50 Years in 50 Days: 1978

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 34.

34 Years Ago:
The Foxes had the greatest season in Appleton Baseball History.

The cover of the 1978 Foxes program

Team Name: Appleton Foxes
MLB Affiliate: Chicago White Sox
Manager: Gordy Lund (4th year)
1st Half: 51-17 (1st, North Division)
2nd Half: 46-23 (2nd, North Division)
Overall: 97-40

Future MLB Players:
Outfielder Rod Allen hit .243 with seven homers and 55 RBI in 100 games
Pitcher Ross Baumgarten (9-1, 1.82) in 10 games – all starts
Pitcher Britt Burns (3-2, 2.40) in 6 games – all starts
Shortstop Harry Chappas hit .302 with a homer, 62RBI, and 60 Stolen Bases in 130 games
Pitcher Mark Esser (9-2, 4.29) in 41 games – one start
Infielder/Outfielder Lorenzo Gray hit .293 with two homers and 35RBI in 100 games
Pitcher Guy Hoffman (2-0, 2.38) in seven games – four starts
Pitcher LaMarr Hoyt (18-4, 2.90) in 28 games – 27 starts
First Baseman Chris Nyman hit .292 with five homers and 20 RBI in 22 games
Pitcher Dewey Robinson (10-3, 1.72) in 50 games – zero starts
Outfielder Leo Sutherland hit .263 with four homers and 50 RBI in 127 games

Your 1978 Appleton Foxes!

Category Leaders:
AVG: Harry Chappas – .302
HR: Curt Etchandy – 17
RBI: John Hanley – 68
SB: Harry Chappas – 60
OPS: Harry Chappas – .802
WINS: Lamar Hoyt – 18
ERA: Jackie Smith – 2.89
IP: Lamar Hoyt – 189

Up to Eleven Stat:  The Foxes outscored opponents 731-550 for the 137 game season.  The Pythagorean System extrapolates that run differential out to a record of 86-51.  The Foxes finished the year with a 97-40 record meaning that they outperformed the expected win total by ELEVEN!

Versatility Stat:  Lorenzo Gray appeared in 100 games for the Foxes in 1978.  His position breakdown was: 1B-44; OF-23; 3B-16; 2B-3; and SS-1.  That leaves 13 games in which he either appeared as the DH or as a pinch hitter.

Let’s Be Curt About This Stat:  Curt Etchandy spent all of 1976, part of 1977, and all of 1978 with the Appleton  Foxes.  He led the Foxes team in home runs in 1976 and 1978 and tied for the team lead in homers in 1977.  Etchandy hit 39 homers in 319 games for the Appleton Foxes.

Durable At Any Size:  Harry Chappas (all 5’7″, 150 of him) played 130 of 137 games at short for the Foxes in 1978.  He was voted by the fans as the most popular Foxes player in 1978.  Oh, and how did Chappas lead the Foxes in OPS at .802 despite just one home run?  He had 23 doubles, 14 triples, and 71 walks in 564 plate appearances.

Eighteen Stat: LaMarr Hoyt had one spectacular season for the Foxes.  A record of 18-4 in 28 games (27 starts).  He went on to win the AL Cy Young Award in 1983 with a 24-10 record.

Double LaMarr!

A Record Year Stat:  The Foxes won 51 games in the first half and 97 games overall.  Add to that LaMarr Hoyt winning 18 games, Chappas stealing 60 bases – with the team stealing 241, and the the Foxes drawing over 93,000 fans…Well, you can see why this was the best season in Foxes history and why they were considered one of the top 100 teams in MiLB history.

Three of the Foxes – Chappas, Ross Baumgarten and Britt Burns – finished the year with the fifth-place parent Chicago White Sox, an unusual number of players going directly from Class A to the majors. All of the three enjoyed modest success in the years to come. In 1979, Baumgarten had a 13-8, 3.54 ERA record for Chicago, one of the leading rookie pitchers in the American League that year. Burns was the the American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1980 (15-13, 2.84 ERA) and was a member of the American League team for the 1981 Major League All-Star Game, but did not pitch. After an 18-11, 3.96 ERA year in 1985, Burns was traded to the Yankees, but never pitched an inning for them, his career abruptly ended by an injury.

