Top 100 Teams
Southern League (Double-A)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|(photo courtesy of Greenville Braves)|
In becoming the Southern League’s first 100-game winner, the 1992 Greenville Braves were led by a cluster of future major leaguers. Most notable of the group was a part-time shortstop and a full-time catcher who went on to become mainstays on a major league dynasty.
The town of Greenville, located in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, joined the ranks of pro ball in 1907. Here, a team called the Edistoes went 25-28 in the Class D South Carolina League before dropping out of the league in July. The next season, Greenville was a charter member of a new Class D circuit, the Carolina Association. In their first season, led by a young “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who won the batting title (.346), the Spinners finished second - a thin one-half game behind Greensboro. The team remained in the league four more years, a stay which included a championship in 1910.
In 1919, Greenville began a 12-year sojourn in the Class C South Atlantic League, their first of four separate stays in the league. The highlight of the first visit to the Sally was a pair of pennants in 1926-27 and a second half title followed by a playoff championship in 1930. After the latter season, the league disbanded and Greenville found themselves in the short-lived Class D Palmetto League in 1931. Following a 37-39 mark in a truncated campaign, the town was without a pro team until 1938, when the Spinners rejoined the Sally, which itself had been reconstituted two years earlier. In the second installment, which lasted until 1942, the Spinners finished in the first division once over the five-year span.
Following World War II, Greenville played its final two episodes in the Sally, which sandwiched two short forays in the Tri-State League. In 1946, the Sally, now a Class A loop, featured a new Spinners club which finished third. After a drop to fifth, Greenville finished third in 1948 and defeated Columbia in the playoffs to win the championship. Following a sixth place campaign in 1950, Greenville dropped down to the Class B Tri-State League. After a pair of second division finishes, the city dropped out of baseball when the league folded in 1952, re-emerging in a new Tri-State in 1954. Following a second half title in 1955, Greenville left the league for good. Six years later, the team returned to the Sally for the fourth and final time. After a pair of so-so performances, the team dropped out of the league for good.
The 1992 Braves won the first half of the pennant with a 49-23, .681 record, a comfortable 11 games ahead of Jacksonville. In the second half, the Braves were even more dominant, going 51-20, .718, 16-˝ ahead of Charlotte. Greenville went on to defeat Charlotte, three games to none before dispatching Chattanooga, three games to two to win the championship. Overall, the team finished on top in several key batting categories including: average (.266), runs (709), hits (1,258) and home runs (130). The pitching staff was equally dominant, finishing with top marks in ERA (2.64), strikeouts (1,010) and shutouts (24).
The team was managed by 42-year-old Grady Little, one of the most successful minor league pilots of the last twenty years. Little, a native of Abilene, TX, was a minor league catcher in the Braves and Yankees organizations from 1968-73, reaching as high as the AA Eastern League. He started his coaching career in 1974 with the Yankees’ West Haven club in the Eastern League, but was out of baseball from 1975-79, working in the cotton business in Texas. Little returned to baseball in 1980 as manager of Baltimore’s Appalachian club in Bluefield. He managed for the Orioles through 1984, skippered Toronto’s Carolina League affiliate at Kinston in 1985, then joined the Atlanta organization for a ten-year stay. Little’s teams won five titles and he finished his managerial career with a 1,054-983, .539 record. In addition to Greenville, he won championships at Hagerstown (Carolina) in 1981, Kinston in 1985, Pulaski (Appalachian) in 1986 and Richmond (International) in 1994. In 1992 he earned Manager of the Year honors from Baseball America and The Sporting News. After managing Richmond to a second place finish in 1995, Little was bullpen coach for the National League West Division champion San Diego Padres. From 1997-99 he was bench coach for the Boston Red Sox. Last year he became bench coach for the Cleveland Indians, a position he still holds. In 2000 he managed the Indians for 13 games while Charlie Manuel was absent on medical leave.
| Javy Lopez|
(photo courtesy of Greenville Braves)
From the batters box, the ’92 Braves were led by their hard-hitting catcher, Javy Lopez (.321-16-60). This performance garnered him All-Star honors and he repeated the feat in the International League the following year. Lopez joined Atlanta for good in 1994, just in time in to be part of the Braves’ pennant machine. While in the big leagues, he was named to two All-Star teams (1997-98), the second based on his 34-homer season.
In mid-season, a young shortstop joined Greenville from Class A Durham (Carolina). In 67 games, Larry Wayne (Chipper) Jones, the first player selected in the 1990 June draft, batted an impressive .346, while collecting 37 extra base hits in only 266 at bats. Despite his brief stint, he was named to the Southern League All-Star team while also being selected Double-A player of the year. In 1993, Jones batted .325 for Triple AAA Richmond (International), picking up another slew of awards. After sitting out the 1994 season with an injury, he joined the parent Braves in 1995. So far, the high point of his stellar major league career occurred in 1999, when he batted (.319-45-110) and was named National League Most Valuable Player.
Also chipping in at the plate were outfielders Mike Kelly (.229-25-71) and Mel Nieves (.283-18-76). Kelly went on to play 327 games for the Braves, Reds, Devil Rays and Rockies (1994-99), batting .241 while Nieves played in 458 contests for the Braves, Padres, Tigers and Reds (1992-98), hitting .231 with 63 home runs.
The Greenville Braves top pitcher was Nate Minchey (13-6) who finished tied for the league high in wins while finishing second (2.30) in the ERA race. Despite this success, he never excelled in the majors, going 3-7, 6.75 for the Red Sox and Rockies (1992-97). He currently is pitching for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan’s Pacific League. Minchey was assisted by top relief pitcher Andy Nezelek (9-2) and, in part-time roles, Pat Gomez (7-0, 1.13), Kevin Coffman (6-0, 2.13) and Brian Bark (5-0, 1.15) also contributed greatly to the team’s success.
Left-handed reliever Pedro Borbon (8-2) pitched briefly for Atlanta in 1992-93 and for the full seasons of 1995-96. He earned one save in the 1995 World Series. After being on the Disabled List all of 1997 and much of 1998, Borbon pitched for Los Angeles in 1999 and is in his second year with Toronto. His father, also Pedro Borbon, was a right-handed reliever in the majors for 12 years (1969-80) and was a bullpen mainstay for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 1970s, appearing in three World Series. In 1972 he relieved in six of the Series’ seven games.
In the remaining years of the 20th century, Greenville earned two more playoff spots. The Braves won the championship in 1997, but was bounced in the first round in 2000.
The 1992 Greenville Braves, paced by a pair of future Atlanta All-Stars, won the pennant with a dominating performance. In doing so the team set two league records. No other Southern League team, past or present, has been able to better the Braves’ total of 100 wins or their winning percentage of .699.
|1992 Southern League Standings|
|1992 Greenville Braves batting statistics|
|1992 Greenville Braves pitching statistics|