Tag Archives: Sports

Gone But Not Forgotten Part 3

Well enough of the history lesson, lets focus on the present.  Right now West Michigan area has a small amount of minor league teams:

Grand Rapids
– West Michigan Whitecaps – Baseball
– Grand Rapids Griffins – Hockey

Muskegon
– Muskegon Lumberjacks – Hockey

Kalamazoo
– Kalamazoo K-Wings – Hockey

That isn’t much, especially considering that Grand Rapids was once known as “The Nation’s premiere minor-league destination” during the 1990’s, according to Grand Rapids Press sports writer David Mayo.  Consider that in 2011 Grand Rapids was ranked as 178th on the Sports Business Journal’s list of the Top Minor League Market.  Back in 2005 Grand Rapids was listed as high as 25th, though losing the Grand Rapids Rampage was a large cause for the drop. Even more shockingly is that back in 1997 Grand Rapids was ranked as one of the top ten markets with sufficient capacity for a potential expansion NBA team by the American City Business Journal.

So what happened West Michigan?  Why have so many teams failed, especially after becoming a premiere minor league destination.  It’s obvious that hockey is king in Michigan, and with the Grand Rapids Griffins winning the 2013 Turner Cup, I can only see them getting more popular in the region. In addition being an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, greatly helps legitimatize the Griffins and helps Red Wing fans in this region have a stronger tie to the Red Wings.  Some of the other hockey teams in the also have some affiliation, like the Kalamazoo K-Wings are like a AA affiliate to the Chicago Wolves (AAA) who are then an affiliate of the Vancuver Canucks (a NHL Hockey Team).  Whereas the Muskegon Lumberjacks are just located in a type of player development league without any professional team affiliation.

But what about the national pastime of baseball?  Baseball has  had a particularly long and sad history in Grand Rapids until 1994 when the Whitecaps finally starting playing.  The Whitecaps seem to be doing well in West Michigan, and one potential cause for this could also be that they are a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. This is a genius idea of both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers to base at least one of their minor league teams on the west side of the state, instead of having the team in some far away state.  It’s a great way to build up fan support, and give people a connection to the professional team on the other side of the state.

One of my theories on why many minor league teams did not last in the region has to do with West Michigan’s love affair with high school sports. As a transplant to this region I was absolutely shocked, and dumbfounded by the attention that high school sports garnered, in the media, in the community, and in everything.  It blew my mind that high school sports got any attention on regional news broadcasts, and front page treatment on sports sections in the newspapers, and even their own tv shows after the evening news.  Even after living in the region for over 8 years I am still surprised by the attention high school sports get. Now granted I may change my tune in 10 years if my children start playing competitive sports in High School, but for right now I am sticking with my original convictions.  Thinking about high school sports, I find that they would be competing for the same time and money that minor league sports would from potential fans/consumers.  Attendance to high school sporting events, require admission fees, food vendor sales, same evening time-slots, especially on weekends.  So minor league teams have to compete against normal time and money commitments of fans, but also against even more convenient sports entertainment from the local high school teams.

I most likely guilty as anyone for not supporting the teams that we do have.  I can probably count on my hands how many games I have been too since moving to West Michigan, and to date I have only seen the Holland Blast, West Michigan Whitecaps, and Grand Rapids Griffins play.  Though it would be nice to have a nice constant presence of some other teams like in basketball or soccer… you know to give me and the family options on a Friday night…at least until the kids are in high school.

Any other thoughts on theories on the lack of success of minor league sports in West Michigan? Let me know.

Part III in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan –
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II

Advertisements

Gone But Not Forgotten – Part 2

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part I ,

Hockey

Finally we will start talking about the sport that is near many West Michiganders hearts… hockey.  Michigan is a hockey mad state, and the West Side is no different.  Looking through the list of defunct teams you see a great number of them were hockey clubs.  It also wouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the two remaining minor league sports teams left Grand Rapids is a hockey team, the Griffins.

