Top 100 Teams
Pacific Coast League (Triple-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|The 1981 Albuquerque Dukes|
Much has been written about the exploits of the early Pacific Coast League with its powerful franchises in San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, many other fine teams have graced the league in the years following the departure of the Seals and Angels. One of the most powerful played in the early 1980s in the thin air of the desert Southwest.
The city of Albuquerque is located in central New Mexico at an altitude of 5,280 feet in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains. It was founded by the Spaniards in 1706 and named in the honor of the Duke of Albuquerque, hence the traditional name for the city’s baseball teams. Albuquerque’s first venture into Organized Baseball was in 1915 in a short-lived Class D league called the Rio Grande Association. The league started with six teams, but two folded in less than a month, leaving four cities that would be associated with one another for decades to come: Albuquerque, El Paso, Phoenix and Tucson. The Dukes were third (32-25) when the league disbanded July 6. As a foretaste of things to come, veteran Albuquerque outfielder Frank Huelsman was the league’s home run leader with 10 in 53 games.
The Class D Arizona-Texas League (originally Arizona State League) made the leap from semi-pro ball to O.B in 1928 and the Albuquerque Dons joined the circuit in 1932. On opening day, April 6, the Dons clobbered El Paso, 43-15. The total of 58 runs is believed to be the most in one game in modern baseball history. It was a cold and very windy day at Albuquerque’s spacious Tingley Field and the conditions led to what is believed to be another record, 13 triples, 11 by the Dons. One report said that “the high wind made it impossible for the pitchers to control the ball or the fielders to judge it.” In addition to making 31 hits, Albuquerque benefited from 14 walks, three hit batsmen and eight El Paso errors. Incredibly, only one home run was hit, by Dons right fielder Cal Lahman, who went 6-for-6, including two triples and a double. El Paso took a 7-0 lead in the first, but Albuquerque came back to score eight runs in the bottom of the frame and 12 in the second. They led 39-13 by the end of the fifth. The El Paso starter gave up 11 hits and 4 walks in 1 1/3 innings, the next pitcher allowed 16 hits and walked 10 in 3 2/3 innings. The winds calmed down the next day and Albuquerque won by “only” 14-13. The Dons led the league all the way with 57-42 until it folded because of money problems July 24. Third baseman Dick Gyselman, who played the next year with the Boston Braves and for 15 years in the Pacific Coast League, led the league in batting (.392), runs, hits and triples.
The Arizona-Texas League was revived in 1937 with the Albuquerque Cardinals, a St. Louis affiliate, as a member. The team was managed by Bill DeLancey, catcher for St. Louis’ famed “Gashouse Gang” in 1934-35, who had been forced to quit playing for health reasons. Albuquerque finished in a tie with El Paso for first place in the second half, defeated the Texans in a one-game tie-breaker, then beat them in the playoff for the league title. They finished the season by defeating West Texas-New Mexico league champion Wink 2 games to none in an inter-league series. The Arizona-Texas League operated four more years, advancing to Class C in 1940. The Cardinals won one more playoff title, in 1939.
In 1962, Albuquerque and El Paso, another Sophomore League club, were admitted to the Class AA Texas League, better reflecting the size of the two cities. The Dukes were still a Kansas City affiliate in 1962, but became a Dodgers farm club in 1963. Los Angeles purchased the franchise in 1964 and changed the nickname to the Albuquerque Dodgers. The team won league championships in 1965 (managed by Roy Hartsfield), 1967 (managed by Duke Snider) and 1970 (managed by Del Crandall). In 1969, the team began playing in a new 10,500-seat Albuquerque Sports Stadium, replacing aging Tingley Field. In 1972, Los Angeles transferred its Spokane franchise to Albuquerque and the city became a member of the Pacific Coast League. The nickname was changed back to the Dukes. The ’72 team, led by Tommy Lasorda, won the pennant. In 1974, the Dukes, piloted by Stan Wasiak, won the East Division title, but lost the playoff to Spokane. Under the leadership of Del Crandall, Albuquerque was PCL co-champion in 1978 when the final playoff with Tacoma was halted by rain, won the second half in the South in 1979 and took the league championship in 1980.
