50 Years in 50 Days: 1972 (UPDATED)

Fifty years ago, Appleton Professional Baseball joined the Midwest League. As part of 50 Years in 50 Days, Rattler Radio is counting down to April 5 with a look back at each season of Appleton Professional Baseball team since 1962 (with a lot of help from MWLGuide.com and baseball-reference.com). The countdown to Opening Day, 2012 has reached 40.

40 Years Ago:
The 1972 Foxes get a huge dose of Vitamin Lamar for another run at the MWL pennant.

The 1972 Souvenir Program of the Foxes

Team Name: Appleton Foxes
MLB Affiliate: Chicago White Sox
Manager: Bert Thiel  (1st Year)
1st Half: 36-28 (3rd, North Division)
2nd Half: 40-23 (1st, North Division)
Overall: 76-51

The 1972 Foxes

Future MLB Players:
2B Mike Buskey hit .265 with two homers in 122 games
Catcher George Enright hit .230 with no homers in 25 games
Pitcher Jeff Holly (5-5, 4.58) in 39 games – no starts – over 59 innings
Pitcher/Outfielder Bart Johnson hit .329 with six homers in 50 games AND was 1-0 with a 0.53ERA in 5 games – 2 starts – over 17 innings.
First Baseman Lamar Johnson hit .313 with 26 homers over 114 games

Lamar Johnson on his 1980 TOPPS card. He is a member of the Appleton Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.

Category Leaders:
AVG: Lamar Johnson – .313
HR: Lamar Johnson – 26
WINS: Harold McClain – 13
ERA: Harold McClain – 2.31
IP: Paul Patterson – 183

That’s the Modern Record Stat:  Lamar Johnson was THE MAN in 1972.  His 26 home runs is a modern record (1958-present) for home runs in a season for Appleton Pro Baseball.  Johnson was one of the most popular players in Foxes history and considering how hard it was to hit home runs at Goodland Field, you can understand why he was.

What Are You Doing Back Here Stat: Bart Johnson was the 2nd overall pick in the 1968 draft by the White Sox.  He won 16 games for the Foxes in 1969 and made his MLB debut in 1969.  He went 12-10 with 14 saves for the White Sox in 1971 and was on their Opening Day Roster.  Then,

[Q]: In 1972 the strike shortened season, you started in the bullpen. That first weekend in Kansas City you got charged with two extra inning losses in back to back days and you didn’t seem yourself that year. Did that just screw with your head, was there an injury, because by June 3rd you were shipped back to the minors and never got called back up.(Author’s Note: Johnson’s short season was punctuated in a game on June 3rd. In relief against the Yankees, Bart gave up eight runs (three earned), with five walks in two innings of an 18-10 loss at home.)  

BJ: “I was supposed to be what’s now termed the ‘closer’ for the Sox that year and I got two losses in about 18 hours. I was hurt. I hurt my right knee the off season playing basketball. I immediately told the Sox about it and they examined me and said the knee was basically OK but I did tear some cartilage. I rehabbed it hard, I gave it an honest attempt but when I went out to pitch I just couldn’t push off it. When they told me I was going to be sent back down I didn’t want to go because they were the one’s who told me that the knee was OK. They said if I didn’t go that I’d be suspended so I went back to Appleton. They wound up operating on my knee that September.”


On a calmer note, Bart Johnson had great baseball cards.  I am partial to his 1975 card:

Johnson is also a member of the Appleton Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.

Some may be partial to his 1976 card:

Everyone had hair like that in 1976...except Telly Savalas

Keep in mind that he looked like this in the late 60’s:

A younger Bart Johnson

What Does That Average Out To Stat:  Paul Patterson made 28 starts in 1972.  He pitched 183 innings.  That averaged out to about 6-1/2 innings per start.  He was 12-9 with a 3.20ERA.  His WHIP (Walks + Hits/ Innings Pitched) = 1.31 (59 Walks + 180 Hits/ 183IP).

Hey, Bert Stat: Bert Thiel, the manager of the Foxes for the 1972 season is from Marion, Wisconsin*.

Marion, Wisconsin native Bert Thiel as a pitcher for the Boston Braves.

Thiel pitched four games in the majors with the Boston Braves in 1952.  He was a minor leaguer from 1947 through 1959 with stops in Eau Claire and Milwaukee – when the Brewers were a Triple A team in the American Association.  He became a minor league manager in 1960 and also made an mound appearance in 1961 with Pocatello.  He spent time as a scout before coming to Appleton for 1971.  His Bullpen page notes that after baseball he returned to Marion and opened a bar called Bert’s 10th Inning.  Can any of our Marion readers help me out and let me know where this was?

*What is it with that town?  As noted in the 1968 entry, Ken Frailing was from there, too.

