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Australian Baseball League (1989-1999)

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The Australian Baseball League (ABL) was a baseball league, established in 1987 and disbanded in 1999.

ABL Champions 1989-90 Waverley Reds 1990-91 Perth Heat 1991-92 Daikyo Dolphins 1992-93 Melbourne Monarchs 1993-94 Brisbane Bandits 1994-95 Waverley Reds 1995-96 Sydney Blues 1996-97 Perth Heat 1997-98 Melbourne Reds 1998-99 Gold Coast Cougars

FormationEdit

Main article: Claxton Shield

Before the formation of the Australian Baseball League, the Claxton Shield, established in 1934, was Australia's premier baseball tournament.[1][2] The idea of an Australian baseball league was first conceived in 1987, possibly prompted by the success of Australia's National Basketball League. The final Claxton Shield competition was held in 1988 by the Auburn Baseball Club in New South Wales at its home ground of Oriole Park. Auburn funded all visiting teams' fares and accommodation with the expectation of recouping from gate takings and increased revenue at its social club.[3] Soon after, the ABL was formed, with eight teams from around Australia.

Competition structureEdit

The Australian Baseball League was much like many other professional baseball leagues around the world, with teams playing home and away series during a regular season, playing to compete in the playoffs, the winner of which being crowned champions.

The season length ranged from 42 to 62 matches, depending on the number of teams in the season. The competition used the designated hitter rule, much like the Major League Baseball's American League, but allowed aluminium bats for non-MLB contracted players, with the contracted players using wood. There were also allowances in place for pinch runners to run for a catcher if he made base safely, this was put in place for not only speed up the break between innings waiting for a catcher to change into his gear, but to create more excitement on the basepaths. Import restrictions also applied in the League as to nurture home grown talent[4]

The ABL experimented with many different types of scheduling to try and increase attendances, including day and night games at different times of the week, seven inning double headers. The length of games became a problem as many grounds had night curfews.

Australian Baseball League of the 1990s Edit

The Australian Baseball League formally got underway in October 1989, representing Australia's first professional "major league". Officially, the first ABL game was contested between Perth Heat and Adelaide Giants at Parry Field in Perth on 27 October 1989, with the Giants winning 8-5.

The league consisted of between 6 and 9 teams over the 10 years, with its highest point in 1995 with 9 teams competing. Championships were decided by a top two 5 game play off series for the first 3 seasons before changing to a top 4 play off series with winners advancing to the championship series. Following the change to the top 4 format, both semi-finals and championship series were played as a best-of-three series.

  • 1989-90

The Australian Baseball League formally got underway in October 1989, representing Australia's first professional "major league" of baseball. Officially, the first ABL game was contested between Perth Heat and Adelaide Giants at Parry Field in Perth on 27 October 1989, with the Giants winning 8-5. The inaugural season was dominated by the Waverley Reds a record of 34 wins and 6 losses, only losing 2 games at home from 19 starts, taking out the Championship series 3 games to 1 against cross town rivals the Melbourne Monarchs.

  • 1990-91

The 1990/91 ABL championship was won by the Perth Heat, defeating the minor premiers, the Gold Coast's Daikyo Dolphins by 3 games to 2.[5]

  • 1991-92

In a reversal of the previous season, the 1991/92 ABL title was won by the Daikyo Dolphins, defeating the Perth Heat by 3 games to 1.

  • 1992-93

The first year of the four-team finals format, the championship series saw the Melbourne Monarchs face the minor premier Perth Heat at Perth's Parry Field, having eliminated the Sydney Blues and Waverley Reds, respectively. The Melbourne Monarchs defeated the Heat 2 games to nil in the final to clinch the 1992/93 ABL championship.

  • 1993-94

Won by the Brisbane Bandits, defeating the minor premier Sydney Blues 2 games to nil in the championship series held at Parramatta Stadium. The Perth Heat and Adelaide Giants, respectively, were the two defeated semi-finalists.

  • 1994-95

Won by the Waverley Reds, defeating the Perth Heat 2 games to nil at Moorabbin Oval. The Sydney Blues (defeated by the Reds) and East Coast Cougars (defeated by the Heat) were eliminated in the semi-finals.

  • 1995-96

Won by the Sydney Blues, defeating the Melbourne Reds 2 games to nil in the Blues' only season at the old Sydney Showground at Moore Park. In the first time a team had reached the final from fourth place, the Reds defeated the minor premier Brisbane Bandits in the semi-final, while the Perth Heat were eliminated by the Blues.

  • 1996-97

Won by the Perth Heat.

  • 1997-98

Won by the Melbourne Reds.

