Flashback Friday: Winning the Pennant (1969)

The headline on the sports section of The Post-Crescent on August 29, 1969.

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | November 1, 2013 6:49 AM ET

In the last two weeks, Flashback Friday has taken a look at the final game of the first half of the 1969 season, a game the Appleton Foxes needed to win to tie Quad Cities for the first half pennant, and the playoff game between Appleton and Quad Cities, a game held in July to determine which team would be considered the first half champions.

This week's Flashback takes you to Goodland Field for the game that saw the Foxes clinch the second half title with a win over the Clinton Pilots and - with it - the Midwest League title.

The game was held on August 28, 1969 and Ron Witt has the story and a column in the August 29 edition of The Post-Crescent.

Foxes Edge Pilots, Win ML Championship
Boost Lead to 4-1/2 Games With 4 Remaining
First-Half Titlists Clinch Honor For Second Round

Timely hitting…fine pitching…good defense.

Displaying those same features which have spelled success for them all season, the determined Appleton Foxes nipped Clinton's Pilots, 3-2, and wrapped up the 1969 Midwest League championship at Goodland Field Thursday night.

The victory for the Foxes, who had claimed the first-half ML Title earlier in the year, gave them a 4-1/2 game lead over Clinton in the second half race with each team having just four games remaining.

The new champions will close out their season with home games tonight and Saturday night against the Quad Cities Angels and single encounters against the Wisconsin Rapids Twins Sunday and Monday (Labor Day). Tonight's affair with the Angels is designated as "Bank Night."

46-11 at Home

In chalking up last evening's clinching triumph, Appleton continued its virtual domination of play on its home gronds. The foxes have now won 46 times at Goodland Field versus just 11 losses for the year.

The "Elks Night" crowd of 1,278 Foxes' roosters watched their favorites spot the Iowa club a 1-0 edge in the top of the first inning, then come back for a 3-1 lead after the first five frames.

What proved to be the game's most important blow was a 2-out, 2-run double by the Foxes' Mark Marquess in the fifth that snapped a 1-1 deadlock. The Pilots managed to get one of those runs back in the eighth on pinch-hitter Darvin Taylor's solo homer to account for the final score.

Right-hander Dennis O'Toole, a strong performer in Appleton's second-half pennant drive, posted his eighth victory in 10 decisions. He needed relief help from another righty, Rich Moloney, in the eighth inning to nail down the win.

Scatters 7 Hits

O'Toole scattered seven hits in working 7-2/3 innings. He did not issue a base on balls and struck out four. Moloney gave up a single to the Pilots' Tom Kelly upon entering in relief but then struck out three of the next four hitters he faced.

The loser was Puerto Rican right-hander Miguel Fuentes, who like O'Toole, is also 8-2 for the year. Fuentes is to report to the parent Seattle Pilots in Yankee Stadium Monday.

The contest was a free-swinging affair, with each team collecting eight hits. Seven of the safties went for extra bases.

The hottest batter of the night was the Pilots' scooter second baseman Alvin Strane, who slashed four straight hits - including a triple and a double.

It was Strane's 3-bagger and Tom Kelly's sacrifice fly in the first that got Clinton off to a short-lived lead. But a walk, a fielder's choice, and George Hunter's double brought the Foxes back in the bottom of the frame.

Clinton wasted three scoring opportunities. The Pilots' best chance came in the second when they left runners at second and third with none out. After Frank Kimball cracked a leadoff double and Mike Morelli reached on Glenn Redmon's error, O'Toole settled down and retired Rick Auerbach on a popup, Jose Rodriguez on a roller to the mound, and Fuentes on a strikeout.

Max Correa started Appleton's decisive rally in the fifth with a single. O'Toole forced Correa on a sacrifice attempt, but then Dan Rourke bunted for a hit down the third base line.

Jim Redmon flew to right for the second out. However, Marquess came through with his clutch liner in the alley in right-center to plate O'Toole and Rourke.

The Pilots had two more chances to score but couldn't push anybody across. In the top of the sixth, Strane rapped a 2-bagger to the wall in left field to lead off. But then Foxes' shortstop Jim Redmon snared Kelly's liner moments later and easily tagged Strane for a double play.

After Traylor's shot over the left field wall in the eighth, O'Toole gave up Strane's fourth hit with two gone. Moloney came on to pitch to Kelly and allowed another single, putting runners at first and third.

But then Steve Jones went down on strikes, and the final Clinton threat had been stopped. The Pilots went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, and the Midwest League pennant belonged to the Foxes.

'They've Come Through in the Clutch All Year,' Says Saffell of the Foxes
Club Not Affected by Pressure

Your team holds a slim 2-1/2 game lead with less than a week left in the pennant race. The club which is your closest pursuer has beaten you nine times in the last 10 meetings and is coming to town for a crucial series.

