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Then and now: Eastern League

Largest Double-A circuit enters its 11th decade of play
March 21, 2022

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Following Major League Baseball's announcement that historical league names are returning to the Minors in 2022, provides a refresher on each of the 11 circuits from Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A -- including past champions, famous alumni and more.

Make a stop in the Eastern League -- the largest Double-A circuit in the Minors -- where Hall of Famers are made, spuds take on a new level of celebrity and an ostrich jockey displays 80-grade arm strength.

Eastern League

Established in 1923, known in 2021 as the Double-A Northeast

Northeast Division

Binghamton Rumble Ponies: New York Mets, Mirabito Stadium -- Binghamton, NY (Ballpark Guide)
Hartford Yard Goats: Colorado Rockies, Dunkin' Donuts Park -- Hartford, CT (Ballpark Guide)
New Hampshire Fisher Cats: Toronto Blue Jays, Delta Dental Stadium -- Manchester, NH (Ballpark Guide)
Portland Sea Dogs: Boston Red Sox, Hadlock Field -- Portland, ME (Ballpark Guide)
Reading Fightin Phils: Philadelphia Phillies, FirstEnergy Stadium -- Reading, PA (Ballpark Guide)
Somerset Patriots: New York Yankees, TD Bank Ballpark -- Bridgewater Township, NJ (Ballpark Guide)

Southwest Division

Akron RubberDucks: Cleveland Guardians, Canal Park -- Akron, OH
Altoona Curve: Pittsburgh Pirates, Peoples Natural Gas Field -- Altoona, PA (Ballpark Guide)
Bowie Baysox: Baltimore Orioles, Prince George's Stadium -- Bowie, MD (Ballpark Guide)
Erie SeaWolves: Detroit Tigers, UPMC Park -- Erie, PA (Ballpark Guide)
Harrisburg Senators: Washington Nationals, FNB Field -- Harrisburg, PA (Ballpark Guide)
Richmond Flying Squirrels: San Francisco Giants, The Diamond -- Richmond, VA (Ballpark Guide)

2021 champion: Akron RubberDucks (Double-A Northeast champion)
Most championships, all-time: Binghamton Triplets (10)

Did you know? The Eastern League once boasted four teams in Québec, Canada during the 1970s: Québec City, Thetford Mines, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières. The Detroit Tigers also had an Eastern League affiliate in London, Ontario from 1989-1993.

Notable alumni: Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, John Smoltz, Ralph Kiner, Tony Lazzeri, Greg Maddux, Heinie Manush, Juan Marichal, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Palmer, Robin Roberts, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Warren Spahn, Earl Weaver and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The most recently established of the three Double-A circuits, the Eastern League has been the largest loop at the level since expanding to 12 teams in 1999. The league was first established as the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1923 and rebranded to the Eastern League when the first New Jersey member was introduced in 1938. By then, the Eastern League moniker, which had been an original name for the International League, was not in use.

The circuit eventually expanded into Ohio and Virginia, as teams were usually placed further Northeast. Richmond is the only club in the league's history to make its home in Virginia, moving from Norwich, Connecticut in 2010. The Akron club moved to the city in 1988 but can trace its roots to the very beginning of the Eastern League. In fact, the club was first established as the Binghamton Triplets -- whose 10 titles are still the most all time -- back in 1923. The current Binghamton franchise did not move to that city until it was purchased by the Mets in 1991 and began play the following year.

All told, 44 alumni of the Eastern League have been enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. But that’s not the only Hall of Fame with Eastern League ties. The co-holder of the Eastern League’s single-season home run record is Football Hall of Famer Ken Strong, who belted 41 homers for the Hazelton Mountaineers in 1930. The Eastern League also claims alumni in the Basketball Hall of Fame (Bill Sharman played for the Elmira Pioneers in 1950) and College Football Hall of Fame (Glenn Killinger for the Harrisburg Senators in 1928).

Although the Eastern League has been a stepping stone for the game's brightest stars, its legends might be lesser known. Dave Bresnahan and "The Great Potato Caper" will live in infamy in the circuit. Bresnahan was the backup catcher for Williamsport in 1987 when he pranked Reading with a spud masquerading as a baseball and brought a comedic end to his own career. Then there's Tim Tebow, the NCAA football legend and Hall of Famer who gave it the old college try in the Minors. He reached Triple-A and might have even made it to the Majors with the Mets if not for some poorly timed injuries. Tebow had his best season in the Eastern League in 2018, batting .273 and making the All-Star team in his second professional season.

What’s new: Somerset replaced Trenton in 2021, slotting into the Northeast Division with Binghamton, Reading, Hartford, New Hampshire and Portland. This year will mark the Patriots’ first official season in Eastern League play.

What’s familiar: The league retains its Double-A classification, with 11 of its 12 teams remaining from 2019. (Trenton is the only team no longer around.) Long-running clubs returning to the fold include Akron and Bowie, who faced off for last year’s league title. In fact, the Baysox reached the league championship series in 2019 and 2021, falling short both times. Akron’s ‘21 title was its third since 2012.

For the record: In Eastern League history, five players have won the offensive Triple Crown by leading the circuit in home runs, RBIs and batting average: Joe Munson (1925 Harrisburg Senators), Bob Chance (1963 Charleston Indians), George Scott (1965 Pittsfield Red Sox), Danny Thomas (1976 Berkshire Brewers) and Lou Montanez (2008 Bowie Baysox). ... Before he won three Word Series with the Orioles, Eddie Watt lit up the Eastern League for Elmira in 1965. That season, he became the only pitcher in the history of the circuit to throw two no-hitters in the same season, even giving Johnny Vander Meer a run for his money, collecting both milestones in his first three starts of the season.

Ben's Biz memory: Witnessing Reading's legendary Crazy Hot Dog Vendor

"He's a guy named Matt Jackson who's a front office employee, but the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor is his alter ego. One of the early road trips I went on in like 2010 or something, I visited the team for Crazy Hot Dog Vendor Night, and it was amazing. All these kids showed up in the uniform. Some even had their own pet ostriches to ride. But they were wearing those vertical red and white striped shirts, the hats, the glasses. Through the years they've given away just all manner of Crazy Hot Dog Vendor merchandise. He's like a true cult hero in Reading. And the last time I was there, which I believe was 2017, I went on the field with him when he did his between-inning act where he rides Rodrigo the Ostrich out on to the field and screams maniacally and throws hot dogs. And to capture that video of his primal scream and the way he was throwing out these hot dogs, I just think -- One, it just shows his dedication to the craft. And, two, it maybe helps to illustrate why he's not just a quirky after thought but a core part of the Reading Fightin' Phils experience that I think everyone should go see."

What to look for in 2022: Somerset will be looking to build on its initial success after topping the Northeast Division in 2021. Top Giants prospect Marco Luciano and No. 1 Mets prospect Francisco Álvarez appear poised to make their Eastern League debuts this summer, and the top two Yankees prospects -- Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez -- could appear as well. Other Top 100 prospects eying their Eastern League debuts include a pair of Pirates -- Quinn Priester (No. 49) and Nick Gonzales (No. 62) -- and the Guardians' Daniel Espino (No. 92).

Joe Trezza is a writer for