From Chapter 4:

1971-1976: The Altobelli Era


The selection of Joe Altobelli as manager was an enormously popular choice. First appearing in a Red Wing uniform in 1963, Altobelli became a huge fan favorite during his days as first baseman, outfielder and player/coach. In 1964 he played a key role down the stretch in Rochester’s Governors’ Cup championship; the next season he topped the team in home runs. He began the 1966 season as player/coach before being asked to take over the O’s rookie farm team in Bluefield in mid-season. A native of Detroit, Altobelli had made Rochester his off-season residence. He became the second city resident in the last four years to manage the Red Wings.

Expectations for his inaugural team were high from the beginning. Despite the losses of Roger Freed, Fred Beene, Elijah Johnson, Rick Delgado, Enzo Hernandez and Al Severinson in off-season moves, a strong offensive nucleus returned. Baltimore helped by demoting Bobby Grich (switching back from second base to shortstop), and more unexpectedly, Terry Crowley. Crowley, stunned by the demotion, took a week before reporting, then announced himself “ready to play.”

Richie Coggins and Don Baylor would anchor the outfield. They were joined by Sam Parrilla and Jim Hutto, both of whom came from the Phillies in the Freed deal. Parrilla hit .330, 3, 34 in 67 games with Triple-A Eugene (PCL) while Hutto saw limited time in Philadelphia, hitting .185. Either man would start in left. Hutto could also back up catcher Johnny Oates, who had missed all but the last week of the previous season due to his service in the Army Reserves. George Farson was also available for duty behind the plate.

The infield was potent with Grich, third baseman Mike Ferraro, and first baseman Crowley (.257 with Baltimore) supplying offensive punch. Larry Johnson provided depth at first, coming over after a .323 year with Portland of the PCL. Ron Shelton returned to start at second, backed by Art Miranda. That position was seen as the only weak link and Altobelli had toyed with the idea of playing Ferraro at second and the versatile Hutto at third. That experiment died a quick death — Alto saw no reason to weaken two positions defensively — and Shelton began the season as the regular.

The only question mark seemed to be starting pitching. None of the returning hurlers finished the previous season with a winning record. Righties John Montague, Bill Kirkpatrick and Mike Adamson were all sub-.500 pitchers with plus-four ERAs in 1970. George Manz (7-4, 1.99) came up after an excellent year in Dallas-Ft. Worth, but he was another right-hander. In early April Baltimore sent down Dave Leonhard (pitched for Rochester in 1966 and ’67), who at first threatened to retire.

A seemingly insignificant trade brought the Wings a 25-year-old six-year minor leaguer named Roric Harrison. Harrison went 6-11, with a 5.57 ERA for Portland of the Pacific Coast League in 1970, walking almost as many men as he struck out. Manager Altobelli reported that Harrison “doesn’t appear to be a hot prospect, but... several scouts think highly of him.” Harrison was penciled in as the fourth starter, and whatever his performance, he at least made good newspaper copy. He was named after the first king of Ireland, and his nickname, “Duke,” came from his impressions of John Wayne.

The bullpen was missing an imposing stopper, a la Severinson, but had great balance between lefties and righties. Dick Baney, one of several returning pitchers, had expected to start, but would instead begin the season in the pen. Mickey Scott, Ed Maras and Steve Jones were other hurlers with previous Rochester experience. It was hoped that Maras would develop into the closer. Greg Arnold and Rich Thoms were additions from Double-A.

The Wings were labeled as a definite pennant contender. “Pitching will be the deciding factor,” said Altobelli. “If we get the good pitching, we should be a winner.” There was an additional incentive for an IL championship this season. Plans called for the Junior World Series to expand to four teams, pitting the champions of the four highest minor leagues (IL, American Association, Pacific Coast League and Mexican League) in a round-robin tournament, to be held in Mexico City in mid-September. The only other IL change had the Charleston Charlies replacing the Columbus Jets on the league’s roster of teams.

