The International League (IL) is a minor league baseball league which operates in the eastern United States and Canada. Like the Pacific Coast League, it plays at the AAA (Triple-A) level, which is one step below Major League Baseball. The league was created from the mergers of member teams from three precursor leagues, the Eastern League, founded in 1884 (which brought Richmond, Virginia), the New York State League, formed in 1885 (which brought Rochester, New York and Syracuse, New York), and the Ontario League, also organized in 1885.
At the end of each season, the three divisional leaders and a wild card team square-off in best-of-5 playoffs, with the winning team of the finals awarded the Governors' Cup, the league's championship trophy.
- International League champions
- History of the Governors' Cup
- History of the Triple-A World Series
- History of the Triple-A Alliance
Early History of the International League
The New York State and Ontario Leagues merged in 1886 to form the International League. Buffalo, New York entered the league when it was granted a franchise after moving from the National League. In 1887 the Eastern League and its Newark, New Jersey and Jersey City, New Jersey franchises were absorbed to complete the International League and create a ten-club league, with Scranton, Pennsylvania and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania replacing former New York State League cities, Oswego, New York and Utica, New York.
Unfortunately, the league collapsed soon afterwards, when the northern teams claimed that it was too onerous to travel to the south, and left the league. They formed the International Association in 1888, with its members in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Toronto, Ontario, Hamilton, Ontario, Albany, New York, Troy, New York and London, Ontario. In 1889 Toledo, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan replaced the Albany and Troy franchises.
Baseball's most expensive war broke out in 1890 when major league players organized their own Players League in competition with the National League and then major-league American Association. Buffalo jumped to the rival league while Rochester, Syracuse and Toledo accepted bids from the American.
Bidding for players by the three leagues led to widespread contract jumping as salaries skyrocketed. An effort to sustain an International League club in Buffalo collapsed shortly after the start of the season. The Bisons shifted to Montreal, Quebec, met little success, moved on to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Later the Hamilton franchise was brought to Montreal and hung on until the League folded on July 7. This was the only time the International disbanded before season's end. Charles D. White, League President in 1890, reorganized the circuit in 1891 as the Eastern Association.
The Eastern Association’s members that are still exisiting today included only Rochester and Syracuse. The league’s title was changed to the Eastern League in 1892, a year of economic depression, and only six of the eight franchises that began the season actually finished it.
In 1893 Pat Powers began a 17-year tenure of office as League President. He served until 1911, except for a one-year term in 1906 by Harry L. Taylor of Buffalo, later a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court. Under Powers’ reign the International League became an institution. Starting with Buffalo, Rochester, Toronto, and Providence, Rhode Island, the league added other franchises over the next few years, as Springfield, Massachusetts (1893) Wilkes-Barre (also 1893), Syracuse (1894) and Scranton (1895) joined the league.
For a few years Rochester was a vagabond franchise. Fire destroyed their ballpark during the 1897 season, and the Jingos finished their home schedule in Montreal under an agreement to return to Rochester in 1898. But before the season ended, the city took strongly to baseball and refused to relinquish the franchise. Rochester wound up buying the Scranton membership to stay in the League, but they moved to Ottawa, Ontario for the season instead. The Canadian capital was not ready for the sport and the franchise moved back to Rochester the next year.
In 1899, the Western League, which would become the American League, began to lay its plans for major status. An early maneuver by Ban Johnson was to annex the Buffalo territory from the International League. Wilkes-Barre also withdrew and replacements were found in Hartford, Connecticut and Worcester, Massachusetts.
Buffalo returned to the League in 1901, succeeding Springfield when the American League decided to operate in Boston, Massachusetts instead. In 1902, Jersey City and Newark replaced Syracuse and Hartford and in 1903 Baltimore, Maryland, ousted by the American League, succeeded Montreal. However, the season was scarcely a month old when the Worcester membership was moved to fill the void in Quebec.
For the next 11 years the landscape of the International League remained unchanged. Everywhere, the public flocked to ball games as never before. New stadiums were built with the aid of funds from trolly car companies and new leagues blossomed all over the country.
For the International League, this era came to an end in 1911 when Pat Powers relinquished the presidency to Ed Barrow. In 1914, the Federal League was organized by a group of wealthy men who decided the time was ripe for a third major loop. Three International League cities were invaded; Baltimore and Buffalo in 1914, and Newark in 1915, earning the International League the title of "The Belgium of Baseball". Though Buffalo held out and remained in the International League, the Baltimore franchise moved to Richmond and Newark to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Barrow received assurance that if organized baseball won the fray he would head a third major league. But that was not to be. The great baseball war ended as have all the others, in compromise and consolidation. The Baltimore Feds alone were dissatisfied with the results of the deal and carried their battle into the U.S. Supreme Court where organized baseball, in 1922, won the historic decision handed down by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, that the game was not subject to Federal Anti-Trust Law. The end of the Federal League saw Newark return from Harrisburg in 1916. When Richmond elected to stay in the league, Jack Dunn had to buy up the Jersey City franchise and bring Baltimore back into the fold.
World War I in 1917 brought to its wake a fresh crisis for the International League. Attendance fell and club exchequers barely carried through the war. Financially feeble, 1918 the league was compelled to reorganize as the New International League. Ed Barrow, his salary halved, stepped down. Richmond, Providence and Montreal dropped out in favor of Jersey City, Binghamton, New York and Syracuse. Syracuse, though, found support wanting and moved to Hamilton during the year.
