the formation of the Australian Baseball League (ABL) the pinnacle of Australian
baseball competition was the Claxton Shield, which had a long history and great
tradition of its own. It was an amateur competition little known outside of
participating baseball families and genuine baseball devotees.
The Claxton Shield was a very high quality annual competition contested by teams
selected to represent the major States of Australia. The games were usually
played in the form of a compressed "carnival" over little more than a
week where teams would battle for the right to play-off in a Grand Final, while
the ultimate winners were to become holders of the prestigious Claxton Shield.
Underpinning the Claxton Shield competition were the local baseball leagues in
various major cities around Australia, from which the Claxton Shield teams were
Perhaps inspired by the formation of several other new national sporting leagues
in Australia and the relative success of Australia's National Basketball League
in the 1980's, the Australian Baseball League was conceived in 1987.
There was quite a deal of interest from around Australia proposing nominations
for clubs to join the new national competition, before finally eight teams were
confirmed to pioneer Australian major league baseball.
The Australian Baseball League formally got underway in October 1989,
representing Australia's first professional "major league".
Officially, the first ABL game was contested between Perth Heat and Adelaide
Giants at Parry Field in Perth on 27 October 1989, with the Giants winning 8-5.
The Rules and
Australian Baseball League was a serious baseball league much like any other,
with clubs playing a number of home and away series against each other, all
aiming to qualify for the post season playoffs. The ultimate winner of the
playoff Championship Series would be crowned ABL Champions.
The number of regular season games played per season ranged from 42 to 62,
partly dictated by the number of competing teams that varied from six to nine
throughout the decade. Most commonly, the league consisted of eight teams
playing 48 fixtures, while the “halcyon year” was ’95 when the ABL boasted
nine teams and 62 games.
In the belief that higher scoring would appeal to Australian tastes, the ABL
decided it would be a "designated hitter league". Local players were
allowed to use aluminium bats, while any player with a current professional
contract in the USA would use a wooden bat. There were limits placed on the
number of "import players" allowed to perform for each ABL club, but
these limits varied often throughout the ABL decade.
In the early years of the league there were a few other “local rules”
adopted by the ABL. Initially, we had a “Speed-up Rule” for catchers whereby
a pinch-runner was immediately allowed to enter the game solely to run bases for
the catcher if he reached base safely. This not only enabled the game to flow
more quickly without waiting for catchers to restore their protective equipment
after batting, but also produced some more entertaining action on the basepaths.
For the first few seasons, the ABL needed to adopt some rules relating to
incomplete games because lighting curfews were a problem at some venues. The
league also dabbled with the “Ten-Run Mercy Rule” where games were
automatically awarded to teams if they had established a ten-run lead after
seven complete innings. However, after a few years of experiment, these rules
were abandoned and the game reverted to traditional baseball rules.
Over the years, the league tried several different programming strategies aimed
to increase fan support, scheduling a combination of nine innings single game
days, with seven innings double-headers.
They tried every possible combination of these fixtures, including day / night
games and games on all different days of the week. In the end, travelling
requirements and costs often determined the nature of the fixtures. It is fair
to say that the ABL was never quite satisfied that they had found the optimum
playoff format also changed over the decade. For the first three years, only the
top two teams contested a best-of-five Championship Series. In 1993 it was
decided that the top four teams would contest best-of-three Semi-Finals on a 1v4
and 2v3 basis, with the winners contesting a best-of-three Championship Series.
Under these formats, the higher placed team was rewarded by staging the series
at their home venue. This format was maintained until 1998 when the ABL decided
to experiment with a “one city finals carnival” style approach.
It was hoped that the fixed venue would generate substantial interest in the
host city and reduce travelling costs for the competing teams, but this concept
was never substantiated by results.
In 1998, a playoff round-robin series was conducted at Altona in Melbourne with
the top two teams emerging to play a best-of-three Championship Series. In 1999,
the format reverted to the previous semi-finals type system; except that all
post season games were played at Sydney’s new Homebush Stadium.
Like any high quality professional sport, ABL competition was always very
serious and occasionally fierce. Individual players carried over the spirit of
competition from the Claxton Shield days and the opponent clubs also developed
some intense rivalries. Perhaps most notable was the cross-town
"distaste" quickly established between Waverley / Melbourne Reds and
Melbourne Monarchs. Like most good rivalry stories, this battle was fuelled when
several players transferred from one club to the other over the decade.