After an 8-6-2 spring, the team opened on the road in Louisville and promptly dropped their first three games. Grich was absent from the lineup, but his presence wouldn’t have helped the Wings’ mound performances. The pre-season worries about pitching seemed to be real, as evidenced by the scores: 12-3, 8-7, 10-5. Two more losses and the Wings headed back to Rochester for their home opener at 0-5. The only positive news was Leonhard’s decision to report. (He took Altobelli’s number 14 jersey because it fit better, so Altobelli, who had worn 16 during his playing days in Rochester, donned the number 26).

Silver Stadium sported 300 new seats (raising capacity to 13,745) and “lots of fresh paint” for the opener. Pinch hitter Johnson doubled home the winning run in the eighth inning off Richmond pitcher Luis Tiant to lead the Wings to a 4-3 victory in front of 7,275.

After the successful opener, the next three games fell victim to cold and/or rainy weather. The schedule resumed with the Wings claiming a doubleheader sweep of the Tidewater Tides that lifted them out of the basement. The departure from the cellar was tempered by the news that coach Chico Fernandez had to leave the team. After a spring training blackout, doctors advised Fernandez to give up coaching. He did, however, remain with the organization as a scout. In early May, former Red Wing player Pete Ward returned as Fernandez’s replacement, also in a non-playing role.

An almost solid week of rainouts kept the Wings off the field and mired at 3-7, although it was noted that the team had been ahead in all of its losses. But an immediate reversal was not in the offing when the Wings were able to retake the field. They hit another skid and dropped to 5-12. The team was 2-11 on the road and the pitching staff had surrendered 23 home runs in 17 games.

A May 12 14-2 home pasting of league-leading Syracuse keyed the team to eight-game win streak which took the Wings over .500. Several interesting developments occurred during the tear. On the field, Baylor put together a 19-game hit streak, and infielder Don Fazio joined the team. Fazio was purchased from Boston in mid-April. After playing the 1970 season with Louisville, Fazio, 28, married with two children, and certain his chance at the majors was gone, had all but retired. He took a job teaching physical education in the Rush-Henrietta school district, a Rochester suburb. The Red Wings allowed him to keep his day job, play home games until the school year was over, and then join the club full-time.

In off-the-field developments, the Wings told the Rochester Lancers’ soccer club, which began the season calling Silver Stadium its home field, that they were no longer welcome. The games were doing too much damage to the turf. The Lancers had played the previous four seasons at Aquinas Stadium, owned by a private local high school, but the school had evicted the Lancers out of fear it would lose its tax-exempt status. RCB President Lang said the club owed it to the stockholders to keep the facility solely for baseball (they were charging only $500 per game, plus expenses) and downplayed a suggestion that club install artificial turf, estimating the cost of such a project at $750,000. The team also announced that all road games would be broadcast live by Joe Cullinane on WROC-FM. Previously, all games away from home, except for Syracuse, were recreated.

Most newsworthy was the May 19 resignation of General Manager Bob Turner. The 58-year-old Turner, a protege of Morrie Silver, had taken over in 1968 after serving as Silver’s assistant for two years. “In that I find policies and procedures as directed to me inconsistent with my convictions to the point where there are too many frustrations, I am resigning my position as general manager of the Rochester Red Wings effective at the discretion of the Board of Directors,” read his statement. The announcement found Morrie Silver “very much surprised,” and he quelled any talk that Turner was forced out by stating he was “definitely not fired.” Within days, 31-year-old Carl Steinfeldt, Turner’s assistant since 1968, was named as his successor. It was Steinfeldt’s 16th year of employment with the club and he had done virtually every job during that time. Turner was kept on the club payroll for the remainder of the season.

A four-game losing streak coincided with the illness of Ferraro and the absence of Grich (military duty). The services of Crowley and Shopay were lost on a more permanent basis when May recalls took them to Baltimore. The team was still hovering around the break-even mark — and Altobelli beginning to take some heat from the fans — on May 28 when Arnold no-hit Charleston 6-0 in the first game of a doubleheader. Arnold lived up to his reputation as a “flamboyant... fastball pitcher with irregular control” by walking five and setting down nine on strikes in the seven-inning game. When Leonhard blanked the Charlies 2-0 on four hits in the second game, it seemed that the Wings were on their way.