During this hectic war year the International League was the only minor league to complete its season, and a search for sound, reliable cities began. In 1919 Reading, Pennsylvania succeeded Hamilton and in 1920 Akron, Ohio and Syracuse replaced Newark and Binghamton. In 1921 Newark reacquired the Akron franchise. John Conway Toole began an eight-year administration as League President, succeeding John Farrell and David Fultz who themselves had followed Barrow. Over the next few years, the League settled down and changes became infrequent, though there was a Newark-Providence-Newark shuffle in 1925-1926. In 1928 a triple shift ended with Syracuse out and Montreal in.
Charles Knapp succeeded Toole, who died that year. Night baseball arrived with a game in Buffalo on July 3, 1930, when 12,000 fans saw the Bisons bow to Montreal, 5-4. The International League roster remained unchanged until 1932 when Albany replaced Reading. In 1933, with the minors reduced to nine leagues by the worldwide economic depression, Frank Shaughnessy gave the game a "shot in the arm" with introduction of his playoff plan for the Governors' Cup. Warren Giles, later National League President, succeeded Knapp on the latter's death in 1936. Giles held office briefly and resigned to take the helm of the Cincinnati, Ohio club, and Frank Shaughnessy assumed the presidency late in 1936. In 1937, Jersey City replaced Albany. The advent of television saw the collapse of the New Jersey clubs. Springfield replaced Newark in 1950 and Ottawa succeeding Jersey City in 1951.
A new era began with the admission of Havana, Cuba in 1954. The league, now "truly international," embraced three countries. Richmond returned to the circuit when the American League tapped Baltimore, ending an association of a half-century between the Orioles and the International League. Expansion continued with Columbus, Ohio replacing Ottawa in 1955 and Miami supplanting Syracuse in 1956. Four more years passed without a change in the league’s membership. In 1960, however, political disturbances in Cuba caused the International League in mid-season to transfer the Havana franchise to Jersey City. Also, as in 1914, agitation for major league expansion adversely affected attendance. Frank Shaughnessy retired in 1960 after 24 years as President and Tommy Richardson assumed command.
The battle to neutralize the effects of TV was still being fought in 1961 when Montreal succumbed after a 33-year span and yielded its membership to Syracuse. A shift from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico proved premature and the club finished the season in Charleston, West Virginia. In 1962, Jersey City and Charleston franchises were moved to the new territories of Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida.
In 1963, the International League expanded to ten clubs with the admission of Little Rock, Arkansas and Indianapolis, Indiana. The second ten-club experiment proved no more successful than had the first in 1887 and the new members were dropped for 1964. Toledo returned to the circuit in 1965 after having been away for 76 years and replaced Richmond. Richmond, however, returned to the International League for the 1966 season, taking over the Atlanta franchise when the National League moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Atlanta.
George Sisler, Jr., General Manager of Rochester for eleven years, was elected League President succeeding Tommy Richardson. Harry Simmons, associated with the league for 25 years, earned a well deserved promotion and joined the staff of the newly elected Commissioner of Baseball, General William D. Eckert.
Attendance in 1966 swung sharply upward to 1,248,658 paid admissions featuring fine years at Rochester and Richmond, under the able leadership of Morrie Silver and Hillman Lyons, respectively. The Rochester-Richmond attendance domination continued in 1967, with Rochester topping 300,000 paid admissions. Richmond won its first International League championship beating Rochester in a special playoff after the two teams had tied after completion of the regular season. 1967 also saw the end of Toronto as an International League member after 78 years in the League. Louisville, Kentucky replaced Toronto in 1968.
In 1969, International League baseball entered the mid-atlantic region of Tidewater, Virginia, as the New York Mets moving their Jacksonville franchise there after sparse attendance. William A. Gardner, who saved baseball for Louisville, was named Minor League Executive of the Year.
A new stadium in Norfolk, Virginia featured 1970, and provided the showcase for the International League All-Stars 4-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Syracuse won the International League Pennant, for the first time in 78 years, and went on to win the Governors' Cup and Junior World Series.
It was the International League’s year in 1971 as the International League All-Stars defeated the New York Yankees, 15-13, before a crowd of 11,001 in Rochester. Rochester followed the previous year's Syracuse formula, winning the Pennant, Governors' Cup and the Junior World Series.
Charleston was the Columbus franchise’s replacement in 1971. Winnipeg, Manitoba was replaced by Peninsula for the 1972 season. Peninsula comprised the area of Newport News, Virginia and Hampton, Virginia, and provided a tri-franchise rivalry along with Richmond and Tidewater. Louisville won that season’s Pennant, in a dramatic last day of the season, by a single game margin. However, Tidewater won the Governors' Cup playoffs and represented the League in the Kodak World Baseball Classic in Hawaii, finishing third, behind the Caribbean All-Stars and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island replaced Louisville in 1973, as the Colonel's stadium underwent a major construction program and no other park was available. Pawtucket's first year was memorable as it won the resumed Junior World Series from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the American Association representative. Memphis, Tennessee joined the International League for the 1974 season, replacing Peninsula, and immediately improved the attendance picture with a season's draw of 132,513 third in the League. Rochester, however, won the Pennant and was awarded the President's Award, as the outstanding franchise in the National Association, the first year the award was given.
Tidewater took all the honors in 1975, winning the Pennant and Governors' Cup, Joe Frazier being named "Minor League Manager of the Year" and Dave Rosenfield "International League Executive of the Year."