The ABL competition had its "ugly” moments when the heat of competition
became too much for the tempers of the participants... and what type of baseball
competition would be complete without the obligatory on-field arguments between
managers, players and umpires? Whatever else anyone might say about ABL
baseball, there could be no dispute that the games were played with passion and
a genuine desire to win, making it great entertainment for the league's fans who
enjoyed every minute of it!
the formative years, most ABL clubs were either owned, supported or
part-financed by established clubs and/or the local baseball associations in the
major cities of Australia. However, as time elapsed, the clubs inevitably moved
towards private ownership as State Associations found it tough to justify often
substantial financial losses.
Sad but true that, during the ten year span of the ABL, few clubs could claim to
have been truly profitable on a regular basis. While a number of different
owners continued to fund teams out of devotion to their clubs and the sport of
baseball, it became increasingly apparent that our national baseball league
teams simply could not pay for themselves. The loyal fan base was too small to
raise sufficient gate revenues, while the sponsorship market was extremely tough
for a small sporting fish in a very large pond!
It was hard to generate the level of media interest required to develop and
build an audience in a country where baseball remains very much a minority sport
compared with the major football codes and Australia's summer passion for
cricket. Of course, on top of this we had the usual high travelling costs for
teams to move around the vast continent of Australia, while other costs such as
stadium accommodation, lighting and player payments were always on the increase.
While most clubs did their best to manage themselves professionally, it would be
true to say that much of the work was done by people who devoted most of their
time for little payment. In general, the people involved were devoted
"baseball people" often with family links to players and each with a
passion to make their club succeed... it was not enough!
The front-offices of ABL clubs were generally operated by very dedicated and
tireless people who worked very long hours for little reward. Making their jobs
more difficult was the universal lack of money for operating budgets and a
drastic shortage of support staff. This was a sad fact of life for the
Operations Managers throughout the league, but most still managed to do a
sterling job to organise teams and to make things happen on game days. It is
probably fair to say that more energy was directed to playing the game than
Sure, some would argue that there simply were not enough highly experienced
"business people" involved to propel the clubs into the high profile,
cut throat world of sports marketing, but there simply wasn’t the type of
funding available to make this a reality.
Lest we forget the host of other dedicated individuals that made the competition
function, most of them providing their services because of their love for the
game rather than for any financial reward. Among this number were the office
staff, ground crews, umpires, scorers, ground announcers, team mascots and a
variety of other helpers.
Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Gold Coast were the only
"constants" as ABL baseball centres, but even these had their moments
In fact, the only names to appear throughout the history of the ABL were
Adelaide Giants and Perth Heat, as other teams either came and went, evolved
into new teams or simply changed their names.
Melbourne Reds were a foundation member of the ABL, but started in the
competition as Waverley Reds.
Gold Coast tried a variety of titles including Gold Coast Clippers, Gold Coast
Dolphins and finally Gold Coast Cougars, but along the way they also appeared as
Daikyo Dolphins and East Coast Cougars!
Sydney Storm began as Parramatta Patriots, then evolved into Sydney Blues before
a conflict with New South Wales cricket marketing saw them change nickname to
Brisbane fielded their Bandits team for the first nine years of the ABL but were
unable to raise funding for the '99 season. The Melbourne Monarchs were also a
nine-year constant, but had their licence withdrawn for the '91 season after a
controversial dispute with ABL officialdom.
For a time, Melbourne hosted three ABL clubs but couldn't possibly sustain the
Reds, Monarchs and Melbourne Bushrangers in the longer term. After two years in
Melbourne, the 'Bushies' packed their bags for Canberra and lasted another two
struggling seasons in the nation's capital.
The Sydney Metros lasted only the first season before metamorphosing into Sydney
Wave, but the Wave lasted just two more years, leaving Sydney content to pamper
their single team Blues / Storm.
Hunter Eagles were a late addition, aiming to represent the fertile baseball
nursery of New South Wales country areas. They struggled for a suitable venue
and tasted little on field success for three years before taking a leave of
absence for the '99 season. They had expected to return after completion of the
new stadium at Gosford.
original concept developed for the Australian Baseball League was the desire for
each ABL club to establish a relationship or "affiliation" with a
major league team in the United States of America. This was an idea that served
a few different purposes. Not only did it help to provide some funding and to
reduce some player costs, but the influx of US import players each season added
interest and spice to the league.
Like most things about ABL clubs, the affiliations were also subject to many
changes. Only Adelaide Giants with the Los Angeles Dodgers could claim a
continuity of affiliate support that lasted the decade of ABL competition.