The sweep did send Altobelli’s squad on a tear which saw it capture nine of 10, powered by an offense hitting .291. Grich topped the league at .396, with Baylor chipping in at .361. Included in the streak were signals that the pitching staff was coming around, as the hurlers put together four complete games in five starts, and three shutouts in four games. Kirkpatrick played a healthy role in the reversal, winning five of seven decisions with six complete games in eight starts. Additions were also made in order to strengthen the team’s weak link. A late-May trade brought in ex-Syracuse hurler Bill Burbach (5-10, 4.35 in 1970). He had seen little action with the Yankees before the swap, but spent the entire 1969 season in New York. Mark Weems (4-1, 1.39 at Dallas/Ft. Worth), a 20-year-old with a live fastball, was added as well. The developments led to the departure of Dick Baney and Ed Maras. (The end of May also saw the debut of the “broom girl” at Silver, a shorts-clad young lady who came out between innings to sweep the bases.)

However well the pitchers performed, it was the offense that keyed the Wings’ success. A nine-run second inning fueled a 16-5 rout on June 3; less than a week later Rochester scored 11 in the 10th to blast Winnipeg 15-4. Four days after that Harrison allowed two hits and no runs in an 11-0 win at Toledo, and added a 410-foot grand slam. On June 16, in the second game of a twin bill split at home with Richmond, Grich hit three consecutive home runs, all solo shots. On a 6-for-48 slide coming into the game, he deposited pitches outside Silver’s confines in the first, fourth and sixth innings. After the performance, which tied his team-record three-homer game in 1970, he flew to California to marry his high school sweetheart.

The Rochester shortstop had “slumped” to .325, but was nonetheless a unanimous choice to the IL’s mid-season all-star squad. Joining him were Baylor and Ferraro, with Leonhard later added as a replacement. For Ferraro it was his fourth consecutive honor, despite an average of .254 and regular absences from the lineup due to a long bout with bronchitis. The June 24 game was played at Silver Stadium in front of 11,001, with the All-Stars defeating the New York Yankees (who brought only 15 players) 15-13. During the short break in the schedule, the IL directors announced that the ambitious four-team post-season tournament would not happen. Instead the traditional Junior World Series matchup of IL and American Association champions would take place.

Despite the trio of all-stars and the team’s offensive fireworks, on June 21 the Red Wings were only 32-32, in fourth place, nine games behind Syracuse and four back of third. The early road blues had been turned around (17-3 as visitors since May 13, with all losses by one run), but the team was less than invincible at Silver, dropping 10 of 12 at one point. One of those setbacks was a 5-0 loss to Toledo in front of 13,008, the best crowd in three seasons. The continued absence of Grich also hurt — the team was 0-10 without him in the lineup. Yet despite the inconsistencies, any team that could put out a lineup of Coggins, Grich, Baylor, Parrilla, Ferraro/Hutto, Oates and Fazio (who had taken over the second base job) was due to win if it could get some reasonable pitching support.

Ferraro was healthy but disgruntled as he could not dislodge Hutto in the starting lineup. (His return to active status meant the release of Art Miranda.) In late June the Wings vetoed a trade that would have sent Ferraro to Tidewater for a first baseman and a second-line pitcher. The swap was turned down despite the fact the Wings had only 21 players on the roster, two under the limit. The nomadic Hutto finally settled in as Crowley’s replacement at first, giving Ferraro his post back at third. In his return to the starting lineup, Ferraro responded with a bases-loaded game-winning single in the nightcap of a home doubleheader sweep. The twin bill also saw Grich hit two home runs, pushing his league leading total to 17.

The Wings finally added a pitcher on July 1. Freddy Beene came to Rochester after spending three weeks at Dallas/Ft.Worth. He had been returned to the Baltimore organization from the San Diego Padres due to a sore elbow, caused by an injury in winter ball. Beene joined a team in the midst of a seven-game win streak that brought it within five games of slumping Syracuse. A week later the team was 2 1/2 back, having cut 7 1/2 games off the deficit in 12 days. Keying the surge was the starting rotation, led by Harrison (7-3), Leonhard (7-4), Kirkpatrick (7-4) and Burbach (3-0). Scott had developed into a reliable stopper (6-0; leading the IL in appearances) and the team added depth when it picked up Orlando Pena. The 37-year-old pitcher sat out the first half the season following his release from the Pittsburgh organization. The Cuban native — a forkball specialist — had played in more than 1,000 professional games. His best season was 1964, when he was second in the American League in strikeouts while pitching for the Kansas City Athletics.

