Cardinals in the Gulf Coast, Arizona and Pioneer Rookie Leagues

Starting this series was an offshoot of a single event, the Batavia Muckdogs’ 2008 New York-Penn League championship season. That led to a look at system-wide records over time, which opened up the opportunity to look at each level of play across the Cardinals system.

In doing so, the top six minor league levels seemed right, as they are the consistent measures over time. Yet this work also enabled me to fully appreciate the handful of managers that have revolved among the Cardinals affiliates over the years.

In order to have a complete view of the minor league managers, I realized I needed to have a snapshot of the complex short-season rookie leagues as well. Hence the creation of this previously-unexpected report.

Florida-based rookie leagues – 1964 through 1976

In 1964, the Cardinals placed a team in what was called the Sarasota Rookie League. All four league clubs played their games in Sarasota. The next season, the league evolved to six teams, renamed the Florida Rookie League, with games in Bradenton as well as Sarasota. George Kissell’s club finished fifth.

A third name change in three seasons occurred in 1966 as the Gulf Coast League came into existence. Down to five clubs and a 48-game schedule, Kissell’s team finished in fifth. Cardinal Wayne Dees led the league in hits with 48.

In the five years from 1967 through 1971, the Cardinals finished last every other year with only one first-division finish (second in 1968). 1972 and 1973 brought an unusual situation as the Cardinals had two clubs in the same league! Perhaps it watered down the talent too much as neither the Cardinals nor the Red Birds were in contention either season. Hector Eduardo of Ken Boyer’s Cardinals hit six home runs in 1973 to pace the GCL.

Cardinals in Calgary – 1977 and 1978

After another last-place finish in 1975 and a fourth-place return the next season, the Cardinals left the Gulf Coast League. For 1977 and 1978, the Cardinals moved far north and west to the Pioneer League. In their first season, the Calgary Cardinals were led by league leaders Jim Reeves with a .376 batting average and future major leaguer Ty Waller with 96 hits and 77 runs scored.

During the next ten seasons, from 1979 through 1988, the Cardinals’ lowest classification team was Johnson City of the rookie-level Appalachian League.

Six years in Arizona – 1989 through 1994

In 1988, the Arizona League began play, modeled after the Gulf Coast League, still operating without the Cardinals. While the GCL was up to 12 teams, the Arizona League began with just four. The Cards joined the Arizona League in season two, 1989, as it expanded to six teams.

In 1990, Cardinal Jonas Hamlin led the Arizona League in hits (76), home runs (8) and runs scored (45). The next season, Steve Cerio topped the league in hits (80), home runs (9) and RBIs (47). In 1992, there were more Cardinals offensive leaders. Not-yet Super Joe McEwing paced the league with 55 runs while teammate Brian Rupp batted .386, had 80 hits and drove in 40, all Arizona League bests.

While there was plenty of hitting, there wasn’t consistent winning. Since its inception, the Arizona League Cardinals hovered around .500 until 1993. That year, Roy Silver’s Cardinals finished in second, just three games out.

The Cards saved their best for last as 1994 signaled both the end of the Cardinals’ involvement in the Arizona League as well as their only season atop the standings, achieved in their sixth year.

Once again, offense led the way for Scott Melvin’s club. Darren Tawwater hit five home runs, Nate Dishington had 36 RBIs and Jose Lugo’s 70 hits all led the Arizona League in 1994.

Back to the GCL again – 2007 to present

This time, the Cardinals stayed away from the complex rookie leagues for a dozen years until their return to the Gulf Coast League in 2007. Those first two teams struggled badly in the won-loss column (.376), though Cuban émigré and outfielder Ryde Rodriguez was named a 2008 GCL All-Star.

The Cardinals plan to continue to use the GCL in place of Johnson City as the first stopping point for Dominican and Venezuelan graduates as well as many June high school draftees.

Veteran scout Steve Turco is returning to managing after a ten-year absence from the bench to lead the 2009 Gulf Coast League Cardinals.

Only during their brief two-year stay in the Pioneer League did the Cardinals participate in a league with a playoff format. In terms of the regular season, the Cardinals have one first-place finish from 25 clubs over 23 seasons since 1964.

Their cumulative won-loss record is 668-737 (.475), with their best run during the Arizona League years. From 1989 through 1994, those Cardinals won at a .526 clip (172-155).

Cardinals Complex Year Pct W L Division Playoffs Manager
Record all clubs 64-78, 89-94, 07-08 0.475 668 737 1 0
25 year all clubs 89-94, 07-08 0.489 213 223 1 0
10 year all clubs 07-08 0.376 41 68 0 na
GCL/FRL/SRL record 64-76, 07-08 0.453 425 514 0 na
Arizona League record 89-94 0.526 172 155 1 na
Pioneer League record 77-78 0.511 71 68 0 0
Gulf Coast 2008 0.309 17 38 5 na Enrique Brito
Gulf Coast 2007 0.444 24 30 4 na Enrique Brito
Arizona 1994 0.607 34 22 1 na Scott Melvin
Arizona 1993 0.585 31 22 2 na Roy Silver
Arizona 1992 0.519 28 26 6 na Joe Cunningham
Arizona 1991 0.492 29 30 5 na Keith Champion
Arizona 1990 0.538 28 24 3 na Larry Milbourne
Arizona 1989 0.415 22 31 5 na Luis Melendez
Calgary (Pioneer) 1978 0.536 37 32 3 Johnny Lewis
Calgary (Pioneer) 1977 0.486 34 36 4 Johnny Lewis
Gulf Coast 1976 0.529 27 24 4 na Dave Ricketts
Gulf Coast 1975 0.327 17 35 7 na Fred Koenig
Gulf Coast 1974 0.563 27 21 5 na Tom Burgess
Bobby Dews
Gulf Coast Cardinals 1973 0.455 25 30 7 na Ken Boyer
Gulf Coast Red Birds 1973 0.518 29 27 4 na Le Roy Thomas
Gulf Coast Cardinals 1972 0.458 27 32 5 na Bobby Dews
Gulf Caost Red Birds 1972 0.397 23 35 6 na Julio Gotay
Gulf Coast 1971 0.377 20 33 7 na Tom Burgess
Gulf Coast 1970 0.533 32 28 5 na Tom Burgess
Gulf Coast 1969 0.389 21 33 7 na Tom Burgess
Gulf Coast 1968 0.557 34 27 2 na George Kissell
Ray Hathaway
Gulf Coast 1967 0.439 25 32 6 na George Kissell
Gulf Coast 1966 0.417 20 28 4 na George Kissell
Florida Rookie 1965 0.466 27 31 5 na George Kissell
Sarasota Rookie 1964 0.500 30 30 2 na Fred Koenig

Related articles:

“Cardinals in Triple-A – 1977 to present”

“Cardinals in Double-A – 1966 to present”

“Cardinals in the Florida State League – 1966 to present”

“Quad Cities: Cardinals top minor league club has a long history”

Cardinals in the Appalachian League – 1975 to present

Cardinals in the New York-Penn League – 1981 to present

A quarter century of Cardinals minor league results