One of the oldest hockey teams that I could find in the area wasn’t in Grand Muskegon RedsRapids but in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Reds played from 1935 to 1938 in the Michigan Ontario Hockey League.  They played in the Mart Auditorium along with another team the Muskegon Sailors (who started in 1938).  Another interesting note is that the Chicago Blackhawks used The Mart as their preseason training facility.

Grand Rapids would get its team, the Rockets, in 1949 and they would go until 1956Rockets playing in The Stadium Arena, which is now known as the DeltaPlex. The Rockets left Grand Rapids in 1956 and moved to Huntington, West Virginia ( a hockey hotbed) and became the Hornets.

Zephyr Gas Can60_35One of the longest tenured teams in West Michigan was located in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Zephyrs started in 1960 and different variations of this team existed until 1992 (those they did change names quite frequently).  Zephyrs were owned by Jerry Delise, and they got their name from sponsor Zephyr Oil Co. of North Muskegon.  They even won the IHL championship in 1962. For the 1965-1966 season the Zephyrs renamed themselves and became the Mohawks.  They Muskegon_Mohawks_(IHL)_logoremained the Mohawks until 1984-1985 season when the team was sold to a new ownership group for $1, and then they became the Lumberjacks who played until 1992, before moving to Cleveland. But that was not last of the Lumberjacks in Muskegon, oh no… the Lumberjacks never die and rise again harder and stronger. The name was re-used twice.  The 1st time the Muskegon Fury took the name after the Lumberjacks left town, but they eventually relocated as well, moving to Evansville for the 2010-2011 season.  This Lumberjack vacancy was soon filled because Rochester Mustangs moved to Muskegon and became the new Lumberjacks who are still currently playing in the new USHL (a reincarnation of the past league).  No wonder it took me so long to write this post, its quite confusing with the teams coming and going, and keeping the same name, crazy ole Lumberjacks.

Grand Rapids BladesOne of the unfortunate realities of many of these teams is that they often only play for one season and then they disband or relocate.  Such was the case with the Grand Rapids Blades who played for the 1976-1977 season, and even won the USHL championship, then they ceased to exist.  Ready for a rabbit hole?  Ok in more recent history there was another Blades team, but this time located in Kansas City and they belonged in the IHL from 1990 to 2001.  Tying this back to West Michigan, guess who owned the Kansas City Blades, that’s right The Ledger favorite family… the DeVos’.  They purchased the team in 1996, the family also owned the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Orlando Solar Bears as well.  The wikipedia article on the Blades states that the DeVos family rather quickly became the fans enemies, with a series of changes they made, and how they attempted to move the Blades to Oklahoma City.

Give A Hoot!

Give A Hoot!

For all the teams that were born in Grand Rapids, and then migrated elsewhere, the Grand Rapids Owls were one club that did the opposite.  They started out as the Dayton Owls and they moved to Grand Rapids mid-season in 1977.  They lasted until 1980, when they disbanded the club due to financial reasons, and not being able to get a new stadium to play in.  The redundantly named Stadium Arena (now known as the DeltaPlex) was their home ice stadium, they missed out on the Van Andel arena by 16 years. Though Grand Rapids did miss some infamy by a couple of months, because one of the Owls players, Raymond William (Wild Willie) Trognitz was permanently suspended from the IHL, when during a brawl against the Port Huron Flags, Trognitz took his stick and struck it against a Flags player’s head, putting that player in the hospital.  The reason Grand Rapids escaped the infamy, because the team was still the Dayton Owls the time.

ggrizz2- jerseyShortly after the Owls closed up shop, the Grand Rapids Grizzlies took to the ice from 1980 to 1982 for the Continental Hockey League (not to be confused with the Russian version.

Then finally in 1996, the Van Andel Arena was built, and shortly there after Dave Van Andel and Dan DeVos formed West Michigan Hockey, Inc. which was able to bring the Griffins into town.  They effectively solved the problem of a lack of a stadium in Grand Rapids, which brought an end to the Owls.