The Waverley / Melbourne Reds for example had four different affiliates over the
ten seasons, starting with Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and
finally with Tampa Bay Devil-Rays. Australia's Reds initially claimed to be a
"good luck charm" for their US affiliates because Cincinnati, Atlanta
and New York each won World Series immediately after teaming up with the
Melbourne club! Coincidentally, the Reds also won the ABL Championship in those
The Gold Coast Teams also had four different affiliates during the decade,
starting with Milwaukee Brewers, California Angels and Boston Red Sox before
finally teaming up with Detroit Tigers.
The Melbourne Monarchs too had four different affiliates, starting with Toronto
Blue Jays, then returning with the expansion Florida Marlins after their 1991
exile. They then changed to New York Mets before the Atlanta Braves swapped
allegiances between Melbourne clubs, moving from the Reds to the Monarchs along
with their Australian 'contact’ Phil Dale.
However, Brisbane Bandits take the award for the most varied affiliate support.
The Bandits started with San Diego Padres, then the New York Yankees before the
Milwaukee Brewers followed David Nilsson across from the Gold Coast. The Padres
then rejoined their affiliation as a “shared” arrangement with the Brewers
and later continued this dual-affiliation with the Detroit Tigers.
Toronto Blue Jays originally linked with Melbourne Monarchs but moved on to
become an excellent affiliate for Sydney Blues / Storm through most of the
decade. Baltimore Orioles were another long serving affiliate with Perth Heat
but abandoned them for the final season in '99 when a disorganised Perth were
unable to secure a US "partner".
California Angels and Houston Astros supported the Melbourne Bushrangers in the
league’s early years, while the New York Yankees supported the Bushrangers
after they shifted to Canberra.
Hunter Eagles were affiliated with Montreal Expos and then New York Mets.
origin of team managers was largely dictated by the relationship between ABL
clubs and their US affiliates. Where clubs had a highly credentialled local
manager available, it usually suited them to convince their affiliate that US
team management was not required. However, in many cases it became a regular
thing for the US affiliate to send out a team manager and/or coaches to handle
the players. This may have been favoured by some affiliates to ensure that their
own import players were handled exactly the way they desired.
The availability of an established Australian based manager was surely an
advantage for teams in terms of stability and continuity as the import managers
rarely participated for more than one or two seasons.
To emphasise this, of the 42 managers that saw duty during the decade of the ABL,
only Jon Deeble (366) and Tony Harris (321) managed more than 300 games. Next in
line were legendary Australian pitcher / managers Phil Dale and Adrian Meagher
who managed their teams for five seasons, while ex-patriot American Mike Young
managed for four seasons.
For the record, highly regarded Atlanta manager Paul Runge owns the best
managing record in ABL history with a .759 winning percentage from the 1995
Championship season with Waverley Reds.
For managers with some longevity, Mike Young’s .626 winning percentage with
two clubs is an excellent record although he boasted only one Championship
victory. Always remembered most for his pitching exploits, the Reds original
manager Phil Dale also deserves a mention with a healthy .576 winning percentage
over five seasons.
While some import managers were successful, there is no evidence to suggest that
an import manager would perform any better or any worse than an Australian
manager. This was often dictated by the way that US managers adapted to the ABL
scene and how quickly they developed a "knowledge bank" about
dangerous local players. Like most serious sports, the most successful ABL
managers were fortunate to have very good players!
indicated by our tribute to ABL players who have played in the US major leagues
(Refer Page 4.13) we are able to provide some tangible evidence about the
“standard” of our Australian Baseball League by referring to the number of
current and future US major league players who featured during the decade.
It is quite remarkable that more than FIFTY players who appeared in ABL
competition over the ten years were either current or future US major leaguers!
The ABL featured a diverse range of players from different origins and, while
they all had a universal desire to win, the players often had different
Particularly during the early years of the league, the ABL featured a number of
local veteran players who had already established their credentials and were
household names from the Claxton Shield era. There is little doubt that the
Australian Baseball League was a long-awaited "dream" for Australian
baseballers and it had not come soon enough for some. In many cases, players
extended their careers just to enjoy the new ABL competition and some of the
league's early greats had seen their prime before the ABL competition began!
Also seeming to gather momentum from around the start of the Australian Baseball
League was a regular exodus of young Australian prospects signing contracts with
US teams and trying to work their way through the demanding minor league
systems. Most of these young Australians would display their development each
season when returning home for ABL competition. Despite being limited by
swinging wooden bats or by weary pitching arms, the young Australian
professionals were key players for their teams and clearly represented our
lifeline to the baseball future.