1972 MWL Season:
North Division: Appleton, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Wisconsin Rapids, & Waterloo.  South Division: Burlington, Danville, Decatur, Quincy, & Quad Cities in the South.

Here is the Foxes schedule for 1972.  Note the date for Opening Day:

Catcher Joe's Tavern is now The Apple Pub.

Also, there was a special guest for Opening Day at Goodland Field in 1972.  Click for a larger image:

1972 MWL All-Star Game:
On July 24, 1972, the Wisconsin Rapids Twins hosted the Midwest League All-Star Game.  As in years past, the host team took on the MWL All-Stars.  However, despite having 10 pitchers on the roster, the All-Stars only had three pitchers available for the game.

The score was tied 1-1 after ten innings.  I’ll let Joel Dinda’s MWL Guide take it from there:

Officially: The All-Stars tied the Twins, 1-1, in ten innings in a classic pitcher’s duel. WR’s Ken Dempsey had three hits and scored his team’s run. No pitchers got any decisions, of course.

Alternatively, and widely reported: The All-Stars beat the Twins, 6-1, in eleven innings. Mike Buskey knocked in two runs for the winners, including the ninth-inning run that put the game into extra innings. Tony Velazquez got the win as pitcher of record in the top of the eleventh; Twins manager Jay Ward was the losing pitcher.

How this came to pass: League VP Roger Crow, who’d originally persuaded everyone on the field to agree to play the eleventh with the managers on the mound, made the decision to discard the last inning, perhaps after consulting with others. WR Tribune Sports Editor Bob Des Jarlais called the outcome “Wisconsin Rapids’ biggest baseball farce.”

And you thought the Miller Park All-Star Game in 2002 was ridiculous.

A bigger farce was that Lamar Johnson was not the starting first baseman for the MWL All-Stars.  Kim Cates of Clinton was the starter.

Other Foxes in the lineup that day were Catcher Mike Reynolds and shortstop Mike Buskey.  Pitchers Paul Patterson and Paul Sands were on the All-Star roster, but did not play.

Appleton defeated Wisconsin Rapids in the one game playoff to see which team would represent the North Division in the Finals.  The Danville Warriors, Milwaukee’s MWL Affiliate, won both halves in the South to gain a bye into the Championship Series.

In the finals, Danville swept the Foxes in a best-of-three series.

Sixto Lezcano (Danville Warriors: .270 with 10 homers in 114 games at the age of 18):

Sixto Lexcano was awesome! No one denies this!

I could go on for days about Sixto Lezcano and most of it would be about his Opening Day Walk Off Grand Slam to beat the Red Sox on Opening Day in 1980 at County Stadium. I loved watching him play.  I loved the way that Bob Betts announced, “Sssixxxxtoooooooo Lezzzzzzcaaannnnnnooooooo!” when it was time for #16 hit.  I was really happy when he won a Gold Glove for the 1979 season.  I understand why he had to be part of the trade with the Cardinals that brought Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers for the 1981 season..but I hated that trade at the time.

We’ve got to get him here for a Brewers Sunday.

Another MWL Alum of Note:
The 1972 season was Jim Leyland’s second year as a manager.  He took over as the skipper of the Clinton Pilots, a Detroit Tigers affiliate at the time, for 1972.  Leyland managed the Pilots again in 1973 and from there it was on to the big leagues…eventually.

A mustache free Jim Leyland. From LumberKings.com

Opening Day, 2012 is April 5.  Get here soon!


The bar was in Pella, Wisconsin

I know Bert very well. The 10th inning was in Pella, Wi….Bert still lives in the house right next door to his old tavern. Bert truly is a great man. What a person to talk with. Oh my the stories he has can go on for hours….

Thanks you Zach & Tyler. The webpage I used for reference stated that the tavern was in Marion not Pella.

If Bert is interested in coming down to a Timber Rattlers game this summer, please have him get in touch with me through the business office at the stadium.

I would love to talk to him about the good times at Goodland Field and a certain project that I am working on for the team.

Chris Mehring

Hi, I’m David. I love your blog. It’s very interesting and well written. I was wondering if you could check mine out. I’m a kid who just started to blog. Please comment advice. http://wp.me/29yiz

I wrote this when Bert was inducted into the Leopolis Baseball Hall of Fame. You get Bert something to do at a Rattler game and you’ll have busloads of fans from around here. Steve Conradt/Leopolis Bulldogs

Bert Thiel
When one talks about baseball in this area one of the first individuals that comes to mind is Bert Thiel. For those who have had the honor to watch him play or later have him as their coach one thing is clear. He was a competitor. Once inside the confines of a baseball field Bert had one thing on his mind, winning.

