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Williamsport Bills

From BR Bullpen

Williamsport Bills color.jpg


After a rare decade without professional baseball, Williamsport, PA was home to a club again in 1987 when the Williamsport Bills joined the Eastern League. A Cleveland Indians farm team, the Bills finished seventh in both record (60-79) and attendance (77,140) in the 8-team EL. Steve Swisher and Orlando Gomez both managed the team at some point. While the team was generally unimpressive offensively (five players hit under .200 in over 100 AB, with the regular shortstop hitting .189), several players had decent years with the bat. OF-1B Luis Medina hit .320/~.394/.540 and was rated the 6th-best prospect by league managers. DH Bernardo Brito (.277/~.313/.498) struck out 121 times but led the EL with 24 homers, while OF Miguel Roman (.261/~.291/.420) led with 35 doubles. 1B Mark Higgins (.312/~.395/.515) made the EL All-Star team as a DH. Mike Bellaman (6-14, 4.36) led the league in losses, though he was above-average on the team in ERA. C Dave Bresnahan hit .150/~.273/.184 and was ejected from a game and then released for good after throwing a potato into the outfield during a faked pick-off. The Bills General Manager Bill Terlecky capitalized on Bresnahan's stunt and offered all fans coming to the ballpark with a potato a free ticket.

Williamsport went 66-73 under new manager Mike Hargrove in 1988 and improved one spot, to 6th. Attendance rose to 100,586 fans, 4th in the league. SS Turner Gill again failed to reach .200 and Higgins fell to .230/~.291/.349 as the team had no All-Stars. Closer Kevin Wickander (1-0, 16 Sv, 0.63, 33 K and 14 H in 28 2/3 innings) and C Tom Lampkin (.270/~.340/.342) were named among the top 10 prospects. Mike C. Walker and Jeff Shaw had nearly identical ERAs - Walker was at 3.72 and Shaw at 3.63, but Shaw went 5-19 and led the league in losses while Walker was 15-7 and led the league in wins; amazingly, the man with the lower ERA had been 11 games worse record-wise with the same club behind him. Shaw also led the league in hits (173) and runs (94) allowed while Walker also led in innings (164 1/3), strikeouts (145) and wild pitches (17). 2B Mark Howie hit .257/~.316/.348 and led the EL with 28 doubles. After the 1988 season the club was sold and moved to Hagerstown, MD where they became the Hagerstown Suns.

In 1989 Williamsport was not without Eastern League baseball. After the Bills moved and became the Suns, the Pittsfield Cubs moved into town and took on the Bills nickname, while switching affiliations from the Chicago Cubs to Seattle Mariners. Jay Ward was the manager of the 7th-place team, which went 63-77 and drew the fewest fans (66,767), over 30,000 less than any other team in the EL. Dave Burba (11-7, 3.16) was 10th in the EL in ERA, one spot behind teammate Glenn Spagnola (8-5, 3.06). Closer Keith Helton was 3-4 with 14 saves and a 1.47 ERA in 41 games. 1B Tino Martinez hit .257/~.335/.399 and was the team's only player with more than 5 homers, as he hit 13. Tino was voted the 7th-best prospect by league managers.

The 1990 campaign was the third time in four years that the Bills finished 7th, this time with a 61-79 record for manager Rich Morales. Attendance picked up (76,921) but was still almost 50,000 less than the next team in the league. The offense remained poor (no one hit more than 7 homers) but the team had two fine pitchers. Rich DeLucia was third in the league with a 2.11 ERA, yet went just 6-6. Mike Gardiner, who had been a good reliever in 1989 for the team, became a starter and went 12-8 with a 1.90 ERA, 149 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 179 2/3 innings. He led the loop in ERA, strikeouts and innings and was tied for 8th in wins despite playing on a weak team. Gardiner was voted as the #5 prospect in the league, made the league's All-Star team (their first all-star in 3 years) and was the EL Pitcher of the Year.

The Bills were sold but stayed one more year in town while the new parent club, the New York Mets, built a stadium in Binghamton, NY for the team. Managed by Clint Hurdle, they were...where else?...seventh for the fourth time in five years. They drew 96,711 fans, their most yet, but almost 50,000 shy of the next team in the EL. Dave Telgheder (13-11, 3.60) was among the top 10 in ERA while Terry Bross allowed just 13 hits and struck out 27 in 25 innings, going 2-0 with 5 saves and a 2.49 ERA. SS Tito Navarro (.288/~.382/.336) was among the leaders in average, walks (73) and steals (42). RF Jeromy Burnitz hit just .225 but became the first 30-30 man in the history of the Eastern League and led the league in both homers (31) and walks (104). He scored 80, drove in 85, stole 31 bases, struck out 127 times and had 10 triples in a season in which he did everything except make contact frequently. His OBP was approximately .369 and he slugged .508. Jeromy made the league All-Star team and was voted as the #3 prospect by managers.

The franchise became the Binghamton Mets in 1992, beginning a long period of stability. A few years later Williamsport would become home to the Williamsport Cubs, a team in the New York-Penn League, a circuit more conducive to the size of the city, which was small by AA standards.

Sources: 1988-1992 Baseball Almanacs, 1989 and 1991 Baseball Guides

Year-by-Year Record[edit]

Year Record Finish Manager Playoffs Hitting Coach Pitching Coach
1987 60-79 7th Steve Swisher / Orlando Gomez Ivan Murrell Brian Allard
1988 66-73 6th Mike Hargrove Brian Graham Brian Allard
1989 63-77 7th Jay Ward Bobby Cuellar
1990 61-79 7th Rich Morales Bobby Cuellar
1991 60-79 7th Clint Hurdle Jim Eschen Joel Horlen