Academic journal article Nine

Streaking into History: The 1987 Salt Lake Trappers

Academic journal article Nine

Streaking into History: The 1987 Salt Lake Trappers

Article excerpt

From August 13 to September 6, 2002, the Oakland A's captured the attention of fans and the media by reeling off 20 consecutive victories, the longest winning streak in American League annals and the fourth longest in Major League history. (1) Jim Gilligan, the baseball coach at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, assessed the A's achievement: "Few people realize how tough it is to put any amount of games together. It's tough just to win five or six in a row." (2) Gilligan spoke from experience. In 1987 his Salt Lake City Trappers won 29 straight games, the longest winning streak in the history of professional baseball.

The Trappers' unlikely achievement was the more remarkable given the improbable cast of characters. The Trappers, an independent entry in the short-season rookie Pioneer League, came to town in 1985 following the financial demise of the Salt Lake Gulls of the AAA Pacific Coast League. The franchise had virtually no local presence since all but one of the club's twelve managing partners, including comedic actor Bill Murray, were absentee owners. (3) Part-owner and player personnel director Van Schley, also president of Texas Star Baseball Inc., scoured the country signing former college players who had been passed over in the annual June Major League draft for unaffiliated Minor League teams. (The book Good Enough to Dream, which chronicled the on- and off-field doings of one such Schley-stocked team, the 1983 Utica Blue Sox of the class A New York-Pennsylvania League, appeared just before the Trappers' first season in Utah.) (4) "It's sort of a kick," Schley said, "to compete against a multimillion-dollar scouting system with just an American Express card and a telephone." (5)

Hurriedly assembled after the June Major League draft, the 1987 Trappers were baseball orphans, players rejected by Major League scouts as being not talented enough to warrant a professional contract. Signing with the Trappers for $500 a month gave them an entry to professional baseball and a chance for redemption. Playing at the bottom rung of professional baseball, the Trappers displayed a fierce determination to prove the scouts wrong. First baseman Matt Huff, who had played for the Trappers in 1986, spoke for his teammates: "We're still the nobodies. The outcasts of the outcasts. We're not supposed to be here. You have to prove to the scouts that they made a mistake, and the way you do that is to go out and bust your butt. That's exactly what we plan to do." (6)

Salt Lakers did not take easily to the sudden demotion from the highest to the lowest level of professional baseball. Although the 1985 team went 4624 (.657) to win the Southern Division title and then beat the highly touted Great Falls Dodgers in the league's championship series, attendance plummeted from 167,803 in 1984 to 57,683. However, success breeds acceptance; Salt Lake set a Pioneer League attendance record in 1986 (108,721) as the Trappers again finished first, with a 45-25 record (.643), and whipped Great Falls in the playoffs.

Hastily assembled, the 1987 Traps, as they were now affectionately called, hailed from all levels of collegiate baseball and all parts of the country. Their personalities were equally diverse, ranging from shortstop James Ferguson, who played the stock market, and six-foot-seven-inch Pago Pago-born first baseman Matt Huff, whose hobby was making earthenware pottery, to second baseman Anthony "Vacuum" Blackmon, who was suspended during the 1987 intercollegiate season by the NCAA after responding to racial epithets from Mississippi State fans by dropping his pants and mooning the crowd during a game. (7) There were two draftees on the roster. (8) For the second year in a row, the Kintetsu Buffaloes of Japan's Pacific League sent the Trappers two highly regarded draft choices, pitchers Yasuhiro Hiyama and Koichi Ikeue, neither of whom spoke English. After surveying the roster, Schley remarked: "I think we have more talent than we did last year. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.