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Team History (1896-Present)

In 1896, famed Cardinals' infielder Rogers Hornsby was only a newborn. That same year saw the crowning of the last Czar of Russia, the discovery of gold in both the Klondike and in Alabama, and the first intercollegiate basketball game. 1896 also gave East Tennesseans their first chance to taste professional baseball. 

The Knoxville Indians took up residence at Baldwin Park for a period of two years, starting what would become a lengthy and rich tradition in the Knoxville area. The original Knoxville professional baseball team packed the stands, drawing upwards of 3,000 cheering spectators, who paid roughly 75 cents to watch the games at Baldwin Park. 

The Reds followed the Indians into the upper-eastern third of the state after a four-year baseball drought that began in 1898 and ended when play resumed in 1902. The Reds remained in place, thrilling early baseball fans in Knoxville for four seasons. No records for this team are available at the present time, but it is interesting to note that the squad played in three different associations over its four year existence, including the Appalachian League for two seasons (1902-03), the Tennessee-Alabama League (1904) and the Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia League (1905). Once again, however, what would become the 'American Pastime' couldn't flourish in East Tennessee. The Reds ceased playing in 1906, leaving the Knoxville area without a baseball team until the 1909 season.

That year, the game returned to Knoxville in the form of the Appalachians of the South Atlantic League. Baldwin Park, which served both the Indians and the Reds as Knoxville's ballpark, was not the home of the newly formed Appalachians. Instead, the team made the move to Chilhowee Park, a stadium that would host minor league baseball for the next six seasons. The 1909 edition of the Appalachians recorded a 52-60 mark, finishing fifth in the league. The team once again took part in the Southeastern Association, leaving the South Atlantic League after just one year. The 1910 Appalachians played Knoxville's final season as a member of the Southeastern League, making the 1896 and 1897 Indians' squads the only other teams to travel the that circuit.

In 1911, the Appalachians were recognized by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. That season also saw another switch in league affiliations, with the Appalachians joining the Appalachian League. For the next eight seasons, Chillhowee Park hosted "Appy" League games. In 1912, the Knoxville-area squad changed names, reverting back to the Reds moniker. The eight "Appy" League seasons would not be played one after the other, however, lasting just four seasons from 1911-1914.

The sport returned to the region again in 1921, when the Pioneers resumed Knoxville's membership in the Appalachian League and began playing at Caswell Park. The new location served the East Tennessee city's needs for a very long stretch. Even though different stadiums and parks sat on the land, the physical location hosted Minor League Baseball through the end of the 1999 season.

Caswell Park hosted the Pioneers for four seasons until the team switched names, this time taking the name that the team is known by today, the Smokies. The newly named club didn't stop at changing just its name, however, because the Smokies re-teamed with the "Sally" league in 1925 for a completely new identity.

The team managed to pound out five seasons in the hot Southern sun before the Great Depression of 1930 forced baseball to die away in the Knoxville area. The city tasted the success of three first-place seasons, with the "Appy" League in 1923 and 1924 and again in 1929 in the "Sally" League. The "Sally" League Championship was hard earned for the Smokies, who defeated Asheville for the title. John Walker and L. Bates dominated on the hill during the championship run, combining for a 48-20 record. Pitching alone doesn't win championships, even though the team had more than enough.

The 1929 championship squad also had plenty of offense. Elwood Smith, Boob McNair and Frank Waddey were team leaders who hit .322, .391 and .354, respectively during the championship run.

The citizens of Knoxville were ready for baseball's return in 1930, but that return would have to wait for one season. W. N. Smithson, an outspoken local councilman, loudly voiced his support for a new baseball stadium and eventually won his battle. The Smokies returned to the diamond in Knoxville at the newly constructed Smithson Stadium, named for the man who brought baseball back to Knoxville. The Smokies played for 13 successful seasons at Smithson Stadium until World War II. 

The Smokies folded in 1944, along with many baseball teams, due to the massive amount of manpower needed to fight the Axis Powers. With victories over both the Germans and the Japanese, peace returned to Europe and the Pacific, as did baseball to cities all across America. As the nation tried to return to normal, baseball flourished in Knoxville. Bill Meyer, a Knoxville native who was the backstop for the Appalachians in 1910, managed the club during the 1940s and won National League Manager of the Year honors in 1948. In '48, the first-year Pirates manager skippered his team to fourth in the NL thanks to a 21-game improvement in the win column. The Smokies' records from 1946 to 1954 are missing, but during that stretch the team collected four first-place finishes in the Tri-State League while playing at Smithson Stadium. The Smokies took a detour through the Mountain State league in 1953 before returning for their swan-song season in the Tri-State League in 1954. In 1955, baseball again disappeared from the map in Knoxville after two straight first-place finishes in two different leagues.

