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The Nine – Triple-A Dukes Era (1972-2000)

February 9, 2022

Minor League Baseball has announced the launch of “The Nine,” a new, Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport. It’s named for the number Jackie Robinson wore during his only season playing in MiLB with the

Minor League Baseball has announced the launch of “The Nine,” a new, Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport. It’s named for the number Jackie Robinson wore during his only season playing in MiLB with the Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1946. The Albuquerque Isotopes will look back at the rich history of Black ballplayers in the Duke City by highlighting the Top Nine over various eras.

2B Davey Lopes -- 1972

Known as part of “The Infield” that was together from 1973-81, Davey Lopes actually started his pro career as an outfielder. Lopes was already 27 years old when he made his Major League Debut, but still played 16 years through his age-42 season. On the 1972 Dukes, Lopes showed the skills that would define his career: .317 batting average, .411 on-base percentage and 48-of-58 stolen bases. Lopes was a four-time All Star, received the most votes of any player for the 1980 All-Star Game, won a Gold Glove, led the league in stolen bases twice, stole 38-straight bases, and was successful on 83% of his career steal attempts.

OF Larry Hisle -- 1972

The 1972 Dukes team is one of the best in minor league baseball history, and Hisle was arguably the best player on it. Hisle batted .325 with 23 home runs, 91 RBI and 20 stolen bases over 131 games. That season in Albuquerque was three years _after _Hisley had finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and it resurrected his career. Hisle was a two-time All Star with the Twins, leading the league with 119 RBIs in 1977 and mashing 34 home runs the year after. Hisle also owns the unique distinction of being the first designated hitter of a spring training game, in 1973, when he connected on two home runs. As a coach with the Blue Jays, he won World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

OF Jeffrey Leonard – 1976, 1978

A three-sport star at Overbrook High, Jeffrey “HacMan” Leonard had 60 scholarship offers to play college football and five for basketball, but chose pro baseball even though he wasn’t drafted. Leonard made a mockery of PCL pitching in 1978, slashing .365/.443/.532 with 48 extra-base hits, 93 RBIs and 36 stolen bases. With a crowded outfield, the Dodgers traded Leonard to the Astros and he was the runner-up Rookie of the Year in 1979. Leonard is most remembered for his years with the Giants, when he went from Jeff to Jeffrey, reached his first All-Star Game, became known for his “one-flap down” home run trot, and won the 1987 NLCS Most Valuable Player award, even though his team lost the series.

RHP Dave Stewart – 1977, 1979-80

Known for his “Death Stare” on the mound, Stewart spent the entire 1979 and 1980 seasons with the Dukes. He nearly won the pitchers Triple Crown in 1980, leading the league in innings with a staggering 202, tied for the league lead with 15 wins, and finished second with 125 strikeouts. Stewart won 20 or more games in four straight years for his hometown Oakland A’s from 1987-90 and tossed a no-hitter. But he was most known for his postseason dominance, making 18 starts, posting a 2.84 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and winning the MVP three times (1989 World Series, 1990 ALCS and 1993 ALCS). Stewart has worked as a coach, general manager, agent and TV analyst after his playing career ended.

OF Mike Devereaux -- 1988

Coming out of powerhouse Arizona State, Mike Devereaux was already a five-tool prospect and his 1988 season with the Dukes vaulted him to one of the best prospects in the sport. Devereaux batted .340, hit 13 home runs en route to a .513 slugging percentage, stole 33 bases and played outstanding center field for the Dukes. But the Dodgers needed pitching, so he was traded to the Orioles for right-hander Mike Morgan. It took Deveraux a few years to get established, then he finished seventh in MVP voting in 1992 with 24 home runs and 107 RBIs. Devereaux won a World Series with the Braves in 1995 and was the MVP of the NLCS. In all, Devereaux played 12 years in the majors and is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame.

RHP Ken Howell – 1983-84, 1987-88

Whatever role was needed, Ken Howell filled it. He was a swingman for the Dukes in 1984, starting nine games, relieving in nine games, winning eight, finishing seven, and going the distance three times. Howell saved a combined 24 games for the Dodgers in his initial two years in the majors, before a trade to the Phillies and a switch back to the starting rotation. Howell returned to the Dodgers organization in 1988 and posted a dominant 10-1 record with a 3.27 ERA with the Dukes. Howell was a coach for the Dodgers in the majors and minors, and instrumental in the conversion of Kenley Jansen from catcher to pitcher. Diagnosed with diabetes, Howell brought attention to the disease, before passing away in 2018 at age 57.

INF Eric Young, Sr. – 1991-92

Despite being a 43rd round draft pick, Eric Young reached the major leagues and stayed there for 15 seasons. Young’s final year in the minors was in 1992 with the Dukes, when he walked more times (33) than he struck out (18), compiled a .337 batting average and stole 28 bases. Young was a Dodger then, but his connections to the Rockies are stronger. Selected in the expansion draft, Young hit a leadoff home run in the Rockies first home game in 1993, was an instrumental member of their 1995 playoff team, and his son Eric Junior played for the Rockies as well. Senior won a World Series as a member of the Braves coaching staff in 2021.

OF Darryl Strawberry – 1993

Darryl Strawberry went 10 years between appearances in the minor leagues, from his final game as a top prospect with Triple-A Tidewater in 1983, until starting a rehab assignment for the Dukes in 1993. Strawberry was returning from a back injury that only allowed him to play 32 games that year for the Dodgers. He signed autographs for seemingly everyone in Albuquerque and talked to reporters frequently during his rehab assignment. Strawberry went 6-for-19 with two doubles, a home run and two RBIs in five games for the Dukes. Strawberry played 17 years in the major league, was selected to eight All-Star Games, won World Series titles with the Mets in 1986 and the Yankees in 1996 and 1999.

1B Eddie Murray -- 1997

Eddie Murray thought his playing career was over when the Angels released him on August 14, 1997. But six days later, after a call from Dodgers General Manager Fred Claire, Murray was at the Albuquerque Sports Stadium, wearing a Dukes uniform and talking to reporters. The 41-year-old Murray played nine games for the Dukes, batted .308, hit a pair of home runs, then the Dodgers brought him back to the major leagues to conclude his Hall of Fame career. Murray was an eight-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner, won the 1977 Rookie of the Year, finished in the Top 6 of MVP voting seven times, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Other The Nine Articles

The Nine: Isotopes Era (2003-Current)

The Nine: The Early Years (1888-1971)