What kind of pressure does that situation place on your ballplayers? Are they worried? Collars a little tight?

"No," Appleton manager Tom Saffell retorted Thursday night following his Foxes' pennant-clinching victory over Clinton, "Our kids had the attitude they were going to win. They were confident that they could go out and do it."

And the Foxes id just that. They slapped the Pilots, 11-1, in the first game of the set and then topped it off with a 3-2 triumph Thursday night that doomed Clinton's pennant hopes.

Won Must Games

Recalling other such "must" games in which the Foxes have emerged victorious, Saffell continued: "This is a great crop of kids. They've come through in the clutch all year. They've won all the pressure games they've been in."

The Foxes pilot was thinking particularly of the grueling first-half playoff game with Quad Cities, which Appleton won, 4-3, in 16 innings, and the All-Star tilt, which the Foxes took by a 5-3 count after coming from behind.

Saffell, who has now managed three pennant-winning teams as a minor league manager, characterized his team as "having a great amount of desire. And they work as a unit," he added, "there's been no bickering."

Clinton manager Tom Giordano, who had the reigns of his own team only since last Sunday, praised the Foxes as "well disciplined" and "well-schooled in fundamentals."

"Saffell's done a helluva job - he should get a lot of credit," Giordano added.

No Pressure Either

In reference to the issue of [who the pressure was on] in the series, Giordano also disclaimed having it on the Pilots' shoulders entering the series.

"The pressure wasn't on us," he declared, "but after last night (the 11-1 loss) the pendulum switched over. We just couldn't get the hit we needed tonight."

FOX TALES - Appleton's Midwest crown was its third in the last four years, and interestingly, first baseman-coach George Hunter has played on each of the teams that won a half-season pennant and subsequently the championship.

Appleton should easily break its season record for attendance tonight. Including Thursday's crowd of 1,270, the Foxes need just 740 fans to eclipse the old record of over 61,000 fans set in 1960.


The Tom Kelly mentioned in the article is THAT Tom Kelly, future manager of the Minnesota Twins. The article spelled the name Kelley - and there was a Tom Kelley active at that time. However, Tom Kelley was a pitcher in the Cleveland organization. The Tom Kelly in this story was a Seattle farmhand at the time and was let go by the organization before they became the Milwaukee Brewers.

Two other notes on the Pilots before getting to some of the Foxes details: Sibby Sisti was the manager of the Pilots for until there was a week left in the season. Then, Tom Giordano took over for the remainder of the season.   His SABR Bio notes only that Sisti coached the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and "shortly thereafter quit the game and returned home to get a "real job" as a truck driver". That bio is well worth the read because Sisti, a utility player with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, was a Casey Stengel disciple and - despite a mediocre batting average - is in the Boston Braves Hall of Fame and…well, just click that second link. Plus, he had a cameo in The Natural as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The losing pitcher in that game for the Pilots was Miguel Fuentes. Fuentes made his MLB debut with the Pilots on September 1, 1969 at the age of 23. He went 1-3 in eight games - four starts - with Seattle and may have been on the Opening Day roster of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. But, Fuentes never made it to Spring Training. From his Wikipedia page: During the Major League Baseball off-season in the winter of 1969 and 1970, Fuentes played in the Puerto Rican Winter League with the Caguas Criollos.[1]  A few days after the Criollos' season ended in the league's playoffs, on January 29, Fuentes was shot three times at a bar in Loíza Aldea.[1] Fuentes was sent to a hospital in a state of shock[7] and died of his wounds shortly thereafter.

It has mentioned on this website before, but the Foxes' Mark Marquess is now the head baseball coach at Stanford. He has been the top man with the Cardinal since 1977. The Chicago White Sox drafted Marquess out of Stanford in 1969 and sent him to Appleton and he came up with the big hit in this game to clinch the 1969 pennant.

Foxes manager Tom Saffell also has a biography on SABR. Interesting notes include: Saffell became the President of the Gulf Coast League in 1978 and held that position for 21 seasons. He was named "The King of Baseball" at the Baseball Winter Meetings in 1999 as he celebrated 50 years in the game. Saffell died last September at the age of 91. Click that link for a great baseball life.

There were still four home games left in the season for the 1969 Foxes after they clinched the pennant. Even if they had lost all four games, Appleton would have finished the year 31 games over .500 at home.

The Foxes set their attendance record with a total of 67,028 for 1969. Appleton broke the record again the next two seasons with 83,818 in 1970 and 83,881 in 1971. The 1971 attendance record stood until 1978 when the Foxes pulled in 94,730.

Past Flashbacks:

Second Half Preview (1966)

How the Foxes Got Their Name (1958)

McKeon named Foxes Manager (1958)

Down to the Wire (1969)

First Half Playoff Game (1969)

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

View More