Then there was the seasonal influx of imported US players, usually supplied by
the ABL affiliate clubs. In most cases the US affiliates were keen to take
advantage of the opportunity to provide some serious "winterball
competition" for their minor league players, especially those who they
believed had something important to gain.
Sometimes they would send young players who had something specific to work on
before the next spring training back home in the States. They could also send
seasoned players who had missed much of the previous season through injury and
could use the ABL as a means to speed their rehabilitation.
Common examples of the types of "experiments" US affiliates would
assign their players were to ask batters to try switch-hitting or for relief
pitchers to try starting games on a regular basis. Australia was to become a
quite popular off season "instructional league" for US professionals
where the language and lifestyle differences were far less than they experienced
in places like Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
From season to season the number of import players varied, but it was typically
limited to four imports, consisting of not more than two pitchers or two
position players. For the early years of the ABL, the quality of import players
was strictly limited to 'high A' minor league standard, but this was gradually
relaxed to allow players of virtually any standard. With several notable
exceptions, import players were most commonly of 'AA' standard or lower.
As a generalisation, the import players were approximately the same standard as
the good local players, but few were as good as the great ones! Above average
quality imports certainly helped some teams to be successful, but they did not
dominate the league on a consistent basis and could not carry a team to success
on their own!
Naturally the vast majority of imports were from the United States minor
leagues, but these occasionally consisted of players from nationalities other
than American. Some clubs also dabbled with the idea of importing other players,
especially from our nearby Asian region, but this was never embarked upon on a
Also adding some spice to the competition was the occasional filling of import
positions by seasoned American players from Independent Leagues and even a few
players who had tasted a 'cup of coffee' in the US majors. Some import players
liked Australia and the ABL enough to stay around and later qualify to play as
With a few notable exceptions, different import players were sent to Australia
each season as affiliates generally chose this in preference to “recycling”
the same players for a second tour of duty. This did not provide continuity for
their ABL club, but it was to become a fact of life for most teams each season.
While there were a few very valuable players that did return for a second
season, this was to prove the absolute maximum for import players apart from
those who chose to remain and seek Australian citizenship.
In some cases the lack of continuity was to be accentuated as import players
regularly failed to last the full season either through injury or because of
being recalled to the USA for other reasons. No doubt, clubs that were lucky
enough to have good imports stay for entire seasons had a clear advantage over
others that suffered a “revolving door” of new import players.
ABL rosters were rounded out by emerging local youngsters who were keen to test
their talents in the very tough league and to use the exposure as a stepping
stone to a possible US contract. The Australian Baseball League became a very
popular nursery for US major league scouts. Not only was the depth of talent
starting to compare with other international leagues much closer geographically
to the USA, but also we had the significant advantage of supplying players who
could speak the English language!
You could debate forever about the standard of our
Australian Baseball League compared with the US professional leagues. While it
would be impossible to supply any definitive evidence, we are prepared to
venture that our league would be ‘near AAA’ standard and probably comparable
to a US Independent League.
perhaps the lack of genuine baseball facilities at popular locations was to
prove the biggest stumbling block for the success of ABL clubs in most major
Australian cities. It is a firmly held belief by many ABL people that the lack
of suitable venues was the most significant hurdle that prevented clubs building
fan support and becoming profitable.
Once again, baseball was given a stark reminder by governments and sponsors
alike that it remains a minority sport in Australia and it would face an uphill
battle to muster sufficient investment dollars!
Only Perth and Melbourne Monarchs started with "authentic" baseball
fields, however, not even they were ideal for ABL purposes.
Perth soon had to abandon the antiquated Parry Field as it no longer met
reasonable lighting or patron comfort levels. Perth Heat was never quite as
comfortable with their alternative venues, trying the WACA cricket ground,
Belmont International Baseball Stadium and finally the remote Bassendean.
Sydney’s early Oriole Park (Auburn) was a baseball specific venue, but it was
never really suitable for a competition expecting to attract fan support.
