- Location: Duluth, MN & Superior, WI
- League: Northern League 1960-1970; 1993-2002
- Affiliation: Detroit Tigers 1960-1964; Detroit Tigers/Chicago Cubs 1965; Chicago Cubs 1966; Chicago Cubs/Chicago White Sox 1967; Chicago White Sox 1968-1970
- Ballpark: Wade Municipal Stadium 1960-1970; 1993-2002
Affiliated Northern League
The Duluth-Superior Dukes formed in 1960, replacing the Duluth-Superior White Sox. The Dukes were a member of the Northern League. Future Detroit Tigers on the first team included Gates Brown (.293, 10 HR, 68 RBI), Willie Smith (10-6, 2.96) and Ray Oyler (.261, 6 HR, 54 RBI).
The next year, they won the first half title in the NL, but failed in the playoffs. The great 1968 Tigers continued to be well-represented with Bill Freehan (.343, 7 HR), Oyler (.261, 4 HR), Jim Northrup (.222, 1 HR) and Mickey Stanley (.223, 2 HR). Tom Timmermann went 15-6 with a 2.70 ERA and led the league in wins.
In their fourth season, the Dukes had a staff which featured Pat Jarvis (14-6, 2.76) and Denny McLain (13-2, 2.55). Ike Brown hit .244 with nine homers but the big offensive star was another future pitcher, Jim Rooker (.272, 19 HR, second in the league with 78 RBI).
In 1964, their last year solely as a Detroit affiliate, Duluth-Superior's prominent nanes were John Hiller (10-13, 3.45) and Rooker (3-4, 5.29; .227 with 10 HR and 40 RBI). Andy Kosco hit .346 with 28 HR and 97 RBI and won the Triple Crown but split the season with the Bismarck-Mandan Pards.
The Dukes were fed players by both Detroit and the Chicago Cubs as a co-op in 1965. As is often the case with co-op teams, neither team sent their top prospects, though Chris Barkulis (.335) led the league in average. Future author George Gmelch began his pro career with the Dukes that year and chronicled his time there in his memoir, Playing with Tigers.
In 1966, the Dukes went 29-36, 4th in the six-team league; they were now a Cubs affiliate fully, managed by LaVern Grace. They were outscored 325-307. Earl Lombardo led league second baseman with a .958 fielding percentage and hit .291/~.356/.473. He was 4th in average and tied for fourth in home runs. He also stole 14 bases in 16 tries.
During 1967, Duluth-Superior was a White Sox/Cubs co-op and went 30-39, 5th in the league. They drew 14,902 fans, 5th in that category as well, and were managed by Ira Hutchison. They scored 302 runs and allowed 354. All-Stars were 2B John Cox (.231/~.325/.243), C Elby Bushong (.256/~.379/.523, third in the league with 12 HR) and OF Ron Markowski (.261/~.323/.352).
The 1968 edition of the Dukes was 31-39, 4th in the league, and drew 12,955 fans, last. Bruce Andrew managed this outfit, which was outscored 293-285. Solely a White Sox affiliate, they had a 2.65 ERA in the Year of the Pitcher.
The 1969 Dukes were managed by Pel Austin and won their first pennant with a 46-23 mark, edging the Sioux Falls Packers by a game and a half. Attendance was 16,145, 5th in the league. They scored 378 runs, leading the league, and allowed 252, the fewest, in the fine season. Steve Spanich (10-2, 2.41) was second in the league in ERA and led in wins while Steve L. O'Neill (7-1, 2.68) was third in ERA and led in winning percentage. OF Jim Mueller hit .351/~.385/.436 and led the loop in average, runs (52), hits (104) and total bases (129) while tying for the lead with 17 doubles.
In 1970, the club's last year in Organized Baseball, they ran away with the title with a 48-21 record, 10 1/2 games over the Huron Cubs. Their attendance of 22,747 was third in the league. Managing that year was Joe Sparks, in the first season of a long career as a manager. They again led in offense (469) while finishing second in pitching/defense (335 runs allowed). Lou Billmeier (11-3, 3 Sv, 2.83) led the league in strikeouts (112) and wins, but Gene Duhe (6-2, 2.18), Adrian Kenary (7-1, 2.66) and Bill Bourg (5-3, 2.76) all had lower ERAs - Kenary was third in the league, Bourg 4th and Billmeier sixth. OF Steve Houck (.365/~.487/.530) led the league in average and tied 3B Hugh Yancy (.333/~.421/.465) for the triple lead (6). Yancy led with 22 steals (in 27 tries) and was 4th in average. 1B Lamar Johnson hit .321/~.372/.466 and was sixth in average. C Bruce Kimm batted .269/~.389/.366 while 2B Dan Rourke (.240/~.361/.327, 21 for 26 in SB attempts) led the league in runs (74 in 69 games). Rourke and Kimm each led their positions in fielding percentage as well (.960 and .990 respectively).
|1960||70-51||2nd||Frank Carswell||Lost League Finals|
|1961||76-52||1st||Bob Swift||Lost in 1st round|
|1962||69-55||2nd||Al Lakeman||Lost in 1st round|
|1963||77-43||1st||Bob Mavis||2nd in Baukol Playoffs|
|1964||61-55||3rd||Gail Henley||2nd in Baukol Playoffs|
|1969||46-23||1st||Pel Austin||none League Champs|
|1970||48-21||1st||Joe Sparks||none League Champs|
The Dukes were reborn as a founding member of the independent Northern League in 1993, playing in a renovated Wade Municipal Stadium, their home since 1946. Drawing well in early years, the team only fared poorly on the field and only once did not have a losing season (then just .500) but a weak division, generous playoff structure and good playoff runs gave them one title and got them to the finals another time. Revolving and underfunded ownership, bad early season weather, and a losing team contributed to dropping attendance. Attendance averaged less than 1,250 in their final season.
