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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Remembering the Short-Lived, Ill-Fated Senior Professional Baseball Association

At a mid-June memorabilia show in San Bernardino, Calif., Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers is signing dozens and dozens of baseball cards. Almost all of the cards he signs are from his storied time with the Oakland Athletics or Milwaukee Brewers. A few, however, aren’t from his time in the big leagues.

Fingers’s trademark moustache is a bit thinner on this specific card. A palm tree logo is fixated on his red cap. He looks older in his portrait, having retired from MLB years before.

It’s a relic from his lone year with the West Palm Beach Tropics­–one of the eight original teams in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association. Fingers is among a large group of former big leaguers who took advantage of an upstart league full of baseball’s elders. Thirty years ago, when a senior professional baseball league was born, the Hall of Fame closer found himself competing against heralded peers such as Fergie Jenkins, Luis Tiant, Ron Washington, Bobby Bonds and Vida Blue.

Some players were looking to make a quick buck. Others were fighting for another shot in the majors. Many players, however, were just trying to rekindle some of their prior magic. “You feel like you living again,” Tiant says of his time in the SPBA. “I was born again when I was pitching.”

An interesting long-form piece, for those of you who find defunct sports leagues as fascinating as I do.

QLE Posted: August 29, 2019 at 08:24 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: curt flood, defunct leagues, luis tiant, rollie fingers, senior professional baseball association, vida blue

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   1. ajnrules Posted: August 29, 2019 at 09:25 AM (#5875258)
Back when I first heard of the Senior Professional Baseball League I was imagining players in their 60s and 70s playing against each other. It’s not too late to make that happen!
   2. drjohnnyfever Posted: August 29, 2019 at 10:20 AM (#5875273)
North of the border we had the Canadian Baseball League.

It didn't even last the entire first season! They pulled the plug at the All-Star Break, with the last official CBL event being a home run derby that had zero home runs hit.

My local team was the London Monarchs, which similar to the SPBA teams had 5000 fans for opening night (including myself) and then <500 per game afterward.
   3. Tom Nawrocki Posted: August 29, 2019 at 10:35 AM (#5875281)
Ron Washington's playing career was not exactly heralded.
   4. Howie Menckel Posted: August 29, 2019 at 10:38 AM (#5875282)
"London Monarchs" also was the name of the WLAF football team in the 1990s.
   5. drjohnnyfever Posted: August 29, 2019 at 10:48 AM (#5875284)
Just realized my London Monarchs link isn't pointing correctly. I can't seem to embed it:
   6. gef, talking mongoose & vexatious litigant Posted: August 29, 2019 at 10:54 AM (#5875287)
Haven't read it in ages, but I recall this Peter Golenbock book as a pretty solid read re: the Senior League.

Looks like a second book on the league exists at well. Seems like I have that, but I'm not sure. If not, I'll have to remedy that soon.
   7. Bull Pain Posted: August 29, 2019 at 11:53 AM (#5875309)
I have a few memories of going to a West Palm Beach Tropics game with the family when visiting my grandfather at the tail end of his life. I would have been 12 years old. I remember seeing Dave Kingman and Mickey Rivers but otherwise it had a distinct low-minor leagues feeling.
   8. VCar Posted: August 29, 2019 at 12:17 PM (#5875315)
I went to 1 Sr league game around new years. Dick Williams and Earl Weaver were the opposing managers, and got into an argument with umps and each other. Since there were so few people in the stands, you could hear every word loud and clear. As you can imagine, the language would have made sailors blush.
   9. PreservedFish Posted: August 29, 2019 at 12:28 PM (#5875319)
One of my minor lifelong regrets is that I did not go see Rickey Henderson play with the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the Golden Baseball League.
   10. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 29, 2019 at 12:31 PM (#5875321)
It was short-lived, but I believe the San Francisco Giants tried to bring it back in the early 2000.
   11. Hank Gillette Posted: August 29, 2019 at 02:35 PM (#5875360)
I vaguely remember this, and thinking it was a dumb idea. I imagined the thinking: “Hey, the Senior PGA is a big success! Let’s do it with baseball!”

Edit: I just started reading the article, and I was more right than I realized. Of course, golf is a game regular retirees play. Baseball, not so much.
   12. Rally Posted: August 29, 2019 at 04:09 PM (#5875391)
I can see why it was tough to make money with this. Nobody's going to pay to see a bunch of random 40 and 50 year olds playing. You're banking on the star status of the players.

Mention Carlos Delgado and you think of a great player, a feared slugger. Mention Robert Andino and maybe you think of the end of the 2011 Red Sox, but mostly you remember a generic utility infielder. But put them both in this league and my guess is not only is Andino the better all around player, he even outhits Carlos.