Check this list

1978 MWL Season:
North Division: Appleton, Wisconsin Rapids, Waterloo, & Wausau.
South Division: Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, & Quad Cities.

Two teams, the Foxes & Waterloo, won more than 90 games in 1978.  None of the other eight teams were above .500 for the season.  Burlington, the Brewers affiliate, finished right at .500 with a 69-69 record.

1978 MWL All-Star Game:
The Waterloo Indians hosted the All-Star Game on June 6, 1978.  This game was still a squad of MWL All-Stars facing a Triple-A team from the American Association.  But, the Omaha Royals took over for the Iowa Oaks.  The MWL won the game 11-7.

Six Foxes appeared in this game as MWL All-Stars.  Ross Baumgarten was the starting pitcher for the MWL.  Leo Sutherland (LF), Harry Chappas (SS), and Curt Etchandy (3B) were in the starting lineup.  John Hanley (DH) and Mark Esser (P) entered the game later.  Oddly, LaMarr Hoyt was not selected to the squad, which was managed by Gordy Lund, the skipper of the Foxes.

One former Fox played for the Omaha Royals.  Art Kusnyer (Foxes,  ’67 & ’68) hit fifth and was the catcher for the Royals.

MWL Guide has the boxscore with some details.

1978 MWL Post Season:
The two 90+ win teams faced off in the North Division playoffs and the Foxes swept Waterloo in a best-of-three.
Burlington swept Quad Cities in the South Division Playoffs.

In the 1978 MWL Finals, Appleton beat the Bees in Game Three of a best-0f-three series.  Despite 100 wins prior to Game Three of the MWL Finals AND leads of 6-0 and 7-3 in Game Three, a win by the Foxes was anything but a sure thing.

The Bees chipped a run off the lead in the bottom of the sixth on Foley’s opposite field homer and made it a 9-7 contest with three in the bottom of the eighth. A double play after Smith singled prevented an even bigger rally. Bass walked, Foley beat out an infield hit and Duke Duncan lined his seventh homer of the season to left. After Chris Carstenson singles, Lund called Smith in to retire pinch-hitter Terry Bevington on a fly to left.

Vuksan gave his team some breathing room and provided the eventual winning run with his two out, two run homer to center in the ninth.

Smith didn’t retire a hitter in the ninth as Ivan Rodriguez doubled to left. Manning cracked his seventh home run of the season and Bobby Smith tripled to center. John Skorochocki greeted Robinson with a single to left to score Smith, but then Bahns and Robinson went to work to preserve the victory.

Also, the Bees had home field advantage over the Foxes, despite Appleton’s 97 win regular season.

On top of it all, Goodland Field was honored in 1978, too.

Bud was a definite Friend of the Foxes. Bowie Kuhn attended the Red Smith Banquet.

1978 MWL Alum of Note:
Chili DavisCedar Rapids Giants

Chili Davis was with the Cedar Rapids Giants in 1978. He went on to play 19 years in the big leagues.

Davis hit .281 with 16 homers in 124 games for Cedar Rapids.  During his long and well-traveled major league career, Davis collected 2,380 hits.  His 350 home runs ranks as #5 on the list of career homers by a switch-hitter.  Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones, and Lance Berkman are the only switch-hitters to hit more career homers than Davis.

1978 Brewers Alum of Note:
Kevin BassBurlington Bees

Kevin Bass in 1978

At this point of Brewers history, Kevin Bass was one of the hot prospects in the Brewers system.  He was the second round pick of the Brewers in the 1977 draft.

He came up with the Brewers in 1982, but only played 18 games for the Crew before being part of the trade with the Astros that brought Don Sutton to Milwaukee.

At some point, Bass grew a glorious mustache

Kevin Bass with the Astros.

He was an All-Star AND finished 7th in NL MVP voting  in 1986.  Bass spent 14 seasons in the majors and was a career .270 hitter with 118 homers and 151 stolen bases.  His son Justin played for the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2010 and 2011.

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

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