From the Bushes to the Bigs

This article was written by Vern Luse

This article was published in 1976 Baseball Research Journal

There has been speculation over the years about great minor league teams and how they might have performed against major league competition on a regular basis. The Baltimore Orioles of the International League in the early 1920s were an outstanding club. Fort Worth in the Texas League also had a great club in the same period. Some say the Newark Bears of 1937 could have competed in the majors, or the Kansas City Blues of 1939. Most of their stars did become major league players.

Sending a player up to the majors is one thing, but sending a club is another matter. There was, many years ago, an outstanding minor league club that moved up one season into major classification. This was the Wilmington club of the Eastern League in 1884. It completely dominated that circuit, winning 50 games and losing 12 for a wide margin over Trenton. At the end of July, Wilmington withdrew from the Eastern League and joined the Union Association, which had major league status in 1884.

The UA had plenty of problems. St. Louis was too talented for the other teams, attendance suffered, and there were franchise dropouts. Wilmington moved in to fill one of those vacancies, but not very well. It may have been the top of the heap in the Eastern League, but Wilmington couldn’t cut it in the higher classification. The club won only 2 games and lost 16, for the lowest percentage in the league. And it was difficult having a lower percentage than some of the other clubs. Kansas City, for example was 16 and 63. In defense of Wilmington, it must be added that the club lost some of its players when it transferred to the higher classification.

As might be expected, the league folded and that ended Wilmington’s brief and disastrous experience in the major leagues. It was only one test, of course, but it did show there was quite a capability gap between “the bushes and the bigs.”