Former Northeast Kingdom sportscaster shares minor league baseball stories
If you're a dedicated baseball fan with an appreciation for the game's colorful history, you already know that turn-of-the-century Boston Red Sox star Tris Speaker was a Hall of Fame centerfielder, but did you know that he was once traded for a ballpark?
You may know that the Oakland A's currently have the worst record in the majors, but that's nothing compared to the Oakland Commuters, a minor league team that finished its 1908 season with a record of four wins and 73 losses.
When the Syracuse Stars opened their season in 1885, their uniforms weren't quite ready yet, so, they took the field in dress suits.
These are just some of the fun facts and oddities collected in a new book by Tim Hagerty. It's called Tales from the Dugout: 1,001 Humorous, Inspirational and Wild Anecdotes from Minor League Baseball.
Tim Hagerty is a Lyndon State graduate and former Northeast Kingdom sportscaster. He was also the original broadcaster calling games for the Vermont Mountaineers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Now, Hagerty is the voice of the San Diego Padres AAA affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas.
Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Tim Hagerty, Broadcaster for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: In the book's introduction, you describe what led you to this journey — researching, writing about minor league baseball, its wildest moments — what inspired you to do this?
Tim Hagerty: In 2012, when researching something else, I came across this story of a Texas league game in Austin that got delayed when a wild bull ran on the field. I thought well, I do this for a living, and I've never heard this story before. So, the odds are most fans haven't either. And that became a 10-year quest to find the craziest minor league stories of all time.
I've been lucky enough to broadcast more than 2,000 games since I was in the Northeast Kingdom. But to me, those are some of my best memories.Tim Hagerty, author, Tales from the Dugout: 1,001 Humorous, Inspirational and Wild Anecdotes from Minor League Baseball
You found a lot of them. This book includes some tales from Vermont-based teams. Did Lake Monsters get in on the action here?
Yes, this is the Lake Monsters franchise, but it's under their previous name. In 2003, the Vermont Expos began the season 0-5. The general manager, C.J. Knudsen, announced that he would be sleeping in the dugout until the team won a game. Well, they kept on losing, and as part of this deal, an additional staff member joined him in the dugout after every loss. The dugout's becoming overcrowded because they keep losing games, there are interns sleeping on the roof. The losing streak finally ended at 12, and this got national attention. To me, I love that about minor league baseball — why not have some fun with this losing streak to begin a season?
Tim, you began your sports broadcasting career in Vermont. First, you were a student at what was formerly Lyndon State College, you were working with WSTJ broadcasting local college sports, then you became the Vermont Mountaineers' first broadcaster. I wonder how your experience covering Vermont sports helped launch this career that you now have as a broadcaster with this AAA team for the Padres, the El Paso Chihuahuas.
It was tremendously helpful. There are still things that take place every day that I learned at Lyndon State College, you're actually on the air producing things on deadlines. You know, I've been lucky enough to broadcast more than 2,000 games since I was in the Northeast Kingdom. But to me, those are some of my best memories.
I think about broadcasting high school basketball games at Danville. I mean, this place is so picturesque and it's so obvious that the community comes out to support, even if they don't have a direct relative on the court. I remember in 2003, driving down to the Barre Auditorium, the Danville girls' basketball team won a state championship. And I later heard that people went into the Danville town general store, and they were listening live on radio... just so pure and so real. And I think about those games because as a sportscaster that's what you want — you want an audience that cares — and that's what I was lucky to have in the Northeast Kingdom.
That's a beautiful moment. You know, one of my favorite Boston Red Sox players of all time is kind of a Vermont legend as well, that's Bill Lee. He makes an appearance in your book, of course. You could really write a book just about Bill Lee alone as kind of a baseball counterculture hero, but you make mention of a milestone that Bill Lee achieved not so long ago as a pitcher for the Brockton Rox. What is it?
The Brockton Rox were an independent professional team. So, the players were paid, but they did not have a major league organization that was dictating the roster. So, as a publicity stunt, they signed Bill Lee. He set the record for the oldest professional pitcher to get a win in a game. And Lee, as you probably know, still plays in adult baseball leagues in Vermont. I remember being an intern for a TV station in Burlington, and one time I had the chance to go up to Newport on a summer day in 2003 and interview Bill Lee. And it was such a thrill for these other players, who of course, did not play professionally, and they're facing a guy who pitched in the World Series.
Yeah, in one of the greatest World Series ever, by the way. Tim, I have to ask, you know, Major League Baseball made this decision to cut 40 minor league teams from the big show pipeline. The Lake Monsters were one of those teams... that really ruffled a lot of feathers here in Vermont. However, now in the Futures Collegiate League, the Lake Monsters are having tremendous success, they won a championship. How do you feel about the decision to cut some of these minor league teams that Major League Baseball made?
I thought it was troubling — places like Centennial Field, which I just loved, or my first job after I left Vermont, Idaho Falls, the Royals rookie league team, they also were one of the teams cut. But at the time, Major League Baseball said that all of these cities will still have high-level baseball, and looking back, I think that has happened.
As you just described, it's been great what the Lake Monsters have done. The product on the field is strong, they're still involved in the community. To me, that's great, because people watching live games is such an initial introduction to the game. I've read studies that show basically the question was, guys like me and you, Mitch, what made us hooked on baseball... what made us passionate about this? And it all came down to two things, either playing the game as a kid or attending a live game as a kid. And that's why I'm so relieved that places like Burlington still have great quality baseball that young people can go and watch.
Do you have one story maybe that really stands out to you that you just absolutely love that you came upon?
So, in 1978, it was a AA Eastern League game, Bristol is at Jersey City and a fly ball disappeared. It was a clear night, a right-handed batter hit a fly ball to right field, it went up and it didn't land on the field, it didn't go over the fence, and it didn't go in the stands. And the players I spoke to, as well as an employee at the park that I spoke to, everyone just sort of stared at each other in complete disbelief. So, the umpires got together, and understandably, they don't know what the rule is when a fly ball vanishes. And they decided to give the batter a double. So, there's precedent, if there's a fly ball that vanishes from a Mountaineers game or Lake Monsters game. It's a double. It's a rule.
Tim, what happened to the ball?
Well, I had that same question. There were rumors that there was a kid behind the outfield fence, holding a ball, but it turns out that was not the game ball. Some have wondered about some sort of wildlife interference... did a bird somehow snatch it?
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