Rochester won the Pennant in 1976, while Syracuse won the Governors' Cup. Tex Simone was named "International League Executive of the Year." In the fall, due to financial problems, the Memphis franchise dropped out of the League to be replaced by the return of Columbus to the League for the 1977 season.
Pawtucket won the Pennant in 1977 and second-place Charleston finished strong to take the Governors' Cup. The International League All-Stars beat the Boston Red Sox 1-0 in Pawtucket and Columbus celebrated its return to the International League by setting a modern-day attendance record of 467,251. George Sisler, Jr., who stepped down as League President after 11 years to become General Manager at Columbus, was selected "Minor League Executive" and "International League Executive" in 1977. Roy Jackson succeeded Sisler as League President, and in turn Harold M. Cooper, for 14 years General Manager at Columbus, was elected as the IL President during the winter baseball meetings in Hawaii.
Richmond won the playoffs for the first time in 1978 after Charleston had won the Pennant. Leading the League in attendance a second straight year was Columbus with 324,510. At the winter meetings, Harold Cooper's contract as League President was extended through the next four years. Columbus made a clean sweep of the 1979 season, winning its first Pennant since 1965 as the Clippers celebrated their first season with the New York Yankees, then beat Syracuse in 7 games for the city's first Governors' Cup playoff title. Toronto affiliate Syracuse, proved as big a surprise as Columbus, moving from eighth place in 1978 to second.
Columbus again made history in 1980 by becoming the first team since 1938 to win back-to-back Pennants and playoff titles. The Newark Bears were the last to do that, in 1937 and 1938. The Clippers dropped the first two games to Richmond in the semifinals before taking three straight. Columbus then won four of five from Toledo, which finished second to the Clippers during the 140-game Pennant race. Toledo beat Rochester in four games in the other semifinal series. Two records of note were established in 1981, Columbus became the first International League team to win three consecutive Pennants and playoff titles, earning the latter in a rain-shortened 2-1 series with Richmond.
The other was a record for all professional baseball as Rochester and Pawtucket battled 32 innings to a 2-2 tie on April 18. The marathon was completed June 23 at Pawtucket with the PawSox winning 3-2 in 33 innings. The time of the game was 8 hours and 25 minutes, and it was the longest game in professional baseball history,
The League had a new look in 1982, as Columbus' three-year reign as Pennant and playoff champions ended. Richmond edged Columbus out of the Pennant by 3-1/2 games and Tidewater took the Governors' Cup playoffs by sweeping the series at the expense of Columbus and Richmond following a third place finish. There was a mix of old and new in the International League in 1983. Columbus, after a one year absence, won its fourth Pennant in five seasons.
But Tidewater, after finishing behind Columbus, Richmond and Charleston, not only won the Governors' Cup but closed out the season by claiming the Triple-A Championship in Louisville. By winning three of four games against Denver, Colorado of the American Association and Portland, Oregon of the Pacific Coast League, the Tides captured the first AAA World Series. Gary Rajsich led the Tides with a .583 batting average and was voted the MVP.
The International League All-Stars lost to the Cleveland Indians in 11 innings, 8-6, before 11,032 fans in Columbus to highlight the League's 100th Anniversary. Columbus won its fifth Pennant in six years in 1984, a year that saw the Maine Guides replace Charleston in the League. The Guides finished second to the Clippers. After the PawSox and Guides eliminated Columbus and Toledo in the Governors' Cup playoffs, Pawtucket took the Cup by beating Maine three games to two.
Syracuse won its first Pennant since 1970 under first-year Manager Doug Ault, the International League's "Manager of the Year." Pitching-rich Tidewater needed only seven games to dispose of Syracuse (3-0) and Columbus (3-1) to win its third Governors' Cup playoff title in four years. The Chiefs played two marathon games, losing 3-1 in 27 innings to Pawtucket and 8-7 in 21 innings to Columbus. An early August 5-team Pennant race boiled down to a Rochester vs. Richmond battle which didn't conclude until the final round of the playoffs. With a League best 23-10 August record, Richmond won the League Championship by 4 games over the Red Wings. As Richmond eliminated Tidewater and Rochester eliminated Pawtucket in the opening round of the playoffs the stage was set for the rematch. 23,579 fans witnessed the exciting Governors' Cup Finals and saw Richmond again come out on top, this time 3 games to 2.
1987 was another banner year at the box office as the League reached a total attendance of over 2 million for the third consecutive year. Both Pawtucket (227,722) and Tidewater (181,260) set new franchise records and half of the remaining six clubs showed an increase over 1986. Two new affiliates joined the League as Toledo again hooked-up with the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies sent their top farmhands into Maine. On the field it was the Randy Milligan show as the Tidewater first baseman led his teammates to the Pennant and along the way missed winning the Triple Crown by only 3 home runs. He was recognized as the League's MVP, Rookie of the Year and All-Star first baseman.
Columbus became the final club to win the "old" Governors' Cup Trophy by defeating Rochester and Tidewater, both 3 games to 0. The Cup was retired to Cooperstown, New York at the conclusion of the 1987 season.
The formation of the Triple-A Alliance (International League and American Association) brought a new look to the League structure as division play returned for the first time in fifteen years. The 42 interleague games played between the two leagues were not kind to the International League as only division winners Rochester and Tidewater showed winning records against the American Association. Club and fan reaction to the Alliance was such that League Directors agreed to continue this concept for an additional three years (1989-91).