In 1981 the ten-team PCL was re-configured with six teams in the North and four (Albuquerque, Phoenix, Salt Lake and Tucson) in the South. The league played an unbalanced 140-game schedule with teams playing about four times as many games against teams in their own division as teams in the other division. The season began slowly for Albuquerque. They lost their first two games, and were 5-5 after ten games, two behind Phoenix. By May 1 the Dukes had tied the Giants for first place in the South at 9-6. In May Albuquerque took off, winning 27 and losing only 6, including streaks of eight and nine consecutive victories. When the first half ended June 21, the Dukes had a 46-22, .676 record and were 10-½ games ahead of Phoenix. Albuquerque started the second half with a ten-game winning streak and began August with 12 straight wins. They ended the second half with 48 wins and 12 losses, a .750 percentage, 14 -½ games in front of Phoenix. They capped the season by sweeping Northern Division winner Tacoma, 3 games to 0 to win the championship.
Albuquerque had a winning record against every other team except Hawaii, breaking even in eight meetings with the Islanders. The Dukes were 35-11 in games with Northern Division teams. They had perfect records against Edmonton and Vancouver, winning all seven games against each team. However, the most astounding performance was against Tucson. Albuquerque won 25 of 26 games from the Toros. They lost 7-3 on April 20, then defeated Tucson 23 straight times.
Albuquerque’s team batting average was a league-leading .325, just two points shy of the PCL record of .327 set in 1923 by another high-altitude team, the Salt Lake City Bees. The Dukes also led in runs (875), hits (1,393), RBI (774), stolen bases (281), walks (642) and slugging percentage (.467). They were only fourth in fielding (.972) and fourth in team ERA (4.25).
Del Crandall, 51, was in his fourth year at the helm of the PCL Dukes. A native of Ontario, CA, he was signed in 1948 by Boston Braves scout Johnny Moore. At the time he said his ambition was “to be as good a catcher as there ever was.” He reached the majors with the Braves the next year at the age of 19. He was with Boston all of 1950, then served in the Army for two years. Crandall caught for Milwaukee for the next 11 years and had a distinguished record. He tied the major league record for most years leading his league’s catchers in assists, six. He led National League catchers in fielding four times, in putouts three times and in double plays eight times. Crandall received the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the National League’s best fielding catcher in 1958-59-60 and 1962. (He was on the Disabled List almost all of 1961 because of an arm injury.) He was named to The Sporting News Major League All-Star Team in 1958-59-60 and to The Sporting News National League All-Star Team in 1962. Del played in eight Major League All-Star Games, batting .200-1-2. He played in the World Series for Milwaukee in 1957-58, batting .227-2-4 in 13 games and handling 73 chances without an error. He always said his greatest thrill as a player was beating the Yankees in the 1957 World Series. He played for San Francisco in 1964, Pittsburgh in 1965 and Cleveland in 1966. In 16 major league seasons he batted .254-179-657 in 1,573 games.
On September 11, 1955, he accomplished something that hadn’t been done in the majors since 1881. In the first game of a double-header with Philadelphia he hit a grand-slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and his team trailing by three runs, giving the Braves a 5-4 victory. It was his third grand-slam in three weeks.
