Minneapolis, MN

Professional Slow-Pitch Softball Comes to Minnesota: The Inaugural Season of the Minnesota Goofy's (1977)

Matt Reicher

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3f0TIY_0bIqkCqG00
1977 Minnesota Goofy's Softball Team LogoFun While it Lasted

The game of softball has roots dating back to the late 19th century. Over the years, the popularity of the sport increased and by the 1970s it was the most popular participation sport in the country.

To capitalize on that popularity, Columbus, Ohio executive Bill Byrne created the American Professional Slow-Pitch Softball League (ASPSL) and reached out to investors in cities across the country to field teams. The Minnesota Goofy's were one of the league's first teams.

The Goofy’s were owned by Joe Houle, who also owned a bar in Minneapolis with the same name. Twelve amateur players from Twin Cities softball leagues joined the team. To fill the roster with the twenty players required by the league, a public tryout took place at Midway Stadium in April 1977.

Among the one hundred and sixty-two potential prospects mailed a letter that began "Dear Prospective Player," eight were selected to join the team. Each player signed a contract to receive $1000 for the season. They were also entitled to a share of the team's profits under league rules.

There was an additional financial incentive for players.

The league's four top teams split a hundred thousand-dollar year-end bonus. A first-place finish netted fifty thousand dollars for the team, and a second-place finish netted twenty five thousand dollars. The third- and fourth-place prizes were worth fifteen thousand and ten thousand dollars, respectively.

While there was the potential to make money, no one expected to get rich. Players agreed to play because of a genuine love for the game.

There were a few surprises. The Goofy's inaugural season included former Minnesota Twin and 1965 American League MVP Zoilo Versailles. The 36-year-old former MLB shortstop saw his career end in 1971 and hoped to prove he could still play.

Houle believed the signing of Versailles, coupled with the popularity of softball, would guarantee success for the Goofys. He believed Midway Stadium would need a second deck and a dome to handle fan response. According to Houle, slow-pitch softball would be so popular in Minnesota that highways 35E and 35W would end up being diverted to the stadium parking lot.

The Goofy's schedule included seven road trips and seven home stands. Over the course of a weekend, teams played two doubleheaders against each other. Each game lasted seven innings. On May 29, 1977, the Goofy's fifty-six game season began at Midway Stadium against the Cincinnati Suds.

Team officials had hoped to sell 3000 season tickets by the time the season began, but only sold 300. Despite the setback, ownership remained confident, noting that fielding a successful team would help them increase local fan support.

With excitement in the air, Houle threw out the first pitch from the press box, noting that the governor and mayor were unable to attend. On opening night, over 2,900 people attended, and roughly 1100 came the following night. They saw the Goofy's finish their first weekend of ASPSL play with two wins and two losses.

The team continued to play well and soon moved into second place with a record of 12–4 with an away series scheduled against the 14–2 first place Detroit Caesars. Despite their early success, the Goofy’s struggled to draw fans, with an average attendance of 2200 per day. To break even, the team needed about 3000 paying spectators per day.

It continued to be challenging to attract fans to the games in the early days of the Goofy's season. Houle added a $2 “Blue Chip Section” to try and increase attendance. Unfortunately, the season that started with so much optimism crashed to its knees after a home series against the Kentucky Bourbons on July 4th.

Zoilo Versailles, their star attraction, abruptly announced his departure from the team. He'd been injured while sliding into third during the opening weekend and had hardly made an appearance for the team since, only having seven at-bats on the season. Although his mind was willing, his body was no longer able.

Fan attendance also bottomed out that weekend against the Kentucky Bourbons. Only three-hundred and fifty people made the trip to the stadium. Losses began to mount, and the financial problems that came with the lack of paying spectators grew significant enough to become public.

Houle owed $2000 for team uniforms and hadn’t paid a Detroit hotel for rooms rented by the team during a late June series against the Caesars. The team was averaging only one-thousand fans per day, and Houle pointed to a lack of support when discussing the team’s financial woes.

By the end of the month, Houle agreed to sell the Goofy's to Steve Doran, a 29-year-old executive. On July 28 league commissioner Whitey Ford, announced the sale during a local press conference. Although the terms of the agreement were not released, it was believed that Doran agreed to assume all of the team's debts, including payments to players.

Despite the fact that the team was mired in a sixteen game losing streak when the sale was finalized on July 31, Doran believed the Goofy’s organization could be a success. He promised to make the necessary changes.

He installed Terry Fredrichs as manager and began to come up with ways to get fans to come to Midway Stadium to watch the team. While still hoping to finish the current season strong, Doran announced his plans for 1978.

Season tickets would cost $24, and single-game tickets would be $1.75 per seat. Doran wanted the team to be financially viable entertainment for every family and felt those prices would accommodate that. He also announced a contest to rename the team, noting that “Goofy’s doesn’t sound that funny anymore.”

After starting the season 12–4, the Minnesota Goofy’s ended their first professional season with a record of 24–30 and missed the playoffs. The Detroit Caesars defeated the Baltimore Monuments in a best-of-seven series (4–0) to win the league’s inaugural World Series.

Part I in a three-part series.

Part II: Re-naming the Goofy's: the First Season of the Minnesota Norsemen (1978)

Part III: A Three Season Journey Comes to an End: The Minnesota Norsemen's Final Season of the (1979)

Sources

  • "1977-1979 Minnesota Goofy's & Minnesota Norsemen." Fun While It Lasted. Last modified November 21, 2012. https://funwhileitlasted.net/2012/11/21/1977-1979-minnesota-goofys-minnesota-norsemen/.
  • Hartman, Sid. "New Goofy's Owner." Minneapolis Tribune, July 29, 1977, 2C.
  • "Herb’s – Twin Cities Music Highlights." Twin Cities Music Highlights – Jeanne Andersen. Last modified January 3, 2020. https://twincitiesmusichighlights.net/venues/herbs/.
  • Minneapolis Star. "Zoilo signs with Goofy's." May 20, 1977, 34.
  • Minneapolis Tribune. "Versalles Quits Team." July 5, 1977, 1C.
  • Soucheray, Joe. Minneapolis Tribune, February 2, 1977, 1C, 3C.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 0

Published by

Freelance historian writing about Minnesota's beer and brewing history for Minnesota Then.

Hugo, MN
820 followers

More from Matt Reicher

Comments / 0