It’s been 25 years since the Salt Lake Trappers (rookie; Pioneer League) set a pro-sports record for consecutive wins — and also served as a blueprint for what would become a lively independent-baseball industry.
A team in an affiliated league may seem like an unlikely precursor to independent baseball, but the Trappers were an independent team playing under Minor League Baseball rules and an MiLB league: with no parent and a rebel ownership that included Van Schley, actors Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray, and future Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno, the Trappers did everything the independent Northern League would do five years later. By signing their own players and controlling their destiny, the Trappers managed to tear apart the Pioneer League, winning three championships and setting a professional sports record of 29 consecutive wins — a record that still stands today.
Now, the Trappers also engendered some criticism in compiling the gaudy numbers: the Pioneer League is a rookie league devoted to development, but the Trappers were built around former college players that were undrafted by MLB organizations. Criticis said the Trappers were ringers playing below their real talent level (although the average age for a player was 21.4 years old, just a tad above the league average), and there may be a little truth to that accusation. Still, the Trappers were monsters on the field: the team’s .320 batting average is still a record as well, and these days neither a Matt Huff (who hit .420) or Frank Colston (who hit .397) would spend a whole year at a rookie-level team.
Schley and Murray would go on to participate in the original Northern League, Schley as an owner and player-procurement manager, and Murray as a minority investor in the St. Paul Saints with Marv Goldklang and Mike Veeck. The success of the Northern League led to changes in Minor League Baseball regarding ownership of independent teams and basically killed the mechanisms where independent teams could participate in affiliated leagues.
The team’s accomplishments will be recongized tonight by the Salt Lake Bees (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), who will wear authentic Trappers uniforms during the team’s game against the Sacramento River Cats. The game will take place at Spring Mobile Ballpark, built on the site of Derks Field, where the record was set.
The Trappers will be recognized during an on-field pregame ceremony and Trappers manager Jim Gilligan will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Select team members will be available for autographs on the concourse throughout the game. Longtime Fox 13 (KSTU) sports anchor/reporter Mike Runge will serve as public address announcer for the game, a position he held for the Trappers.
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