The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Marlins' Upcoming Game In New Orleans Triggers a Look Back

A Major League team returns to play in New Orleans for the first time in 14 years.  The Miami Marlins will play its Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, in an exhibition game on March 30, as the Marlins wrap-up their 2013 Spring Training season.

While there has been a 14-year drought since the last such exhibition game, there is actually a rich history of Major League Baseball events in New Orleans.  The Crescent City was the spring training home of the Chicago White Stockings as early as 1870.  The Cleveland Indians had the most significant spring training presence in New Orleans, by hosting their camps for fourteen seasons between 1902 and 1935.

The New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox also called New Orleans home for spring training seasons prior to the movement to Florida and Arizona by all the Major League clubs.


More recently, on their trips back to their home towns following Spring Training, Major League teams routinely played exhibition games in cities that did not have big league baseball franchises at the time.


On April 6-7, 1967, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds played an exhibition series at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium. Pete Rose, a budding 26-year-old star, played for the Reds.  On April 1, 1974, the Atlanta Braves faced the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game at Kirsch-Rooney.  The Braves’ Hank Aaron hit a home run, only three days prior to his tying Babe Ruth for career home runs at 714.

Particularly, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, New Orleans was hoping to attract a Major League Baseball franchise to permanently locate here and play in the Superdome, hence the city was active in hosting major league exhibition teams.  The Superdome has been designed with a baseball configuration, and New Orleans began to showcase it with Major League exhibition games.  On April 6, 1976, the Houston Astros played the Minnesota Twins in the first professional baseball game in the Louisiana Superdome.


The New York Yankees appeared in exhibition series in the Louisiana Superdome for four consecutive years beginning in 1980, when they faced off with the Baltimore Orioles in a two-game series on March 15-16.  During March 27-29, 1981, the Yanks faced three different teams—the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies.  Following their World Series appearance in 1981, the New York played the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers in exhibition games on April 3-4, 1982, and then followed with the Expos again in a two-game series on March 26-27, 1983.

These “Superdome Series,” as they were billed, were orchestrated by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and were part of a mini-Louisiana tour, as the Yankees also played benefit games at Grambling State University.  Steinbrenner had a good relationship with legendary Grambling football coach, Eddie Robinson.   Another Louisiana connection for the Yankees was star pitcher Ron Guidry, a Lafayette native who was a big draw for the games.


In what turned out to be a preview of the 1989 World Series contests, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s played two games in the Superdome on March 28-29, 1989.  New Orleans native, Will Clark, was a standout player for the Giants at the time.  The A’s manager, Tony LaRussa, had played one minor league season in New Orleans in 1977, when the Pelicans played the first professional regular season games in the Superdome.  The A’s returned to New Orleans on March 22-23, 1991, when they squared off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a two-game series; and again on March 26-27, 1993, when they opposed the New York Mets for two contests.

In an event billed as “Baseball’s Greatest Rivalry,” the Yankees made a return visit to New Orleans on April 1-2, 1994, to play its long-time adversary, the Boston Red Sox, in the Superdome.  The last professional baseball games in the Superdome occurred on April 3-4, 1999, when the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins played in a two-game series dubbed the “New Orleans Major League Baseball Classic.”  Playing for the Cubs was Sammy Sosa, who had finished second (with 66 home runs) to Mark McGwire in the 1998 home run race to break Roger Maris’ all-time record.  Sosa would go on to hit 63 home runs in 1999’s regular season.

Also on April 4, 1999, the Houston Astros, the parent club of the Zephyrs at the time, played an exhibition game against the Zephyrs at Zephyr Field.

The 2013 edition of the Miami Marlins team will be in “survival” mode, after owner Jeffrey Loria ravaged the team by trading most of its key players during the off-season in order to lower his team payroll.  Many observers feel he has set the Marlins franchise back quite a bit this time. (He had previously dismantled the Marlins immediately following their 2003 World Series title.)  In any case, there are a few players to look for in the upcoming exhibition game with the Zephyrs.  Giancarlo Stanton is the lone Marlins star left over from last year.  At age 23, he has already developed into a legitimate All-Star and is one of the most exciting young players in the National League.  Logan Morrison, who prepped at Northshore High School in Slidell and also played with the Zephyrs, figures to start at first base for the Marlins in his fourth Major League campaign.  Chris Coghlan, who was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2009, will be attempting to regain his starting job in the Marlins’ outfield, after spending most of last season with the Zephyrs.

For New Orleans fans, what is your favorite memory of the past major league exhibition games in New Orleans?  Does anyone think New Orleans could support a new Major League franchise now?  Is Jeffrey Loria one of the worst owners in Major League Baseball history?  (BTW, Loria’s “family ties” connections involve his father, Walter, who yielded two home runs to Lou Gehrig when they opposed each other in high school; and his stepson, David Sampson, who is President of the Miami Marlins.)

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