After an eleven year absence from the League Champion's perch, the Rochester club returned to that peak in 1988. At or near the top of their division during the first half of the season, the Red Wings never looked back after mid-June and finished 7 games ahead of division runner-up Syracuse. Eastern division winner Tidewater could only salvage 1 of 4 games against Rochester during the Governors' Cup Series to determine the League Champion.
The Wings advanced on to the first ever Triple-A Classic but their dream season ended abruptly as after winning the first 2 games at Silver Stadium the Indianapolis Indians won the final game in Rochester and swept the next 3 at Bush Stadium. The operations in Pawtucket and Tidewater continued to flourish as for the second consecutive year both set new attendance marks of 246,940 and 194,089 respectively.
Despite over 50 weather related postponements, attendance continued to soar in 1989 as the League drew 2,613,247 fans to shatter the old League mark of 2,358,279 which stood since 1946. For the first time since 1898 the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre appeared on the IL schedule, this time as a single franchise. In the League's early years each city had fielded a club. With the newly built Lackawanna County Stadium the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons recorded an attendance of 444,400. Pawtucket (278,129), Richmond (455,686), and Tidewater (216,429) set new franchise attendance records while Syracuse (226,244) established a new regular season attendance mark. The IL evened the score in 1989 as it topped the American Association 178-170 in the second year of interleague play. Columbus, Richmond, Rochester, Syracuse and Tidewater posted a .500 or better mark against their AA foes, recovering from the 1988 season when only two IL clubs recorded winning records against the Association.
Richmond held off Columbus and Tidewater to capture the Western Division crown while Eastern Division winner Syracuse opened the season with a five-game winning streak and stayed atop their division throughout the season. The Braves prevailed three games to one over Syracuse in the Governors' Cup Series to win their second League Championship in the last four years. Advancing to the Triple-A Classic, Richmond's next opponent was the defending champion Indianapolis Indians. Indianapolis proved to be too much as they swept Richmond in four straight.
Following the season, two veteran IL executives moved into different roles as League President, Harold Cooper and Columbus General Manager, George Sisler, Jr. retired. Both were retained as consultants, Cooper by the Triple-Alliance and Sisler by the Columbus club. Unruly weather plagued the League again in 1990, but despite this the League continued its run of recent success at the box office by eclipsing the previous attendance record for the second straight season. The new mark, which was established at 2,832,518 was due in part to franchise record setting years by the Pawtucket and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre clubs. With an official attendance of 298,050, Pawtucket set their record for the fourth consecutive year while Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, a second year League member who played an abbreviated home schedule in 1989, set their mark at 545,844 behind their first full slate of home games. Syracuse (250,048) established a new regular season attendance mark and Columbus (591,340) and Richmond (427,552) again finished in the top ten among National Association clubs.
After relinquishing the League title to Richmond in 1989, the Rochester Red Wings reclaimed the top spot in 1990. Rochester won their season opener and led wire-to-wire in capturing the Eastern Division crown. The Red Wings found themselves opposing the Western Division Champion Columbus Clippers for the League title. The two clubs battled one another to the fifth and deciding game of the series where Rochester emerged with the Governors' Cup Trophy. Advancing to the Triple-A Classic for the second time in three years, the Rochester club was optimistic after defeating American Association Champion Omaha in game one of the series. That would prove to be the Red Wings final victory in 1990 as Omaha staked claim to the crown by winning the next four games of the Classic.
Following the 1990 season five clubs (Columbus, Pawtucket, Rochester, Tidewater and Toledo) had working agreements terminated by their major league affiliate as part of Major League Baseball's strategy in negotiating a new Professional Baseball Agreement with the National Association. Following five months of negotiations, a new PBA was ratified between MLB and the NAPBL on December 13, 1990. Each League club eventually signed a new Player Development Contract with their 1990 affiliate for the coming season.
At the annual winter convention in Los Angeles, California the League's Board of Directors conveyed the title of President to Randy Mobley. Mobley had served as President of the American Association and Commissioner of the Alliance in 1990 and would hold the title of President for both leagues. Columbus captured the League Championship for the sixth time during their thirteen year affiliation with the New York Yankees. Bolstered by a 17 and 3 start the club secured a 7 1/2 game lead in the Western Division less than a month into the season. It was another wire to wire scenario as only Toledo could mount a threat in early June when the Clippers lead was reduced to only two games. The Eastern Division Champion Pawtucket Red Sox jumped into first place on May 10. While Rochester and Syracuse remained within striking distance and each mounted charges at the top spot during the final three months of the season, Triple-A Manager of the Year, [Butch Hobson] guided the PawSox into the Governors' Cup Playoffs. A three game sweep advanced Columbus into the Triple-A Classic.
The 1991 Classic would be the last as a result of the IL's mid-season vote not to continue regular season interleague play with the American Association in 1992. The AA subsequently decided to discontinue post-season interleague play as well as the arrangement for a joint league administration with the International League. For the fourth consecutive season the American Association Champion, this time Denver, reigned victorious in the post-season standoff. The Zephyrs won the opening three games in Mile High Stadium. The opening game of the series in Columbus was pushed back a night when the Clippers equipment did not accompany the team from Denver but rather remained at the airport. Columbus did win game four prior to Denver winning game five and capturing the series four games to one.
For the third consecutive season the IL set an all time attendance mark (3,040,465) due in part to less than half (25) as many weather related postponements as in recent years. New franchise attendance marks were established by Columbus (606,371), Pawtucket (362,342) for the fifth consecutive season, Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre (546,533), Syracuse (307,993) and Toledo (229,419).
