Clinton, Holyoke, Thetford Mines, Danville, Butte, Paintsville, and Pikesville.
What do these cities have in common? Each one hosted a minor league team in the Milwaukee Brewers organization back in the day. True Blue Brew Crew fans will know that the current teams are located in Nashville, Huntsville, Brevard County, Appleton, and Helena.
Beginning today, I will look back at some of the top squads in the history of Brewers baseball, dating back to 1970 when the Seattle Pilots headed northeast from spring training and became the Milwaukee Brewers. I have not included short-season Class A or Rookie ball teams, as their seasons are generally too short to compare to full-season squads in A, AA, and AAA levels.
With this week’s edition of Beating the Bushes, I present the #20 team on my list, the 1980 Holyoke Millers.
#20 Holyoke Millers, 1980
Holyoke, Massachusetts, located about 90 miles west of Boston, hosted the Brewers AA Eastern League entry for four years (1977-1980). Home games were played at Mackenzie Stadium, aka ‘The Mack.’
In 1980, the Millers were led by manager Lee Sigman to a mark of 78-61 and the Eastern League crown. Sigman was only 30 years old at the time and would go on to manage for five years in the Brewers organization and another five in the Mexican League.
Twenty-seven players suited up for the Millers during that season and nine would go on to play in the big leagues. One of the top players for the Millers would go on to play 14 seasons in the majors, but would play in only 18 games for Milwaukee.
Outfielder Kevin Bass was chosen in the second round of the 1977 Major League June amateur draft by the Brewers, but would become an important footnote in Brewers lore when he and two other players would be sent to the Houston Astros as ‘players to be named later’ in a late season trade in 1982 that brought ace righthander Don Sutton and an American League pennant to Milwaukee.
Another star for the Millers was outfielder David Green. Like fellow fly chaser Bass, Green was involved in a blockbuster trade that sent him and three others to St. Louis for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, and Pete Vuckovich in December 1980.
Pitcher Doug Jones started eight games for Holyoke, but would go on to earn fame as a closer in the majors, notching 303 saves in 16 seasons for seven different teams.
Catcher Steve Lake would go on to play for eleven years in the majors, splitting his career between the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.
On the mound, Rick Kranitz was the ace of the staff, winning 13 of 20 decisions in 24 starts. Brewers fans will know Kranitz better as the Milwaukee pitching coach since 2011.
Southpaw Frank DiPino went 7-0 while making eight starts and eight relief appearances and would later log 12 seasons as an effective major league middle reliever. He was also included in the 1982 trade with Bass.
Bass led the team with a .300 batting average and 35 steals, while first baseman Robert Schuster led the Millers with 17 dingers in 467 ABs. Green had an incredible 19 three-baggers among 40 extra-base hits, leading Holyoke with an OPS of 823.
Right-handed closer Kunikazu Ogawa saved 16 games to lead the team, and then never pitched in the United States again. The staff posted an ERA of 3.37 and compiled a 1.311 WHIP.
The Millers were fourth in the league in team batting average (.262). They were very bi-polar, ranking sixth in runs scored (585), last in home-runs (48), but led in the speed categories: triples (70) and stolen bases (177).
The pitching was the obvious reason for their league title, ranking second in ERA and WHIP, and were the stingiest in the Eastern League at allowing big flies (53).
C: Steve Lake
1B: Robert Schuster
2B: Franklin Thomas
3B: John Skorochocki/Thomas Soto
SS: Ivan Rodriguez
OF: Doug Loman
OF: Kevin Bass
OF: David Green
SP: Weldon Swift
SP: Larry Montgomery
SP: Rick Kranitz
SP: Tony Torres
SP: Chuck Porter
CL: Kunikazu Ogawa
Maybe the Holyoke Millers weren’t the 20th best Brewers farm club of all time, but it was one of the better earlier clubs, with very few quality teams joining the fray in the 1970s. And how often does a team have three players that were involved in a pair of the best trades ever made by the parent club?
The trades involving Bass, DiPino, and Green made Milwaukee a solid pennant contender in the early 1980s and firmly placed the Brewers in the national spotlight in 1982.