Baltimore called for Dave Leonhard, but returned Terry Crowley. Crowley (“back and smiling”) found the team in the midst of another run. He stepped back in at first base. In order to keep Hutto’s bat in the lineup, Altobelli began platooning him at catcher with Oates, the sixth different position Hutto played. Twenty-three wins in 28 road games put the Wings 1 1/2 games back in what was beginning to look like a four-team race (Rochester, Syracuse, Tidewater, Charleston). Pitcher Rick Delgado was returned to the Wings from Milwaukee’s Triple-A Evansville franchise and further solidified the staff.

On July 11, Altobelli rated his team at peak strength; he feared only a recall of Grich, but liked his chances even without the all-star shortstop, stating that he had “never seen a team hit like this one” at the Triple-A level. The night after those comments, Harrison set a new team mark by fanning 18 Mud Hens before a home crowd of 10,007. He lost his shutout via a bizarre combination of a hit, two hit batsmen and a balk.

To some observers it was fated to be the year of the Wings. With the older talent that didn’t figure to return, the roster was expected to be drastically different in 1972. But for the season in progress, the parent Orioles had left the team basically intact. They also helped by trading for veteran pitchers Delgado and Pena (although he would have a short stint in Baltimore), and leaving promising hurlers Arnold and Weems with the club.

A week-long stretch of games at Silver in late July seemed to be the perfect opportunity to climb into first place. The largest crowd of the season — 15,103 — and “Hot Pants Night” were particular features of the homestand. Six consecutive wins, including four straight complete games by the starting pitchers, vaulted the Wings to a one-day hold on first. Upon a return to the road, a 7-0 Harrison blanking of Louisville put the team back into first place and 20 games above .500 (66-46) for the first time that season. League statistics released that week found the Wings hitting .286 as a team, 12 points better than second place Tidewater. The settled lineup was an offensive machine the likes of which the league had not seen for years.

Early August performances by the pitching staff made the Wings almost untouchable. Eight consecutive victories included seven straight complete games by the starters. Beene was 6-1 and looking like the ace of old. (Altobelli commented on his “perfect control,” and said Beene had the “uncanny ability to put the ball exactly where he wants to throw it.”) Harrison was 13-4, his 13th victory coming on a 14-strikeout, one-hit shutout against Syracuse. The performances were contagious; when Dave Boswell was sent down from the O’s he responded in his first outing with a similar one-hit, no-run game against Syracuse in which he carried a no-hitter in the seventh and final inning of a doubleheader game. Boswell, a 20-game winner with Minnesota in 1969, had been battling a series of injuries to his shoulder and back, along with a fluke spring training fishing accident which had torn tendons.

Anxious moments were had on Aug. 15, when Harrison was hit in the side of the head by a line drive fouled into the Wings’ dugout. He was “a little groggy,” but two days after the accident pitched his second consecutive one-hitter, and third consecutive shutout, beating the Chiefs 1-0 in the first game of doubleheader. Over the three-game span he struck out 33 batters and only allowed five hits. Fellow hurler Beene commented that he had “never seen anyone at this level who can overpower the batters so much.” Harrison pitched the game with a torn ear drum suffered in the dugout accident, the ringing sound from which kept him from hearing his pitches hit the catcher’s mitt.

When the parent Orioles showed up on Aug. 23 for the annual exhibition game, O’s Manager Earl Weaver, Harry Dalton (O’s director of player personnel) and Leonhard (who had played on both teams) played jury and unanimously agreed that the current Wings were better than the last pennant winners of 1966. Afterward, the Wings beat the parent club 4-2, and many former players waxed positively about their experiences in Rochester. Dave Johnson called Rochester “probably the best minor league baseball town in the country,” and Curt Motton opined that Silver Stadium was most likely the “finest Triple A ballpark in baseball.” Paul Blair stated that Rochester was a better baseball town than Baltimore and if a major league ballpark was built in Rochester and the O’s moved there, it would draw more than the frachise currently did in Maryland.

