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Midwest League Reference Pages

Tidbits

I used to write a weekly (more or less) column, called MWL Tidbits, for the Midwest League Mailing List. The column covered topics which catch my eye; usually they were about Midwest League history, and often they were pertinent to something going on in the league at the time they were written. Some of the Tidbits have been incorporated into other parts of the website. This page has a selection from the rest.


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MWL Fan's Guide

Belleville's Triple Play

The 1948 Sporting News/Spink Guide shows that Belleville pulled off a triple play during their 1947 championship season. The players known to be involved were manager/second baseman Walt DeFreitas and catcher Socrates Anthony.

Unfortunately, that's all I know about the play, as the Guide doesn't give any details. I'll admit to having some difficulty imagining a second baseman/catcher triple play, though....

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
January 27, 2001.


Who Are Those Guys?

This Tidbit, about the 1961 Waterloo Hawks and the league's home run record, has moved.


Some Ghost Franchises

On December 15, 1946, the newly-formed Illinois State League announced (among other things) that the new league would field a team in Murphysboro, Illinois. That team never arrived.

  • Marion got that franchise.

On February 28, 1958, the Midwest League transferred the Lafayette, Indiana, team to Terre Haute. That team never arrived.

  • The team landed in Waterloo.

After the 1984 season, the Midwest League announced that Champaign-Urbana and Evansville would receive expansion franchises in 1986. Those teams never arrived.

  • Rockford and South Bend got these, in 1988.

The lesson here is that franchise movements are complicated, and fragile, with lots of vulnerabilities. The League was confident enough of these deals to announce them; nonetheless, they fell through. If you're wondering why the Rockford sale/Dayton purchase dragged on for years, or why the Quad Cities sale fell through, these failed moves are clues.

A team needs an owner, a ballpark, players (a PDC, these days), and several formal approvals just to function. If you keep you ears open and your eyes peeled, you'll find rumors of team moves almost every winter. Investors talk to team owners, to cities, to newspaper editors, to construction companies, to the League office; enough talk, and the word gets out. Some of these explorations have substance, many don't. Most of these projects die long before the League acknowledges their existence.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
January 15, 2000.


ISL Beginnings

May 18, 1947:

  • Mattoon White Sox 5 at Belleville Stags 6
  • West Frankfort Cardinals 5 at Marion 2
  • Centralia at Mt. Vernon -- postponed by wet grounds

On December 15, 1946, Howard V. Millard announced the formation of the Illinois State League. Franchises had been awarded to six cities, all in southern Illinois: Belleville, Centralia, Mattoon, Mount Vernon, Murphysboro, and Paris. The new league was scheduled to begin play in May of 1947.

Opening day was originally scheduled for May 4, but ballpark problems delayed the season's start to May 18. By that time the franchises had changed a bit: West Frankfort had replaced Paris, and when Murphysboro dropped out of the new league late in April, Marion was recruited to fill the vacant schedule slot.

Belleville would win the first championship. Other honors would go to Billy Klaus of Centralia (.341 BA, 84 RBI), Rip Repulski of West Frankfort (10 HR), Ken Wild of West Frankfort (1.73 ERA), and Bob Freels of Belleville (19 wins). West Frankfort drew 43,004 fans to lead the league in attendance. And Belleville's Walt DeFrietas was annointed Manager of the Year.

All Midwest League history flows from these events, although the MWL name wouldn't be adopted until 1956 and the league's membership wouldn't become (relatively) stable until 1962.

Notes:
Mike Clark's article in the 1996 Lansing Lugnut Yearbook covers some of this ground; Mike credits the research to Lendell Fullerton. Kevin Saldana's This Date in Minor League History gave the ISL formation dates, and traced the early franchise shuffles. Al Seeger was kind enough to check the Belleville News-Democrat and report the first day's scores, the delay from May 4, and other interesting things. (Thanks!)

It's only slightly related, but Burlington's Community Field also opened for the first time in May of 1947; May 11, to be precise. But the Indians were opening (against Keokuk) in the Central Association, not our league.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
January 1, 2000.


Winning Big

On May 9, 1965, the Dubuque Packers played host to the Quincy Cubs in a double header at Dyersville[!], Iowa. Quincy won the first by a 25-0 score, scoring 11 runs in the seventh. They capped the day with a 7-1 win in the nightcap.

James Ellis pitched the big game, throwing a 1-hitter for the Cubs. He also had 11 strikeouts. At the plate, Jim had one of the biggest MWL hitting days ever: 5 for 6, with a double and three homers; one of the homers was a grand slam.

The Packers hit total for the double header was 3.

