Monday, May 22, 2006

Appalachian League

The Appalachian League, not to be confused with the Applachian Drinking League, is, arguably, one of the most revered institutions in the region. Started, as far as I can tell, back in 1911, the Rookie-Ball Appalachian League is the epitome of great, small-town baseball. Rumor has it that the League is on the verge of being dismantled - damned kids with their damned PlayStations not going to the ballpark anymore.

First, dig this little blurb on the league's history from the Elizabethton Twins homepage:

The Appalachian League was born in 1911 with teams in Asheville, N.C.; Bristol, Va.; Cleveland, Tenn.; Johnson City, Tenn.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Morristown, Tenn. That first version of the league lasted just four years, with the league disbanding in the middle of the 1914 season when Morristown and Middlesboro, Ky., folded on June 17.

The league reformed in 1921 with six teams: Bristol; Cleveland; Greenville, Tenn.; Johnson City; Kingsport, Tenn.; and Knoxville. That incarnation of the league managed five seasons, before again closing up shop midway through 1925.

In 1937, the league was restarted with teams in Elizabethton, Tenn.; Johnson City; Newport, Tenn.; and Pennington Gap, Va. During World War II, while most other minor leagues ceased operations, the Appalachian League played on. It continued right up until 1955. That year legendary minor league slugger Leo “Muscle” Shoals led the league with 33 homers and 134 RBIs in a 126-game season for Kingsport. It was the fifth Appalachian League home run title for Shoals, who had also led in 1939, 1946, 1947 and 1951.

The modern Appalachian League began in 1957, its first year as a short-season league. Six teams played that year, in Bluefield, W.Va.; Johnson City; Kingsport; Pulaski, Va.; Salem, Va.; and Wytheville, Va. Bluefield has been in the league continuously ever since and has been affiliated with the Orioles since 1958. That’s the longest current affiliation of any minor league team in baseball.

I got some links for you:

1) A list of every team that has ever been part of the league. Standout names include the Asheville Moonshiners, the Bluefield Blue-Grays, the Bristol State Liners, the Cleveland Manufacturers, the Greeneville Burley Cubs, the Erwin Aces, the Erwin Mountaineers, the Harriman Boosters, the Knoxville Appalachians, the Knoxville Pioneers, the Johnson City Soldiers, the Middleboro Cubsox, the Morristown Jobbers, the Morristown Roosters, the New River Rebels, the Newport Canners, the Paintsville Highlanders, the Rome Romans, the Welch Miners, and the Wytheville Statesmen.

2) This interesting little logo collection (wish it were more comprehensive).

3) This personal page, while brief, at least throws out some shots from the various fields.

4) A not-quite-complete list of the League's champions on the old, semi-reliable-on-certain-days- if-you-hold-your-mouth-right Wikipedia.

5) The home pages of the various current teams include: the Bluefield Orioles, the Bristol White Sox (also check here), the Burlington Indians, the Danville Braves (also, check here), the Elizabethton Twins (also check here), the Greenville Astros (also check here), the Kingsport Mets (also check here), the Johnson City Cardinals (also check here), the Princeton Devil-Rays, and the Pulaski Blue Jays.

6) An article on Blue-Suit.com in which Pulaski and Bluefield are visited and "analyzed."

7) Charle's Ballparks, which has shots of several of the stadiums (including my blessed Bowen Field)

8) A nifty article on the Burlington Indians.

I wish the league would put together a comprehensive site, something with a complete and developed history and a plethora of photos, but perhaps I'm just wishing. Regardless, link up with anything else you can find, and support the Appy League. It needs us, and moreover, its the cheapest and arguably purist baseball experience in these United States of America.

5 comments:

J. Michael Mason said...

Awesome post! I was just thinking about the Appy League the other night. I grew up on the Pulaski Braves (and the Wytheville Cubs when I lived there briefly) at Calfee Park. I used to sit under the Marlboro Man, with my homie Dave, at the outfield fence in hopes of catching a home run. The likes of David Justice, Steve Avery, Marl Wohlers, Mike Stanton, Brian Hunter, just to name a few, graced Pulaski with their presence before any of them had made a name for themselves. Calfee Park was also featured in a two page photo spread in Sports Illustrated sometime in the early 1990's.
The park added a new grandstand in the late 90's and dressed up the place a little bit. The Braves left in 1992 because the park was pretty much run down. After a couple of years without a team, the Astros and currently the Blue Jays have used Pulaski to raise their players.

cechols said...

Although I am also a fan of the Appy League, I would like to point out that the Betsy Twins article misspelled my hometown. The corrected spelling should be Greeneville, Tenn.

Those Elizabthton [sic] bastards.

I do a show for the Atlanta Braves called Movin' On Up (you can watch it on Comcast) about their farm system. Danville, VA is home to the D-Braves, and I've had the pleasure of getting to know the Appalachain League - at least the contemporary iteration of it - pretty well.

Thanks for the post, Smith.

Tyler said...

Excellent post, Eric. The Blue-Suit site incorrectly attributes the jewel known as Bowen Field to WV. Anyone who's been there knows its too beautiful to be located on THAT side of the line. I met Rocky Colavito and got his autograph there once (he had a relative playing there at the time).

Also, like Mike, I've taken in a few games at Calfee Park (and DeVault in Bristol). Both of those places "feel" more like a rookie-league park than Bowen.

I really miss rookie league ball. We have "The Diamond" (not aptly-named--it was built just before Camden Yards and the New Jacobs Field were built, in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium mold--so at just 20 years old, it looks like a god-awful relic) and Triple-A Braves ball here in Richmond, but it is no contest. The Braves, incidentally are trying to get Richmond to buy them a new park. I'm for telling the Braves (currently 21-31, dead last in their division)to take a hike and get a AA or lower team that I can enjoy.

Keep up the good posts, Eric. I promise to have something worthwhile on this blogspot soon.

Steven said...

Hah.... nice dig on WV, Tyler...

I grew up bicycling my way to afternoon and weekend games at Bowen field in the 70s and can't think of a better place in all of Appalachia to witness a minor league game. Salem and Knoxville have "big time" venues, but there's nothing like Bowen. Anyone within driving distance should grab a chair and see the Baby Birds play at home.

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