An Aug. 28 doubleheader sweep at Richmond clinched Rochester’s first regular season crown since 1966. The twin bill was noteworthy for two other reasons: Grich hit three home runs, giving him 31 for the year, and Beene was hit on the foot with a batted ball, putting him out most likely until the playoffs. The Wings closed out their final road trip with another win at Richmond — Harrison’s 15th — and were greeted by a big crowd at the Rochester airport as they returned.

The Wings closed with an 86-54 record (shockingly no-hit by a Syracuse rookie in the season’s final series) and there was serious debate beginning to surface as to whether or not this team was the best Rochester team ever. It was as successful a season off the field as on, with the turnstiles spinning at a near-record rate. It looked to be the most profitable year in the last two decades. Since sitting at 33-33 on June 25, the Red Wings won 53 of 74 games, a winning percentage of .716. However, any debate on how the ’71 squad fit into history would have to be postponed until the post-season results were seen.

The playoffs opened in Syracuse. The Chiefs, defending Governors’ Cup champion, had played Rochester tough over the season and served notice they would not give up their title easily, taking an early 3-0 lead in the opener. The Wings scored one in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at four, then won it in the 10th when a Baylor single scored Fazio from second base. The game was costly for the Wings however; in the sixth inning Harrison pulled a hamstring sliding into second base, an injury expected to end his season.

Beene pitched the Wings to a 5-1 win in Game Two, battling his sore foot and an sun-inflicted upset stomach which made him sick between innings. The Wings traveled home with a chance to complete a sweep, but Syracuse scored three in top of the ninth in front of 9,339 to win 8-5. With Harrison and Boswell out, the starting pitching was suddenly thin, but there was no worry when the offense came alive to spark an 11-2 victory in Game Four to capture the series 3-1. The Red Wings’ opponent in the Governors’ Cup final was second place Tidewater (79-61), which had swept the Charleston Charlies.

The series opened in Rochester and the Tides swamped starter Pena with five first-inning runs and cruised to a 12-1 victory. It was the Wings’ worst loss of the season. After the game, 20-year-old right-hander Wayne Garland was called up from Dallas-Ft. Worth, where he had gone 19-5.

Beene went the second game and when the Wings fell behind 4-0 after four frames, the crowd of 7,065 began to get a little nervous. A three-run single (with an error) in the fifth by Parrilla gave the Wings a 5-4 win and evened the series heading to Virginia.

The rookie Garland was called on to start Game Three and he responded by pitching eight strong innings, allowing one run, six hits, five walks and seven strikeouts. The Red Wings took a 2-1 victory on an 11th inning sacrifice fly. Scott got his second save of the series and right fielder Parrilla made “Ron Swoboda”-like diving catches of line drives in both extra frames.

The Tides knotted the series the next day, scheduled to be the last game of the season for Oates, who was returning to military duty. Tidewater scored two in the bottom of the eighth to take a 4-2 win. Grich hit a two-run homer in the third to account for Rochester’s runs.

The deciding Game Five in Norfolk was to match Wings’ sometime-starter Manz, who had clinched the pennant against Syracuse, against Tidewater ace John Matlack. But two straight rainouts allowed Altobelli to give the ball to Beene, 9-1 since his return to Rochester, including the playoffs. Beene went a gutsy 6 1/3 innings, leaving in the seventh, when a ground-rule double cost the Tides the tying run. Grich and Crowley had home runs, and Parrilla had two, including a two-run shot in the top of the ninth which gave the Wings the needed insurance runs in an 8-5 victory.

The victory game the Wings two legs of their “Triple Crown.” They went on to face the Denver Bears in the Junior World Series. The Bears were only 73-67 during the American Association regular season, but beat the pennant winners from Indianapolis in the playoffs. All games would be played at Silver, as the Bears lost use of Mile High Stadium to the Denver Broncos. The teams would alternate home and visitor status.