Wonder what the ballpark was. It clearly wasn't the field which made Dyersville famous.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
August 29, 1999. That version had a serious error, and far less detail.


July 3

Midwest League happenings on the eve of independence day:

1951
Robert Hertzberger of Mattoon faced 45 Centralia batters.

1952
Neil Maxa of Paris pitched 12 innings without issuing a walk.

1963
George Sherrod of Quad Cities pitched a 16 inning scoreless complete game against Fox Cities.

1985
Peoria had 12 extra-base hits--8 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers.

1989
Elvin Paulino of Peoria was hit by 4 pitches.

1996
Scott Vieira of Rockford made 6 errors at first base.

Note:
This started out as an Independence Day column. But I couldn't make that work.

I did find Mudcat Grant's neat July 4, 1955, game: He pitched a three-hitter and hit homers in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Keokuk beat Cedar Rapids by a 12-2 score. But it was a Three-I League game....

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
July 4, 1999.


Twenty Walks

On May 22, 1949, the Paducah Chiefs drew 20 bases on balls.

Exactly 6 years later, on May 22, 1955, the Dubuque Packers drew 20 bases on balls.

I'm sad to report it, but that's all I know about either event. The Chiefs drew lots of walks that summer, finishing the season with 858. (I think that's the League record; it's certainly an impressive total in 119 games.) The Packers were the league's best team in '55, easily leading in wins and sweeping their way to the title.

I presume both teams won....

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
June 5, 1999.


Two Grand Slams

On May 4, 1978, Jim Noonan of Wausau's Mets hit grand slam home runs in consecutive at bats. Noonan had 10 RBIs in this game, to tie another league record.

That's the highlight of Noonan's career, of course. Including these, he hit 13 home runs at Wausau, and totalled 61 runs batted in. He'd follow his MWL summer with two seasons in Lynchburg, where he'd hardly contribute at all.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
April 17, 1999.


Four Home Runs

Three MWL players have had four-homer games:

Bobby Lee Smith, of the Clinton Pirates, hit four out against the Decatur Commies on June 13, 1959, leading his team to a 20-12 victory. The game was played in Decatur. Bobby was 4 for 5 in the game, and drew 2 walks; he knocked in half of the Pirate runs.

Mike Bishop's game was slightly better: On June 24, 1978, Mike busted four homers for the Quad City Angels, who were visiting the Wausau Mets. The Angels won by an outrageous 32-8 score. Besides the homers, Mike had a single and 2 walks, scored 6 runs, and knocked in 10. These homers were hit in consecutive at bats.

Eric Battersby of the Burlington Bees hit four out on September 13, 1999. Eric only knocked in six runs, but the game counted for a whole lot: The Bees defeated the Kane County Cougars and advanced to the championship final by winning this game, 9-6. On this momentum, the Bees won the League Championship.

Source Note: This tidbit comes from four sources: The League's record book, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Baseball America, 1997), Bob McConnell's Going for the Fences (SABR, 1997), and Kevin Saldana's This Date in Minor League Baseball History. They agree on the essential point, but show it in different detail. Battersby's heroics occurred since the original note was written....

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
February 20, 1999.


RBI Record

Some of the league records are a little mysterious:

On June 17, 1951, the Danville Dans played a double header against the Vincennes Velvets. In the first game:

  • Danville scored 40 runs.
  • Danville had 32 hits.
  • The two teams totaled 42 hits.

That's not the mystery. Here's the mystery:

On August 29, 1956, the Dubuque Packers set the league RBI record for a single game; it's 32.

If the record book is correct about these games, Danville managed to score at least nine runs without matching RBIs. Obviously that's possible, but it's hard to imagine.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
January 9, 1999.


May 14, 1950

I like it when the record book has several pointers to one game.

On May 14, 1950, the Mattoon Indians visited the Paducah Chiefs. The Indians brought their running shoes:

  • They hit six triples. Andrew Smith hit three of those. Those are league records.
  • The Chiefs chipped in, too; their triple made the game total seven. Another record.
  • These helped Mattoon set another league record: 79 in the season.

The record book doesn't tell who won the game, but Mattoon seems the likely winner.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
January 2, 1999.


Oldest Record

The Midwest League's oldest record appears to be:

OF Assists, Game   Arthur Lucchesi, Belleville, 8/3/47   4

This record's been tied twice, by John Finigan of Canton on 6/15/52 and Jerry Bartee of Cedar Rapids on 6/18/69. Lucchesi actually set the record in the Illinois State League, of course, and Finigan played in the M-OV, but it's listed as an MWL record.

The record book doesn't tell which teams these guys were showing up.

