50 Years in 50 Days: 1976 (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 36.

36 Years Ago:
The Foxes celebrate the bicentennial spiffy cover:

Why all the red, white, and blue?

Team Name: Appleton Foxes
MLB Affiliate: Chicago White Sox
Manager: Jim Napier (1st year)
1st Half: 24-38 (5th, North Division)
2nd Half: 32-36 (3rd, North Division)
Overall: 56-74

Future MLB Players:
Shortstop Harry Chappas hit .262 with four homers in 102 games
Pitcher Fred Howard (0-0, 4.85) in six relief appearances over 13 innings

Your 1976 Appleton Foxes!

Category Leaders:
AVG: Harry Chappas – .262
HR: Curt Etchandy – 14
WINS: Jay Attardi & Mitch Lukevics – 10
ERA: Mitch Lukevics – 3.00
IP: Jay Attardi – 162.

End of An Era Stat: The 1976 season was the year – apparently – when the DH rule made its down to the Midwest League.  A few pitchers hit games, but nowhere near the level of the previous season.

It’s Not the Size of the Man in the Fight; It’s the Size of the Fight in the Man Stat: Harry Chappas is listed at 5’7″ & 150 pounds.

It got him on this SI cover.

You can read about ‘The Littlest Rookie’ in the SIVault starting with page 24 at this link.

Sorry, Silvio.  Sorry, Phil. We Are Sending You To Clinton Stat:  Outfielder Silvio Robles and Catcher Phil Trucks split time between the Foxes and the Clinton Pilots in 1976.  The Pilots were a co-op team in 1976.

Future Director of Minor League Operations Stat:

Mitch Lukevics from 2006 mlb.com story

Mitch Lukevics was as second round pick of the White Sox in 1975.  He pitched for the Foxes in 1976 and was in the system until 1980.  After his playing career…well, here is an article from December, 1988 from The Morning Call…Lehigh Valley’s Newspaper.

It’s a long way – 1,170 miles, to be precise – from the pitcher’s mound at Liberty High’s Sheridan Field to the New York Yankees’ brand new minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.

For Mitch Lukevics, it’s been a 16-year journey, a journey that frequently took him down back roads and through backwater towns.

Lukevics was a standout pitcher for Bernie Fritz’s 1970 through 1972 Hurricane teams and later at Penn State. At Liberty, he won seven letters in three sports.

Last Thursday, he accepted the post of Director of Minor League Operations for the New York Yankees.

Lukevics was drafted by the White Sox in June of 1975 after he compiled an 11-1 record at Penn State (the loss came in the opening game of the College World Series in Omaha). He was released after bouncing around the backwaters of the minor leagues for six years (and substitute teaching in Bethlehem in the off-seasons), but Dave Dombrowski, who was the Sox’ director of player personnel at the time, offered him a job as a minor pitching instructor.

Since then, Lukevics has been out of baseball operations for just weeks – and his rise has been, frankly, almost meteoric.

“My first six years in pro ball were as a player,” he reminisced last night. “Then came five more as a coach. When ‘Hawk’ Harrelson and Alvin Dark took over, they fired all of us except one coach. But, within six weeks, they rehired me and put me in the administrative end.

“Under Harrelson and Dark, I was Administrative Assistant for Player Development and Scouting. When they were let go, I became Minor League Administrator for Larry Himes, the Sox’ current general manager.

Leave the “backwaters” comment out of the mix and it’s a pretty interesting note.  Especially the Hawk Harrelson stuff.  That would have been right around the time that the Foxes & White Sox parted ways.

Part of Lukevics rise out of the “backwaters” was a stop as the pitching coach of the Foxes in 1985.

These days, Lukevics is the Director of Minor League Operations for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Here’s a little something I found on e*bay

Nine cards featuring players from the 1976 Foxes.

Lukevics is the middle card on the bottom row. Click the image to see all of the players.

1976 MWL Season:
North Division: Appleton, Dubuque, Wisconsin Rapids, Waterloo, & Wausau.
South Division: Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Danville, & Quad Cities.

The main change, as noted above, was Clinton became a co-op team for 1976.  They had been a Tigers affiliate in 1975.

