 29)

[T]he Midwest [League] ([Class] D), which had lost Mattoon, faced the possibility that Lafayette also might drop out of the circuit. President C.C. (Dutch) Hoffman said three former Three-I League (Class A [sic!]) cities–Quincy, Keokuk, and Terre Haute–were hopes to fill any vacancies in the circuit. If none qualify, the Midwest is ready to operate with six clubs, Hoffman said.

Finally, we find this on April 23 (page 33):

The Midwest granted franchises to Waterloo and Keokuk at a meeting at Peoria, Ill. Both Iowa cities formerly were in the Three-I League. Keokuk took the place of Mattoon, while Waterloo was a last-minute replacement for Lafayette. Terre Haute originally had been lined up for the berth, but was unable to follow through with its plans.

Because of the late organization, [the league] delayed their season opening…

The Midwest will play a 126-game split-season, opening on May 4….

All TSN quotes courtesy of Paper of Record.


The Midwest League’s franchise shifts often look too much like this. And we’re not just discussing the (relatively) distant past; the 1992-93 off-season was marred by very similar chaos. This isn’t continuity; it’s improvisation in the face of a crisis. Worrying unduly about franchise succession is an attempt to impose order where the objective reality is disorder.

Perhaps more important, few fans have any interest in this notion of franchise continuity. At the ballpark, the continuity documented in the yearbooks is local; Fort Wayne’s historians document the Daisies, not the Kenosha or Wisconsin Rapids Twins (and certainly not Mattoon!). And Dayton’s fans are far more interested in Jesse Haines than anything that happened in Rockford. This disinterest is reflected in all the other Wikipedia articles on Midwest League towns, none of which pay significant attention to predecessors or successors. At the Wikipedia level, only the Burlington Bees article shows prior history–and that’s a different kind of continuity, with what’s clearly the same team in other leagues.

I have some personal experience with this: I was a season ticket holder in Battle Creek. That’s given me no emotional stake in the successor franchise, Great Lakes, and I rooted against the Springfield and Madison predecessor franchises when they actually existed. I’ve now transferred my loyalties mostly to the Lugnuts, and I root against the Loons.

This is not a claim that these issues have no meaning; as I noted at the top of the page, I’ve devoted considerable effort to documenting the changes. But it’s important only at the league level. Predecessors may merit occasional mentions in team publications, particularly when the franchise is new, but absolutely no one invests any effort in preserving the continuities. Or the Whitecaps’ record book would include Madison’s best players, Kane County would claim Wausau’s won/lost record, and Dayton’s total attendance would include Rockford’s. Not gonna happen, folks.


Just to further confuse things, a note about the supposed history which was deleted from the Wikipedia Loons page: That "history" traces the Midland franchise back to the 1982 Springfield Cardinals. That 1982 team was a Midwest League expansion franchise, but it had a prior history. Springfield had a team in the American Association in 1981. While the Redbirds franchise moved to Louisville for 1982, it’s not unreasonable to count the MWL team as its continuation; it’s certainly how the Springfield fans viewed the situation. To the Loons fans, it’s not particularly important.

Revision History:

Rick Patterson

MWLguide.com‘s manager profiles are assembly projects. I typically begin the project by backtracking through the Minor League Encyclopedia, the BA Almanacs, and/or the TSN Guides. I check those against Jerry Jackson’s manager list, and drop him a line when our research disagrees. Then I fill in the gaps–usually these guys had coaching jobs–from Blue Books, BA’s Directories, the Web, and old MWL programs. The playing career data typically comes from Pat Doyle’s Professional Baseball Player Database, which might be supplemented from other sources. Sporting News back issues, which are available at Paper of Record, are sometimes helpful, I’ve been known to ask the SABR community of baseball experts for information. Since some of these managers are quite familiar to me, I may know things which aren’t easily found elsewhere. And occasionally the profile subjects, themselves, send me notes. All in all, there’s no single source for this information; that’s part of what makes the project interesting.

Rick Patterson was South Bend’s manager in the first Midwest League game I ever saw, in April of 1990. My main memory of the game is the novelty of the ballpark; I really don’t recall anything about the managers.

I first built Rick Patterson’s profile page in February of 2000, and while I’ve updated it several times since, today’s look at his career was my first since the initial project.

Today’s first research question was When did Patterson play pro ball, and was he drafted by someone? Doyle’s database has a Richard Patterson who played in the extremely low minors in the early 80s (might be our guy), and a Dick Patterson from the late ’40s (who probably isn’t). A web check finds an interview with Patterson (2006 Mets roving instructor, which agrees with information already in the profile) where we learn that neither is the right guy; Rick played in the Mets organization in the 1970s. Back to Doyle, where I find W.O. Ricky Patterson who played for Wausau and Lynchburg in 1975 and 1976 (folks with names like that vastly complicate this stuff). Our guy, even though the article claims a three-year playing career. The BA Draft Almanac doesn’t list him as a Mets draftee in 1974 or 75, so he was most likely a free agent signing. We’ll go with that.

The same interview fills in a long gap in Patterson’s career: He managed at Bishop State CC (wherever that is–turns out to be Mobile) for (it says) eight years. If I assume Patterson managed both at Bishop and in the Heartland League in 1997, this fits well, though it suggests he had a rather busy June that summer.

Another online interview discusses Patterson’s relationship with Eddie Stanky, for whom he played at South Alabama. (Aha! A biographical factoid!) Apparently he also coached under the Brat, presumably during that gap after his playing career. Not enough details, here; file away for further research.