The Wings matched their clincher against Tidewater with an 8-5 win in Game One. Once again Rochester was down early — 4-1 — but tied the game with three in the fifth, behind a Coggins two-run double. The game stayed even at four until the Wings scored four in the bottom of the eighth, half of those on a home run by Crowley. Oates entered the game in the fifth inning after coming up from Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where he was fulfilling his reserve duty. After the game he took a plane to Syracuse, then drove to the Boston-area base, returning at 5 a.m. in time for two hours of sleep before seven o’clock reveille.

The Wings took Game Two in similar fashion. The Bears surrendered 3-1 and 4-2 leads, and the game was tied at four heading into the eighth. This time pinch hitter Larry Johnson doubled in Hutto with the go-ahead run. Beene was inserted as a pinch runner for Johnson and scored on a Coggins single for the final run in a 6-4 victory. Garland battled for the win, allowing 10 hits in seven innings. Pena got the save, pitching despite the news of his father’s death.

In Game Three, Grich hit his fifth home run in five games, but the Bears, facing the prospect of going down three games, walked away with a 3-2 victory over Kirkpatrick. Beene answered with a complete game, fanning 12 Bears en route to an 11-3 win in Game Four, giving the Wings a commanding 3-1 series’ lead.

Denver bounced back the next night, downing Rochester 9-5 in front of 11,993, the largest crowd of the series. It was a see-saw affair. Denver put four on the board in the third, only to see the Wings tie with three of their own in the third, and a single run in the fourth. The third-inning rally was sparked by a pinch-hit single by Pete Ward, a non-playing coach during the year. The Bears put another crooked number up in the seventh, pushing across three runs to take the win and make the series 3-2. The final margin could have been wider, as rocket-armed Parrilla threw out two men at the plate.

As damaging as the loss was the recall of Grich, due to an injury to Baltimore shortstop Mark Belanger. Grich, hitting .428 in the series with three home runs, started the next night for the Orioles and had three hits. O’s skipper Earl Weaver defended the move, arguing that by all rights Grich should have been in the majors all year. “I hope the people understand. I love Rochester. There isn’t a better baseball town in America,” Weaver further stated. “When the big leagues start talking expansion they should forget Dallas-Ft. Worth and take Rochester. Stick a new stadium between Rochester and Syracuse or Buffalo and you’d have a franchise.”

Weaver’s affections didn’t soothe feelings, but two days of rain helped. Game Six was pushed back, allowing some rest for the beleaguered Rochester starting corps. The staff was nonetheless stretched to the breaking point in the game, a wild 12-11 Denver win. Ten pitchers between the two teams surrendered 33 hits. Each squad blew four-run leads. The “visiting” Wings had a 4-0 lead after an inning-and-a-half, keyed by a Baylor inside-the-park home run to the notch in left center. Denver rallied to take an 8-4 lead, but the Wings answered with four in the top of the fifth. Baylor led off the inning with another home run, and later in the frame Ferraro smacked a three-run shot to tie. The Bears again surged ahead and took a 12-8 lead into the ninth. The Wings scored three to pull within one run, but pinch hitter Beene made the final out. Parrilla threw out another runner at home plate, his third of the series.

The game was also notable for the conduct of the Rochester fans, Aware of the fact that the Bears had to play the entire series on the road, the 7,517 in attendance cheered each Denver player during the introduction of the starting lineup, and in fact gave the entire team a standing ovation.

The fans were less likely to be as charitable for Game Seven, as any discussion of a place for the ’71 Red Wings on the list of all-time great Rochester teams would be dependent on a Junior World Series championship. The omens weren’t positive. It would be the 13th game played without Grich in the lineup, and the Wings were 0-12 without him. Rochester started fast, with two in the bottom of the first, but the Bears pushed across four in the third, and held a 5-4 lead going into the sixth. Beene, available to start due to the two days of rain, played a large role in the Wings’ three-run sixth; first hitting a run-scoring bad-hop single to tie, then wiping out the Bear shortstop on a potential inning-ending double play ball. The Wings put up a single run in the seventh, and Beene lasted until the eighth, when he tired, giving up hits to the first two batters.