  • 1998-99

The final ABL Championship, held as a test event at the new Sydney Showground at Sydney Olympic Park, was taken out by the Gold Coast Cougars (defeating the Sydney Storm), after the Adelaide Giants dominated the regular season to finish on top.

Decline and Sale Edit

The ABL had a total running cost of $6 million by the later half of the 1990s, due to a lack of sponsorship and gate takings the league was only raising $4 million by the final season.[6] Due to these mounting debts the Australian Baseball Federation sold off the rights to the league and Claxton Shield to Australian baseballer David Nilsson for a reported $5 million who replaced it with the International Baseball League of Australia, which in turn folded in 2002.[7]

Original clubs Edit

Over the ten years of the Australian Baseball League there was a total of twelve franchise licences issued, most seasons the ABL had a total of 8 teams but had as many as nine and for the final season six. The founding eight teams of the Australian Baseball League were;

  • Adelaide Giants: The Giants competed in all ten seasons of the ABL but did not make the championship playoffs once.
  • Brisbane Bandits: The Bandits competed in the first nine seasons but dropped out of the final season due to not having a suitable venue, The Bandits won one championship and finished runner-up in another.
  • Gold Coast Clippers: The Clippers had many different names over their ten years in the ABL: The Daikyo Dolphins from 1990 to 1993 due to a sponsorship with Japanese company Daikyo, then the East Coast Cougars and finally Gold Coast Cougars. This franchise won two championships and were runner-up in a further two times.
  • Melbourne Monarchs: The Monarchs competed in only three of the ten seasons, as they were expelled from the league after the 1991-92 season. The Monarchs won one ABL title and were runner-up to the Reds in 1990.
  • Parramatta Patriots: The Patriots competed in the first three seasons with their best result being third in 1990. The Patriots disbanded after the 1991-92 season due to heavy financial losses, and the Sydney Blues purchased their licence.
  • Sydney Metros: The Metros had the dishonour of being the least successful team in the ABL and also having the shortest history, as they folded shortly after the 1989-90 season. The Metros' licence was purchased by the Sydney Wave.
  • Perth Heat: The Heat were the second-most successful team in the league, winning the title twice and finishing runner-up a further three times.
  • Waverley Reds: The Reds were the most successful team in the league, being the only team to win three ABL titles, while also finishing runner-up once. The Reds also held the regular-season single-game attendance record (and second-highest overall) of 11,444, in the 1991/92 season against then-cross-town rivals the Melbourne Bushrangers at Waverley Oval. The Reds changed their name to the Melbourne Reds after the 1993-94 season in an attempt to broaden their supporter base.

Later additions Edit

Later additions to the league were;

  • Melbourne Bushrangers: The Bushrangers were brought in to replace the Monarchs after they were expelled, and played two seasons in Melbourne before moving north to Canberra. They thus changed their name to the Canberra Bushrangers and competed for a further two seasons before going broke.
  • Sydney Blues: The Blues purchased their licence from the Parramatta Patriots. Due to the marketing problems associated with having the same name as the NSW cricket team [Blues] the name was changed to the Sydney Storm. The team won one championship and finished runner-up under the Blues name; they also finished runner-up once more under the Storm name. The Blues held the overall single-game attendance record, with a 1994 finals series game against the Brisbane Bandits drawing 13,764 to Parramatta Stadium.[8]
  • Sydney Wave: The Wave was formed after purchasing its licence of the Sydney Metros. The Wave had no real impact on the league, lasting only two seasons before folding with heavy financial losses. Their licence was then sold to the Hunter Eagles.
  • Hunter Eagles: The Eagles had slightly more success in the ABL than their previous two licence-holders, lasting for a total of four seasons. The Eagles were excluded from the 1998-99 season after not being able to supply enough funds to run the team for the upcoming season.

PlayersEdit

Main article: List of Major League Baseball players who played in Australia

The ABL experienced a lot of baseball talent not only from Australia, but from overseas, with over 90 MLB or future MLB players playing over the history of the competition.[9] Many of these import players were sent to Australia from rookie ball up to advanced A (with some exceptions) as a winter ball league that provided a different environment to winter leagues in Latin America. It proved to be a good 'instructional league' for MLB organisations or even for extended rehabilitation. Many of the import players would not come back for a second season as they were either advanced in their organisation, or replaced by a different player who was thought could benefit from playing in Australia.

