River City Rascals
First season: 1999
Years in league: 1999-present
Ballpark: T.R. Hughes Ballpark
The River City Rascals were born when a group from the St. Louis suburb of O'Fallon, MO purchased the rights to the defunct Zanesville Greys franchise. The entrance into the league of this team, along with the Cook County Cheetahs, in 1999, marked a major change in direction for the league. For the first time the Frontier League moved into a major metropolitan area. Also for the first time, a new ballpark was built specifically for a Frontier League team.
The faith of the ownership was rewarded as the Rascals shattered the previous season attendance record of 90,000 by exceeding 150,000 fans. The Rascals broke their own attendance mark in 2000 and again in 2002. The Rascals were Frontier League Organization of the Year in 1999 and 2000 and Pat Daly (1999) and Matt Jones (2002) have been Executive of the Year.
River City hired former St. Louis Cardinal slugger Jack Clark to manage the team in 1999. As one would expect from a team managed by "The Ripper", the Rascals led the league in home runs, with six players in double figures. Pitching was a problem with only two pitchers with an ERA under 5.00. the team remained in contention until late in the season, eventually finishing tied for last, but only four games out.
Clark left after one season and was replaced by Neil Fiala, who led the team to the West Division title in 2000. The team just missed making the playoffs again in 2001, being eliminated on the last day of the season. Outfielder Mike Robertson had a 30-game hitting streak and hit .401 before being signed by the Boston Red Sox organization.
Fiala resigned after the 2002 season and was replaced by former major-league catcher Marc Hill. The team got off to a terrible start in 2003, and Hill resigned at midseason and was replaced by pitching coach Randy Martz. Outfielder Michael Connor set new club records in both runs and stolen bases.
After the outcry over a tie result in the major-league all-star game in 2002, Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee decreed that if the Frontier League All-Star game was tied after nine innings, a home run derby would be held to determine the winner. In 2002 and again in 2003 that was exactly what happened, and a Rascal hitter won it for the West Division both years, Brody Jackson doing the honors in 2002 and Michael Connor the following season.
Shortly before the start of the 2004 season it was announced that part-owner and Managing Partner Ken Wilson had sold his share of the team. Wilson was instrumental in bringing the Frontier League to the St. Louis area, setting the stage for major growth into other suburban areas.
The 2004 Rascals clubbed opponents into submission. They led the league in runs and steals, and were second in batting average and home runs. Their 185 steals are a new league record. River City scored in double figures an amazing 25 times. Six players were in double figures in homers, and five in steals. However, they were well under .500 in close games.
There were several outstanding individual performances. Infielder Justin Christian was hitting .450 with 26 steals in only 30 games. Before signing with the New York Yankees in late June, Christian was leading the league in six categories. Catcher Zack Riera (.316-16-46) made the all-star team and led the team in homers at the time of his signing with Houston in late July.
Other offensive leaders were 1B Mike Madrid (.299-19-86), DH Kela Olsen (.289-13-54) and the outfield trio of Brody Jackson (.309-12-54), Michael Conner (.313-11-52) and Josh Ury (.282-15-54). Madrid, acquired from Chillicothe early in the season, led the league in RBI while setting a new team record, and tied the team home run record. Jackson led the league in steals with 51, another new team record. Second baseman Cooper Vittitow added 26 steals, and Conner added 21. Infielder Chris Klosterman, who made the all-star team as a third baseman but had moved to shortstop to replace Christian, hit .303 and set a new team record of 27 doubles.
The rotation was anchored by returning veteran Greg Modica (11-3, 3.20), who set several team records during the season, and newcomer Steve Brook (10-2, 2.95). However, no other starter won more than six games, and closer Kelly Johnson notched only six saves. Starter Bryan Gale pitched well before signing with Toronto. Reliever Joey Charron joined Gale in the Toronto system.
Several rainouts led to four doubleheaders in five days in mid-July, and the team never fully recovered despite making a run in August. River City won a club record 51 games but had to settle for a fourth-place finish. The team hosted the Frontier League All-Star Game for the second time. Always a good draw at the gate, River City shattered their previous high by drawing over 185,000 fans through the turnstiles at T.R. Hughes Ballpark.
The Rascals received nationwide attention in the spring of 2005. The team auctioned off on EBay the chance to appear in an exhibition game, with the proceeds going to charity. California businessman Mark Skorlich paid over $9,000 to be a Rascal for a day.