The Monarchs were blessed with perhaps the league’s best "purpose
built" baseball venue but it was located at Altona in a remote part of
Melbourne's western suburbs. The vast majority of Melbourne baseball people
lived on the other side of town and it was to become a much-ridiculed
"white elephant" as fans shunned the stadium in droves! While it was
always the "spiritual home" of the Monarchs, even they briefly tried
Footscray's Western Oval (now Whitten Oval) when they were part owned by the AFL
Bulldogs. We will not discuss how this otherwise fine stadium came to be
constructed at such a poorly planned location. The Victorian State Baseball
& Softball Centre (otherwise known as Altona Stadium then later Melbourne
Ballpark) was to hang like a millstone around the neck of Victorian baseball and
ultimately became its ABL graveyard!
Other ABL clubs had to be content with adaptations of Australian Rules football
/ cricket ovals, rugby grounds or horticultural showgrounds, among other places.
Waverley Reds as they were then known boasted easily the best “adapted
venue” when they had the use of the then VFL's superb VFL Park stadium, later
known as Waverley Park. The 70,000+ capacity "home" of VFL football in
Melbourne was a magnificent host for baseball with its beautiful playing surface
and first class spectator facilities. However, it was probably too good to be
true for ABL baseball as high costs for lighting and staffing were a problem.
The end of the honeymoon came as the VFL began to limit its use when pre-season
VFL football competitions became fashionable and it would not be available to
the Reds for playoff matches.
The Reds moved on to another most suitable football ground, Moorabbin Oval, the
former home of the St.Kilda AFL club. Moorabbin provided a very good adapted
baseball venue, but the Reds suffered a significant drop in regular spectators
as it proved a far less popular location than Waverley.
Adelaide Giants could be content with a good stable venue throughout its ABL
life, using the established SANFL football ground Norwood Oval. Not only was it
a good baseball venue, but it provided the Giants probably the most stable fan
support numbers over the ten years of the ABL. The only “standing joke”
about Norwood was the rather dimly lit outfield. One anecdote is that when
Adelaide experienced a brief electricity “blackout” during a night game, the
Giants’ outfielders claimed that they didn’t notice any difference!
Queensland teams Brisbane and Gold Coast tried a number of venues. Gold Coast
was reasonably stable using Carrara Stadium for most of the decade, but briefly
calling the plush Palm Meadows Resort their home during their association with
Daikyo. Brisbane on the other hand bounced around from Lang Park, to RNA
Showgrounds, to ANZ Stadium and then finally played some games at Holloway Field.
Sydney teams were never quite able to find a truly comfortable home either.
Unlike the southern states, Sydney could not adapt an adequately dimensioned
football oval and it really struggled to find the right balance between playing
conditions and spectator support.
Early Sydney teams tried Oriole Park, RAS Showgrounds and Sydney Football
Sydney Blues tried to configure rugby league venues Parramatta Stadium and
Belmore Oval for baseball but they were constantly ridiculed for the playing
dimensions that were quite unsuitable for baseball. The Storm also later tried
the rugby union venue at Concord. It was impossible to outline a baseball field
on the rectangular rugby pitches without one very short "porch" down
one of the foul lines.
Parramatta was a very popular venue for Sydney fans, but the league found it
difficult to tolerate the puny 90m right field extremity with the contrived
"home run net". The Blues tried a move to the more suitable Sydney
Showgrounds, but when the fans refused to follow, they were forced into a
controversial return to Parramatta.
Melbourne Bushrangers played at Altona Stadium and then the home of VFA football
team Preston before shifting to Canberra. There they struck the usual New South
Wales malady of trying to adapt a too small Bruce Stadium.
It was a similar fate for the latecomers Hunter Eagles who also had to settle
for the inadequately small Marathon Stadium and Maitland Sports Ground
throughout their ABL existence.
Games were played at numerous venues, including the Victorian country centre of
Ballarat and Ipswich in Queensland, as the league tried desperately to broaden
its fan support but, as we repeat, suitable venues were a constant problem
facing not only the ABL but the future of baseball in Australia.
Belatedly, Sydney was blessed when the city was awarded the 2000 Summer
Olympic Games. Suddenly the Sydney Storm had the rare luxury of a spanking new
18,000 capacity, purpose built baseball stadium at Homebush Bay for the 1999
season. It is a magnificent new venue to be sure, but it did not drag in the
number of fans Sydney had hoped. To make the new stadium a success they might
need to look at more realistic ticket costs and more convenient spectator
parking, but at least they have the right stadium and a real chance for a bright
No such surety in other major baseball cities where the issue of venues looms as
a significant impediment to the future of Australian Major League Baseball if it
is to have a life beyond the ABL?