1992 was a year which saw no serious threat to Eastern Division winner Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or Western Division winner Columbus after July 1. That being the case, the remaining clubs set their sights on second place and a playoff berth. While Richmond unofficially secured a spot in the playoffs by early August it wasn't until the final weekend of the season that Pawtucket eliminated Rochester for the right to play the Red Barons. Columbus swept Richmond in three games and Scranton/Wilkes Barre took Pawtucket three games to one to set up what would be one of the most exciting playoff series in League history.
In Game 5, Clippers score 1 in the 1st and SWB counters with 1 in the 2nd. 1-hour 46-minute rain delay in the fifth before SWB gets another run. Red Barons go up 3-1 in the 9th with another tally. RBI singles by regular season HR and RBI champ Hensley Meulens and playoff hero Knoblauh ties the game. With two outs and the game winning and Pennant clinching run on third, Clipper Brad Ausmus singles to give Columbus its second consecutive Pennant. The Clippers 101 win season (95 regular season and 6 playoff) in which the club broke or tied 34 club records and filled 8 of 11 League All-Star spots guarantees them a place amongst the best teams in League history.
With the opening of a spectacular new ballpark in Norfolk and the addition of expansion franchises in Charlotte, North Carolina and Ottawa, 1993 saw the League become the first minor league to attract in excess of 4 million fans. The mark of 4,723,236 shattered the previous League mark of 3,055,012. In route to this attendance record, six clubs (Charlotte, Norfolk, Ottawa, Pawtucket, Richmond and Toledo) set all-time franchise attendance records. In their new home of Harbor Park, the Norfolk club averaged more fans per night (7,971) than the capacity of their previous home, Metropolitan Park.
The return of professional baseball to Canada's capital was nothing short of astounding. Ottawa's attendance of 693,043 broke the IL's single season club attendance mark set back in 1946 by Baltimore. The expansion clubs not only attracted fans but played well as Charlotte, paced by League MVP Jim Thome, and Ottawa, led by Manager of the Year Mike Quade, both made the playoffs. In a series that went the full 5 games, Charlotte defeated Rochester to become the first club to win the League Championship in its inaugural season since Memphis did so in 1974. Two no-hitters and a perfect game highlighted the many on-field accomplishments during the League's 110th season.
Pawtucket used a jackrabbit start in '94 on the way to a regular season division championship. Winning 28 of their first 35 games, including 8 of 9 one run contests, the PawSox got off to the best start in the IL since detailed records have been maintained. After getting out of the gates slowly with a 6-17 start in Toledo, longtime Triple-A skipper Joe Sparks resigned. Detroit's roving hitting instructor, Larry Parrish, was tabbed as Sparks' replacement and the club promptly responded going 7-1 in Parrish's first 8 games. On Parrish's third night as skipper, Mud Hen Felipe Lira recorded a 7-inning no-hitter, one of two the Hens would register during the season. While Pawtucket maintained a significant lead in the East from May 1 on, 6 other clubs remained in the playoff hunt until season's end. Richmond trailed Charlotte by 6 games on August 7 before going 19-9 to close the season and win the West by 3.5 games.
The Major League Players Association strike which began on August 12 resulted in increased attention for the League. In addition to radio and/or television coverage in a number of major league affiliate's markets, national cable television coverage included regular season games on ESPN and the Turner Network. ESPN also carried Richmond's 3 game sweep of Syracuse in the Governors' Cup finals.
The 1995 season saw rosters expanded to 25, up from 23, as one of the implications from the ongoing major league player's strike. Rosters changed by the minute in April as major league clubs held a second spring training, the first involved "replacement players," in anticipation of a 144 game abbreviated season to begin on April 25.
Norfolk proved to be the class of the League due to a pitching staff many claimed was as good as ever assembled in Triple-A. The League's Rookie of the Year/Most Valuable Pitcher, Jason Isringhausen (9-1, 1.55 ERA) anchored the staff until joining the Mets immediately following his starting assignment in the Triple-A All-Star game. With less than 2 weeks remaining in the season, 8 teams remained alive in the quest for a playoff birth. The League announced plans for a special round of playoffs should a three-way tie occur for a playoff position. A tie didn't occur as Norfolk, Ottawa, Rochester and Richmond advanced to Governors' Cup play. Division runner-up Ottawa knocked off Rochester and Norfolk to claim their first ever Governors' Cup title.
Columbus Manager Stump Merrill had his club geared for the long haul in 1996, and it worked. Below .500 for most of the opening six weeks of the season, the Clippers' all-time winningest manager had his club hovering around that mark during the early summer. It was from July 1 to the end of the season that the eventual League Champions would make their move past a steady Norfolk club that finished only 2.5 games back. During this period, the final 61 games of the season, the Clippers won at an astounding .689 clip by going 42-19 to finish with an 85-57 record. Dominant at times, Pawtucket controlled the Eastern Division for much of the season and finished 5.5 games ahead of Rochester. Along the way, Pawtucket set a new League record for home runs by a team in a single season with 209. The PawSox total was only 8 home runs behind the all-time Minor League record of 217 set in 1939 by the Minneapolis Millers. Columbus continued their march to the Governors' Cup title by defeating Norfolk in three straight and then doing the same to Rochester in the finals.
