Senior Professional Baseball Association
From BR Bullpen
The Senior Professional Baseball Association was a winter baseball league based in Florida for players age 35 and over (with a minimum age of 32 for catchers). SPBA was the idea of Colorado real estate wheeler-dealer (and former minor leaguer) Jim Morley. Morley saw how the Senior Golf Tour worked and thought "Why not a Senior League for Baseball?" The league began play in 1989 and had eight teams in two divisions and a 72 game schedule. Pitchers Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins (both future Hall of Famers), and Vida Blue, outfielder Dave Kingman, and manager Earl Weaver were the league's marquee names, and former big league outfielder Curt Flood was the circuit's first Commissioner. At age 54, Ed Rakow was the league's oldest player. Former strikeout king J.R. Richard was drafted by the league but cut in preseason.
Throughout the inaugural season, most clubs struggled with poor attendance. The league attendance for the year was 262,480, an average of 911 per game. The West Palm Beach Tropics led the league in attendance with 56,012, an average of 1,555 per game while the Orlando Juice attendance was last with an average of 389 per game. On the field, the West Palm Beach Tropics ran away with the league's South Division, finishing 15 games ahead of the second place Fort Myers Sun Sox. In the North, the St. Petersburg Pelicans finished in first, and the Bradenton Explorers were second, narrowly holding off the Orlando Juice. Infielder Ron Washington of West Palm Beach was the league's big offensive star, hitting .359 with a league leading 73 RBIs. Washington's teammate Mickey Rivers hit .366, and Gold Coast Sun Bert Campaneris, the oldest everyday player in the league at 47, stole 16 bases. Bradenton's Jim Morrison hit .290 with 55 RBIs and led the league with 17 homers. Tim Ireland of Fort Myers hit a league best .374, and his teammate Kim Allen paced the circuit with 33 stolen bases. Willie Aikens hit 12 home runs and had 58 RBIs. West Palm Beach pitcher Juan Eichelberger went 11-5 with a 2.90 ERA, and St. Petersburg's Milt Wilcox went 12-3. Jon Matlack, Tim Stoddard, and Pete Falcone each won 10 games. Bradenton's Rick Lysander saved 11 games, and Winter Haven's Bill Campbell notched 5 saves to go along with a 2.12 ERA. Joaquin Andujar of Gold Coast had 5 wins and an ERA of 1.31.
In the first weekend of February 1990, the league's top four teams participated in a three game, single elimination tournament with a rather unusual format. On February 2nd, the league's second place clubs faced off. The Explorers defeated the Sun Sox for a chance to face the St. Petersburg Pelicans. The next day, the Pelicans beat the Explorers 9-2 to advance to the league championship game against the West Palm Beach Tropics. On February 4th, 1990, the Pelicans, powered by Lamar Johnson's home run and 3 RBIs, beat the Tropics 12-4 for the league's first championship. Johnson was named Star of Stars, the name of the MVP award in the championship game. All of the league's playoff games were held at the Fort Myers Sun Sox home field of Terry Park. The three playoff games' attendance was 8,571 for an average of 2,857 fans per game. The reason all playoff games were played in Terry Park was that Major League Spring Training was starting and Terry Park was the only field available.
- 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)
For its second season, four of the league's eight teams (Gold Coast, Orlando, St. Lucie, and Winter Haven) folded, and the Bradenton Explorers relocated to Daytona Beach and became the Daytona Beach Explorers. The circuit added clubs in Arizona (the Sun City Rays) and California (the San Bernardino Pride). They also dropped the minimum age to 34 and shortened the season to 56 games. Less than halfway through its second season, the league folded on December 28th, 1990. Morley wanted to change the league for the next season by having only 10 senior players per team, 5 to 6 Major League players who need to rehab during the winter plus 5 to 6 Japanese Central and Pacific League players, but it was not to be. Some of the players during the second season were Vida Blue, Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz Sr., Garth Iorg, Fergie Jenkins, Bill Lee, Jim Rice and U.L. Washington.
1990/1991 Standings at Time of Folding
- 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)
At least seven of the circuit's players (Ron Washington, Joaquin Andujar, Paul Mirabella, Dave Collins, Dan Boone, Ozzie Virgil, Jr., and Tim Stoddard) signed major league contracts after playing in the Senior League, and at least five (Mirabella, Boone, Collins, Virgil, and Stoddard) played in the big leagues after their Senior League appearances.