Crandall was out of baseball in 1967-68, then managed the Texas League Albuquerque Dukes for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969-70. When the Dukes won the championship in 1970, Del was named the Texas League’s Co-Manager of the Year. He switched organizations in 1971, managing the Milwaukee Brewers AAA affiliate at Evansville (American Association). He was piloting Evansville in 1972 when he was appointed manager of Milwaukee on May 29 with the Brewers in sixth place in the American League’s Eastern Division. Crandall remained at the helm of the Brewers until September 28, 1975, three days before the end of the season, when he was released. Milwaukee was in fifth place in the East each year. During spring training 1974 he decided that an 18-year-old shortstop with only 64 games of professional experience in a short-season league was ready for the majors; the player’s name was Robin Yount. In 1976, Crandall managed Salinas in the California League and led the team to the best season in that city’s history, 91-49, winning the first half, but losing the playoff to Reno. In 1977 he was a major league coach for the California Angels, Salinas’ parent club. Del rejoined the Dodgers organization in 1978, managing Albuquerque until 1983. In 1982, the Dukes won the first half in the South, finished second to Salt Lake in the second half, then won the division and beat Spokane for the PCL championship. On June 29, 1983, with Albuquerque in second place in the South, Crandall resigned to become manager of the Seattle Mariners who were in seventh place in the American League West. That’s where they finished the season and they were again seventh when he was fired September 1, 1984. His major league managerial record was 364-469, .437. From 1989-94 he was a minor league batting instructor for the Milwaukee organization. Crandall returned to the Dodgers organization in 1996 to manage San Bernardino (California), which had the advantage of being not far from his home in Pomona. He came back in 1997 and the Stampede won the first half in the Freeway Division. However, the team stumbled in the second half and had lost 11 in a row when Crandall resigned July 22, saying, “It just wasn’t fun anymore.” He became a roving catching instructor for the Dodgers in 1998 and was San Bernardino’s pitching coach the second half of that season. For the past three years, Crandall has been Special Advisor for Player Development for the Dodgers.
The Dukes’ premier player was 21-year-old right-handed hitting first baseman Michael Allen Marshall from the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, IL. Marshall led the Pacific Coast League in batting (.373), home runs (34), RBI (137), runs (114) and slugging percentage (.675), and was second in total bases (315) and third in hits (174). In the last month of the season he hit .424 (42-for-99). On July 30, against Tucson, he hit for the cycle. Marshall is the last PCL player to win the Triple Crown. He was named to the league All-Star team and the National Association and Baseball America Class AAA All-Star teams. He was voted the league’s Topps Player of the Month for June. Mike was named the Class AAA Player of the Year by The Sporting News and the National Association. Marshall was the sixth round election of Los Angeles in the 1978 free agent draft. In 1979, with Lodi, he hit .354-24-116, leading the California League in batting, hits (186), total bases (301) and doubles (37). He was named to the league All-Star team, was voted by the managers the Best Batting Prospect and was chosen the California League’s Topps Player of the Month for June. In 1980 he hit .321-16-82 for San Antonio (Texas). Mike made his major league debut with Los Angeles after the 1981 PCL playoffs, batting .200 in 14 games. He started 1982 back in Albuquerque, but after hitting .388-14-58 in 68 games was recalled by the Dodgers and remained with them through 1989, playing first base and outfield. Marshall was named to the National League team for the Major League All-Star Game in 1984, but did not play. He played in the 1988 World Series, batting .231-1-5 in five games. His best season was 1985 when he batted .293-28-95 in 135 games. Marshall was traded to the Mets in December 1989 and played for the Mets and Red Sox in 1990 and Red Sox and Angels in 1991. In 11 major league seasons, Marshall batted .278-140-530 in 1,035 games. In 1992 he played for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan’s Pacific League. He essayed a comeback as a player in 1999 with the Schaumburg Flyers of the independent Northern League, batting .303-2-21 in 33 games. In 2000-2001, Marshall managed the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs in the Northern League’s Eastern Division. Last season they won the first half, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Albuquerque had three other players in the top ten in the PCL in batting and all went on to play in the majors. Jack Perconte, 26-year-old second baseman from Joliet, IL, hit .346-1-58, sixth in the league, and stole 45 bases. It was his third year with the Dukes. He batted .322 in 1979 and .326 in 1980. Perconte was the Dodgers’ 16th round selection in the June, 1976 free agent draft. In 1977 he hit .334-6-58 for Lodi, led the California League in runs (132), tied for second in triples (12) and was fifth in batting. Perconte was traded by the Dodgers to Cleveland in December 1981. In 1983, playing for Charleston, he led the International League in batting (.346-4-45). He was traded by the Indians to Seattle in December 1983. His best year in the majors was 1984 when he batted .294-0-31 in 155 games for the Mariners and stole 29 bases. His last season in the big leagues was 1986 with the White Sox. He has a B.S. Degree in Sociology from Murray State University, graduating summa cum laude. Perconte’s wife, Linda, is an ordained Methodist minister.
