Template:MiLB infobox The New Orleans Zephyrs are a minor league baseball team based in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. The Zephyrs play in the Pacific Coast League and are the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. The Zephyrs play their home games at Zephyr Field.
The Zephyrs joined the PCL after the 1997 season, when the American Association (AA) was disbanded. The Zephyrs were one of five clubs from the AA to join the PCL, with three joining the International League. Triple-A baseball was also expanded to 30 teams at that time, concurrent with the expansion of Major League Baseball.
The Zephyrs franchise history spans 100 years, three cities, five leagues, and affiliations with 14 of the present 30 Major League teams, some on more than one occasion. Both the organization's formation and geographic moves were in response to franchise movements on the major league level.
Prior to 1978, New Orleans was home to another minor-league team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
Kansas City (1901–1954)
In order to bolster its claim to Major League status, the American League moved some of its teams from mid-sized Midwestern cities to larger Eastern venues for the 1901 season. One such shift saw the Kansas City Blues become the Washington Senators. With the town suddenly bereft of a ball club, a new team, which would, in time, become the Zephyrs, was quickly founded. Playing with the old Blues nickname, the team was easily the class of the new, but unrated, incarnation of the Western League, winning the pennant by 10 games.
With a decent team and a solid fan base, the franchise moved on to become a founding member of the new American Association, rated at what today would be the AAA level. Although only moderately successful on the field, the team was a fixture of the Midwest sports scene, playing in Kansas City for over half a century.
The most notable player for the franchise was future Baseball Hall of Fame member Phil Rizzuto, the League MVP and Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1940. Another MVP was Don Bollweg in 1952. The team, itself, won the championship in 1938, and then back-to-back in 1952 and 1953. Winning teams boast higher ticket sales, so when the Philadelphia Athletics found themselves unable to compete for market-share with the Phillies and decided to relocate after the 1954 season, Kansas City, Missouri was an attractive choice. This move, however, forced the Blues out, victims of their own success.
The franchise set up shop in Denver, Colorado in 1955. Although naming a team for its uniform color had been popular in the 19th century, it was not fashionable in the 20th. As Denver had no connection to the original Blues, and in recognition of the new location in the Rockies, the team took on a new nickname, the "Bears." (The Bears name has been used for other sports teams in Denver in the past several years as well.)
The team played at what became known later as Mile High Stadium, but was originally known as Bears Stadium, after the team. This stadium was one of the largest venues in history to host minor league baseball on a routine basis, and had the additional draw of being in one of the largest minor league markets at the time. For many years, the biggest crowds were on 4th of July fireworks nights, and every year the American Association scheduled the Bears for a home game. Crowds of 45,000 and more watched the fireworks game, easily the biggest crowds most of the minor leaguers had ever played in front of.
The Triple-A Bears were affiliated with the New York Yankees at the outset, with Ralph Houk managing many players who would reach the majors and play in the World Series. The team had some early success, winning the AA Championship in 1957. League MVPs in this period included Marv Throneberry in 1956 and Steve Boros in 1960.
Although the team had been a member of the American Association since the league's inception 60 years before, it was a Midwestern circuit, and for the 1963 season, the Bears transferred to the Pacific Coast League. The mid-1960s Bears included such future big-leaguers as César Tovar and Ted Uhlaender, but lacked overall success. It also turned out that with the PCL otherwise all but confined to the actual Pacific coast, Denver was now located too far east; in 1969 the franchise returned to the AA.
The Denver Bears had some good teams from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, producing such players as Andre Dawson, Tim Wallach, Warren Cromartie, Tim Raines, Graig Nettles, Terry Francona, Danny Morris, Pat Rooney, and Bill Gullickson. Denver players Richie Scheinblum, Cliff Johnson, Roger Freed, Frank Ortenzio, and Randy Bass were league MVPs. The managing careers of both Billy Martin and Felipe Alou began with the Bears. The team won the Association's championship with some regularity, topping the league in 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, and 1983.
In 1985, the team name was changed to the Denver Zephyrs, after the famous passenger train. Barry Larkin was league MVP while with the Zephyrs, as were Greg Vaughn, Jim Olander, and Jim Tatum. ESPN broadcaster Orestes Destrade also played for the Zephyrs. Under the new nickname, the franchise won the American Association in 1987 and took the 1991 pennant.
The Denver Zephyrs lasted eight seasons. Then in 1993, the Major Leagues arrived in Denver with the Colorado Rockies expansion team of the National League and it was time to find a new home for the Zephyrs.
New Orleans (1993–present)
Louisiana lawyer/business promoter Robert E. Couhig, Jr. led the effort to relocate the team to New Orleans. Oddly, the "Zephyr" name was appropriate for New Orleans, too, as the Zephyr Roller Coaster was a popular ride at the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, which, ironically, had closed 10 years earlier, much to the disappointment of locals.
The Zephyrs won the 1998 Pacific Coast League championship and went on to win the Triple-A World Series against the Buffalo Bisons, 3–1. The Zephyrs were also slated to participate in the 2001 championship series with the Tacoma Rainiers, but the season was cancelled in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and the teams were named co-champions.
The Zephyrs finished the 2005 season three days before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and though Zephyr Field sustained moderate damage, the team was able to open the 2006 season at home, making them the first professional team in New Orleans to do so after the hurricane.
On May 5 and 6, 2006 in a game that became known as the "Music City Marathon," the Zephyrs played 24 innings in Nashville, ultimately defeating the Sounds 5-4 the next day on a Wiki Gonzalez RBI single. The Z’s scored once in the eighth and once in the ninth, and the teams remained tied through 18 innings before curfew was called. The 24 innings matches the longest game in PCL history, set in 1909, and the Z’s set 12 franchise records, including striking out a league-record 29 times.
In 2008, the Zephyrs' season ended three days early due to the approach of Hurricane Gustav. When it became apparent that Gustav would hit the Gulf Coast on September 1, the Zephyrs cancelled their games of August 30 through September 1.
On September 22, 2008, the Zephyrs became the AAA affiliate of the Florida Marlins (now the Miami Marlins). In October 2009, the Zephyrs unveiled a new logo. The team's new emblem clearly embraced their "new" hometown. The team employed the "Fleur de Z" as its new look.
- New Orleans Zephyrs official website
- Denver Zephyrs at Baseball-Reference.com
- Denver Bears at Baseball-Reference.com
- Kansas City Blues at Baseball-Reference.com
Miami Marlins franchise
|New Orleans Zephyrs|| Jacksonville Suns
|| Jupiter Hammerheads
| GCL Marlins|