New was the key word in 1997 and change abounded throughout the League on the business end - "new" ballparks in Rochester and Syracuse, "new" logos for five clubs and the decision to add four "new" teams (Buffalo, Durham, North Carolina, Indianapolis & Louisville) in 1998 as a result of expansion and realignment. But there was still plenty of outstanding action on the field. Rochester, led by Manager of the Year Marv Foley, used a 23-6 record in July (.793 winning pct.) to move from 3.5 games out of first to 6.5 up on second place Pawtucket and coasted to their third consecutive playoff appearance and nineteenth International League Pennant. Pawtucket, which held a 12-5 advantage over the Red Wings in head-to-head play, finished second in the East behind IL Rookie of the Year/Most Valuable Pitcher Brian Rose, whose 17 wins were the most by an IL pitcher since 1982. In the West, both Columbus and Charlotte overtook slumping Norfolk in the last two weeks of the season to earn the final two playoff spots. In a rematch of the 1996 Governors' Cup Finals, the Red Wings defeated the Clippers three games to two to earn their record tenth Governors' Cup Crown. With the title, Foley became the first manager to win a championship in all three Triple-A leagues. In a game against Richmond on August 9, Toledo's Bubba Trammell became the first Mud Hen (and first IL player in twenty years) to hit four home runs in one game.
Former League members Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Louisville joined with an expansion club in Durham to increase the IL's membership to an all-time high of fourteen in 1998. With a three division alignment, there was one more playoff race for fans to watch, while the fourth post-season spot would be filled by the second place club with the highest winning percentage. Durham ran away with the IL South, grabbing the division lead on the final day of April, then coasting to the title, nine games ahead of Norfolk. Louisville played .500+ baseball in only two of the season's six months but managed to win the West Division by .5 game over rival Indianapolis. The Indians were hurt by the August 12 promotion of first baseman Roberto Petagine, who became the first IL player to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards after posting 24 HR and 109 RBI in 102 games with Indianapolis. The tightest race was in the IL North where Buffalo, Syracuse and Pawtucket battled through August into the final week with the Bisons claiming the crown by .5 games over the SkyChiefs. Syracuse dropped eleven consecutive games from August 11-20 to see an eight game lead become a half game deficit, but held on to the IL Wild Card to complete the playoff field. Buffalo and Durham swept Syracuse and Louisville respectively in the first round to meet for the Governors' Cup. After the homestanding Bisons won the series' first two games, the Bulls returned the favor in Durham to set up a classic Game Five. The Bisons won the game 3-1 behind ace Jason Jacome to claim their fifth IL Governors' Cup (first since 1961) and advance to the inaugural Las Vegas Triple-A World Series against the Pacific Coast League Champion New Orleans Zephyrs. The Bisons lost the World Series 3 games to 1, but completed an impressive back-to-back championship run, having won the final American Association Crown in 1997. Bolstered by Buffalo's IL-record setting attendance (768,749), the League set an all-time attendance high with 6,481,906 fans visiting IL parks in 1998.
The IL's 1999 season was offensive in nature as four clubs (Charlotte, Columbus, Durham & Indianapolis) had team batting averages over .283, a mark reached by only one club (the 1996 Charlotte Knights) in the previous 25 years. In addition, no team pitching staff posted an ERA under 4.00 which had been done by at least one club in every season since 1983. The Bulls and the Knights battled for the South Division title throughout the season's final months with Durham taking their second straight crown with a victory in the opener of a season-ending doubleheader in Charlotte. The Knights won the nightcap to secure the Wild Card position. The Columbus club hit at a .289 clip en route to their sixth division title of the decade. Led by four IL All-Stars, the League's Most Valuable Pitcher Ed Yarnall, the Rookie of the Year Kurt Bierek, and seven players with 10+ home runs, the Clippers seized outright control of the West Division on April 15 and coasted to the title (9.5 games ahead of Indianapolis). For the second consecutive season, three challengers fought it out in the North Division with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre going 11-6 down the stretch to hold off Pawtucket and Syracuse and claim the second playoff berth in franchise history. Durham swept Columbus in an opening playoff series while Charlotte and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre went the full five games with Charlotte winning the finale 10-5 to set up the first in-state Governors' Cup Championship battle since 1983.
The clubs split the first two games in Durham, then took an unscheduled off day due to the extreme weather conditions of Hurricane Floyd. When the series resumed in Charlotte, Manager of the Year Tom Spencer's Knights shut down the League's leading offense, allowing just four runs in two games to capture the second IL Championship in club history. Charlotte advanced to the Second Annual Las Vegas Triple-A World Series, but after jumping out to a 2-1 series lead lost in five games to PCL Champion Vancouver. Pawtucket, in refurbished McCoy Stadium, and Syracuse set franchise attendance records. Durham first baseman Steve Cox paced the league in average (.341), hits (182), runs (107), doubles (49), and RBI (125) to earn Most Valuable Player honors.
The IL's 2000 season will best be remembered as the season of the no-hitter. Four League pitchers tossed no-hitters of either seven or nine innings during the season - the most in any one campaign since 1974. Leading the no-hit brigade was Pawtucket's Tomo Ohka who tossed just the third nine-inning perfect game in the League's 117-year history with a 2-0 defeat of Charlotte on June 1. As had been the case in recent seasons, the IL North Division race was tight to the end. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre won their final 8 games, including a four-game sweep of Pawtucket in the final weekend of the season to tie for first place in the Division. Buffalo, which held the Division lead through all of August, won its final two games to tie the surging Red Barons. In the West Division, a balanced Indianapolis club held off Columbus, while in the South, Durham won its third straight Division Crown, 3 games ahead of Charlotte. Despite the fact that both clubs would enter the playoffs (one as the Wild Card), Buffalo and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre played a one-game playoff, the League's first since 1975, to determine the North Division Winner. Buffalo won that contest 7-3 to claim the Division Crown, but Scranton/Wilkes-Barre defeated the Bisons in four games in the subsequent first round series.
