Top 100 Teams
Florida State League
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Under the tutelage of one of the best skippers in recent memory, a Class A team in South Florida used a dominant pitching staff to easily win their league championship in 1990. This team played in the Florida State League and hailed from the beach-front town of West Palm Beach.
The town of West Palm Beach, located 60 miles north of Miami, joined the ranks of Organized Baseball in 1928. Here, a team called the Sheriffs finished 31-32 before the league disbanded on July 4.
Twelve years later, a Class D circuit called the Florida East Coast League was formed along Florida’s eastern shore. One of the founding members of the loop was an outfit playing in West Palm Beach and known as the Indians. In 1940, the Indians finished fourth with a 52-60 record and lost three games to one in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champions, the Ft. Lauderdale Tarpons. The next season, the Indians jumped three places, winning the pennant with an 84-55 record, eventually losing the finals to Miami Beach, four games to two. Midway through May 1942, the league folded.
The very next year, the Indians moved right back into Organized Baseball, returning after a 27-year absence to the Florida State League. Here, the club finished fifth and third before leaving the league after the 1956 season.
Nine years later, a team from West Palm Beach rejoined the Florida State League, this time for a lengthy stay. From 1965 to 1968, as a farm team of the Braves, the team never finished over .500. In 1969, the team began a long association with one of the newest members of the National League - the Montreal Expos. Taking the name of the parent club, the West Palm Beach Expos made it to the playoffs in 1970, 1973, 1974, 1977, winning the championship in 1974.
In 1986, the team named a 51-year old ex-major leaguer as their new manager. The new skipper - Felipe Alou - led his team to the playoffs in his first year. Alou had retired as an active player following the 1974 season. In his 17-year major league career, he collected over 2,100 hits for seven different teams. High points of his career included a 218 hit, 31 home run, .327 season for the Braves in ’66 and a .317 campaign for Atlanta two years later. In 1963, while playing for the Giants, Alou played in the same outfield with his two brothers, Matty and Jesus, becoming part of the first fraternal trio to play in the same outfield in the same game.
In 1990, Alou led the West Palm Beach Expos to their greatest triumph. During the regular season, the team finished with a 92-40, .697 record, 14.5 games ahead of Vero Beach in the Florida State League’s Eastern Division. In the playoffs, the Expos defeated Lakeland, two games to one before bowing to Vero Beach in the finals by a similar count.
The club featured a strong pitching staff, dominated by three starting pitchers. Chris Pollack (13-2, 2.05) led the team in wins, while Dan Freed (12-8, 2.00) and David Sommer (11-4, 2.37) were close behind. In addition Freed and Pollack finished second and third in the ERA race. Relief specialist Rob Kerrigan (10-2) also posted a fine season.
From the plate, the team batted a lack-luster .251, although finishing fifth overall. Outfielder Ken Lake hit the most home runs (7) and had the most RBI (52), but batted a modest .245. A pair of part-timers - Jim Faulk, who hit .315 in 70 games and Matt Stairs, who batted .339 in 55 games, posted the highest averages. Stairs is the most famous alum of the club, as he continues to enjoy a solid major league career with the A’s.
Another member of the 1990 Expos, known for his versatility, filled the same role for the 1999 San Francisco Giants. F.P. Santangelo, who played SS and 2B for the Expos, played six positions for the Giants - 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF.
Alou managed the Expos through the 1991 season, before becoming the manager of the Montreal Expos midway through the 1992 season. In 1994, after guiding Montreal to a first place 74-40 mark in the strike-shortened season, The Sporting News named Alou its NL manager of the year.
West Palm Beach remained in the Florida State League through the 1997 season, when they relocated to nearby Jupiter, Florida, becoming the Hammerheads. During their final seven years in West Palm, the team finished in the playoffs twice (1992, 1994).
The success of the 1990 West Palm Beach Expos proves the adage that a good manager can make a difference. Squeezing offense out of a mediocre batting attack, while nurturing a quality, yet unknown, pitching staff, the future NL Manager of the Year, Felipe Alou molded the Expos into one of the finest teams in Florida State League history - a club which finished with the fourth highest winning percentage in league history.
|1990 Florida State League Standings|
|W. PALM BEACH||92||40||.697||-||WINTER HAVEN||40||94||.299||44.0|
|1990 West Palm Beach Expos batting statistics|
|1990 West Palm Beach Expos pitching statistics|