1976 MWL All-Star Game:
Riverview Stadium in Clinton hosted the All-Star Game on July 12, 1976.  The game was a contest between a squad of MWL All-Stars and the Iowa Oaks, who were once again the AAA affiliate of the White Sox.

The All-Stars had the game locked up until three errors in the top of the ninth inning gave the Oaks a two run ninth and a 5-3 win.  Many former Foxes appeared in the game for the Oaks.  Most notably there was Jack Kucek as the starting pitcher, Nyls Nyman, and George Enright both got starts.  And Silvano Robles was called up just to play in this game…apparently.

Also, click the link for the boxscore and look at who came into to pinch hit for Sonny Jackson and play third base.  (Hint: Initials are TLR)

Mitch Lukevics was selected to play in the game, but did not pitch.  The only 1976 Foxe to see action in the All-Star Game was pitcher Bill Lehman, who tossed a scoreless seventh inning.

1976 MWL Postseason:
Waterloo won both halves of the Northern Division to receive a bye into the Championship Series.  Quad Cities beat Cedar Rapids in a one game playoff for the right to face the Royals in the finals for the second year in a row….BUT…

Waterloo won their second straight MWL title with a sweep of the best-of-three Finals.

1976 MWL Alum of Note:
Joe Maddon (Quad Cities Angels)

Joe Maddon wants YOU to remember his time in the Midwest League. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

If I chose to single out the current Tampa Bay Rays Director of Minor League Operations, OF COURSE I’m going to pick the current manager of the Tampa Bay Rays for this segment.

Maddon appeared in just 50 games for the Angels during his first season of professional baseball.  He hit .294 with no homers.  Maddon will return to the Midwest League as the manager in Peoria during 1984 as part of his climb to be the manager of the Rays for the 2006 season.  Since taking over in Tampa, Maddon has made the playoffs three times and won one AL pennant.

This is the mlb.com story from which I got he picture of Mitch Lukevics and it has a little about the relationship between the two former Midwest League rivals:

Lukevics admits the only offseason he has falls on Thanksgiving and Christmas. After 32 years in professional baseball, though, it doesn’t bother him a bit. It’s even better, he said, with a Major League manager like Joe Maddon spearheading the cause of the importance of Lukevics’ role with the Rays organization.

“[Maddon] just re-emphasizes what we’ve done in the past all along, and continues to stress [fundamentals],” Lukevics said. “It’s absolutely great. Joe knows what we do on the farm because he’s done it a long time as well. I think he and our entire Major League staff have an appreciation for what we go through on a daily basis.”

One more future MLB Manager:
Clint Hurdle (Waterloo Royals)

Clint Hurdle on the cover of the March 20, 1978 issue of SI.

Hurdle was the ninth pick in the 1975 draft.  He was 17.  In 1976, at the age of 18, he hit 19 homers and helped lead Waterloo to the pennant.  Hurdle’s MLB career lasted 515 games as a player, but he has won 534 games as a major league manager – so far – and he heads into this season as the skipper of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

1976 Brewer Farmhand:
Ed Romero (Burlington Bees)

The card screams utility man and mustache. And I loved him for both.

Romero was the only position player from the 1976 Bees to make the major leagues.  Romero filled an important utility role for the Brewers from 1980 through 1985.  He went to the Red Sox from 1986-1989 and finished his career with Atlanta (1989), Milwaukee again (still 1989), and Detroit (1990).

Romero played in over 100 games for the Brewers in 1984 and reached 100 games for the Red Sox in 1986.

He was a career .247 hitter and belted eight home runs in 730 games over 12 seasons.

The moment in the sun for Romero was in the final game of the 1982 season.  He got the start over Jim Ganter at second base as the Brewers battled the Orioles for the AL East pennant.  However, Keith Jackson & Howard Cosell kept calling Romero Gantner.  Seriously.  Here is the third SI reference in this post.

TITANIC AWARD FOR DISASTER AT SEA—To ABC for its coverage of the Brewers-Orioles game on the final day of the American League season. Director Chet Forte missed Ben Oglivie‘s sliding catch in the leftfield corner, which may have saved the year for Milwaukee. Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell mistook Ed Romero for Jim Gantner for five innings. Once clued in, Jackson left the impression that Romero, who had started, had just then pinch-hit for Gantner. To the lifeboats, gentlemen.

Whoa, Nelly!

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

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