The other first round series involving Indianapolis and Durham went the full five games as the Indians won the final two contests in Durham to advance to their first Governors' Cup Finals since 1963. Indianapolis and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre waged a memorable battle in the Finals. After splitting the first two games in Pennsylvania, the teams traveled to Indianapolis and split back-to-back one-run games as the series remained even. In the finale, Tribe pitcher Tim Harikkala allowed one run over eight innings to lead the Indians to their second Governors' Cup Title. The Indians traveled to Las Vegas for the Triple-A World Series and came away from the event as the first IL club to capture the Championship with a four-game victory over the PCL's Memphis club. In other highlights of the 2000 IL season, Syracuse outfielder Chad Mottola led the League with 33 HR and stole 30 bases to garner MVP honors. The Louisville Bats opened 13,200-seat Louisville Slugger Field and led the IL in attendance with 685,863 fans. At the Annual Meeting in Dallas in December, Triple-A Directors agreed not to continue the Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas. Many proposals for the format and location of the 2001 Series were discussed, but none were agreed upon and eventually it was determined to suspend the Series for the coming season.
A trio of dominating teams were the story in 2001 as the IL began play in its third century. The Buffalo Bisons (North), Louisville Bats (West), and Norfolk Tides (South) each won their respective Divisions by 10+ games - a first in the current set-up. Buffalo finished with 91 victories, a Modern Day club record and the highest in the IL since Columbus won 95 games in 1992. Add in Norfolk's 85 wins and Louisville's 84 (also a franchise record) and the League had three clubs with at least 84 victories for the first time since 1961 (when clubs were scheduled for 154 games). Playoff Wild Card Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and South runner-up Durham were the only additional IL clubs to finish with a winning record. In a testament to the team aspect of baseball, the three Division winners finished with just one player named to the post-season All-Star Squad - Buffalo outfielder Karim Garcia. The Bisons skipper, Eric Wedge, took home Manager of the Year honors, while Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Brandon Duckworth nearly won the pitching Triple Crown to earn the Most Valuable Pitcher and Rookie of the Year awards. Durham catcher Toby Hall, the IL batting champion, was named Most Valuable Player. Both of the exciting first round playoff series went the full five games. The Tides and Bats split the first two games of their series in Norfolk, setting up a best two-of-three in Louisville for a spot in the Governors' Cup Finals. The clubs remained even going into Game Five where the home team posted a third shutout of the Tides to advance to their second IL Governors' Cup Finals and first since 1972.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Buffalo met in the other semifinal series for the second consecutive year. After dropping the first game at home, the Red Barons rebounded to take three of the remaining four, including the final two in extra-innings. In a Game Five for the ages, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre jumped to an early 2-0 lead before Buffalo evened the score with single runs in the seventh and eighth innings. After matching zeroes on the scoreboard for 10 innings, the Red Barons struck for 4 runs in the top of the 19th inning and held on for a victory in the 5+ hour marathon. In the first game of the Governors' Cup Finals, Chris Sexton forced home the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a bases-loaded walk as Louisville edged Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 2-1. The following day, September 11, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania shook the nation. League President Randy Mobley cancelled the remainder of the Governors' Cup Series a day later, naming Game One victor Louisville the 2001 Champions. Boosted by franchise-record attendances in Durham & Pawtucket, the League again set an all-time attendance record with 6,757,150 fans.
A new ballpark in Toledo and championship campaign in Durham highlighted the IL's 2002 season as both clubs set franchise attendance records. All three IL Divisions saw tight playoff races as clubs battled to advance to the Governors' Cup Playoffs. In the North, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons won at nearly a .663 clip from June 1 to the end of the season to claim their second straight Division Crown and fourth consecutive post-season berth. The Red Barons, who won a franchise-record 91 games, were led by IL Manager of the Year Marc Bombard and five post-season All-Stars. One, Most Valuable Pitcher Joe Roa, set a League record by going 14-0 for the club before being promoted to Philadelphia in July. The Toledo Mud Hens were the story in the IL West. In their first season at Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo, the Mud Hens posted their first winning season since 1991. The Hens and defending Governors' Cup Champion Louisville Bats waged a close battle for the Division Crown with Toledo prevailing by two games (in a race that was tied five days from the season's end). The playoff berth was the first for Toledo in 19 seasons. Durham returned to the top of the IL South Division for the fourth time in five years, holding off Richmond by four games. Both first round playoff series saw sweeps. The Bulls took the first two games in Toledo's sold-out Fifth Third Field (winning Game Two 8-5 in 12 innings), then won the third game at home to advance to their third Governors' Cup Finals in five years. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Buffalo met in the first round for the third straight season. Behind shortstop Zach Sorensen (.583, 7 RBI in series), the Bisons won the first two games at home and defeated the Red Barons 5-2 in Moosic, Pennsylvania to advance.