Pena took the ball, and prevented a big inning, but Denver pushed across a run to close to 8-6. Rochester added a run in the bottom of the inning and Pena pitched a perfect ninth, closing out the 9-6 win. It was the franchise’s fourth Junior World Series championship.

Coggins had four hits and scored five runs in the game. He (.407), Oates (.529), Baylor (.481) and Parrilla (.481) each had strong series. But there was no doubt of the inspirational hero: the diminutive right-hander who had pitched series-clinching victories in the deciding games against Tidewater for the Governors’ Cup championship, and against Denver in the Junior World Series. The Rochester faithful knew it too — a number of them stormed the field after the final strikeout, stealing the bases and digging up the mound. Their chant echoed of “We want Beene, We want Beene,” echoed into the darkness that surrounded the ballpark on Norton Street.

Altobelli’s peers and local observers agreed it was a team that came along only once in a era. The success of the parent Orioles (their third consecutive World Series appearance) allowed for the Wings’ lineup to remain consistent. With the talent in that lineup — and the positive attitudes — the second-half domination was no fluke. Bobby Grich ended the season as the league’s Most Valuable Player and captured batting (.336), runs (124) and home run (32) crowns, while adding 83 RBI. He was also awarded a Silver Glove for his defensive work, and along with his IL all-star selection, was tabbed by The Sporting News as the Minor League Player of the Year. Don Baylor joined Grich as an all-star, continuing to prove he was too good for the Triple-A level. He hit .313, with 20 home runs and 95 RBI. He led the league in doubles with 31 and added 10 triples, 104 runs and 26 stolen bases. Richie Coggins hit .282 with 20 home runs and 18 steals, and threatened the team record of 22 home runs for a leadoff hitter, set by Merv Rettenmund in 1968. Terry Crowley hit 19 home runs in only 259 at-bats. The two most surprising cogs in the offensive machine were Sam Parrilla and Jim Hutto. Parrilla hit .332 and added 70 RBI, while making dramatic plays with his glove and arm in right field. Hutto played all over the diamond, hitting .285, with 15 home runs and 73 RBI. The team batted a cumulative .282 and scored 671 runs, an average of close to five runs a game.

Mike Ferraro and Don Fazio were quieter with the bats, but their solid gloves anchored the infield. In November, Ferraro, who made only four errors all season and had a 61-game errorless streak, joined Grich as a recipient of a Silver Glove. The nine awards (one for each position) were given across all minor league levels and Rochester was the only team with two representatives.

Roric Harrison was the undisputed ace of the pitching staff. He ended his season with a 15-5 mark, a 2.75 ERA, 182 strikeouts in 170 innings and a spot on the league’s all-star team. He topped the league in strikeouts and tied for the lead in wins. Bill Kirkpatrick (11-10, 3.82) and John Montague (8-6, 4.25) were the other workhorses. George Manz (8-5) was versatile as a spare starter. A number of other hurlers played parts of their seasons in Rochester and contributed, most notably Fred Beene (7-1) and Bill Burbach (7-2). The bullpen trio of Orlando Pena, Ray Miller and Mickey Scott (9-1, nine saves) were dependable closers.

It was a team that had everything, but the adroit managing of Altobelli also earned attention. A rival manager gave Altobelli high marks for maintaining the morale of players sent down by Baltimore, while another observer noted that the Rochester skipper had the rare ability to get along with his players while letting them know he was boss. Altobelli’s contribution was noted by his selection as the International League’s Manager of the Year.

It was a season to remember. With the extra post-season games, 436,974 fans passed through Silver Stadium’s turnstiles. The announced off-season profit of $83,892, second highest in RCB history, made the season even more sweeter. The profit would have been higher (an estimated record $160,000) if the Wings had not engaged in “some costly renovation” at Silver. The increase in revenue had also pushed the team into a higher tax bracket, nearly tripling levies from $26,000 to $75,500. It was nonetheless the sixth consecutive year RCB was in the black and further solidified the franchise’s financial footing.

Copyright © 1997 Brian A. Bennett. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system - except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper - without permission in writing from the publisher. For information, please contact Triphammer Publishing, P.O. Box 45, Scottsville, NY 14546-0045.