That’s all that’s useful on the web. There’s nothing in the BR Bullpen, nor in Wikipedia. Since Jeff (in the Bullpen), several Wikipedians, and I are investigating the same careers, we borrow pretty heavily from each other. This time, though, I’m the guy who got there first, so no joy.

So, where are we? We still need to fill in the gap between his playing career and his managerial career (that one will be hard unless I find the information in a South Bend program), and there are a couple one-year gaps where he was likely on some team’s coaching staff (I can usually solve those). The pitching coach stint looks like I miscopied something, which has happened before. Loose ends: Was he working in baseball this summer? Did Patterson really play in the minors for three years; if so, where and when? And I need a couple biographical details: What do those initials stand for? When and where was he born? (I’m betting on Mobile, probably in 1955 or thereabouts.) Finally, we still need won/lost records for the partial season at Greensboro, his collegiate teams, and the winter league stints; that will be some other year’s project, methinks.

So it goes….

Bill Mosiello

I generally spend my lunch hours working on my Midwest League website; while I’m doing that, I often discover information, in some way related to the day’s project, which really doesn’t belong on that site.

I’ve been putting some of those notes on the “What’s Changed” page, but that’s not really a good solution as they age off the page within a few weeks (I think of them as notes to my RSS feed’s subscribers). One of the (many) reasons I’ve decided to resurrect this journal is to provide a platform for those research notes.

Bill Mosiello started the 2004 season as Battle Creek’s hitting coach; in mid-season the Yankees reassigned manager Mitch Seaone to their Tampa baseball complex and promoted Bill to manager. The next year they assigned Bill to Charleston, where he managed for a year and a half–then suddenly left the organization in mid-season to accept a job with the Southern Cal Trojans.

That voluntary mid-season job change is really quite unusual. But changing schools has been Mosiello’s norm; except for a fairly long stint at Oklahoma and his Yankee gig, he’s made a habit of moving to another university every couple years.

While many Midwest League managers have some college coaching experience, Mosiello’s resume is unusual both for the number of schools he’s worked for and the generally high visibility of those baseball programs. Compare, for instance, Bob Herold’s career.

Bill’s moving again, by the way. This time to Auburn.


One more oddity: Not many minor league managers can claim to have been both pitching and hitting coaches. Bill’s reputation is that he’s good in both roles.

Revision History:

Perfection, and a note on imperfection

Burlington’s Chris Coughlin threw a 3-0 perfect game–nine innings–at the Snappers last night.  Wish I’d been there.


A Note on Imperfection

Because of this game, I’ve learned of a previously undocumented MWL perfect game.

Press coverage of last night’s game led Elwin Huffman to find the no-hitter list on MWLguide.com, and to send me a note about the list.  He’d seen Waterloo’s Bob Link pitch a perfecto in 1985 and was interested in why no one knew about it.  The short answer is that my list is no better than my sources.  I wrote about this in a note to the Midwest League Mailing List (gone, now) on March 3, 2002 (there’s some editing; I removed an example):

There are no fully reliable sources of information about Midwest League history. Those of us who research MWL history find recording mistakes almost every time we look into something. This is mainly because the records are kept by fallible human beings; fifty-five years is a long stretch and affords many opportunities for errors.

This note because I’ve been systematically comparing no-hitter lists:

  • There’s a list in the annual MWL Record Book.
  • The list on my website was compiled from the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, and supplemented from other sources.
  • The Sporting News Guides list the previous season’s no hitters for each league, in every edition.
  • Baseball America‘s season writeups usually list no hitters for the season being covered.

These lists don’t agree with each other, and I don’t honestly believe any are correct. The Record Book‘s list, which you’d expect to be accurate, is the worst of the lot; to all appearances, it was edited to fit the page. Predictably, this has led to reporting errors.

Mr. Huffman has volunteered to document the game for me (and presumably for the MWL office as well), an offer I’ll certainly accept.  But a quick check via Paper of Record verifies the game.  The August 5, 1985, issue of The Sporting News has this on page 41:

Indians Mixing screwballs and sinkers with an occasional fastball, righthander Bob Link pitched a seven-inning perfect game for Waterloo (Midwest) in the nightcap of a July 25 doubleheader with Clinton.  Link, the Tribe’s 37th selection in the amateur draft, struck out eight in the 10-0 victory, his fourth in a row after a loss in his debut.

I’ll fix the listing on my site tonight, and pass the word to the League office.


Credit where it’s due:  The Paper of Record subscription was discounted because I’m a member of SABR.

Revision History:

Anniversary

Eight years ago today, I posted the essay A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League; thus was born the website with the same name.  The original website was intended for fans of the then-newly-minted Lansing Lugnuts; there was other content, but the main body of the website was a blog-style essay following the team through its first season.  It was a fun summer, and generated lots of interesting e-mail, but at season’s end it was pretty clear to me I really didn’t want to do that again.

So I shifted the focus of the site to the entire Midwest League.  The current site includes some of the original site’s content, but that’s mostly scattered in odd corners.  Exploring the small-town history of the MWL is an interesting and challenging pastime, and I’ve collected hundreds of books, scorecards, and other documents which help with those explorations.  I’ll likely continue to work on the project for the rest of my life.

Over the years, the site’s received thousands of e-mails.  It draws attention from MWL fans, from team officials, from former players, from others who follow minor league ball.  Some offer odd facts; others want to know something I might have available, a few want to argue about something.  Overall, my favorite notes are from players, who generally offer kind comments, and thank me for helping them recover memories from lost days.  Some of my Lansing readers still keep in touch, even though I’ve shifted my allegiance back to Battle Creek’s team.


The best note, beyond contest, told a long story about how a family in upper New York accidentally opened their home to a large and gentle man named Juan Salazar, and were blessed.

Revision History: