The article was reprinted in the 1988 Appleton Foxes program. It's a Flashback this week.
Shriver hits the high spots, runs through the players who stood out, has a few of the changes in the Midwest League, and - as you can tell from the headline - looks forward to 1988.
Both the Appleton Foxes and the Midwest League, like fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, have every reason to expect that next year will be a banner season.
That's not to say that 1987 was a disappointment for either the Foxes or the league, it's just that '88 has more potential.
The Foxes finished with a 71-69 record, second place in the Midwest League's Northern Division, and were in the hunt for a wild card spot until the season's final two nights.
Meanwhile, the league attracted over a million spectators to games for the sixth consecutive season, and had close pennant fights in two of the three divisions. Only in the Southern Division, where Springfield won the title by 23 games, was the issue decided early.
The Foxes' record was remarkable considering that their parent club, the Kansas City Royals, added Appleton as their second full-season Class A club just this season. In 1986, when the Chicago White Sox, in the last year of their long association with the Foxes, added a second Class A Club, the Foxes finished with a 56-83 slate.
The Foxes' success can mainly be attributed to outstanding hitting. After losing two starting pitchers - Greg Hibbard and Mike Butcher - and their top reliever - Chuck Mount - to promotion in June, Manager Ken Berry and Pitching Coach Mike Alvarez spent the remainder of the season attempting to find quality starting pitching, something they only had moderate success in doing.
The Foxes finished with a .260 team batting average, topped in recent seasons by the .262 turned in by the 1985 division championship team, and pounded out 83 home runs.
The Foxes also had a great year at the gate, drawing 77,008 fans, the most since 1978 and the seventh-best attendance in the history of the Foxes and the old Papermakers.
Indicators are that not only will the Foxes continue to have a potent attack in 1988, but that the pitching should also improve.
Both Eugene, Ore., the Royals' short-season team in the Northwest League, and Sarasota, Fla., in the Gulf Coast League, had outstanding seasons. Eugene finished a solid second in their league and Sarasota won their league title. Both have a number of outstanding prospects.
"Eugene was the fastest baseball team I have ever seen, and Sarasota had very tough pitching," said Kansas City Royals' Director of Player Personnel John Boles. "I fully expect the Appleton Foxes to make a real run at the league championship next season."
Leading the Eugene prospects is left-handed pitcher Jim Campbell. Campbell was 6-0 with nine saves and led all Northwest League pitchers with a sparkling 0.77 earned-run average. He also struck out 72 batters in 58-1/3 innings.
Right-handed starter Tom Gordon was 8-0 with a 2.81ERA and 85 strikeouts. Kevin Appier, the Royals top draft choice last June, was 5-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 67 strikeouts.
Providing much of the Eugene offense was outfielder Bob Moore and catcher Jorge Pedre. The right-handed hitting Moor was the top hitter in the NWL with a .379 average, while Pedre pounded out 13 homers, third in the league, and had 64 RBI.
Greg Karklins, Carlos Maldonado, and Mark Anderson, all right-handers, paced the Sarasota staff. Karklins was 6-2, Maldonado was 5-1, and Anderson 3-0. Maldonado spent a brief part of the season with the Foxes.
Catcher Ruben Pujols led the team with six homers and also hit .312, while third baseman Robert Knecht, a left-handed hitter, slugged .310 with a team high 39 RBI.
There is also a good possibility that several of last year's Foxes will return for another season.
However, because Kansas City will be shifting their Florida State League operation from Ft. Myers to Haines City, every effort will probably be made to ensure a winning season for that club.
"Appleton can expect to get several of these players," Boles said. "We expect quality teams in both places."
After several seasons of aborted efforts to expand, it finally appears that the Foxes will be playing in a 14-team league next year. Dr. Eric Margeneau, one of the owners of the South Bend franchise, recently signed a lease with the city of South Bend to play in a new stadium. The stadium, which was built with public funds and completed this summer, hosted several exhibition games between the United States and Canadian Pan American baseball teams. The White Sox signed a player development contract with the South Bend owners.
The other new franchise will be located in Rockford, Ill. Originally, the team was slated to play in Evansville, Ind., and when that fell through, Kane County, Ill., just west of Chicago. The team will play its games on an expanded and improved field that was used for amateur baseball.
"The field and lights need upgrading, and the city just approved funds for that," said William McKee, owner of the new team. "We'll also build a unideck grandstand that will seat 2,500, with box seats in front and reserved seats in back. In addition, bleachers will be built down the third baseline. There already are existing football-type bleachers down the first baseline.
The only other problem facing McKee is to sign a player development contract with a major league team.
"We have talked to a number of teams, seriously to about five," said McKee. "We expect to have this wrapped up by September 22."
The addition of two teams could add substantially to league attendance. South Bend's new stadium should attract fans, if only to see the new structure, while Rockford is in close proximity to existing league teams in Beloit and Madison. That should create a situation where fans from all three cities can easily travel to away games.
The league has already voted to scrap the present three-division alignment in favor of two seven-team divisions.
Appleton, Wausau, Madison, Beloit, Kenosha, Rockford, and South Bend will play in one division, and Springfield, Peoria, Burlington, Quad Cities, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Clinton will make up the other.
Plans call for a split-season, with the winners of each half playing off for the divisional championship and those winners going on to meet for the league title.
WITH A BONUS CHART!
Not sure if this was intended or not, but the article above mentions the bump in attendance and the 1988 Foxes Program has the Midwest League attendance figures for 1986 and 1987.
TEAM 1986 1987 % +/-
Appleton 61,001 81,208 +35%
Clinton 100,326 112,826 +12%
Cedar Rapids 131,534 144,279 +10%
Peoria 179,183 195,832 + 9%
Burlington 68,457 71,098 + 4%
Wausau 59,634 61,342 + 3%
Springfield 151,815 154,148 + 2%
Kenosha 57,495 58,197 + 1%
Beloit 101,127 87,419 -14%
Waterloo 80,124 68,081 -15%
Madison 118,310 84,381 -29%
Quad Cities 116,062 60,999 -47%
I don't know why Quad Cities
would drop that much in 1986 to 1987. The
major flood years in Davenport that affected baseball at John
O'Donnell Stadium were 1965, 1994, and 2001.
It is even more of an attendance drop when you look back at 1985 when the
attendance was 154,414. And 1985 was
the first year of their affiliation with the California
Angels as they switched from the Cubs after 1984.
In 1987, there were three
divisions with four teams each. The
Southern had Springfield, Peoria, Burlington, and Quad City.
The Central had Beloit, Clinton, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids.
The Northern had Appleton, Kenosha, Madison, and Wausau.
The Midwest League could have
been in Evansville, Indiana in 1988. Also,
the Midwest League could have been in Kane County five years before they
actually were. I wonder what that
would have meant to the Wausau Timbers franchise.
Would there still be a Midwest League team in Wausau?
Or would Wausau have been the team that became the Dayton Dragons?
Rockford wound up as an affiliate of the Montreal Expos in for the 1988 season.
Clinton, a San Francisco
affiliate at the time, was the team that got in as the Wild Card in 1987.
Clinton went 72-67. The Foxes
tied with Peoria at 71-69. Kenosha
topped Beloit and Springfield beat Clinton in the divisional round.
Then, Kenosha defeated Springfield in the Championship series.
Here is the Baseball Reference page for the 1987 Foxes. The only position player from that team to make the major leagues was Harvey Pulliam. There was more success for the '87 pitching staff to make the show. Mike Butcher, Tom Gilles, Greg Hibbard, Carlos Maldonado, and Dennis Moeller made it to the big leagues.
In the article, these were the players mentioned as potential Foxes for the 1988 season: Jim Campbell, Tom Gordon, Kevin Appier, Bob Moore, Jorge Pedre, Greg Karklins, Mark Anderson, Maldonado, Ruben Pujols, and Robert Knecht.
The players who wore a Foxes uniform in 1988: Knecht, Pedre, Pujols, Gordon, and Maldonado.
Of those who didn't play for the Foxes in 1988: Anderson was out of baseball after that 1987 season, Campbell jumped to AA for the 1988 season, Appier went to Baseball City to start 1988 and was in the big leagues by 1989, Karklins repeated the Gulf Coast League in '88 and was out of baseball by 1989, and Moore skipped the Foxes to Baseball city in 1988 and briefly appeared with the Royals in 1991.
I am not sure if Bobby Knecth is the father of Marcus Knecth, a Blue Jays prospect and former Lansing Lugnut. It's not a common name and the ages seem right to be a father-son combo. But, I can't find any confirmation on internet...And if it ain't on the internet, it ain't gonna be confirmed.
Last, the Carlos Maldonado from
this era is different from the Carlos
Maldonado who played for the Rattlers from 1997-1999.