Right behind Perconte in the batting statistics was left-handed hitting outfielder-designated hitter Rudy Law (.335-0-39) with 56 stolen bases in 107 games, second highest total in the PCL. Like Marshall, he had a strong finish, batting .511 (24-for-47) in the last two weeks of the season. Law, 24, from East Palo Alto, CA, was signed as a non-drafted free agent in September 1975 by Dodgers scout Ron King who saw him in a Joe DiMaggio League tournament. In 1977 he led the California League in batting (.386-9-88), stole 37 bases and was named to the league and National Association Class A All-Star teams. He made the jump to Albuquerque in 1978, batting .312-4-72 and leading the PCL in stolen bases with 79 in 99 tries. He stole five bases in one game against Tucson. In a 1-0 win over Hawaii, Rudy scored the only run with a theft of home on a delayed double steal. He finished the season with Los Angeles going 3-for-12 and stole three bases. Back at Albuquerque in 1979, he missed almost half the season when he tore ligaments in his knee. Law played all of 1980 with the Dodgers. He was hitting just under .300 with 24 stolen bases at the All-Star break, but slumped in the remaining weeks, finishing at .260-1-23 with 40 stolen bases in 128 games. After his successful ’81 season with the Dukes, Law was traded to the White Sox in March 1982. He played for Chicago for four years and for Kansas City for one season. In his last year, 1986, he was on the Disabled List for eight weeks. His best season was 1983 when he batted .283-3-34 with 77 stolen bases in 141 games and led American League outfielders in fielding (.994). He hit .389 in 4 games in the American League Championship Series against Baltimore. Law is co-holder of the major league records for most times at bat (11) and most plate appearances (12) in an extra-inning game, 25 innings, May 8-9, 1984.
A fraction of a point behind Law was 20-year-old right fielder Candy Maldonado (.335-21-104 with a .598 slugging percentage). He led PCL outfielders in assists (21) and was named to the league All-Star team. Maldonado, a right-handed batter, is a native of Humacao, Puerto Rico, and was signed by Los Angeles in 1978. In 1980 he hit .305-25-102 for Lodi, led the California League in total bases (247) and RBI, was named to the league All-Star team and voted the league’s Most Valuable Player. He finished the ’81 season with Los Angeles, but was back with the Dukes in 1982 and part of 1983 before sticking in the majors for good. He was traded by Los Angeles to San Francisco in December 1985. In his 15-year major league career, which ended in 1995, Candy also played for Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toronto, Chicago Cubs and Texas. He hit .254-146-618 in 1410 big league games. He played in two World Series, in 1989 for the Giants and 1992 for the Blue Jays, batting .133-1-2 in 10 games. At present, Maldonado is General Manager of the Bayamon Cowboys in the Puerto Rican League, a team owned by ex-major leaguer Carlos Baerga. During the regular season, Candy is an analyst for ESPN’s Spanish-language telecasts.
Albuquerque had another outfielder who led in some PCL offensive statistics, 23-year-old, switch-hitting Ron Roenicke, who topped the league in on-base percentage (.464), bases on balls (110) and sacrifice flies (16) while batting .316-15-94. Roenicke, a native of Covina, CA, starred at UCLA and was Los Angeles’ first selection in the secondary phase of the June 1977 free agent draft. In 1979 he hit .302-13-69 in 130 games for San Antonio and led Texas League outfielders in fielding (.993). He made his major league debut with the Dodgers in September 1981 and over the next seven years he played for Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Never achieving the status of a regular in the lineup, he batted .238-17-113 in 527 major league games. Ron was a major league coach for Los Angeles in 1992-93 and began managing in 1994 for the Dodgers’ Pioneer League team at Great Falls. In 1995 he piloted San Bernardino, led the team to the California League championship and was named the league’s Manager of the Year. He was batting coach at Albuquerque in 1996. Roenicke managed San Antonio the next two years and was named Texas League Manager of the Year in 1997 when he led the Missions to the championship. In 1999 he switched organizations, returning to the PCL as manager of the San Francisco Giants’ Fresno affiliate. The Grizzlies finished 73-69, missing the playoffs by one-half game. Ron’s older brother, Gary Roenicke, was a major league outfielder for 12 years (1976-88) for Montreal, Baltimore, New York Yankees and Atlanta.