The team debuted with a 31-41 finish, placing last in the six-team league in both halves under Mal Fichman. Dave Tellers (7-3, 9 Sv, 2.45) was a bright spot on the club. In 1994, they again were last in both halves with a miserable 19-60 record under Howie Bedell. C/OF Jeff Grotewold hit .277/?/.468 and would go on to the major leagues, but it was a rare positive note for the team.
In 1995, they were last in the league in attendance (81,154). Managed by Tommy Thompson, they escaped last in the first half but again finished last in the second half and overall. They did have an All-Star, 2B Tommy Houk (.312/?/.432). DH/C Pete Kuld hit 11 homers with their team and 13 with the Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks to lead the league, while former big-leaguer Bob Zupcic (.314/?/.486) stopped by for a spell. Brian McRoberts (4-1, 11 Sv, 1.88) provided good relief and Antonio Castro (6-4, 3.27) was second in the NL in ERA.
Things were much better in 1996 - they almost won the eastern division in both halves and finished .500 under George Mitterwald. Among 8 teams in the expanded league, they were 7th in attendance (77,294). OF A.J. Leday (.327/?/.622) made the league All-Star team while former big-leaguer Darren Reed (.345/?/.534) was fourth in the loop in average. Another former major leaguer, OF Greg Briley hit .303/?/.427 with 25 stolen bases. Jeremy McGarity (12-3, 3.65) led the staff.
The 1997 Dukes started 4-17 and went 37-44 overall, but won the eastern division in the second half with a 22-20 record. They then beat St. Paul 3 games to 2 in the playoffs and the Winnipeg Goldeyes 3 games to 2 in the finals for a stunning championship. Attendance was 6th but fell to 69,772. McGarity (8-5, 3.93) again was the staff workhorse while Jason Nuttle (6-4, 2 Sv, 1.90, 80 K in 68 IP) provided good relief work. Two more famous pitchers were less successful - Randy Tomlin went 3-10 with a 6.31 ERA while Ila Borders had a 7.56 ERA in 8 appearances. Briley hit .280/?/.362 with 23 steals, but the stars on offense were All-Star 3B Jason Shanahan (.331/?/.536) and All-Star OF Mike Meggers, who also served as DH. Meggers hit 16 homers in 166 AB with the club (batting .319, slugging .669) after joining them at the midway point. Overall, he smashed 32 home runs, setting a new league record. Mitterwald was named Manager of the Year and Meggers Player of the Year. The attendance was 69,772, sixth-best.
In 1998, the Dukes faded back to their usual mark with a 29-56 finish, last in the league. Mitterwald did not win manager of the year. 70,105 fans came out, putting them 6th in attendance and almost exactly duplicating the prior season. Meggers had another huge year (.366/?/.939, 12 HR in 82 AB) but spent most of the year in Mexico. The prominent names were Borders (1-4, 8.66) and 1B Ozzie Canseco (.292/?/.564), whose 10 homers were second on the club to Meggers.
67,098 fans turned out in 1999 but attendance fell to 7th. Under new manager Larry See, the team went 18-24 in the first half, a half-game behind eastern division leader Schaumburg. In the second half, they went 17-25 and fell to last. The star of the show was OF Bryan Warner, an All-Star who was third in the league in average (.340) and hit 33 doubles. Borders had a 30.86 ERA in two games.
In 2000, Benny Castillo became the manager and attendance jumped to 80,504 (again 7th). Duluth-Superior went 20-22 in the first half, 1 1/2 games behind the St. Paul Saints. In the second half, they were 22-21 to tie the Madison Black Wolf for first (two games separated first from last) then beat Madison in a one-game playoff 6-3 for the second half crown. In the playoffs, they beat the Saints 3 games to 1 then ousted the top team in the NL, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 3 games to 1. In the finals, the magic finally ended as they fell 3 games to 0 to the Adirondack Lumberjacks, including a shutout by Adirondack player-manager Les Lancaster. The club was led by the league's top 3 players in batting average - 1B Anthony Lewis (.365/?/.777, 33 HR, 88 R, 89 RBI, 19 SB), DH Tony Mitchell (.352/?/.737, 26 HR, 87 RBI) and OF Jim Rushford (.329/?/.529). All three made the Central Division All-Star team. Lewis was named divisional Player of the Year in the NL, Rushford the division's Rookie of the Year and Castillo Manager of the Year in the division.
The club was guided by Ed Nottle in 2001. After a decent first half (21-24), they returned to familiar territory with a 13-32 second half. Attendance fell to 51,126, last in the league by over 60,000. They had no All-Stars.
In their final year, the club had a similar season. Under Al Gallagher, they were 24-21 in the first half but 12-33 in the second half for 8th place in the 10-team central division. Attendance was 59,254, over 50,000 less than the next team in the league, spelling doom. They again had no All-Star players.
After assurances from the owners that they did not have intentions of moving before the 2003 season, the owners announced the Dukes move to Kansas City less than a week after the 2002 season when they became the Kansas City T-Bones.
Dukes to reach the the majors in the independent league era included:
- Jeff Grotewold - 1994 (Royals 1995)
- Terry Pearson - 2000 (Tigers 2002)
- Jim Rushford - 2000 (Brewers 2001)
|1997||39-44||5th||George Mitterwald||League Champs|
|2000||42-43||5th||Benny Castillo||Lost League Finals|
- George Gmelch: "Breaking In: Duluth-Superior Dukes", in Playing with Tigers: A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2016, pp. 15-32. ISBN 978-0-8032-7681-9