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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals in the New York-Penn League – 1981 to present


Since the origin of this work was the 2008 championship season of the St. Louis Cardinals’ current New York-Penn League affiliate, the Batavia Muckdogs, it also seems a fitting place to begin my in-depth looks at the Cardinals organization’s six highest-level franchises over the last 25 years.

The Cardinals organization joined the NY-Penn League in 1981, historically using the club as the initial stopping-off point for their recent college draftees. They first located their club in Erie, Pennsylvania, where they remained for seven years, not once making the playoffs.

Though the original focus of this series was the last quarter century, I am including the records from the first three Erie seasons for completeness. The farther one goes back in time, the closer one gets to an aggregate .500 mark. The overall win rate of the Cardinals in the league over their entire history is .492.

Cardinals SS-A Year
Pct W L Division Playoffs Manager
Team record 81-08 0.492 1037 1072 3
25 year record 84-08 0.488 921 966 3
Ten year record 99-08 0.479 360 391 1
Batavia 2008 0.622 46 28 1 WC Mark DeJohn
Batavia 2007 0.419 31 43 5 Mark DeJohn
State College 2006 0.520 39 36 3 Mark DeJohn
New Jersey 2005 0.487 37 39 4 Mark DeJohn
New Jersey 2004 0.547 41 34 2 Tommy Shields
New Jersey 2003 0.425 31 42 5 Tommy Shields
New Jersey 2002 0.513 39 37 3 Tommy Shields
New Jersey 2001 0.461 35 41 5 Brian Rupp
New Jersey 2000 0.408 31 45 6 Jeff Shireman
New Jersey 1999 0.395 30 46 8 Jeff Shireman
New Jersey 1998 0.453 34 41 4 Jose Oquendo
New Jersey 1997 0.473 35 39 3 Jeff Shireman
New Jersey 1996 0.373 28 47 5 Scott Melvin
New Jersey 1995 0.461 35 41 3 Luis Melendez
New Jersey 1994 0.573 43 32 1 WC Roy Silver
Glens Falls 1993 0.481 37 40 3 Steve Turco
Hamilton 1992 0.737 56 20 1 L1 Chris Maloney
Hamilton 1991 0.455 35 42 5 Rick Colbert
Hamilton 1990 0.395 30 46 5 Luis Melendez
Hamilton 1989 0.421 32 44 5 Joe Pettini
Hamilton 1988 0.480 36 39 3 Dan Radison
Erie 1987 0.480 36 39 5 Joe Rigoli
Erie 1986 0.481 37 40 2 Joe Rigoli
Erie 1985 0.564 44 34 2 Fred Koenig
Erie 1984 0.581 43 31 2 Rich Hacker
Erie 1983 0.493 37 38 3 Joe Rigoli
Erie 1982 0.479 35 38 4 Joe Rigoli
Erie 1981 0.595 44 30 2 Roger Freed/Sonny Ruberto

WC = won championship

L1 = lost in first playoff round

For the 1988 season, the Cardinals took their NY-P entry to the Great White North, Hamilton. Ontario. While they would remain there only five seasons, the fifth and final in 1992 was most memorable. Chris Maloney’s club put together the best record in the entire Cardinals system in at least the last 25 years.

That club won 56 and lost just 20 (.737), but fell in a one-game first-round playoff. 65,584 fans came out in 1992 to see the Redbirds. The team and league’s co-lead in wins were shared by then-future MLB pitcher T.J. Mathews and long-since forgotten Dave Oehrlein. Oehrlein also paced the league with 99 strikeouts.

Following is the subset of Cardinals system records over the last decade and quarter century held by this franchise. While the NY-P entry has experienced two excellent individual seasons, the overall picture is less positive. Their 17 losing seasons in the last 25 is the poorest across the system and their total of three playoff appearances is tied for the fewest. The complete list for all clubs is in the initial article of the series.


Cardinals system records

Last ten years (1999-2008) Level Mark Record Years Club
Best single season club 0.622 46-28 2008 Batavia Muckdogs (SS-A)
Most league championships club one 4-way tie: Mem/PB/QC/Batavia
Last 25 years (1984-2008) Level Mark Record Years Club
Best single season club 0.737 56-20 1992 Hamilton Redbirds (SS-A)
Most losing seasons club 17 Bat/SC/NJ/GF/Ham/Erie (SS-A)
Fewest playoff appearances club three (tie) 92,94,08 Bat/SC/NJ/GF/Ham/Erie (SS-A)

Upon leaving Hamilton, Glens Falls, New York served as a one-year stopping point for the franchise in 1993, as the new ballpark in Sussex, New Jersey was not ready. The club drew a league-best 78,725, but finished third in their division.

The new New Jersey Cardinals got out of the gate quickly, taking the organization’s first New York-Penn League title in 1994. They would not even reach the playoffs again until winning the crown in 2008, however.

Among the many skippers to have led the club over the years was Jose Oquendo in 1998. It remains “Secret Weapon’s” only regular-season managing experience in professional baseball. More recently, he has managed in winter ball and for Team Puerto Rico.

In fact, look again at the early managers of the franchise. Including Oquendo, six of the former New York-Penn skippers are employed by the Cardinals today. They include Steve Turco, Joe Rigoli, Maloney, Dan Radison and Joe Pettini. I find that quite amazing.

In recent years, the facilities in New Jersey had begun to fall behind standards and ownership sold the franchise to a Pennsylvania group prior to the 2006 season. The buyers also owned the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A club. The New Jersey Cardinals became the State College Spikes for 2006. The ballpark, located on the Penn State University campus, was brand new.

The handwriting was on the wall from the very start and the new owners formally strengthened their ties with Pittsburgh as soon as the Cardinals Player Development Contract (PDC) expired. In came the Bucs and out went the Cards following that one season in State College.

The Cardinals wanted to remain in the league for 2007 and beyond. After considering several destinations, they took over for the departing Philadelphia Phillies in Batavia, New York. While this is their first affiliation with the Cardinals, Batavians are most familiar with the New York-Penn League as the town is the only original member of the circuit, founded in 1939.

The 2008 Muckdogs capped a 46-20 season by taking the league championship, the first to be celebrated locally since 1963. It was the best record in the Cardinals system at any level in the last 15 years.

In recent years, local ownership has been on tenuous financial footing, but established a promising management agreement with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings that is heading into its second year. In terms of supplying players, the Cardinals are committed to Batavia through the 2010 season, having extended their Player Development Contract last fall.

The club’s manager all the way back to their final season in New Jersey in 2005 is veteran minor league skipper and former Cardinals major league coach Mark DeJohn. “DJ” will return for his fifth consecutive season in 2009, extending his own franchise record.

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