The Knoxville Smokies called Smithson Stadium home until 1953, when it burned to the ground. The city decided to build a 6,700 seat stadium on the same grounds, naming the new facility Municipal Stadium. The $500,000 facility was renamed after the famed former Appalachian Bill Meyer in 1957 as a result of his death that same year.

The Smokies continued to play in the South Atlantic League, or the "Sally" League until 1964, when the S.A.L. changed names and became the Southern League. The "Sally" League moved up to Double-A in 1963, which became the catalyst for it's members to rename it the Southern League, a move that was due to the fact that the league wanted to distance itself from Class A ball. Knoxville's first few runs through the Southern League as a Reds affiliate were rough. During the four-year initial run, the charter member never finished above fourth place and twice finished lower than sixth place. Before Cincinnati moved it's Double-A affiliate to Asheville, N.C. after the 1967 season, the Knoxville club only managed to draw 21,390 fans-- the lowest total amount in Smokies' history. 

The 50s and 60s, Knoxville saw some of the top talent in the minors, both between the lines and in the dugout. One of the American Pastime's greatest minds, Earl Weaver, managed the Smokies in the late 1950s. The former Smokies' second baseman led the club to an improved 81-73 record in 1957 that followed a campaign that mustered only 53 wins during the previous year.

The Smokies even had a hand in the 1968 Detroit Tigers championship team. Bill Freehan, Mickey Stanley, Jim Northrup, along with pitchers Mickey Lolich and Fred Gladding all graced the diamond in Knoxville and all were vital members of the Tigers' championship squad.

After a brief break that lasted through the 1971 season, Knoxville stormed back into the Southern League, winning championships in 1972 and 1974. The first three years that baseball was back in Knoxville saw three straight winning seasons. Over that stretch, the newly named Knoxville White Sox compiled an overall mark of 218-196 for a .694 winning percentage. With success on the field of nearly 70-percent, it's tough not to win a pennant. The first title in 45 years came in 1974 as the "Knox Sox" took advantage of the offensive talents of outfielder Nyls Nyman. Nyman led the SL in the championship season in four different categories: batting average, hits, runs and triples, finishing with a .325 clip at the plate. Players weren't the only shining stars in '74. Sox skipper Jim Napier earned the respect of those that followed SL baseball, capturing manager of the year honors for his squad's impressive 72-63 campaign. The Sox finished third during the season but excelled in the playoffs. Knoxville eventually defeated Jacksonville 3-2 in the best-of-five series to win the SL pennant.

The success of the 70s continued with another pennant in 1978. This time a young manager would steal the headlines in the season's first half. Anthony La Russa, Jr., skippered the squad for the first 70 games, crushing SL foes in the process en route to a 49-21 West Division title. Tony La Russa's minor league managerial career was short lived. Just eight games into the second half of the 1978 season, La Russa left the team. He was back in the dugout in 1979, first at Triple-A Iowa and next in the American League with Chicago. His career in Major League Baseball included stops in Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis. La Russa guided three straight Oakland teams to World Series appearances ranging from 1988-1990, earning one World Series ring for winning the 1989 October Classic. He would also go on to win a pair of titles with the Cardinals.

The 1978 Knoxville Sox dominance didn't end when La Russa left. Manager Joe Jones guided the team home to a second half title and the SL Championship, which also gave the Sox a bye in first round of the playoffs and straight-shot to the championship series. With an 88-56 mark and a 2-1 series win over Savannah, Knoxville was at the top of the Double-A Southern League, drawing in more than 81,000 fans to Bill Meyer Stadium- the most since the 1962 campaign when the team drew more than 90,000 spectators.

In 1980, the Knoxville club began a long relationship with the American League's north-of-the-border presence: the Toronto Blue Jays. The Sox changed names once again, this time taking the name of the parent club. Success in the 80s did not come easy for the "K-Jays," who finished last in the 10-team Southern League in both 1980 and 1981. The 1982 squad made the playoffs after winning the first half in the West Division, but failed to advance past Nashville in the first round of the playoffs.

The Blue Jays made the playoffs a total of four times during the 1980s, making three straight appearances from 1984-86. The '84 squad made it to the finals with a 3-1 series win over the Nashville Sounds, but couldn't muscle past Charlotte, losing the series and a shot at a title, 3-0. The 1985 and '86 squads both suffered first-round losses to Huntsville, with each series favoring the Stars three-games-to-one.

The 1990s brought change to the Toronto Double-A affiliate. In 1993, the Blue Jays ended a run that lasted more than a decade, reverting back to the "Smokies" moniker for the first time since 1967. The Smokies were owned by the Blue Jays for a period of eight years until Don Beaver bought the team from the Major League club in 1994.