Then there is roller hockey.  Apparently West Michigan had its own league eloquently named Michigan Elite Roller Hockey League.  In 2001 this league merged with the National Roller Hockey League (love cached websites!)  West Michigan was littered with the following roller hockey teams: Grandville Gators, Grand Rapids RiverFrogs, Kalamazoo Jones Soda (blatant copyright infringement), and Muskegon Comets.  Looks like there might have also been a Lansing Wild Cocks team, and the Kalamazoo team may have changed its name to the Warriors.

Soccer

Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s been tough to dig up much information on soccer in West Michigan.  Grand Rapids had a team called the Explosion and Kalamazoo had a couple of teams one indoor team called the Kangaroos and an outdoor team called the Kingdom.

Well time to come clean, I am stretching this series into a three part-er.  So in the next installment I will be exploring some reasons why so many of these teams have come and gone in West Michigan.

Once again feel free to share any stories you have about these teams, or any pictures or anything else.

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part III

Gone But Not Forgotten – Defunct Sports Teams of West Michigan – Part 1

Part I in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part II

A blending of passions always yields some interesting results.  And recently I started blending two of my passions – sports and history.  Makes perfect sense right?  Fatigued with the high school sports (which after 7 years the local fanaticism, and hype still baffles me), and not really feeling the Griffins and Whitecaps, I started looking for something else.  Some how I stumbled into the world of defunct pro/semi-pro teams that once were.  Trust me there is a lot.  Many of these teams only competed for a year or two, and then they either moved to a different city, closed up shop, or their league folded.  Learning more about these teams and their history has been fascinating.  These teams covered the gamut of sports from baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and hockey.  Not only were these teams located in Grand Rapids, but there have been many teams that had homes in the smaller cities in West Michigan like Holland, and Muskegon.

It’s amazing how you start researching one aspect of this sports world and it starts unraveling more and more, such as the teams they played against, their leagues, and if your lucky you might also find photos of players, of the team, logos and if your lucky the stories.
Take for instance the Holland Oilers, which was a basketball team that played for two seasons in the Midwest Professional Basketball League in 1962-63 to 1963-1964 and even won the championship in 62-63 season.  The Oilers also had the first ever high school player drafted ever by the NBA, play for them as well.  The player’s name was Reggie Harding, and his fascinating, yet quite sad and tragic story can be read in full here.  Another interesting connection is that the Holland Oilers were coached angtacker1d co-owned by Gene Schrotenboer, and Gene also coached and co-owned the Grand Rapids Tackers, another Midwest Professional Basketball League team.  I have no idea how you can coach two different teams in the same league but yeah it was the 60’s, I guess anything can happen.  It’s difficult to find a lot info on the Tackers, but you can read more in the book “Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids” where a whole chapter is devoted to the team, check out the excerpt here.

Basketball in West Michigan also has a much more recent history as well – teams Grand Rapids Mackerslike the Grand Rapids Mackers turned Grand Rapids Hoops, turned West Michigan Mayhem.  Does anyone else remember the team travel bus of the Mayhem? I have fond memories of that bus rolling down the highway with its huge gaudy “wave” looking mascot guy emblazoned on the side.  It always resulted in a few double-takes.  What I find fascinating is GrandRapidsHoops8994the amount of success that the Hoops had when they started, and what happened to lead them to disband in 2003.  All mentions of the Hoops in local media state that the Hoops were quite successful early on in their career both with their playing and with attendance MichiganMayhemand fan support, so what happened?  How come they left town and ultimately disbanded?  I will be exploring this topic and writing down my thoughts on it in a future installment of this series.  That’s right Part 1 and 2 or maybe even 3.

More recently within the past 5 years Holland Blast, and Grand Rapids Flight  came into existence and just as quickly they left, Holland in 2007, and Grand Rapids in 2008.  The Flight also have the distinction of having the world’s tallest athlete on their roster with Sun Mingming.  Anyone see any games of the Flight with Sun Mingming playing? Here is an image below.  Living in Holland we did end up supporting the Blast.  It was a nice activity in the city and we attended a handful of games, and even got a T-shirt from the Blast.  Recently I just found out that Holland is home now to another basketball team, the Holland Dream though their season just ended a couple weeks ago. Hopefully, I will catch them next year, if they are still around.