League RecordsEdit

Batting leadersEdit

Stat Player Total
AVG Dave Nilsson .356
HR Ronny Johnson 106
RBI Ronny Johnson 375
R Andrew Scott 343
H Andrew Scott 521
SB Peter Hartas 122

Pitching leadersEdit

Stat Player Total
W Phil Dale 65
ERA Graeme Lloyd 2.34
K Phil Dale 553
IP Phil Dale 7921/3
SV Bob Nilsson 53

New Australian Baseball League Edit

File:ABL-logo.jpg

While no confirmation was forthcoming from either source, plans were apparently hatched between the Australian Baseball Federation and Major League Baseball to re-establish an Australian national league in November 2008.[10][11] The new national league was proposed to run for 10 weeks from November 2008 to February 2009 and to be partly funded by Major League Baseball.[12]

On 10 August 2007 it was announced the 2008 Claxton Shield would be run as a "home and away" series. The revamped series was made up of two pools of three teams, with each team playing three home and three away games against the other two teams in its pool. Pool A was to be made up of the Victoria Aces, Perth Heat and South Australia, and Pool B was to be made up of the New South Wales Patriots, Queensland Rams and Australia Provincial. The revamped series was run from late December 2007 to early February 2008.[10][13]

The 2009 series followed a similar format, but without the Australia Provincial team, resulting in each team playing each other team once in either a home or an away three-game series, in addition to a "showcase" round to start the season, held in Sydney with each team playing every other team once over the course of the week.

On 1 July 2009, a joint announcement was made by the Australian Baseball Federation, Australian Federal Government and Major League Baseball stating the intention to resurrect a national baseball league for Australia, with the Government announcing A$400,000 towards the new league.[14]

It was originally planned that the Australian Baseball League would eventually have a 60-game season from November to February consisting of teams from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney with a pending spot for Canberra. The league is 75% owned by Major League Baseball and 25% by the Australian Baseball Federation. The first ABL season is scheduled for November–February 2009/2010, but will be run under the banner of the 2010 Claxton Shield with 2011 season scheduled to be the first 'official' season. Some players will be paid, and some will not, with an average salary expected to be about A$800 per month. Players will be under contract, although the system of player-league relations will be highly centralized in the ABF for the league's early years in order to ensure cheap and efficient league operation. In November 2009 referendums were held on team names.[15]

In November, 2009, the Australian Baseball League approved Canberra's bid for a 6th spot in the inaugural ABL season with the ACT Government contributing $75,000 for the first season, and $30,000 every other season. Also, the franchise already has over $64,000 from 3200 people pledging support at $20 a head during the bid attempt. ActewAGL, Rolfe Audi were announced as major sponsors of the team.[16]

In May, 2010, the Australian Baseball League made steps towards marketing their product, producing a website and two advertisements shown on ESPN Australia and ONE HD. The logo was officially unveiled and the Melbourne franchise's general manager, Stephen Nash, announced a 40 game season between six franchises over 10 weeks from November to January, with a post-season finals series in February.[17]

On 5 August 2010, the team names for the Australian Baseball League were made public. They include the Brisbane Bandits, the Sydney Blue Sox, the Canberra Cavalry, the Melbourne Aces, the Adelaide Bite and the Perth Heat.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Claxton Shield History, Australian Baseball Federation
  2. Flintoff and Dunn's Australian Major League
  3. Clark, Joe (2003). A History of Australian Baseball. Lincoln, NE, United States: University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved on 11 February 2011.
  4. Flintoff and Dunn's Australian Major League - Rules and the Competition
  5. Australian Baseball League (1996). Australian Baseball League 1996/97 Media Guide., p. 128-137.
  6. Gene Stephan. "Americans back new Aussie baseball league", http://www.thewest.com.au, 30 November 2006.
  7. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "David Nilsson", www.abc.net.au, 2000.
  8. Australian Baseball League (1996). Australian Baseball League 1996/97 Media Guide., p. 182.
  9. Flintoff and Dunn's Australian Major League Baseball - US Majors
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Claxton Shield "home and away" series a dress rehearsal", http://www.geelongbaseball.com.au, 10 August 2007.
  11. Chris Egan. "Geelong or Melbourne for Baseball team", http://www.austadiums.com, 27 July 2007.
  12. Michael Gleeson. "Punt Road baseball pitch interests Tigers", http://www.theage.com.au/, 5 July 2007.
  13. Ben Foster. "BASEBALL IS BACK…AND IT’S COMING YOUR WAY!", http://www.baseball.com.au/, 22 August 2007.
  14. Jennifer Stockman (2009-07-01). Australian Baseball looks toward a bright future. Australian Baseball Federation. Retrieved on 2009-07-03.
  15. ABL Basic Player Information
  16. Fitzgerald, Peter (19 November 2009). Canberra's national-league bid hits home run. The Canberra Times. Retrieved on 20 November 2009.
  17. Nash, Stephen. The Countdown Continues. Retrieved on 19 May 2010.

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