Born in May of 1926 the Thiel family at that time was no stranger to baseball. His father Art had already launched an impressive career that would eventually land him in the Leopolis Baseball Hall of Fame as one of it’s first inductees in 2003. Bert was one of six boys born to Art and Ann Thiel. One sister would join the pack for their family. Bert said that early on in life he would be playing baseball every night. At that time there wasn’t much of anything to do in this area. His father and mother had allowed others to stay with the family as times were tough.

Bert started his organized baseball career in Leopolis at the age of 16 in 1942. At that time Leopolis had strong pitchers in Floyd Kristof and Joe Stezenski. Bert wanted to pitch so in 1943 Bert went to pitch for Caroline and later for the Clintonville Truckers. Three professional scouts had their eye on him in 1944. In 1944 Bert entered the Service. Though in the service he hooked up with some very good players and played in Europe. While in the Service Bert pitched a nine inning no-hitter. Discharged in 1947 Bert played one game for Leopolis. He struck out twenty batters. Bert then went to Borchert Field in Milwaukee for a tryout and was signed to play professional baseball for the Boston Braves.

His professional career started in Eau Claire, Wi. in 1947. Eau Claire was a farm club of the Boston Braves. In 1948 Bert went to Jackson, Mississippi. At Jackson he compiled a 20 game winning season. While at Jackson he met his bride to be Jean. In 1949 Bert moved on to Hartford, Connecticut where he had a 9-10 season. Although pitching a no hitter that year he started to develop some arm trouble. He was sent to Boston where some chips were taken out of his elbow. He continued pitching in Hartford in 1950 and won 15 games. In 1951 Bert got closer to home being with Milwaukee. At that time Milwaukee was the “Triple A” team of the Boston Braves. While in Milwaukee in 1951 Bert won 15 games including another no-hitter. In 1952 Bert had an 8-6 record . Bert also did get called up to the Boston Braves at this time and did some pitching out of the bullpen for the major league team. Also in 1952 he pitched some winter ball in Puerto Rico. Winning 15 games and 7 of those were shutouts. In 1953 the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee and the “Triple A” farm club was moved to Toledo, Ohio. That year Toledo won the pennant. Bert continued pitching with Toledo in 1954. Posting a 16-12 record despite the fact that Toledo finished the season in seventh place. In 1955 Bert continued with Toledo as a starter and was then moved to the bullpen compiling a 7-6 record. In 1956 Bert played for Jacksonville, Florida. In 1956 Bert played in Dallas, Texas and compiled an 18-11 record and was named “Texas League Player of the Year.” In 1957 he went to San Francisco and compiled a 4-3 record. Bert remembers pitching (and winning) the last game played at old Seals Stadium. In 1958 Bert went to Minneapolis compiling a 7-6 record. Bert said he had a 5-2 record as a starter, but was sent to the bullpen so the young guys could pitch. In 1959 Bert started the season with Minneapolis but was released. He thought his career was done. But he got called to pitch in Corpus Christie, Texas and New Orleans compiling an 11-10 record. In 1960 Bert managed for Kansas City in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1961 he managed in Pocatello, Idaho which was also associated with Kansas City. In 1962 Bert started his scouting career for Kansas City. At this time he had 8 states to cover. (Also in 1962 Bert was scouting in Billings, Montana. It was Saturday and he drove through the night so he could pitch at Leopolis the next day.) 1963 – 1969 he scouted for the Washington Senators and was a minor league pitching coach. 1970-1971 Bert scouted 8 states for the Atlanta Braves. 1972-1973 Bert managed the Appleton Foxes. Finishing his career in 1974 he managed for an independent club in Dubuque, Iowa. Bert continued his association with the Leopolis Team. Spending several more years as manager.

Bert pitched behind some of the greatest pitchers in history. That is one reason he pitched so many games in the minor leagues. He had pitchers Warren Spahn, Lou Burdette, and Bob Buhl ahead of him. That was a hard bunch to crack. Bert also remembers Ted Williams asking him several times to come and throw him some pitches to hit. For that Ted would slip him $20.00. Bert also laughed about the year he roomed with Jimmy Piersall. It’s a long story so ask Bert.

His professional career spanned 28 years. Bert said “baseball gave me everything. It doesn’t owe me anything.” Though on the road for 28 years Bert and his wife Jean had 9 children. Enough to start their own team. I’ll bet Jean is happy there was no such thing as the designated hitter back then or they may have had a family of 10. One could go on and write a book on this person life. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is his love for his family. Although Bert spent many days away from his home his family was never off his mind. His wife Jean could very well go into the Hall of Fame as a wife and mother.

This isn’t Cooperstown, but this community couldn’t be prouder to have you in the Leopolis Baseball Hall of Fame.

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