So that was a little trip down in basketball history, how about we talk about our national past time – baseball.  Luckily, the West Michigan Whitecaps provide a nice little section on their website about the baseball history in this region. Baseball was played in Grand Rapids as early as 1882, and throughout the years many teams came and went and here are some of the notable names that were left behind:

  • Furniture Makers
  • Rustlers
  • Gold Bugs
  • Ganzeloids
  • Braves
  • Black Sox
  • Bissell Sweepers
  • Bill-Eds
  • Billberts
  • Billbobs
  • Bob-o-Links
  • Dodger Colts
  • Chicks
  • Orphans
  • Tigers
  • Cabinet Makers
  • Sullivans
  • Raiders
  • Jets
  • Joshers
  • Shamrocks
  • Wolverines
  • Champs
  • Raiders
  • Colts
  • Boers
  • Homoners
  • Grads
  • Rippers

The Jets dropping some bombs!

Those are some wild names, especially all the “Bill” & “Bob” names, not to mention the early corporate sponsorship with Bissell, and their product tie with the “sweeper” name.  As you could image it is hard to focus on all these teams so let’s pick out a couple of interesting ones to look at further.  For instance, the Grand Rapids Black Sox, featured future Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige who played for the team.  The owner of the Black Sox formed the team and tried to get them to join the Negro Leagues in 1953.  The Grand Rapids Chicks were a all girls baseball team that moved from Milwaukee to play in Grand Rapids from 1945 to 1954 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. They were quite successful making the playoffs every single year that they were in Grand Rapids until the league folded. The Grand Rapids Historical Commission did a nice write-up on the Chicks.

The Chicks of course provide a great tie-in to my alma mater, University of Illinois at Chicago – UIC who in their earlier days were known as the Chikas (which was a Native American tribe) before they changed their name to the Flames (better).  Another baseball team playing in that same decade, was the Grand Rapids was the Jets.  They played in the Central League from 1948 to 1951, and played at Bigelow Field in Wyoming, who you can see in the above image doing some long toss.

Ottawa County Times Baseball Team picture

I guess they could have also played for the “Cot”s

Digging further back into the archives we can look at some teams in Holland that were operating back in the 1890’s – The Ottawa County Times, which sounds more like a newspaper than a baseball squad, but as we can see from the Grand Rapids names from this era of baseball anything goes.  Some other baseball teams that played in

Holland were the Internationals, Wooden Shoes

Who played domestically

The Holland Internationals – Who played domestically

(of course), and Flying Dutchmen (naturally).  With all this history of baseball in Holland, there is some basis for trying to bring back a minor league team to Holland.  It seems like there were a large number of teams all over West Michigan playing baseball. I am trying to learn more about them and plan to do so with this book “Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan

One other baseball note I wanted to see if I could get some follow-up on is the West Michigan Whitecaps “Turn Back the Clock” days they have done in the past. Per their website they did the following games where they honored these past teams and wore their uniforms:

  • 1899 Furnituremakers
  • 1903 Orphans
  • 1921 Joshers
  • 1922 Billbobs
  • 1948 Black Sox
  • 1950 Jets
  • Holland Flying Dutchmen
  • Ludington Mariners

So if you have attended any of these games or have photos of the players in the jerseys, I would love to hear from you or see the photos.

Football was also quite prevalent.  In the 1940’s there was the Michigan Independent Football League, which featured the Holland Hurricanes, and the Grand Rapids All-Stars. Holland Hurricanes Football Programs Some other teams found on the a game program, I dug out for the Hurricanes were the Ionia Independents, Highland Park Bears.  Around that time there was also a Southern Michigan Football League for which there is a nice little write up about the Bay City team, and some of the other teams in that league.

