Fighting Fish – Madison Baseball History and the Madison Muskies

While it?s not Chicago, Milwaukee or the Twin Cities, the city of Madison has a long, rich tradition of baseball that extends back before the dawn of the 20th Century. The University of Wisconsin made baseball its first official varsity sport some time prior to 1900 and the Madison Senators called the Capital City home from 1907-1914. In the 1940s it was the Madison Blues, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. But the Blues would leave town in 1942 and baseball would not return until several decades later when the Madison Muskies moved into town. Today, we highlight the history of the Muskies, the latest installment of history pieces from

Forty years in coming. The Muskies became the city of Madison?s first professional baseball organization in over 40 years when they set up shop in 1982. The Muskies were an expansion franchise and class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics that would make their home at Warner Park a.k.a ?The Fishbowl? until 1993.

The team opened the 1982 campaign at Breese Stevens Field on Madison?s East Side while construction at Warner Park was being completed. No matter where the team played, the Muskies gave Madisonians a lot to be excited about in their first year. The Fish finished their inaugural season at 87-52 atop the Midwest League Standings.

In round one of the 1982 playoffs the Muskies cruised to a 2-0 sweep of Quad City, putting them in the championship series versus the Appleton Foxes, a Chicago White Sox affiliate. There, the team fell, two games to one, but it had already been a tremendous year for baseball in Madison.

The Muskies had the 1982 Midwest League?s Most Valuable Player in Tom Romano. Romano batted .340 with 26 home runs and 98 RBI throughout the 144-game Midwest League schedule, including a game in which he hit for the cycle on April 15, 1982. Unfortunately for Romano, he would go on to play just seven games in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos in 1987 and never post a hit.

Brad Fischer served as the Muskies Manager in 1982 and would remain in that position through 1984. Fischer compiled an all-time record of 235-188. Currently, Fischer still serves in the Athletics organization as bullpen coach on Manager Ken Macha?s big league staff.

The Muskies would fall off a bit in their second season but still finished a very respectable 71-67 and tied for fifth in the Midwest League. Even with the lower record, support for the Muskies was rampant as 131, 646 fans made their way out to the ballpark. This would later prove to be the Muskies all-time season high for attendance. It would be 1984, however, before the Fish would make a return trip to the playoffs, this time getting beat in the first round by Appleton, two games to one.

The Muskies would have another down year in 1985, finishing below .500 for the first time in their existence. They produced a record of 65-73, behind first-year Manager Jim Nettles, and finished 10th in the Midwest League standings.

Fortunately, the team would bounce back in 1986. The Muskies finished in second place that season with an 86-54 record and did it against a number of future Major League stars. Names like Larry Walker, Mark Grace, Greg Swindell, Melido Perez and Omar Vizquel all were part of the Midwest League that year, not to mention the Muskies own Walt Weiss. Even with Weiss, however, the team would still be filleted by Waterloo in the playoffs, two games to none.

The Muskies would make the playoffs again in 1990 but it would be 1991 before the team would again get out of the first round. Unfortunately for the Fish, they would lose the championship series that year 3-0 to the Clinton Giants. That year would be special on a couple of other fronts, however. Muskies first-year Manager Gary Jones was voted Midwest League Manager of the Year and Pitcher Doug Johns threw the team?s first no-hitter on July, 17 versus the Burlington Expos. The Muskies won the game 3-0 behind Johns? record-setting performance.

The last year that Madison fans would see playoff baseball from the Muskies was 1991. The team finished 11th and fourth, respectively, in 1992 and 1993, effectively keeping them out of the post-season. Even without the playoffs, 1993 offered something special for Muskies fans. Stacy Hollins threw a no hitter almost exactly two years (July 7, 1991) after Johns threw the team?s first. Oddly enough, Hollins? no-hitter also came against Springfield by a score of 3-0.

Throughout their 11 year history, the Muskies had a large number of future Major Leaguers come through. Some of the highlights, in no particular order, include Terry Steinbach, Tim Belcher, Jose Canseco, Ozzie Canseco, Tanyon Sturtze, Luis Polonia, Todd Van Poppel, Rick Honeycutt, Miguel Jiminez, Ron Coomer, Tommy John and Scott Brosius. The Muskies would depart Madison after the 1993 season for Grand Rapids, Mich., where they became known as the West Michigan Whitecaps. The Whitecaps remain today as the single A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers (the team switched affiliates from Oakland to Detroit immediately after relocating). The team has since won three Midwest League Championships in 1996, 1998 and 2004

The city of Madison acquired another professional team for the 1994 season in the Madison Hatters. The Hatters had moved from Springfield, Mo., and spent one season in Madison before leaving for Battle Creek, Mich.