As someone who was born in 1958 — someone who, as a kid on Long Island, sometimes had to wait until the afternoon paper (RIP) came out to find out who won a game on the West Coast the night before — I don’t take for granted the marvels of modern technology for a moment. Not only can we get instant updates on all major league games, we can follow, even listen to, minor league games down to the lowest levels. The same is true even for college games…probably a lot of high school and American Legion games too. If you want to know who won, just go online and find out.
It didn’t used to be that way.
It wasn’t all that long ago, at least in terms of the geologic time scale, that it wasn’t so easy to find out who won. A story in The Sporting News of August 4, 1973, pointed out that no one was quite sure what the standings were in the Class A Florida State League.
Exactly, who is in first?
It appears that not even league President George MacDonald, Jr., knows for sure, much less most of the FSL’s 10 general managers.
At a recent meeting in Tampa, there was considerable discussion of records of teams in the league.
Willie Sanchez, G.M. of the Daytona Beach Dodgers [said,] “I’m not even sure what our record is. Our newspaper (the Daytona Beach News-Journal) has stopped publishing the FSL standing because they are incorrect.”
A St. Petersburg Times survey of six newspapers in the state showed that not one of them published FSL standings which coincided with the other.
“I think I’ll look into the situation where next season I’ll have the umpires telephone me with the results of each game immediately after it’s over,” said MacDonald.
“We depend on the wire services to relay the scores to all the newspapers concerned. If these scores are not reported, then this presents a problem.”
Some FSL general managers depend on sportswriters to relay scores to the wire services, but in places like Key West, Daytona Beach, Lakeland and Winter Haven, most FSL games are not even covered by the hometown paper.
“Last season,” said Jim Haynes of the Orlando Sentinel, “the only way I could get scores out of Key West was through a pay telephone booth outside the stadium. I would have to figure out about when the game would be finished and then I would start calling the number at the phone booth and when someone would answer, then I knew the game was over and maybe they could give me a score.
“I used to get this little Cuban kid all the time, and he would say: “Sí, sí, the game, it is over. Sí, Key West won. No, Key West lost!”
A spokesman for the Associated Press in Miami said, “We can get news out of Uganda faster than we can get FSL scores from Key West and a couple of other FSL cities.”
This wasn’t exactly the Middle Ages…heck, in 1973 TV shows were in color and we had pushbutton phones…yet finding out who won a professional baseball game in Florida could be an impossible challenge.
Key West — which is closer to Havana than it is to what was its nearest FSL opponent, Miami — hasn’t had a minor league team since 1975. The site of what was Wickers Field, the home of the FSL’s Key West Conchs (also the nickname of Key West High School’s teams), is now the home of football and softball fields. The photo of Wickers Field at right was taken about 1970; it’s hard to believe it was the home of a professional team. That photo is from a page on Deadball Baseball that also has pictures of the site today, and here’s a page with more on Key West’s minor league history.
Too bad I can’t find a photo of that phone booth Jim Haynes used to call.
Wickers Field was the site of one of the odder events in baseball history, when a ball that went up never came down…or at least no one ever saw where it came down. It happened August 6, 1974. Joe Wallis of the Conchs, who would go on to play in the majors, hit a fly ball to right field, where John Crider of the visiting St. Petersburg Cardinals lost sight of it. None of Crider’s teammates nor the umpires could figure out what happened to the ball, so Wallis was awarded a home run.
Bruce Sutter, who would go on to make the Hall of Fame, was a 21-year-old pitcher for the Conchs. “The stadium wasn’t the best, and the lights weren’t the best,” Sutter told Key West magazine in 2007. (“Stadium” is a pretty generous term here.) “Wallis hit the ball by the lights. And nobody ever saw it come down. So they gave him a home run. What else are you going to do? It was one of the strangest things I ever saw.”
“Nobody knows what happened,” said Ernie Rosseau, who was St. Petersburg’s left fielder that night. “From the fans to the coaches, umps. No one knew. It went up and never came down. Nobody can give me an explanation.” Rosseau made his comments to reporter Ryan O’Leary in 2003, as O’Leary put together what seems to be the most thorough account of the events that night.