You know how much I missaffiliated minor league baseball in Wichita. I pine for it day and night.
OK, that’s an overstatement. But I feel like a city Wichita’s size should have a minor league team that is affiliated with a major league team. Wichita has a long history of affiliated baseball, but for the past six seasons the Wichita Wingnuts have played independent league baseball. Nothing against the Wingnuts, who have consistently put a competitive team on the field under manager Kevin Hooper.
But I miss seeing players on the way up. I miss watching some of the game’s top prospects swing through town, not only with the local team but with visiting clubs.
Will we ever have affiliated baseball again? That’s a question for another time. I’ll address that issue later in the week in a column.
For now, though, I wanted to share some of the interesting stuff I came across while researching Wichita’s minor league past this week. Thanks to the great website baseballreference.com, I learned that more than 750 players who passed through Wichita in the minor leagues also played in the major leagues. They come in all shapes and sizes; from the great (Roberto Alomar) to the unrecognizable (too many to mention).
In my blog this week, I’ll be sharing some of the interesting stories I’ve come across. And we’ll start today with a tale from the 1933 Wichita Oilers, who played a few home games that season in Muskogee, Okla.
Two pitchers who had successful major league careers pitched for the Oilers that season.
One was Mort Cooper, who at the time was a 20-year-old right-hander just breaking into professional
baseball. Cooper was 7-5 with the Oilers and his ERA soared to 6.06. But the right-hander eventually figured things out and went on to pitch for 11 seasons in the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Braves and New York Giants.
Cooper won 125 games and had an ERA of 2.97. From 1942-44 with the Cardinals, Cooper 65-22. He was the National League MVP in ’42, when he was 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA.
In all three seasons, Cooper helped pitch the Cardinals to the World Series, and St. Louis won championships in 1942 and 1944, beating the St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees. The Cardinals lost to the Yankees in the 1943 World Series.
A native of Independence, Mo., Cooper died in 1958 at the age of 45. He was definitely on his way up when he pitched for Wichita’s minor league team 80 years ago.
That’s not the case with left-hander Rube Marquard, who was eight years removed from his big league career when he showed up to pitch one game for Wichita during the 1933 season.
In that one, he allowed seven hits and five runs, four earned, in just three innings, at the age of 46.
How did that one appearance come about? Hard to say. But Marquard, like Cooper, had three outstanding seasons consecutively during his major league career.
While pitching for the New York Giants from 1911-13, Marquard won 73 games and lost only 28 with ERAs of 2.50, 2.57 and 2.50..
Also like Cooper, Marquard was the best pitcher on three consecutive World Series teams. But the Giants came up short in all three, losing to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1911 and 1913 and to the Boston Red Sox in 1912.
Marquard won 201 games during his 18-year career and lost 177. He started the 1912 season by winning his first 19 decisions and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1971, although he looks like nothing more than a fringe Hall of Famer.
Marquard dabbled in an onstage career after he retired from baseball, but it never took off. He was married briefly to Blossom Seeley, a popular vaudeville performer at the time. Marquard died in 1980, at the age of 93 and is one of 21 members of the Hall of Fame to live into his 90s.