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A brief history of the Lynn Sailors

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The most memorable player on the Sailors was also their manager.

Hitting coach and one-time manager Mickey Bowers.
Hitting coach and one-time manager Mickey Bowers.

It was a first for both cities. Seattle, still in the throes of its first few seasons, was hunting for a place to settle their Double-A prospects after securing venues at the Triple-A, Single-A, and Short Season-A levels. On the opposite coast, the city of Lynn, Massachusetts was eager to host another ballclub after turning out subpar attendance for 21 seasons of Class B baseball. An MLB team had not set foot in Lynn for over 30 years, let alone entrusted them with prospects so close to the major league level. At the outset, it seemed like a perfect fit.

Of course, it wasn't as simple as stepping in to fill a gap in the Eastern League lineup. In the interim between the 1979 and 1980 seasons, the owners of the West Haven Yankees decided to relocate to Lynn, while their New York affiliate took their business to the Nashville Sounds of the Southern League. As the Mariners took over the new club in Lynn, the Oakland A's brought their Double-A Waterbury A's to West Haven and became the West Haven Whitecaps.

In a predictable turn of events, given Lynn's track record in earlier decades, attendance failed to bloom during the Mariners' first season in Massachusetts. On average, fewer than 750 fans turned out for each home game, and the Sailors' final mark of 50,786 attendees ranked just above the West Haven Whitecaps' league-worst record of 30,112.

On the field, the situation was only slightly improved. The Sailors dropped to third place in the North Division with a 66-71 record, and fell in the middle of the pack in nearly all statistical categories except home runs allowed (second-fewest in the league, with 58) and walks allowed (worst in the league, with 611). More often than not, they found themselves a stepping stool for the Brewers' Holyoke Millers, who finished 78-61 and took the Eastern League title with them.

The following season, the Sailors found their position in the Eastern League unchanged. At sixth place, and a cool 22 1/2 games back of the division lead, they nevertheless held their own with one of the league's best pitching staffs. Led by right-handers Tracy Harris and Joseph Georger, the Sailors placed second in earned runs allowed (457) and home runs allowed (71), and first with fewest walks allowed (487). Behind the Bristol Red Sox and Reading Phillies, they landed third with 12 shutouts in 138 games.

Perhaps strangest of all, however, was the single appearance of 37-year-old Bobby Floyd, who pitched four innings and allowed one hit, one run, one walk, and struck out two batters. Floyd hadn't appeared in a pro ball game in six years, and had never before taken the mound for a team. Even weirder was his full-time role on the Sailors -- as their manager.

At the end of the year, nothing took a bigger hit than the Sailors' attendance record. An average of 740 fans per home game plummeted to well under 600 for a total turnout of 38,468 in the 1981 season.

Things were not about to get better for the Sailors' ownership. In the 1981 offseason, the club was turned over to Mike Agganis as they entered their final season under the Mariners' affiliation. Despite his contributions both on the field and off, Floyd was ousted as the team manager and hitting coach Mickey Bowers received a promotion in his place.

In the spring, the Sailors received some of the biggest names to grace the Mariners' lineup at the time: Alvin Davis, Spike Owen, and Harold Reynolds. Each would play a pivotal role in bringing the Sailors to their first season above .500. Davis contributed the team's highest OPS, at .961, and brought 12 home runs and 56 RBI to pad the Sailors' offensive output. Outfielder John Moses leapfrogged Harold Reynolds' 39 stolen bases with 50 of his own, placing second only to Oakland infielder Mike Woodward's 54.

Final tallies revealed the Sailors in second place with 212 stolen bases and 631 walks, and third with 39 triples, 568 RBI, a .261 average, and a .359 OBP. As the first half of the season concluded, the Sailors sat in second place in the North Division, perfectly splitting their record 30-30.

While the flux of minor league rosters often lended itself to inconsistent performances from the first half of the year to the next, the Sailors found the second half of their season even more successful than the first. They surged to the top of the division with a 52-27 record and placed second in the league with 82 wins on the year. Not only had they finished well above .500 for the first time, but they also got their first taste of the playoffs, and quickly jumped over Chicago's Glen Falls White Sox in a bid for the title against the West Haven A's. For all their regular-season bravado, however, the Sailors found themselves flustered against the A's, who made a clean three-game sweep to become the 1982 Eastern League champions.

On the back of their lost postseason, and with a new low of just 23,791 fans in their park, the Mariners marched their prospects down the coast to Chattanooga, Tennessee, while Lynn picked up a one-year affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates, again making and losing the playoffs. Following the 1983 Eastern League season, the city wouldn't see another pro ball team on their doorstep for twenty years, when the North Shore Spirit (of both the independent Northern League and Canadian-American Association) would come home to roost. Since the Pirates' departure, however, another brush with MLB appears unlikely.

Lynn trivia

  • Notable Sailors: Al Chambers, Alvin Davis, Mike Moore, Spike Owen, Jim Presley, Harold Reynolds, and Dave Valle.
  • What number of insurance runs does a team need to win a baseball game? Four? Nine? How about eleven? On a summer evening in 1982, the Sailors faced off against the Buffalo Bisons for one of the most high-scoring games in Sailors' history. After one inning, Lynn led Buffalo by a score of 3-0; after two, they trailed 5-4. After the fourth inning, though, skipper Mickey Bowers might have called a forfeit. The Bisons pummeled six of Lynn's pitching staff with 11 hits and 11 runs, bringing the score to a dizzying 16-4 halfway through the game.