Hawaii Winter League
(Redirected from Hawaii Winter Baseball)
The Hawaii Winter League (HWL) is a winter league that began play in 1993. Funded by Major League Baseball, the league draws players from the MLB, NPB, KBO, and independent leagues. Games are played in Hawaii from October to December. The HWL folded after the 1997 season as it was too heavily reliant on its limited funding from Major League Baseball. In 2006, the Hawaii Winter Baseball league returned for its sixth season. It was the only winter league to feature both top Japanese and American talent.
The leaguefirst pennant was won by the Hilo Stars (28-20); which was fueled by players from the Orix Blue Wave. Tim Ireland's club included Ichiro Suzuki (.311). Another prominent alumnus was Jason Giambi (.343 with a .687 slugging for the Kauai Emeralds). Ernie Young led the league in homers (11), RBI (37) and total bases (86) and won MVP honors. Chad Fonville led in batting (.336); Giambi did not have enough plate appearances to quality for the title. Joe Ganote (3-4, 2.04) posted the best ERA while Chris Hancock (6-4, 2.18) was voted as the top starter.
In 1994 the Maui Stingrays won the most games (30-22, .577) but lost the title by percentage points to the Emeralds, who were 29-21 (.580) as Kauai had more rain-outs. Hiroki Kokubo led the HWL in batting (.370), hits (74) and doubles (21) and won the MVP award. David Kennedy led in homers (13) and RBI (36). Also playing in the league was Aaron Boone (.288). Hidekazu Watanabe (8-0, 0.98, 77 Ks) won the pitching triple crown. The league also included two members of the Colorado Silver Bullets - Lee Anne Ketchum (6.75 ERA) and Julie Croteau (1 for 12).
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1995 saw the Stingrays take home another title without the best record. They were just 25-28, best in their two-team division, then beat the Honolulu Sharks for the title in a 4-3 one-game play-off. D.J. Boston hit .347 to lead the circuit, while Derrick Gibson hit the most homers (8). Todd Helton (.291, .380 slugging), Benny Agbayani (30 RBI to tie for the league lead, .281), Kazuo Matsui and Shinjiro Hiyama (.271) also appeared in the league. Oddly, Hiyama and Shane Spencer (.287, a league-high 15 doubles) both patrolled the Hilo outfield - 10 years later they were fighting for playing time as the Hanshin Tigers right fielders.
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Honolulu was 36-16 in 1996, clearly the best record - and they again lost in the playoff to Maui (25-24); this time by a 6-4 tally. Brad Fullmer led the league in hitting (.333) and RBI (41) for Honolulu, while Chad Hermansen (.255), Geoff Blum (.326, a league-best 13 doubles), Gabe Kapler (.247, a league-best 7 homers), Josh Booty (.215), Mark Kotsay (.241) and Atsunori Inaba (.252) were among the prospects to ply their trade in the HWL that year.
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1997 preserved the league's trend of the top team not winning the pennant as Honolulu (27-27) had one of their worst years but beat Hilo in the championship. Nobuhiko Matsunaka (.372) broke Kokubo's record for batting average. Gabe Kapler (.282), Robert Fick (.329), Michael Barrett (.314), Terrence Long (.302) and Calvin Pickering (.301, 10 homers) all appeared in the league that season.
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- Frank Ardolino: "The Hawaii Winter League 1993-1997", The National Pastime, SABR, Number 20 (2000), pp. 42-45.