Outfielder-designated hitter Michael (Tack) Wilson hit .315-2-64 in 96 games and tied for fourth in the league in triples (10). He was a member of another Top 100 team, the 1978 Visalia Oaks (California League) while on loan to the Minnesota organization.
Albuquerque’s five-man starting rotation had a 71-25 record. The PCL leader in wins and percentage (.857) was 26-year-old right-hander Ted Power who went 18-3, 3.56, won his last nine decisions and was named to the league All-Star team. Power struck out 111 with a league leading 103 walks in 187 innings. The ex-Kansas State hurler was the Dodgers’ fifth round selection in the June 1976 free agent draft. He made his major league bow with Los Angeles in September 1981 and was traded to Cincinnati in October 1982. Power functioned mostly as a reliever during his 13-year major league career, finishing with a 68-69, 4.00 record and 70 saves. He was with the Reds from 1983-87 and led the National League in games pitched (78) in 1984 when he went 9-7, 2.82 with 11 saves. He was traded to Kansas City in November 1987 and subsequently pitched for Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati again, Cleveland and Seattle before winding up in 1993. Power is now a pitching coach in the Cincinnati organization. He has been at Billings (Pioneer) the past two years and in 2002 will be at Dayton (Midwest).
The Dukes pitcher with the best ERA, seventh in the PCL, was right-hander Brian Holton (16-6, 3.44). Holton, 21, was Los Angeles’ first round pick in the January, 1978, free agent draft. In 1980 he was 15-10, 3.43 at San Antonio, led the Texas League in complete games (16) and tied for the lead in wins. He spent six years with Albuquerque, although he was on the Disabled List much of 1983 and almost all of 1984. Holton was with the Dodgers briefly in 1985-86 and all of 1987-88. He pitched two shutout innings in relief in the 1988 World Series. He was traded to Baltimore in the deal that brought Eddie Murray to Los Angeles in December 1988 and pitched for the Orioles in 1989-90. His major league record was 20-19, 3.62.
The Dukes’ lone left-handed starter was 22-year-old ex-University of Texas hurler Ricky Wright (14-6, 4.24). He was the Dodgers’ first selection in the secondary phase of the January 1980 free agent draft. On May 4, 1983 he pitched a 4-2 no-hitter for Albuquerque against Portland. He pitched parts of six seasons in the majors, with Los Angeles, 1982-83, and Texas, 1984-86. His major league record was 3-3, 4.30 in 55 games in relief.
The Albuquerque pitcher with the most interesting background was 24-year-old 6’7”, 225-pound right-hander Bill Swiacki (11-5, 5.47) from Southbridge, MA. Swiacki graduated from Choate Prep and Amherst College with a degree in American history. His accomplishments at Amherst would not be duplicated in today’s collegiate sports world. He starred in three major sports, baseball, basketball and football. In his senior year, 1978, he was 8-2 and was named to the NCAA Division III All-American first team. A forward in basketball, he was team captain in his senior year and was an All-New England selection. In football he was drafted as a tight end by the NFL New York Giants, for whom his father had played, but turned them down to play baseball. Swiacki was Los Angeles’ eighth round selection in the June, 1978 free agent draft and was 4-4, 2.13 for San Antonio (Texas) that summer. He moved up to Albuquerque where he was 13-6, 4.72 in 1979 and 4-9, 6.99 in 1980. After the 1981 season, the Dodgers left him unprotected in the Rule V draft and he was selected by Oakland. Swiacki pitched for Tacoma in 1982, going 12-11, 4.72. His 11 complete games were the second highest total in the PCL. He was released by the A’s in February 1983 and left baseball. His father, Bill Swiacki, Sr., was an All-American end at Columbia and a hero of one of the greatest upsets in collegiate football history. In 1947, Army was undefeated in 32 games when they met Columbia October 25. The Lions came from behind to beat the Cadets 21-20. Swiacki made two diving catches of passes, one in the end zone, the other putting the ball on the three-yard line, with Columbia scoring the winning touchdown on the next play. Swiacki played for the Giants from 1948-50 and Detroit in 1951-52. An injury forced him to retire as a player. He was an assistant coach for the Giants and Los Angeles Rams and head coach of the Canadian Football League Toronto Argonauts before going into the real estate business. Swiacki, Sr., a catcher, also played one year of professional baseball with Stamford in the Colonial League in 1949.
