SPBA: If You Blinked, You Missed It!
- Updated: September 25, 2009
Back in the winter of 1989, former minor leaguer and Colorado real estate guru Jim Morley founded the Senior Professional Baseball Association after seeing the success of the Senior Golf Tour. After all, baseball is America’s favorite pastime, so why not play winter ball in the states with former major leaguers age 35 and older (32 if you were a catcher).
What could go wrong? They fielded 8 teams in two divisions with future Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Fergie Jenkins as the league’s headliners in a 72 game season. They even had a future Hall of Fame manager on board in Earl Weaver!
That initial season in 1989/1990 saw lack-luster support with attendance numbers barely over 262 thousand which was just over 900 fans per game on average.
Other big name players that should have lured a bigger box office draw were OFs Dave Kingman, Curt Flood, Pitchers Vida Blue, former strikeout king J.R. Richard, Joaquin Andujar, infielder Ron Washington, OF Mickey Rivers, SS Bert Campaneris and RP Bill Campbell.
Here is a listing of those original 8 teams and their records:
- St. Petersburg Pelicans (42-30, 1st Place)
- Bradenton Explorers (38-34, 2nd Place)
- Orlando Juice (37-35, 3rd Place)
- Winter Haven Super Sox (29-43, 4th Place)
- West Palm Beach Tropics (52-20, 1st Place)
- Fort Myers Sun Sox (37-35, 2nd Place)
- Gold Coast Suns (32-39, 3rd Place)
- St. Lucie Legends (20-51 4th Place)
Due to the disappointing inaugural season Morley and the other league owners decided to cut down the number of games in a season to 56 and lowered the minimum age to 34. Due to the poor season the year before, 4 teams were forced to fold with only 2 teams emerging to take their place. At this time the league was left with just 6 teams and one division.
Returning big name players were Pitchers Vida Blue and Fergie Jenkins. To go along with these two great players the newcomers to the league were Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz Sr., Garth Iorg, Bill “The Spaceman” Lee, U.L. Washington and 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Jim Rice.
But despite the valiant effort of the owners and players who couldn’t have been paid too well, the league folded just prior to the completion of the first half of the season on December 28, 1990.
At the time of this untimely end, here were the standings:
- St. Petersburg Pelicans (15-8, 1st Place)
- Sun City Rays (13-10, 2nd Place)
- San Bernardino Pride (13-12, 3rd Place)
- Daytona Beach Explorers (11-11, 4th Place)
- Fort Myers Sun Sox (11-14, 5th Place)
- Florida Tropics (7-15, 6th Place)
The best news that came out of this failure was the MLB contracts that were tendered to the following seven SPBA players: Ron Washington, Joaquin Andujar, Paul Mirabella, Dave Collins, Dan Boone, Ozzie Virgil, Jr., and Tim Stoddard.
To read more about the SPBA, just follow this link to the joint website of Baseball-Reference.com and Wikipedia.
If anyone has any found memories or stories about the SPBA or have attended any of these games, PLEASE share those memories with us in the comments below! We will be eternally grateful.
Correction: In 1989, Rice played for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the SPBA (he was not previously mentioned as playing in the inaugural season). In that partial second season, Rice was batting .292 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI in 15 games when play ceased.