With the sweeps and a schedule off day, the Buffalo and Durham clubs were idle for three nights before meeting at Dunn Tire Park in a rematch of the 1998 Finals. The first game was a classic, with Durham coming back from a two-run deficit to tie the game at four. It remained tied into the 12th inning when heavy rains moved in and the game was suspended. The Bulls scored twice in the 12th when the game was completed the following night, then, behind a complete game five-hitter from Luis De Los Santos, won Game Two 8-1 for two wins in four hours. Buffalo never recovered, dropping the third contest 2-0 in Durham the following night. For the Bulls, it was the franchise's first IL Championship and came during the organization's 100th Anniversary season.
The Durham Bulls were again the story of the 2003 season, winning their second consecutive Governors' Cup Championship to become just the IL's tenth repeat playoff champion since Governors' Cup play began in 1933. Under the guidance of manager Bill Evers, the Bulls won the South Division for the fifth time in six seasons, then went 6-1 in the playoffs, beating West Champ Louisville 3-1 in the first round and sweeping North Division Winner Pawtucket in the Finals. The final two weeks of the 2003 regular season were as intense as any in recent IL history with nine teams in playoff contention. Pawtucket finished with the League's best record for the first time since 1977 due in large part to a .609 winning clip from July 1 on (39-25). The PawSox, behind IL Manager of the Year Buddy Bailey, also played well away from McCoy Stadium, going 41-29 on the road to capture the North Division Crown, holding off Ottawa, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Buffalo along the way.
Louisville captured the West Division Title, despite an ever-changing roster that saw 74 different players suit up for the Bats and manager Dave Miley promoted to the parent Cincinnati Reds in late July. Even with the changes Louisville held on to the Divisional lead for all but four days during the season and had an 11.5 game lead at the All-Star Break. The Bats weathered an August challenge from Columbus (22-8 in the month) to capture the Division by 3.5 games. Durham took over the South Division lead on June 26th and held off a rally from in-state rival Charlotte to capture the crown. Ottawa won the Wild Card Berth to advance to their first Governors' Cup playoffs since 1995. In the first round of the playoffs, Durham lost the opener at home, then rallied to win three straight to advance to their fourth Governors' Cup Finals in the past six seasons. In the other series, Pawtucket jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead by winning the first two games in Ottawa. The Lynx evened the series by taking Games Three & Four in Pawtucket setting up a winner-take-all finale. Lou Collier's homer and Dicky Gonzalez' 4.2 innings of hitless relief proved to be the difference as the PawSox won 3-1 to advance to the finals for the first time in 12 seasons. Durham won the first two games at home to open a 2-0 series lead in the Finals, then took Game Three 3-2 in Pawtucket to claim the crown. IL saves leader Lee Gardner saved all three Finals wins for the Bulls and five of six playoff victories. League Most Valuable Player Fernando Seguignol (Columbus) nearly won the IL's Triple Crown despite missing nearly five weeks with an injury. The slugging outfielder topped all IL players with a .341 average and 28 HR and was second with 87 RBI. Pawtucket's Bronson Arroyo tossed just the fourth nine-inning perfect game in IL history on August 10th en route to IL Most Valuable Pitcher honors. Mother Nature played a factor in the IL schedule as a record-tying 71 games were postponed making 2003 the first season since 1976 that no IL club set a franchise-record for attendance.
The Buffalo Bisons stormed their way to the 2004 Governors' Cup Championship behind an offensive juggernaut that ranked among the top in the League's last half century. The Bisons won at a .645 clip over the final three months of the season to easily take the North Division Crown by 10 games over second place finishers Pawtucket & Rochester. Buffalo's offense, led by IL Most Valuable Player Jhonny Peralta and All-Star Ernie Young, paced the circuit with a .297 average, the highest for any IL club since 1938. The team collected 1,472 hits, more than any team since 1952, and led the League in runs, total bases, doubles, and RBI. In the West, the Columbus Clippers took advantage of late-season slumps by Indianapolis and Toledo to claim the Division Pennant. The Clippers finished among the IL's top three teams in both batting average and ERA. The Richmond Braves battled the weather for much of August, but held off South Division challengers Durham and Norfolk to earn their first post-season berth since 1994. Braves' closer Matt Whiteside set an IL record with 38 saves, as the pitching staff led the IL with a 3.70 ERA. Durham claimed the IL's Wild Card playoff spot, marking the team's 6th playoff berth since joining the IL in 1998.
The two-time defending Governors' Cup Champion Bulls jumped out to an early lead in their First Round Playoff series with Buffalo, taking the first two games at home to open a 2-0 series lead. The tide turned when the series shifted to New York, as Buffalo won three straight to claim the series victory. The Bisons rebounded from an 0-2 series deficit marked the first time an IL club had accomplished such a feat in 20 years. The other playoff series went the distance as well. After the start was delayed a day by rain in Columbus, Richmond won the opener, 2-1, then the Clippers took Game Two 4-1 to even the series. The back-and-forth pattern continued throughout the match-up with the Braves winning the finale, 4-1, to advance to the Governors' Cup Finals. The series opened in Buffalo and Richmond again jumped out to an early series lead with an 11-4 Game One thumping of the Bisons. Prior to Game Two, IL President Randy Mobley decided that the remainder of the series would be played in Buffalo's Dunn Tire Park due to the threat of rain and poor playing conditions in Richmond. The Bisons rallied behind Manager of the Year Marty Brown, winning three straight to claim their 6th IL Championship as their pitching staff shut down Richmond in the finale. The Pawtucket Red Sox were the only IL team to set a franchise-record attendance, leading to a fourth IL Executive of the Year Award for Club President Mike Tamburro.