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Cardinals in the Appalachian League – 1975 to present

The first league-affiliated club from Johnson City, Tennessee was the Soldiers. They began play in 1910 and competed for four years in that decade, four during the Twenties and returned to the Appalachian League in 1937.

The next season, the club was formally affiliated with a major league organization, the Cardinals, for the first time. One year later, in 1939, the Cardinals name was added, permanently replacing the Soldiers designation.

The Cardinals remained in the Appalachian League until 1955. The league did not operate in 1956 and when it re-started in 1957, Johnson City aligned with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1957 through 1960.

The Cardinals returned to Johnson City and the Appy League for one season, 1961, a year in which the late George Kissell served as one of five managers for the last-place club.

From 1962 through 1974, the Cardinals organization did not participate in the circuit, but there was Appalachian League baseball in town most of the time. The New York Yankees had an 11-year run in Johnson City from 1964 through 1974.

For purposes of this report, I am considering the Cardinals contiguous run in Johnson City that began in 1975. Just as with Batavia and the Cardinals history in the New York-Penn League, 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 Appalachian League since 1975 is just eight games under at .498.

Cards SS-R Year Pct W L Division Playoffs Manager
Team record 75-08 0.498 1154 1162 3
25 year record 84-08 0.495 838 854 3
Ten year record 99-08 0.448 300 370 0
Johnson City 2008 0.545 36 30 2 Joe Almaraz
Johnson City 2007 0.412 28 40 3 Joe Almaraz
Johnson City 2006 0.500 34 34 4 Dan Radison
Johnson City 2005 0.418 28 39 4 Tommy Kidwell
Johnson City 2004 0.485 33 35 3 Tommy Kidwell
Johnson City 2003 0.429 27 36 4 Ron Warner
Johnson City 2002 0.433 29 38 4 Brian Rupp
Johnson City 2001 0.470 31 35 5 Chris Maloney
Johnson City 2000 0.353 24 44 5 Luis Melendez
Johnson City 1999 0.435 30 39 5 Steve Turco
Johnson City 1998 0.373 25 42 5 Steve Turco
Johnson City 1997 0.338 23 45 5 Steve Turco
Johnson City 1996 0.618 42 26 2 Steve Turco
Johnson City 1995 0.515 35 33 3 Steve Turco
Johnson City 1994 0.618 42 26 1 LC Steve Turco
Johnson City 1993 0.544 37 31 2 Joe Cunningham
Johnson City 1992 0.508 33 32 2 Steve Turco
Johnson City 1991 0.606 40 26 2 Chris Maloney
Johnson City 1990 0.400 28 42 8 Mark DeJohn
Johnson City 1989 0.543 38 32 2 Mark DeJohn
Johnson City 1988 0.569 41 31 3 Jorge Aranzamendi
Gaylen Pitts
Johnson City 1987 0.609 42 27 1 LC Dan Radison
Johnson City 1986 0.667 44 22 1 LC Dan Radison
Johnson City 1985 0.574 39 29 2 Rich Hacker
Johnson City 1984 0.420 29 40 4 Chuck Hiller
Johnson City 1983 0.403 29 43 6 Rich Hacker
Johnson City 1982 0.478 32 35 1 na Rich Hacker
Johnson City 1981 0.514 36 34 4 Johnny Lewis
Johnson City 1980 0.420 29 40 6 Johnny Lewis
Johnson City 1979 0.368 25 43 5 Nick Leyva
Johnson City 1978 0.529 37 33 2 Nick Leyva
Johnson City 1977 0.529 37 33 3 Dave Ricketts
Johnson City 1976 0.714 50 20 1 na Buzzy Keller
Johnson City 1975 0.603 41 27 1 na Tom Burgess

LC = lost in championship round

na = not applicable

In their first year back, 1975, the Cardinals posted the league’s best record, but there was no playoff despite the Appalachian League splitting into North and South Divisions. That season, Henry Mays tied for the league lead in runs with 58 and his teammate Len Streiltz paced the circuit with nine wins. The identical conditions occurred the next year, as the Cards led the way with 50 wins, but no playoff was held in 1976, either.

The league dropped down to six teams in 1977 and returned to a single set of standings. In 1982, the Appy League expanded to eight teams again. The Cardinals won the South Division despite a sub-.500 record. While there was still no playoff, needless to say Johnson City didn’t have the top record in the league this time. League leaders included Cardinals pitcher Keith Turnbull, tied for wins (9) and strikeouts (86) and ERA champion Jose Ortega (1.55).

Dan Radison’s Cardinals amassed the best record in the league in 1986 after beginning the season with a 23-game winning streak. In the first year of playoffs, they lost to Pulaski two games to one. Johnson City repeated as 1987 South Division champs but fell in the playoffs, this time to Burlington in two straight games.

Despite posting winning records in each season except for one during the interim, the Cardinals did not return to the Appalachian League playoffs until 1994. The second of Steve Turco’s record seven Johnson City clubs again paced the league in regular-season wins with 42, but Princeton defeated the Cardinals in the playoffs, two games to one. Pitching led the way with a 3.19 team ERA that was third-best in the circuit, despite a league-low .224 club batting average.

1994 would mark Johnson City’s last playoff club, followed by 14 years of trying to get back there. Typically the career starting point for the organization’s high school draftees, the Cardinals did not post a winning record in any season from 1997 through 2007.

As a result, all of the Johnson City franchise’s top marks across the system, whether over the last decade or quarter century, are not positive ones.

Cardinals system records – Johnson City

Last ten years (1999-2008) Level Mark Record Years Club
Worst cumulative record club 0.448 300-370 1999-2008 Johnson City Cardinals (SS-R)
Most losing seasons club seven Johnson City Cardinals (SS-R)
Fewest playoff appearances club none 1999-2008 Johnson City Cardinals (SS-R)
Fewest league championships club none (tie) 1999-2008 Johnson City Cardinals (SS-R)
Last 25 years (1984-2008) Level Mark Record Years Club
Fewest playoff appearances club three (tie) 86,87,94 Johnson City Cardinals (SS-R)
Fewest league championships club none 1984-2008 Johnson City Cardinals (SS-R)

The 2008 club broke the string with a .545 winning mark (36-30), good for second place in the West Division. First baseman Curt Smith posted an OPS of 1.003 and received the League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Even after slowing down a bit upon his promotion to Quad Cities, Smith’s .353 average for the season was tops by any player in the system.

Over the years, several managers served the Johnson City Cardinals in multiple stints, including Turco, Radison and current Memphis skipper Chris Maloney. Four former Johnson City skippers now lead other Cardinals affiliates – Maloney (Memphis), Ron “Pop” Warner (Springfield), Mark DeJohn (Batavia) and Turco (Gulf Coast League).

New manager Mike Shildt is a former coach with Johnson City and Batavia, scout and coordinator for minor league spring training, extended spring training and the fall instructional camps.

Related articles:

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

A quarter century of Cardinals minor league results

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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