By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist
Have you heard about our exciting new project? We have teamed up with local author Sean Grassie to publish a book celebrating iconic stories from 150 years of sport in Manitoba.
All proceeds from the book will go to KidSport Manitoba, an organization that provides support to children in order to remove financial barriers that prevent them from participating in organized sport. Once a month, we will be releasing a sneak peak of the stories from our book!
This month’s feature story from Iconic Stories from 150 Years of Sport in Manitoba is the story of the Winnipeg Whips, a professional Triple-A ball team competing in the International League. Although the team only lasted two seasons in Winnipeg, they are a part of a long history of professional baseball in Winnipeg.
Read the full story below, and thanks to our friends over at La Liberté, we are able to offer this story in French.
Winnipeg Whips briefly connected to the Montreal Expos
TRIPLE-A AFFILIATION LASTED LESS THAN 2 SEASONS
The generosity of a young baseball fan wasn’t forgotten.
Chris Parker gave his life savings of $15 to the Buffalo Bisons in 1970 when the 12-year-old tried to help keep the International League team in his American hometown.
It wasn’t enough, and the financially strapped Bisons relocated to Winnipeg during the 1970 season and became known as the Winnipeg Whips, the Triple-A affiliate of the Montreal Expos of Major League Baseball (MLB). The move meant a Triple-A baseball team would be based out of Manitoba for the first time.
A Buffalo newspaper, Transair and the Whips helped bring Parker to Winnipeg for the team’s first game at Winnipeg Stadium. The youngster was made an honorary citizen of Winnipeg.
Manitoba Premier Ed Schreyer threw the ceremonial opening pitch with 7,021 fans in the stands on the historic night of June 19, 1970. Parker was treated to a thrilling game, as Whips infielder Kevin Collins belted a grand slam home run in the seventh inning to lift his team to a 4-2 win over the league-leading Syracuse Chiefs.
Collins and Whips pitcher Ernie McAnally were members of the International League All-Stars that beat MLB’s Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in a 1970 exhibition game. Guiding the All-Stars was Whips manager Clyde McCullough.
The Bisons won their 11th game in 45 starts on the day it was announced the club was relocating to Winnipeg from Buffalo. The Bisons/Whips were in last place in the International League at the time and moved one spot up in the standings to finish the 1970 season at 52-88. The Whips led the International League in home runs, yet scored the fewest runs of any of the league’s eight teams.
Many of the team’s home games were played in Montreal that season due to previous commitments at Winnipeg Stadium. Individual ticket prices for games in Winnipeg ranged from $1.50 to $3.50.
In May of 1971, the Whips set an International League record by swatting nine home runs in a game. The team was down 11-1 to Syracuse before storming back to take a 12-11 lead into the ninth inning at Winnipeg Stadium. The Chiefs went on to win 15-13 in 12 innings. The Whips had 18 hits in the game, half of which were home runs.
Three Whips players – first baseman Dave McDonald, pitcher Mike Wegener and catcher Terry Humphrey – played for the International League All-Stars that beat the New York Yankees 15-13 in a 1971 exhibition game.
Steve Rogers made his professional debut with the Whips that season at age 21. He went on to pitch 13 seasons for the Expos from 1973-1985, setting a club record with 158 wins. Rogers led MLB in 1982 with a 2.40 earned-run average (ERA).
With a record of 44-96, the Whips finished in last place in the International League in 1971.
Keeping the team in Winnipeg wasn’t economically viable for the Expos. Geographically, the closest team to Winnipeg in the league was the Toledo Mud Hens in Ohio. The Expos covered 100 per cent of travel expenses for teams playing in Winnipeg in 1970 and 75 per cent of those costs in 1971. The MLB club tried unsuccessfully to move the Whips to the Triple-A American Association, which would have reduced travel distances.
“We knew the International League was not the most practical league for the Whips, but we couldn’t wait,” Expos chairman Charles Bronfman told the Winnipeg Free Press in 1971. “We wanted to get a team in Winnipeg first, then negotiate for a different league.”
The Whips operated with a deficit of more than $326,000 for the 1971 season. After the season, the club relocated to Virginia and became the Peninsula Whips.
The Whips were part of a long history of professional baseball in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Maroons won titles in the Northern League in 1902, 1903, 1916, 1935, 1939 and 1942, in addition to capturing the Northern-Copper Country League crown in 1907.
In 1942, the team beat the Sioux Falls Canaries 5-4 in the ninth game of a best-of-nine series, which started out as a Northern League semifinal meeting and turned into the championship final. It was announced before Game 6 that the series was extending to a best-of-nine contest due to the other semifinal winner, the Wausau Lumberjacks, having to withdraw after players on the team were drafted into the United States Armed Forces.
The Winnipeg Goldeyes won the Northern League title in 1957, 1959 and 1960, operating as an affiliate of MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals. Steve Carlton started 12 games on the mound for the Goldeyes in 1964 as a 19-year-old. He later won the World Series with the Cardinals (1967) and Philadelphia Phillies (1980) and was a four-time winner of the Cy Young Award as the National League’s top pitcher.
The Goldeyes played in the Northern League from 1954-64 and again for the 1969 season, when it was affiliated with MLB’s Kansas City Royals.
In February of 1970, it was announced the Goldeyes had become the Class-A affiliate of the Expos in the Northern League. At the time, the Northern League played a short season.
The Winnipeg Whips’ arrival in June during the International League season came prior to the start of the Northern League season. The Goldeyes were shuffled to South Dakota and became known as the Watertown Expos.