Art Lucchesi was in his first professional season that summer. He'd last until 1950, always in the low minors; a decent RBI man with bad batting averages. I presume he had a fine arm.

The oldest record "appears to be"? Pardon the careful words, but---

The MWL records show quite a few records as being held "by many players"-- with one or more recent examples listed for each. One of these could easily hide a 1947 event.

I also don't know how to credit West Frankfort's lousy 1947 defense (.930), or Bob Freels' exceptional season (19-2, 2.15, with all the wins consecutive). On some other day I might call these records older....

The truth's out there. Somewhere.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
December 26, 1998.


Mike Rahilly's 1998 Season

Mike Rahilly started 1998 in Sarasota, and was assigned to Michigan as part of the late-June player shuffle. By the end of July he had this preposterous MWL stat line:

  W  L    ERA  G  SV   IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO
  2  0  15.00  8   0  9.0  19  15  15   7   7

It hardly seems possible: Despite giving up 15 runs in his first 9 innings pitched, his won/lost record was 2-0. Thought I'd find out how he got there....

Rahilly's first MWL appearance was on July 3. He relieved starter (and loser) Marty McLeary in the sixth and pitched poorly, retiring only 2 Timber Rattlers; he permitted 2 hits, walked 2, and was charged for 1 run.

He next pitched on July 6, again against the Rattlers, in relief of Joe Thomas. He gave up 2 hits and got a strikeout in 1 inning, and got the win when the Cats rallied.

Mike pitched the last inning of a 14-2 rout of Burlington on July 10, striking out 2 of the three batters he faced.

His second win was against Lansing on July 13. Mike pitched one inning in relief of John Curtice, allowed no baserunners, and got 1 strikeout. The Cats rallied after he left the game to win, 5-4.

On July 16, Mike pitched 1 and 1/3 innings in relief of Michael Rupp, permitting 2 hits and a walk but not surrendering any runs.

At this point, I went on vacation. Mike's record was 2-0, his ERA was 1.80, and he'd struck out 5 batters in 5 innings. Looked promising.

While I was gone, he appeared in 2 games, pitched 2.1 innings, and surrendered 7 runs (all earned). I don't know which games he participated in, but the Cats had two 8-0 losses in the week and he likely contributed. Pushed his ERA up to 9.82.

Mike's next appearance was July 27. This was a bizarre contest; the Wizards wrapped it up early, but the final score was 17-10. Rahilly relieved starter/loser Michael Rupp in the third and made things worse, surrendering 7 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 1 2/3 innings. Hard to lose, though, if your team's trailing 9-2 when you enter the game. Nonetheless, this outing was a disaster. Here's where his ERA reached 15.00.

It would be over 2 weeks--August 11--before Billy Gardner would put this man in the line of fire again. Rahilly's last 4 appearances totaled 9.1 innings, only 3 runs scored.

Final tally:

  W  L    ERA   G SV   IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO
  2  0   8.84  12  0 18.1  25  18  18   9  19

Too many hits, and way too many runs, but good control and a respectable strikeout ratio. I might have given him another chance. Boston didn't.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
December 5, 1998.


The Longest Game

On July 6, 1989, the Waterloo Diamonds (a co-op team staffed by Baltimore and San Diego) hosted the Clinton Giants. The game, which pitted the league's two weakest teams, was suspended after 19 innings with the score tied 3-3. Play was resumed on August 17, in Clinton; the Diamonds eventually plated their fourth run to win in the 25th inning. The contest took 7 hours and 37 minutes to complete and is the longest game in league history.

References to this affair are scattered through the MWL record book:

Clinton pitchers struck out 31 Diamonds.

Clinton hitters Eddie Tucker and Rueben Smiley each had 11 at bats.

Clinton had 88 at bats, and Waterloo had 84. Their total, 172, is also a league record.

Waterloo second baseman David Cunningham fielded 19 balls (7 putouts and 12 assists). Clinton third baseman Anthony Michalak touched 18 balls (12 putouts, 5 assists, 1 error); his putout total is a league record for a third baseman.

Waterloo set league records for putouts (75) and total chances (75 putouts/37 assists/4 errors for 116 chances). Clinton's total (72 PO + 26 A + 3 E = 101 TC) is pretty impressive, too.

Thought I'd list references for this one:

  • Midwest League Media Guide & Record Book
  • Baseball America's 1990 Almanac
  • The Minor League Baseball Book (published 1995)
  • The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball
  • Kevin Saldana's This Day in Minor League History
  • Phil Lowry corrected an error for me. Thanks!

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
November 21, 1998.


Lansing Double Play Record

The 1996 Lansing Lugnuts team holds two closely-related league fielding records: They had 1743 assists, and turned 171 double plays. That double play figure is simply incredible; most years the league leader has about 130.