Bill Meyer Stadium served the Knoxville area and Minor League Baseball well, but in the 90s the facility was showing its age as one of the oldest ballparks in the Southern League. The Smokies began the process of finding a new home. The late 1990s will forever be marked in Smokies' history as a turbulent period as it became painfully apparent, after exhausting all options, that the Tennessee affiliate of the Blue Jays would have to look outside the city limits of Knoxville and even Knox County to find a new home.

The City of Sevierville welcomed the chance to host its first-ever professional sports team in 1999 with the approval of a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. Elected officials from both the city and Sevier County pushed the $19.4 million facility through and in 2000 the Tennessee Smokies opened the ballpark located just off Interstate 40 at exit 407. With the 1999 season in the rearview mirror, the club opened Smokies Park with a 10-7 win over arch-rival Chattanooga.

Tennessee wasn't finished with the sweeping changes, however. At the conclusion of the 2002 season, the Smokies ended their longtime relationship with Toronto. The run with the Blue Jays lasted for 22 years before the Smokies ushered out one bird for another. The St. Louis Cardinals were on deck for the '03 season.

In the first year of the player development contract between St. Louis and Tennessee, the Smokies made the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. The Cardinals' farmhands did even better in 2004. After winning the first half of the season, Mark DeJohn's Smokies coasted in the second half and headed into a match-up against Chattanooga in the Eastern Division Championship Series. The Lookouts were favored by some in the EDCS due to the fact that they were playing well heading into the series, but the Smokies pounced on the red and white squad, taking the series 3-games-to-1. After such a hard-fought series, the Smokies were ready for a showdown with Mobile for the SL crown. Tennessee, however, never had the opportunity to face the BayBears due to Hurricane Ivan. Southern League President Don Mincher made the decision to cancel the series rather than risk lives and property, so Mobile and Tennessee were declared co-champs. It was the fourth championship for the Knoxville area and a fitting end to the Cardinals short run in East Tennessee.

In 2005, the Smokies made the switch from St. Louis to Arizona. The Diamondbacks' farmhands finished their inaugural SL campaign with a record of 64-76, and their second season with a 70-69 record. After two years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Smokies are now affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and scored a wildcard playoff birth thanks to a 73-65 finish in 2007. In 2009, under the guidance of Manager and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the Smokies returned to the Southern League Championship Series. The Smokies collected the second half North Division Championship Series. The Smokies clinched the series with a 3-1 series win in Game 4 at Smokies Park. Tennessee faced Jacksonville in the Southern League Championship Series, but fell three games to one to give the championship to the Suns. 

2010 proved to be a repeat of the 2009 season. The Smokies won both halves and then defeated West Tenn 3-1 in the North Division Series to set up a rematch with Jacksonville. Tennessee won game one but blew an early lead in game 2 at Smokies Park that fueled the Suns series momentum. The series again was decided 3-1 giving Jacksonville back-to-back Southern League titles over the Smokies.

Tennessee continued their winning ways in 2011, winning the first half with Major League veteran Brian Harper at the helm. It was the club's fourth consecutive victory in a half, a Southern League record. The club ended their campaign with a 83-57 clip and a playoff series win over Chattanooga to reach the Southern League Championship series for the third straight year. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the team ran into a red-hot Mobile BayBears squad, and lost 3-2 in the five-game series to the champion BayBears.

After missing the postseason in 2012, the Smokies returned to the Southern League playoffs in 2013 after a scorching second half that was keyed by the arrival of heralded shortstop Javier Baez. Baez blasted 20 home runs and drove in 54 runs in his 54 contests in a Smokies uniform, leading the club to a 42-27 second half mark, easily topping the Jackson Generals by nine games. 2013 also saw history made by southpaw Eric Jokisch, who no-hit the Jacksonville Suns on August 6 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, the 12th no-hitter in club history and first individual nine-inning no-no since Gerardo Garcia accomplished the feat in 2002.

In a hard-fought Divisional Series round with the first half champion Birmingham Barons, the Smokies fell in the fifth and deciding game of the series despite the Smokies' comeback from a two games to none deficit in the series. The Barons would go on to top the Mobile BayBears in the Championship Series to claim their sixth league title.

The prospects would continue to march into Kodak in 2014, which saw six of Baseball America's Preseason Top 100 Overall Prospects wear a Smokies uniform. Leading that group was third baseman Kris Bryant, who annihilated Southern League pitching in the first half of the season, leading almost every league offensive category while batting .355 with 22 homers and 58 RBI. Bryant would go on to be named a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star and win the circuit's Home Run Derby before being promoted to the Triple-A level.

Bryant was joined by other top Cubs prospects Addison Russell, C.J. Edwards, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Pierce Johnson as part of a star-studded 2014 roster. Tennessee, however, failed to make the postseason for just the third time since the club became affiliated with the Chicago Cubs in 2007, totaling a 66-73 overall record while finishing second place in both halves.