Simply because he's 35 and played AAA just two years ago, and Delgado is 47 and has been retired for almost a decade. Your best players will, I think, have more correlation to who's closer to the 35 year minimum age than to how good they were at MLB. I think that makes it tougher for fans to care.
   13. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 29, 2019 at 04:58 PM (#5875402)
Is the Senior PGA or whatever they call it now that popular? I really have no earthly idea. I can't imagine watching it but I don't even care for watching the young guys play so I'm clearly not the target audience.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: August 29, 2019 at 05:16 PM (#5875404)
I could see having an annual national old-timer's game ... maybe even one that makes a stop at each stadium every year. It was cool all those years ago when Luke Appling (in his 70s as I recall) hit a HR.

Your best players will, I think, have more correlation to who's closer to the 35 year minimum age than to how good they were at MLB.

In our 35+ softball league, you could have two (?) players under 35 in any game. The college semester ended about halfway through the season and the other crappy team in our league would roll out a couple of their kids against us. They might as well have been Rickey Henderson.
   15. Cblau Posted: August 29, 2019 at 09:31 PM (#5875450)
"Back when I first heard of the Senior Professional Baseball League I was imagining players in their 60s and 70s playing against each other. It’s not too late to make that happen!"

They could use the same rosters!
   16. The Yankee Clapper Posted: August 29, 2019 at 09:42 PM (#5875455)
It was cool all those years ago when Luke Appling (in his 70s as I recall) hit a HR.
Appling was 75 when he hit a HR off Warren Spahn at the Cracker Jack Old Timers Game at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.
   17. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: August 29, 2019 at 09:42 PM (#5875457)
And that would give the Angels a graceful way to resolve the Pujols situation- eat the salary but trade him to the 60+ team so he can keep playing.
   18. Howie Menckel Posted: August 29, 2019 at 11:26 PM (#5875467)
The PGA Tour Champions does okay, but it's not quite what it once was. in the early 1990s you had Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Casper......

the more modern golfers are too wealthy and arguably not as competitive to make slogging through the Tour worthwhile for them. and for those that do, there is less star power.

Hale Irwin was dominant for quite a stretch, and in recent years sexagenarian Bernard Langer of Germany - who can still post strong numbers at The Masters thanks to remarkable course knowledge of Augusta National - has racked up one "major" after another.

as far as I can tell, it will soldier on in this more modest form. they play at venues with, well, lots of old golfers with disposable income. no shortage of those places.
   19. QLE Posted: August 30, 2019 at 12:46 AM (#5875480)
the more modern golfers are too wealthy and arguably not as competitive to make slogging through the Tour worthwhile for them. and for those that do, there is less star power.

That, and I'd argue that the inevitable hit in in one regard- if one looks at golf between the era when Tom Watson's domination ended and when Tiger Woods emerged on the scene, it was something of a fallow period for top-tier golfers, especially ones willing to spend a considerable amount of time in the United States. Part of why the Senior Tour caught on had to do with this state of affairs being the case, and it isn't much of a surprise that issues would hit in once this became the generation on the Senior Tour.

It also connects with another reason why senior baseball players didn't catch on- there wasn't as much of a perceived need, both in the sense that the major leaguers of 1989 and 1990 were more interesting than the most prominent golfers, and the sense that (unlike on the Senior Tour) most of the old players who could have some sense of interest appear to have come nowhere near this league.
   20. John Northey Posted: August 30, 2019 at 12:48 AM (#5875481)
I loved the concept, but the execution was all wrong. As many have said the age thing was a problem as you'd get scrubs doing better than stars. The Senior PGA worked because the age to start is 50 not 35. But at 50 too many former ML'ers would be broken down physically and unable to play anywhere but 1B or DH and forget catching.

I'd love to see a version where they do a rotation of All-Stars, you have to be a retired All-Star/MVP/Cy Young winner/Rookie of the Year/Silver Slugger/Gold Glover to play. No backups, scrubs, minor leaguers, etc. Play in ML stadiums either before a 'real' game or on a weekend when the home team is on the road (ideally on a long road trip). Have it be the All-Stars vs old timers of the local team (minimum age 40) so the local team has a great shot at winning due to being younger and able to use ML non-stars who might still be close enough to playing days to be good. The local teams get 1 or 2 games a year, the All-Stars get 30-60 depending plus would see a rotation of players as they travel (depending on who is available). Could set up 2 All-Stars so you can do a west coast and east coast series only in the summer if needed (13 weeks from June-August, but could double up in Chicago, NY, LA with games both Saturday & Sunday). Could work but wouldn't be easy to set up. MLB would have to see some value in it to do it, and I'm not sure if there could be enough value ($$$) to make it worth doing.
   21. Starring RMc as Bradley Scotchman Posted: August 30, 2019 at 10:14 AM (#5875534)
I saw a Senior League game in Ft. Myers, home of the Sun Sox. Their mascot, Sunny Sun Sock, was waving at kids when one of them suddenly kicked him in the crotch. I laughed way too hard at that.
   22. Sunday silence Posted: August 31, 2019 at 07:07 AM (#5875856)
this is the one where they traded Luis Tiant for a box of kewpie dolls?

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