This was a team with no regular shortstop (Mark Melito started 55 games), a third baseman who regularly threw the ball into the stands, a chubby first baseman, and a terrific second baseman (Carlos Febles) who spend 38 games on the DL. That summer, only West Michigan and South Bend made more errors than Lansing.

So how'd they set this record? Opportunity certainly helped. The Luggies led the league in games played. The pitching staff surrendered 1336 hits, which is within a dozen of the MWL record. Most of the 218 errors put men on base. The 521 walks weren't an outrageous number, but most MWL teams posted better numbers in 1996.

That's about 2075 baserunners. Let's compare some other 1996 teams: Cedar Rapids had 137 DPs; they got those with 1892 "baserunners" (total of hits & walks & errors). Peoria, with the best pitchers, had 107 DPs and 1634 "baserunners."

Obviously, opportunity helped. But that's still an incredible number of DPs.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
November 7, 1998.


Attendance Records

I imagine everyone reading this page knows that Dayton's 2000 attendance figure of 582,623 was the league's best ever. What team had the worst attendance?

That turns out to be the 1948 Belleville Stags, who registered a season attendance of 6,085.

Their 1948 team was pretty bad, finishing 51-67 (.432), fifth of six teams and 33 games out of first, and the already-weak fan support completely collapsed. Pitcher Mike Blyzka had a terrific season at 12-5, 3.37, 192 Ks, and would spend a couple seasons in the big leagues for the Browns and Orioles.

The entire league's attendance for 1948 was a mere 120,767, the worst in league history by quite some bit. (This was actually the MWL predecessor Illinois State League, but the MWL claims these records; ISL teams were mainly in small towns in southern Illinois.)

Belleville lasted three seasons, winning the first ISL pennant in 1947 and leaving after finishing in the league cellar in 1949. For the first two seasons, they were affiliated with the Browns; their last season was as a Yankee farm. Their three-year attendance total was 38,124.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
October 24, 1998.


South Bend and Mattoon

Was South Bend's 1998 team, at 40-100 (.286), the worst Midwest League team ever?

Probably, but the 1952 Mattoon, Illinois, squad was comparable. They were 35-89 (.282) and finished 50 1/2 games behind league champion Danville.

Near as I can tell, no one from the 1952 Mattoon Indians played big league ball. Probably the best player on the team was Dave Perello, ending his minor league career with a .303/2 HR/53 RBI season. Ed Trytek led the team with 7 homers, by far his best season total. The best pitcher was probably Gail Miller, at 7-14 and 3.26. Three managers tried to get something out of this squad; all also logged significant time on the field.

Shortstop Bob Carson, a minor league journeyman and one of the managers, had a terrific game on July 9, though, setting a league record with 11 shortstop assists.

Perhaps the Hawks could beat 'em....

After I posted it, Paul DuBois asked about the sources for this note:

I looked in The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Baseball America, 2nd edition, 1996) to figure out which other teams were terrible.

Then I checked the Professional Baseball Players Database to get a list of Mattoon's team members, and to quickly check some of their careers. The database is published by SABR member Pat Doyle; Pat expands it periodically, and it now covers about four decades of baseball history. Pat always warns people that the database doesn't contain everyone because The Sporting News didn't figure anyone was interested in folks who just played a few minor league games. Turns out they were wrong.

Then I checked in the STATS All-Time Major League Handbook to see if any team members had played in the big leagues.

Then I looked for 1952/Mattoon in the League's Media Guide; that's where I found the 11-assist game.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
October 16, 1998.


Devon from Danville

The last alumnus of the MWL's Danville franchise to appear in a major league game was Devon White; Devo played for the Danville's Suns in 1982 and Peoria's in 1983.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
October 10, 1998.


The Twins and the Wizards

When the Wizards changed their affiliation to San Diego, it seemed appropriate to note how long they and their predecessor franchises were affiliated with the Twins:

They were there almost from the beginning. Wisconsin Rapids joined our league in 1963, and affiliated with the Twins the next year. The Twins remained affiliated with WR through the 1983 season.

The Wisconsin Rapids franchise moved to Kenosha before the 1984 season, and took along the Twins. That pairing continued through the 1992 season.

Fort Wayne acquired the Kenosha franchise and the Twins affiliation for the 1993 season; the match continued through 1998.

That's a long run, and deserves some mention.

This MWL Tidbit was originally published on
October 3, 1998.



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The Midwest League plays Single-A, professional baseball in America's agricultural and industrial heartland. 16 teams play a 140 game schedule which begins in early April and ends Labor Day weekend.

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