The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Second Edition

Second Edition
Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, Editors
Baseball America Inc., 1997

An even better version of a great book. In the year-by-year standings, the editors have filled in more detail from the early years -- managers, team nicknames, attendance, and team affiliation. (In the material that follows, players on the various teams are taken from lists of league leaders and league all-stars. The overall won-lost records were compiled by me, so blame me for any mistakes.)

I decided to use this book to investigate a favorite topic: Ed Kenney vs. Baseball America. Several years ago (1989) Red Sox farm director Ed Kenney Sr. told us that whether or not the minor league teams posted winning records was irrelevant to the Red Sox. All that mattered was whether players were produced for the parent club. Mr. Kenney scoffed at Baseball America's annual award for overall winning percentage by a farm system. He believed that some teams stocked their teams with players who could win games at the minor league level but would never advance. The Red Sox only selected players who had a chance to make the majors. Their talent might be more raw in the minors, but they learned to overcome adversity and were better players in the long run.

Needless to say, Dan Duquette holds the opposite viewpoint, and since taking over the Red Sox in 1994 he has striven to build winning teams at all levels of the Red Sox farm system. The Baseball America school of thought holds that players should get in the habit of winning as soon as possible. The Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Expos, Duquette's previous teams, were frequent winners of the award for best winning percentage by a farm system.

Minor league teams were originally independent businesses which made money by selling players to teams at a higher level; the "classes" designated in 1901 as A, B, C, and D. Class AA was added in 1908, and AAA in 1946. In 1963 classes B, C, and D were rolled into Class A, and a Rookie level was added.

In the beginning major league teams did not have farm teams, but they could farm players out to the minors for development. Babe Ruth, for instance, was purchased by the Red Sox from the AA Baltimore Orioles, and then optioned to the AA Providence Grays. There was a limit to the number of these optioned players a minor league team could carry.

Branch Rickey of the Cardinals started the practice of purchasing minor league clubs outright to save money, but it took several years for this practice to be accepted by the baseball establishment. By 1932, the first year that the Encyclopedia lists farm teams, the Cardinal chain was spread over 11 cities. The Cards won pennants in '28, '30, '31, '34, '42, '43, and '46. The Tigers and Yankees had the jump on the rest of the AL with 5 each in 1932; between them they won all the AL pennants from '34 through '43. The farm system worked.

The Red Sox had two clubs in 1932, Hazleton in the Class B New York-Penn League and Wilmington in the Class B Piedmont League. The Sox got up to as many as 13 farm clubs in the years after World War II, but since then they have settled on a number between five and eight teams. In the period 1936-1966, Red Sox farm clubs had only five losing seasons, including a streak of ten straight winning years immediately following the War.

The best Red Sox minor league team ever was the 1959 Alpine Cow Boys in the Class D Sophomore League (88-34, .721) managed by Eddie Popowski. The best in the last thirty years was the 1976 Elmira Pioneers (50-20, .714) managed by Dick Berardino.

The best Sox farm team in the high minors was the 1946 Scranton Red Sox in the Eastern League (96-43, .691) managed by Elmer Yoter. Scranton's Sam Mele won the batting title, and Mel Parnell won the ERA title. Both became regulars on the Red Sox. But the league MVP was Scranton pitcher Tom Fine, who only won one game in the majors.

The 1951 farm system had a winning percentage of .574 and contained such future Red Sox as Jimmy Piersall, Dick Gernert, Sammy White, Gene Stephens, and Tom Brewer, plus a promising young manager in Mike Higgins. But despite high expectations the young players failed to get the parent club over the hump. Higgins ended up managing them to a series of third and fourth place finishes.

The best year for combined winning percentage by all Boston farm clubs was 1959 (.588):

AAA Minneapolis Millers 2nd place, won playoffs. Mgr. Gene Mauch. Players Pumpsie Green, Chuck Tanner, Lu Clinton, Earl Wilson.

A Allentown Red Sox 2nd place, Bob Tillman

B Raleigh Capitals 1st place, Carl Yastrzemski (MVP)

D Waterloo Hawks 1st place, Galen Cisco

D Corning Cor-Sox 4th place

D Alpine Cow Boys 1st place

No wonder Red Sox fans were confident in the early sixties. Alas, despite several other good young players -- Pagliaroni, Schwall, Schilling -- the Sox failed to fulfill their promise. One key mistake may have been the failure to promote Gene Mauch. The Sox changed managers in 1960, and did not offer Mauch the big league job; he left the organization as a result. Instead, Higgins was rehired for a string of sub-.500 seasons.

Could the 1967 miracle have been foretold in the winning percentages of the farm clubs? They had winning seasons in '64-'65-'66. The Class A Winston-Salem team won a 1964 pennant. In 1965 AA Pittsfield (George Scott) won its pennant, and in 1966 AAA Toronto won the IL playoffs, with George Scott, Reggie Smith, Mike Andrews, and Gary Waslewski, plus manager Dick Williams. So maybe here was a case of momentum moving up the ladder.

But in the years before the 1975 pennant the Sox farm clubs had four straight losing seasons (Joe Morgan used to brag that he finished last with Jim Rice and Fred Lynn). The 1986 pennant winners were preceded by five losing farm seasons in a row, and we can imagine Mr. Kenney forming his theories around that time. There was a brief spurt in 1986 (.539) as Mike Greenwell, Sam Horn, Todd Benzinger, John Marzano, Ellis Burks and Jody Reed made their presence known. But then came nine more losing seasons.

The worst Red Sox farm club ever was the 1990 Class A Winter Haven Red Sox (40-94, .299) managed by Dave Holt. The 1988 (.324) and the 1991 (.336) Winter Haven clubs are also among the dozen worst ever. "The Have" was definitely not a fun assignment for minor leaguers. All the preferred A-ball players went to Lynchburg; the Winter Haven team was owned directly by the Red Sox, who didn't care if they only drew 25,000 a season. It was where all the problem players ended up, and it was almost like losing on purpose.

By far the most abysmal year for the Red Sox farm system as a whole was 1988 (.396 combined winning percentage). New Britain, Winter Haven, Elmira and the Arizona League team all finished last, while Pawtucket and Lynchburg finished next-to-last. This came in the middle of a period when the parent club was winning three division titles, but perhaps the lack of talent in the minors foretold the parent club's inevitable crash four years later.

So whose theory is right, Ed Kenney's or Baseball America's? What's probably more important is just how much care and effort is put into the job. The system which produced Boggs, Barrett, Clemens, Greenwell, Gedman, Boyd, Hurst, Burks, Reed, Schilling, Bagwell, and Brady Anderson in the eighties had to be doing something right, despite having farm teams with losing records. But old age or neglect or complacency set in, and the system lost its magic touch. Then we got Greg Blosser and Eric Hetzel.

In 1996 the Red Sox farm clubs finished the year at 348-344, the first winning season in a decade, with Pawtucket and Trenton both finishing in first place. Duquette seems to be turning the tide, but it will be a few years before we know what the effect will be on the major league level.

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