Twenty-five years later, all of those Pioneer League rivals are absolutely correct. The Salt Lake Trappers really are too old to play at the entry level of professional baseball.
Yet the dozen players who gathered Wednesday evening at Duffy’s Tavern — where else? — still look like they could fit into those white uniforms with red trim and swing the bats. Maybe they couldn’t win 29 games in a row, but who could?
Thursday night, the Trappers will be honored during a Salt Lake Bees game at Spring Mobile Ballpark, the site of the old Derks Field. That’s where the Trappers won the last game of their record streak on July 26, 1987.
“Somebody wins the World Series every year,” said outfielder Jon Beuder. “Nobody’s done this.”
To appreciate the Trappers, you have to understand who they were and how they fit into Salt Lake City’s baseball legacy. They were self-described “rejects,” former college players who had gone undrafted by major league teams.
So they wore batting practice T-shirts that advertised Duffy’s on the back, goofed around with part-owner Bill Murray and just kept winning — for more than a month. The stories flowed Wednesday, when manager Jim Gilligan, part-owner Van Schley, actor Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill’s brother), general manager Steve Pearson and even two batboys joined in the reunion.
Schley, who assembled the team, told how the Trappers grew of out a “Moneyball” philosophy before that label existed. “These guys all lacked something,” Gilligan said, “but they knew how to play, they loved to play and they loved each other.”
The Trappers’ .320 team batting average remains a Pioneer League record, highlighted by first baseman Matt Huff’s .420 mark and catcher Frank Colston’s .397 average. They were among 13 players who signed with organizations, although none made the major leagues. Outfielder Adam Casillas came the closest, playing in Triple-A for Cincinnati and Kansas City. Yet the Trappers left their mark in Salt Lake City and beyond.
They attracted national media attention and even made the sun set in the East — according to Sports Illustrated’s photo, showing the Wasatch Mountains glowing beyond the outfield at dusk.
Like any winning streak, this one included some games that “maybe you shouldn’t have won,” Casillas said.
In a tie game in the ninth inning at Medicine Hat, Alberta, Beuder stole home and Anthony Blackmon scored from second base on the play, as the ball got past future big-league catcher Randy Knorr. That was win No. 11.
In win No. 23 at Pocatello, the Giants took a 9-3 lead after six innings and the public address announcer said, “The streak is over.” Jim Ferguson, Ed Citronelli and Colston each homered during an eight-run seventh inning as the Trappers won 13-10.
Later that week, Pearson promoted a Pioneer Day weekend celebration by booking Max Patkin, known as the “Clown Prince of Baseball.” But with the Trappers positioned to break the pro baseball record of 27 victories, shared by the 1902 Corsicana Oilers of the Texas League and the 1921 Baltimore Orioles of the International League, Pearson offered to pay Patkin not to perform, worrying that his in-game act would distract the players.
The “Clown Prince” was in tears. Patkin successfully begged to do a toned-down show, and the Trappers beat Pocatello 13-3 behind John Groennert’s 72⁄3 innings of relief pitching.
Naturally, the Trappers let down after their emotional achievement. They beat Pocatello the next day for win No. 29, then lost 7-5 at Billings, beginning a 17-18 finish of the regular season.
But to validate their season, the Trappers beat Helena in the Pioneer League’s championship series, winning a third straight title.
Schley cites The Tribune’s research from that era, noting the Trappers’ average age (21.4) was only about eight months older than the rest of the league. He’s also proud that the Trappers’ success led to the growth of independent leagues around the country.
Locally, the Trappers revived pro baseball in a market burned by the loss of a Triple-A team, amid unpaid bills. So the Bees’ observance of the Trappers, complete with throwback uniforms, is fitting. They’re affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels — owned by Arte Moreno, whose budget in ’87 barely allowed for his $9,000 share of the Trappers.
Moreno’s portfolio has grown considerably since then. The same is true of the Trappers’ legend.
Honoring the past
The Salt Lake Bees will honor the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers by wearing the Trappers’ throwback uniforms Thursday vs. Sacramento at Spring Mobile Ballpark and selling $5 general admission tickets. Trappers players and staff members will be introduced and will sign autographs on the concourse during the game.
June 25 • Salt Lake 12, Pocatello 6
June 26 • Salt Lake 8, Pocatello 5
June 27 • Salt Lake 9, Idaho Falls 8 (10)*
June 28 • Salt Lake 14, Idaho 12*
June 29 • Salt Lake 10, Great Falls 4*
June 30 • Salt Lake 9, Great Falls 5*
July 1 • Salt Lake 5, Great Falls 2*
July 2 • Salt Lake 9, Medicine Hat 6*
July 3 • Salt Lake 12, Medicine Hat 6*
July 4 • Salt Lake 3, Medicine Hat 0*
July 5 • Salt Lake 7, Medicine Hat 6*
July 7 • Salt Lake 4, Great Falls 0
July 8 • Salt Lake 10, Great Falls 8
July 9 • Salt Lake 7, Great Falls 6
July 10 • Salt Lake 11, Great Falls 0
July 11 • Salt Lake 13, Medicine Hat 7
July 12 • Salt Lake 4, Medicine Hat 3 (10)
July 13 • Salt Lake 12, Medicine Hat 6
July 15 • Salt Lake 13, Idaho Falls 0*
July 16 • Salt Lake 10, Idaho Falls 3*
July 18 • Salt Lake 3, Pocatello 1 (12)*
July 19 • Salt Lake 9, Pocatello 4*
July 20 • Salt Lake 13, Pocatello 10*
July 22 • Salt Lake 8, Idaho Falls 3* (Game 1)
July 22 • Salt Lake 7, Idaho Falls 2* (Game 2)
July 23 • Salt Lake 14, Idaho Falls 4*
July 24 • Salt Lake 7, Pocatello 2
July 25 • Salt Lake 13, Pocatello 3
July 26 • Salt Lake 8, Pocatello 6
* - road game