Flashback Friday: Foxes 1978 Championship

The team photo of the 1978 Appleton Foxes. (Appleton Professional Baseball)

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | November 25, 2011 10:40 AM ET

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Championship November continues on Flashback Friday with a look back at the best team in Appleton Professional Baseball history, the 1978 Appleton Foxes.

The Foxes went 97-40 during the regular season for a .708 winning percentage.  They went 51-17 in the first half and 46-23 in the second half.  By going 4-1 in the playoffs, the Foxes won 101 games that year.

Plus, eleven of the players on the 1978 Foxes went on to play in the major leagues.  Most notable of those eleven players was LaMarr Hoyt, who went 18-4 with a 2.90ERA in 28 games (27 starts).

The Foxes won the Midwest League Championship Series with a victory over the Burlington Bee, the Brewers affiliate, in Game Three of a best-of-three on September 6 with an 11-10 win at Community Field.  The article below is from the September 7, 1978 Appleton Post-Crescent.  There is a column from long time PC sports editor John L. Paustian after the article.

Foxes Win First Title Since 1969
Outlast Bees in 11-10 Slugfest

Burlington, Iowa - The Appleton Foxes outlasted Burlington 11-10 Wednesday to capture their fifth Midwest League championship.  The last title was in 1969.

This one-run victory was nothing new for the Foxes who won 33 of 42 one-run decisions this season.  The victory was the team's 101st of the season against a mere 41 defeats.

An unlikely hitting star, catcher Jeff Vuksan, and a very likely pitching star, reliever Dewey Robinson, turned out to be the key performers for the Foxes.  Vuksan's two-run homer in the ninth provided the eventual winning margin, while Robinson again figured in the decision with a save.

Appleton built substantial leads early in the game but had to hold on at the end as Burlington - a Milwaukee Brewers' farm team and the defending champions - scored three times in the ninth and had the loop's top home run hitter, Bill Foley at bat.

With three runs home in the ninth and Foley, who earlier in the game ripped his 38th homer of the season, batting, Robinson completely fooled the Bees' hitter with a 3-and-2 curve to end the game.

It was a fitting conclusion to the season as Robinson, the team's most valuable player, had been involved in about one-third of the decisions.  The save preserved Dewey Hoyt's 20th win (against four losses) of the season.

Manager Gordy Lund made a shrewd defensive move in the ninth.  Lorenzo Gray started at first base and contributed a three-run homer.  In the ninth, Lund substituted defensive specialist Ed Bahns.  Kevin Bass hit a hot grounder over the base, Bahns fielded the ball and turned it into a double play to clear the bases with Foley coming to the plate.

Lund employed the "Big Three" of his staff by starting Hoyt, relieving with southpaw Jackie Smith and finally going with his stopper, Robinson.

With that threesome on the mound, a slugfest wouldn't seem likely, especially when the Foxes jumped to leads of 6-0 and 9-3.

Burlington starter Jeff Harryman walked the bases full to open the game but then retired the next three batters.  In the second, Appleton put four runs on the board as Rod Allen homered to right to leadoff the inning.  After Phil Bauer and Vuksan walked, the Bees brought Rick Nicholson in to pitch.  Nicholson got two out, but Gray then belted his fourth home run of the season.

Appleton made it 6-0 in the top of the third as Curt Etchandy was hit by a pitch, Dave Daniels singled and Allen tripled the runners home with a liner to right-center.

Burlington erupted for three runs in the its half of the third as Doug Lowman doubled to right, All Manning and Bobby Smith singled and Bass had a two run double.

The Foxes scored a run in the fourth, to lead 7-3, on a two out error and Etchandy's double to left.

Appleton regained its six-run lead with a pair of runs in the sixth.  Sutherland singled to left, Chappas hit a ground rule double and John Hanley singled Chappas home after a wild pitch had scored Sutherland.

The Bees chipped a run off the lead in the bottom of the sixth on Foley's opposite field homer and made it a 9-7 contest with three in the bottom of the eighth.  A double play after Smith singled prevented an even bigger rally.  Bass walked, Foley beat out an infield hit and Duke Duncan lined his seventh homer of the season to left.  After Chris Carstenson singles, Lund called Smith in to retire pinch-hitter Terry Bevington on a fly to left.

Vuksan gave his team some breathing room and provided the eventual winning run with his two out, two run homer to center in the ninth.

Smith didn't retire a hitter in the ninth as Ivan Rodriguez doubled to left.  Manning cracked his seventh home run of the season and Bobby Smith tripled to center.  John Skorochocki greeted Robinson with a single to left to score Smith, but then Bahns and Robinson went to work to preserve the victory.

The Foxes previously won Midwest League titles in 1964, '66, '67, and '69.  The team won a Three-I League title in 1960 and lost playoffs in '72, '73, and '74.