The PCL’s top reliever was 22-year-old Dominican right-hander Alejandro Pena (2-5, 1.61) with a league leading 22 saves. He was named to Baseball America’s Class AAA All-Star team. He was in his third year in the Dodgers organization and made the jump from Class A Vero Beach (Florida State) where he was 10-3, 3.21 in 1980. Pena was called up to the Dodgers after the ’81 playoffs and pitched in the majors for 15 years. In 1983-84 he was a successful starting pitcher for Los Angeles. In 1983 he was 12-9, 2.75, fourth in the National League in ERA. In 1984 he went 12-6, 2.48, led the league in ERA and tied for the lead in shutouts (4). He injured his shoulder and underwent surgery in February 1985. He pitched just 4 1/3 innings that year and was on the Disabled List much of 1986. Pena returned to the bullpen that year and was a reliever the rest of his career. He was dealt to the Mets in December 1989 in the same trade that sent Mike Marshall to New York. From 1990-1996 he pitched for the Mets, Braves, Pirates and Marlins. He appeared in three World Series, for Los Angeles in 1988 where he had one victory, and for Atlanta in 1991 and 1995. His Series record was 1-2, 2.38 in 7 games. Pena’s major league career record was 56-52, 3.11 with 74 saves.
| Pat McKernan was named the |
2000 King of Baseball.
Despite the Dukes’ outstanding season, they placed only three players on the Pacific Coast League All-Star team, Marshall, Maldonado and Power. However, they swept The Sporting News honors with Crandall Minor League Manager of the Year, Marshall Minor League Player of the Year and Pat McKernan Minor League Executive of the Year. McKernan was in his second year as General Manager of Albuquerque after serving as President of the Class AA Eastern League from 1974-79. The highly respected McKernan remained the GM for 21 years, until the Albuquerque franchise was sold. At the 2000 Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas, TX, McKernan was chosen King of Baseball. Regrettably, he passed away on July 10, 2001.
Albuquerque repeated in 1982 and won another Divisional Crown the next year. More success came to the Dukes in the years to follow as the team won other championships in 1987, 1990 and 1994. Following the 2000 season, the team left the league, replaced by Portland. Albuquerque hopes to be back in the PCL in 2003 in an upgraded Sports Stadium.
The 1981 Albuquerque Dukes, riding the hot bats of a host of future major leaguers, made their mark as the best PCL team in the latter half of the 20th century. As a matter of fact, the team can hold its own in the entire history of the league. In the 97 years of the league, only one other team has been able to best the Dukes winning percentage of .712.
|1981 Pacific Coast League standings|
|HAWAII||72||65||.526||5.0||SALT LAKE CITY||63||71||.470||32.0|
|1981 Albuquerque batting statistics|
|Wayne Caughey||3B, 1B, SS||103||287||51||90||38||5||1||1||42||22||15||.314|
|Ron Roenicke||OF, 1B||126||411||100||130||94||23||9||15||110||55||25||.316|
|Don Crow||C, 1B||107||329||47||94||54||11||2||0||37||29||8||.286|
|Tack Wilson||DH, OF, 2B||96||330||68||104||64||15||10||2||51||27||40||.315|
|Larry Fobbs||3B, SS, 2B||90||272||49||87||42||15||4||4||33||24||11||.320|
|Ricky Wright||P, OF||29||7||2||4||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||.571|
|Alex Tavares||SS, 2B||13||30||6||13||5||1||0||0||7||2||2||.433|
|Mike Zouras||3, 1B, C||6||21||1||4||2||0||0||1||0||6||0||.190|
|1981 Albuquerque pitching statistics||PITCHER||W||L||PCT||G||GS||CG||SH||SV||IP||H||BB||SO||ERA|