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Charleston Wheelers

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The Charleston Wheelers began play in the South Atlantic League in 1987 as a co-op team. The expansion club drew 97,563 fans, third in the 12-team SAL. Managed by Hal Dyer, they had a respectable record (66-73) for a co-op. The Wheelers scored a league-low 552 runs and allowed 648. Carl Grovom (12-6, 2.44) was fourth in the SAL in ERA while Danny Weems (5-8, 3.39) threw the only no-hitter that year.

In 1988, they became a Chicago Cubs farm team. Managed by Brad Mills, the team had a rough year (51-86), second worst in the league, but the attendance was second-best (125,998). Hitting only .220/~.282/.279 as a team, the team's top product was SS Alex Arias (.258/~.338/.288, 41 SB). Despite playing in a presumably pitcher-friendly park, they were only 7th in fewest runs allowed (576). Tony Duenas (6-11, 2.30) and Ray Mullino (7-5, 2.31) were sixth and seventh in the league in ERA, respectively. Henry Gomez (6-14, 3.98) led the loop in losses, while the only future big-league pitcher on hand was Pat Gomez (2-7, 5 Sv, 5.38, 97 K in 78 2/3 IP).

The Wheelers improved slightly in their second year with the Cubs, finishing 10th at 58-76 with new manager Greg Mahlberg. They drew the 2nd-most fans (130,293) and for the third straight season, had neither an All-Star nor one of the league's top 10 prospect as per Baseball America. Outscored 573-450, they again were last in offensive output. Chris Lutz (6-10, 3.38) threw a league-high three shutouts. 3B Matt Franco (.271/~.366/.358) was the top contact threat, while OF Kevin Roberson (.254/~.359/.394) led the team in homers (13), RBI (57) and walks (70) and tied for the SAL lead with 149 strikeouts.

Charleston's fortunes changed in 1990 when they became a Cincinnati farm team. After a 30-41 first half, they started the second half 28-22 then caught fire. Jim Lett's club won 19 of their last 22 games in the season then won five in a row to go unbeaten in the postseason against the Fayetteville Generals and Savannah Cardinals, allowing only four runs in those five contests. Attendance (152,359) remained second and almost led the SAL. The Wheelers, in a change of tune, were third in offense (657 runs) while finishing a strong second in pitching/defense (528 allowed). All-Stars were OF Scott Pose (.298/.435/.346, 49 SB, a league-high 114 walks and the leader in OBP as well) and Tim Pugh (15-6, 1.93, the league leader in wins, complete games [8] and second in ERA, tops of any starter). Pugh threw a four-hitter in the SAL title clincher. Going on to respectable-to-amazing big-league careers would be Jerry Spradlin (3-4, 17 Sv, 2.54), Bobby Ayala (6-1, 2 Sv, 2.43) and SS-3B Trevor Hoffman (.212/~.311/.278 in his last season as a position player). John Ray turned in a respectable year on the mound compiling a 14-7, 2.93 record, tying for second in the SAL in wins and just missing the top 10 in ERA. Danny Jackson appeared in a rehab start (0-0, 6.00). Pugh was rated the #4 prospect in the circuit.

Dave Miley took over as manager in 1991 and Charleston won the northern division in both halves. Their overall mark of 92-50 led the league, they were second in attendance (185,389), fifth in offense (601 runs) and first in pitching/defense (471 allowed). In the finals, though, they were swept in three games by the Columbia Mets. Miley was named manager of the year. OF Steve Gibralter (.267/~.306/.392) led the league with 36 doubles; he and 1B Tommy Raffo (.277/~.332/.414) made the SAL All-Star team. C Dan Wilson hit .315/~.392/.426 in 52 games. John Roper (14-9, 2.27, 189 K in 187 IP) led the SAL in strikeouts, was fourth in ERA and voted the 6th-best prospect. Also throwing well were relievers Sean Doty (4-2, 20 Sv, 1.94, 62 K in 56 IP), Scott Duff (8-3, 15 Sv, 2.72, 53 K in 50 IP), Chris Hook (8-2, 2 Sv, 2.41, 79 K in 71), Reggie Leslie (5-0, 2 Sv, 1.83) and starter Kevin Tatar (6-3, 1.63, 49 H, 77 K in 72 IP). John Ray, returning to the Wheelers for a second season, led the organization in wins as he posted a 16-9 record and won 10 consecutive starts at one point in the season. He was second in the SAL in wins, trailing only Jose Martinez of Columbia.

In 1992, the Wheelers outscored the opposition 606-555. P.J. Carey's club went 77-64, third in the SAL, won the first-half northern title (falling to last in the second half), took the opening playoff round from the Spartanburg Phillies then were swept in three straight by the Myrtle Beach Hurricanes in the finals. Making the All-star team were 3B Bobby Perna (.301/~.357/.429, sixth in the SAL in average, a league-leading .977 fielding at third, named as a utility man to the all-star team) and 1B Jamie Dismuke (.284/~.373/.438, 17 HR). SS Pokey Reese (.268/~.312/.380, 19 SB) turned 19 during the season and was voted the #2 prospect in the SAL. John Courtright (10-5, 2.50) was sixth in the league in ERA. They were their usual second in attendance (135,010)

The 1993 Charleston team only drew 110,118 fans (8th in the 14-team league) despite a fine 76-64 season for new manager Tom Nieto. They were outscored, though, 678-660. Lacking All-Stars and top prospects, the team had six batters strike out 100 times. OF Micah Franklin (.262/~.351/.475) led the club with 17 homers.

Things got worse in 1994 as the Wheelers were outscored 658-565 and were next-to-last in ERA (4.20). Nieto's nine were only 65-75. One bright spot was league OBP leader SS Chris Sexton (.300/.412/.394). Ricky Pickett (1-1, 13 Sv, 1.98) allowed only 14 hits in 27 1/3 innings, while striking out 48 of 121 batters. They fell to 12th in fans drawn (103,985), a far cry from their earlier years.

After the 1994 season, the the Wheelers changed their name to the Charleston Alley Cats.

Sources: 1988-1995 Baseball Almanacs, 1989, 1991 and 1995 Baseball Guides


[edit] Year-by-Year Record

Year Record Finish Manager Playoffs
1987 66-73 7th Hal Dyer
1988 51-86 11th Brad Mills
1989 58-76 10th Greg Mahlberg
1990 77-66 5th Jim Lett League Champs
1991 92-50 1st P.J. Carey (17-7) / Dave Miley (75-43) Lost League Finals
1992 77-64 3rd P.J. Carey Lost League Finals
1993 76-64 4th Tom Nieto
1994 65-75 8th Tom Nieto
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