The team started the 2005 season well. Although the hitting was not up to the production of the previous season, the pitching was good enough that the Rascals were in first place at the all-star break. Things went downhill quickly from there. Closer Joe Thatcher (4-2, 1.27) was signed by Milwaukee and starter Steve Brook (6-2, 4.09) suffered a skull fracture that put him out for the season. Aaron Ledbetter started the season 10-0 but tired in August to finish 12-5, 2.93. No other pitcher won more than three games, and although Brian Keating (3-9, 3.79) pitched well, he received very little run support. The club struggled all season to find a closer to replace Thatcher, to no avail, although Patrick Evers (2-5, five saves, 3.86) made a valiant effort.
Mike Madrid (.334-18-85) was again the star offensively, breaking his own club record for RBI. 2B Anthony Slagle (.263) set a league record by being hit with a pitch 29 times. Michael Conner returned with a .256-12-62, 27 steal season. Newcomer Kirk McConnell hit a solid .307-11-49 with 15 steals. Beyond those few, the offense was uneven. Third base was a particular problem. The Rascals used ten different players there, including all-star pitcher Wes Hutchison.
The team finished a disappointing fourth with a club-record 52 losses. At the gate the news was equally disappointing. Attendance under new management was down over 70,000 fans from 2004.
The 2006 season was even worse. The team started out well, sweeping Gateway at home to open the season. It was all downhill from there. Two players that had been expected to provide veteran leadership, OF Kirk McConnell and 2B Dusty Hillman, were lost to injuries early in the season. The roster faced wholesale turnover, with only two position players, OF Eric Chevalier (.256-9-49) and OF-3B Eddie Guessford (.273-2-28) remaining on the team all season. 1B Mike Madrid (.280-10-44) returned for a third season and broke Michael Conner's club record for career homers. SS Mike Cockrell joined the team early on and led in steals with 17. OF Chris Brown came over from Florence in a swap of all-stars that sent DH Eddie Kim to the Freedom. 3B Jose Castanon (.207) and 2B Mike Just (.317) arrived late in the season and provided sorely needed infield defense.
Pitching was expected to be a strong point, and starters Aaron Ledbetter (4-6, 2.73), Steve Brook (6-5, 4.11) and Bryan Keating (4.02) were solid but all, especially Ledbetter, were plagued by poor fielding and lack of run support. Ledbetter rewrote the club record book before being traded to Washington at the deadline to give the veteran a shot with a playoff contender. Closer Pat Evers (3-7, 2.91) set a club record with 19 saves but there was little else of value in the bullpen.
The Rascals were an abominable 13-35 on the road and suffered through a 12 game losing streak in early July. They led the league in errors and unearned runs allowed for most of the season. The team quickly dropped to the bottom of the standings and finished dead last for the first time in team history with a record 56 losses. Attendance was also flat for the second consecutive year.
The two biggest stories in River City both came away from the field at T.R. Hughes Ballpark. On July 3 Josh Kinney made his major league debut for the St. Louis Cardinals, becoming the first Rascal to make the big leagues. On August 1, the sale of the team to Steve Malliet was announced. Malliet is a veteran minor league executive in both affiliated and independent baseball. One of his first moves was the hiring of former Cincinnati Reds farmhand Toby Rumfield as the Rascals' manager for 2007.
T. R. Hughes Ballpark in O'Fallon, MO, home of the River City Rascals.
|Year||Won||Lost||GB||Finish||Attendance||Manager||Playoffs First Round||Playoffs Second Round|
|2000||46||36||--||1W||157,922||Neil Fiala||Lost to Evansville 2-0|
|2003||43||47||8||4W||163,114||Marc Hill(23-35)/Randy Martz(20-12)|
Major Award Winners:
2000 Ryan Bauer, Most Valuable Pitcher
Rascals Post-Season All-Stars:
2000 3B Brian Fuess; P Ryan Bauer
2001 3B Brian Fuess
2002 OF Brody Jackson
2003 OF Michael Connor
Players on FL Tenth Anniversary All-Star Team:
3B Brian Fuess (2000-2003)
P Ryan Bauer (2000-2001)
OF Mike Robertson (1999-2001)
3B Brian Fuess (2000-2003) spent four seasons in River City and holds nearly every Rascals career record. He began the 2003 season with the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the Northern League before returning to River City. Brian was dealt to Gateway late in the 2003 season, allowing him to finish his Frontier League career close to his hometown of Belleville, IL.
Rascals in the majors: Pitcher Josh Kinney (2001) joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.