Notes & Notions by John L. Paustian

Hail to the champions

Let's hear it for the Appleton Foxes.  They've just completed the greatest season in their 21-year history.  They've smashed club records for victories and attendance.  They rule the Midwest League and will probably be the only team in minor league ball to win 100 games this season - and, it's possible they'll be baseball's only team to do it.  Boston and Los Angeles appear to be the only big-league clubs with a chance to hit the century mark - and they've got 162 games to do it.  The Foxes won 101 out of 142 games, a feat that's indeed hard to match.

This unparalleled success - which should be a source of pride for the Fox Cities - was not due to any one person.  It was a cooperative effort - by Manager Gordy Lund and his players...by General Manager Dave Hersh, Club President Jim Choudoir and the directors...by area businesses and advertisers, who supported the club consistently...and, by fans who responded in record numbers.  The historic achievements of the '78 Foxes were witnessed by more people than have ever watched an Appleton team perform.  With their total of 94,730, the Foxes broke the all-time Appleton Papermaker record of 93,000 in 1949.

Five months ago, Lund had a pretty good idea that his club would be heard from.  He called it "the best team I've come away from training camp with."  But, he was reluctant to compare it with the 1974 Foxes, whom he managed to a great second half winning pace (.723).  But, this team eclipsed that record for a half-season (with a sensational 51-17 first half) and set a new full-season standard for future teams to shoot at.

Strangely enough, this record-breaking team may not send as many "graduates" to the big leagues as some previous Foxes units.  But, this team had the winning chemistry about it.  The '78 Foxes weren't overpowering (many of the ML's teams had more home runs), but they scratched and fought for every win.  Almost one-third of their wins came by one run.  The Foxes simply did what they had to do to win a particular game - whether it was stealing a base, getting a clutch hit in the ninth, or striking out the opponents' best hitter to end a threat.

Wednesday night's title-clinching win at Burlington was typical of this ability to do what was necessary to win.  And, relief ace Dewey Robinson fanned the league's home run king on a 3-2 pitch, with the tying run on base, in the bottom of the ninth.  A great way to end the game, and a great way to end a memorable season.

The New York Yankees were the only team to win 100 games in the 1978 regular season.  If you include the Dodgers five playoff wins (three in the NLCS and two in the World Series), they also won 100 games.

Of course, the Yankees needed 163 games and a home run from a certain former Appleton Fox to win that 100th game.

The Foxes weren't the only team in the Midwest League to win at least 90 games in the regular season.  Waterloo, a Cleveland affiliate, went 91-46 in the regular season.  Waterloo went 50-20 in the second half.  Both the Foxes and the Indians were in the North Division.

There were eight teams in the Midwest League in 1978.  The Foxes hit 69 homers during the regular season and were fifth in the league.  The Wisconsin Rapids Twins hit 127 homers to lead the league.

Burlington, a team in the South division, had the third best record.  They were 69-69.

As the story mentions, the Bees were an affiliate of the Brewers in 1978.  Kevin Bass is the best known name.  A player from the Burlington roster who did not get into this game was Dave LaPoint.

Also...Terry Bevington?   Yep.  He was a Brewers farmhand before he started managing in the system.  Bevington started his managerial career in Burlington in 1981.  Then, he was the first ever manager of the Beloit Brewers (1982).  He became the Brewers third base coach in 1989 and would eventually manage the Chicago White Sox from early in 1995 through the end of 1997.

Note that the Post-Crescent story and the column add the postseason stats to the regular season stats.  Hoyt won two playoff games.  That is why they note him as a 20 game winner, but his baseball-refernce page has him at 18 wins.

Here is the road to the championship for the 1978 Foxes:

First Round:
Game one:  Foxes 7, Waterloo 1 at Goodland Field; Attendance: 875
Game two: Foxes 6, Waterloo 2 at Waterloo, Iowa; Attendance: 1,298

Championship Series:
Game one: Foxes 6, Burlington 5 at Goodland Field; Attendance: 1,078
Game two: Burlington 10, Foxes 8 at Burlington, Iowa; Attendance: 957
Game three: Foxes 11, Burlington 10 at Burlington, Iowa; Attendance 1,323

That's right.  The team that won 97 games in the regular season did not have home field advantage in either round of the playoffs.  I can understand the Championship Series working out that way - if home field was on a rotation the way that it is now.  But, did the Foxes decide to play game one of the series against Waterloo at home and give the Indians home field?  I mean, it worked out, but...

The Fort Wayne TinCaps matched the Foxes 101 wins in 2009.  Fort Wayne got to their 101 wins in 149 games - 94 in the 140 game regular season and seven in nine playoff games.  The Foxes reached 101 in 142.

For your historical echo, the 1978 Foxes and the 2009 TinCaps both ended their championship seasons with victories over the Bees in Burlington.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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