In much more recent years, there was the Michigan Football League, which has somehow been miraculously preserved with this fine website on the league and its teams   at http://www.semiprofootball.org/mfl.htm. I wish all these leagues had such a detailed website available about them.  You can read up more on the Grand Rapids Crush (which could have very well been the soda), and other MFL teams, like the Huskies.  I love the progression of the Holland Huskies though, they started out as the Hamilton Huskies in 94, then in 95 they moved to Holland to become the Holland Huskies, then in 1999 they moved to Grand Rapids and became the Michigan Huskies.  For me it just strikes me as odd that a team would start out in Hamilton of all cities.  Another team located in the city was the Grand Rapids Thunder, which was founded in 2003, but no longer seems to be in existence.

Well I think that is enough for now, next post we will take a closer look at hockey and touch upon soccer, and look into why minor league teams succeed or fail in West Michigan.

So did I interest you?  Do you have anything to share?  Have you been to any games, do you have any photos or additional information about these teams or any other teams that I didn’t mention?  Please share – post them in the comments or shot me an email at ledgerwm @ gmail.com.  I am extremely interested in learning more so anything you got, let me know. Let’s do a better job of preserving and sharing this piece of local sports history, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Part I in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part II

HUGE Annoyance

I have a radio in my car.  No tape deck, no CD player, and no aux jack… so in my daily commutes I get stuck listening to radio.  With the West Michigan radio options already quite lacking, I struggle to entertain myself when a program I am listening to goes on commercial break.  There is often a lot of dial switching going on.

Not sure why the logo is cracking

Occasionally, I stumble upon WBBL 107.3  and if it’s in the afternoon I get to hear the HUGE (Bill Simonson) show… and I don’t like what I hear.  Maybe its the voice, or the whole on-air persona of all-knowing and talking down to callers of the show.  But those are minor things to what I really dislike… the constant barrage of sponsorships of everything, and all the ads that HUGE lends his voice over talents for.  It’s a constant to hear  Huge’s voice during the show, and throughout the whole commercial break.  Here is a small sampling of some of the advertisements that Huge does, and some of the sponsorships that I have heard:

Sponsored by The Ledger

Show sponsors include:

It’s a HUGE Deal!

For a casual listener it seems like there is a mandate that advertisers must use the voice of Bill Simonson in their radio ads or else.  Or perhaps that booming voice just helps in tough talking people to buy product xyz.  I know that a lot of radio shows do provide voice over services, but on the HUGE Show the percentage of those types of ads is vastly above and beyond what other shows do. Additionally, The Huge Show also goes over the top with having everything associated with the show sponsored like an inbox, or a website, or the phone lines… and then the constant reinforcement of this sponsor is out of control.

Sponsored by The Ledger on Twitter

Luckily, I am not the only one who feels this way, check out one of the more interesting blogs I have come across called Beeotch of The Day which seems to be run by someone in the Grand Rapids radio business.  Bill Simonson was twice nominated for Beeotch of The Day… once for his over use of sponsors and voice over ads , and nominated for the second time for just being plain lousy in the Radio rankings, and even getting bested by the other sports radio show in town on 96.1.  Furthermore, in reading over some of the MLive comments that were made on this story about the Free Beer and Hot Wings Show imitating and poking fun at Bill Simonson, many people also share similarly negative thoughts of HUGE, and notably commenter Thirdplanet who wrote the following “The reason this is so funny is because it is all so true. The Huge show is like one 3 hour commercial and apparently Huge will endorse anything. ”

Photo sponsored by The Ledger on Facebook

Lastly, what bugs me about Huge is that his Amway Inbox can be reached through his “State Wide” email address, and “State Wide” website.  “State Wide” email addresses and websites are available to anyone globally… so stop saying it, it sounds stupid, and makes you sound even more ridiculous.

Just listen to his show, and count the number of ads, and sponsors, its HUGE!

Out of curiosity is it cheaper usually to have a company produce its own commercial or to hire an on-air personality to do the radio spot?