Highlights, Winners and Big
Waverley / Melbourne Reds were the inaugural ABL Champions and ended the first
decade of Australian Major League Baseball as the only three-time Australian
Baseball League Champions. Their incomparable 34-6 record from the first 1989/90
ABL season would stand as a tough benchmark for any future team to match.
With their .620 winning record, Perth Heat could claim to have been the most
consistent team in ABL history as they also reached the playoffs seven times and
played in five Championship series, for two Championship victories.
Gold Coast snatched the last ABL Championship in 1998/99 and took their tally to
two Championships, having won one earlier as the Daikyo Dolphins.
Brisbane Bandits, Melbourne Monarchs and Sydney Blues also tasted Championship
success, leaving Adelaide Giants as the only regular team not to enjoy
The Giants were somewhat unlucky not to take the last ABL crown when they
finished clear competition leaders in 1998/99 but were deprived of home finals
due to a league decision to host all of the playoffs at Sydney's new Homebush
Sydney Metros, Sydney Wave and the Melbourne / Canberra Bushrangers were
fleeting memories for the ABL archives and, like the latecomers Hunter Eagles,
were never a realistic chance to be successful. None of these teams threatened
to make the playoffs during their existence, but they each added their own
unique slice of history to the first decade of Australian major league baseball.
When discussing team success, it is impossible to overlook the fact that David
Nilsson tasted Championship success three times… with three different teams!
Not a bad strike rate considering he played in eight seasons, but made only
cameo appearances in three of those! While we would not suggest that he ensured
victory on his own, it was a fair indicator of the aura and influence he had
both to inspire teammates and to intimidate opposition players.
Ask us to select our best teams of the ABL decade and you cause hot debate
between the writers of this publication. As an unashamed Reds fanatic, Peter
Flintoff cannot go past the inaugural 34-6 Waverley Reds as the best all-round
team in ABL history and he also thinks that the 1994/95 Reds were a very tough
outfit, especially for pitching and defence. Adrian Dunn has always fancied the
explosive offensive power of the 1991-92 Daikyo Dolphins teams and it would be
hard to argue against major league names like Nilsson, Jaha, O’Leary etc.
Perth Heat featured some great teams with very strong imports, while Brisbane
and Sydney have had some impressive lineups… we give up!
As for the greatest players to play in the ABL? ‘Flintoff & Dunn’ are
prepared to stick our necks out a very short distance by nominating David
Nilsson and John Jaha as the two most famous “names” to grace the ABL
Of course, we don’t expect too many arguments as both featured in the USA’s
prestigious MLB All-Star Game in Boston during 1999… it is impossible to top
that!! But as the first decade of Australian major league baseball draws to a
close, we might need to keep our eyes on rising US major league stars Kevin
Milwood and Troy O’Leary who are both ABL ‘Old Boys’.
Milwood emerged as a great starting pitcher out of the talent laden Atlanta
Braves bullpen and was a legitimate shot at the National League Cy Young Award
after the 1999 season. Similarly, O’Leary has just completed a standout season
as an established outfielder with the Boston Red Sox who reached the American
League Championship Series. Both of these former ABL players could forge
themselves very big names in the US major leagues.
Naturally, we have some very soft spots for several local Australian
“greats”. Might we suggest a browse through ‘Flintoff & Dunn’s
Hall-of-Fame’ (Section 3) as a tribute to most of the legends from the first
decade of Australian major league baseball. However, we should not forget that
there are several others awaiting eligibility for selection and many, many more
who have made enormous contributions to the Australian Baseball League.
A glance at our lists of the ABL’s “Ten Year Men” (Page 4-3) also provides
a fitting tribute to the many stalwart players who contributed so much to the
fabric of the ABL competition.
Before concentrating on individual offensive and pitching stars we must
highlight the unique all-round contributions of Jon Deeble who played during all
ten seasons of ABL competition. Jon featured in eight seasons offensively as a
‘gold glove’ standard first baseman and compiled a .300 batting average from
273 appearances. He also appeared in nine seasons as an “occasional” pitcher
of much underrated quality, taking the mound 54 times and recording a lifetime
3.77 ERA. If that is not enough, he also managed the Monarchs a league record
No doubt that the enduring highlight of the Australian Baseball League was the
quality of the players, the passion of the teams and the hard-fought spirit of
the competition. While financial struggles and inadequate venues seemed an
ever-present distraction, the teams and the players always seemed capable of
rising above these problems to produce a tremendous baseball product… it is
indeed a great pity that we couldn’t “sell it” to the broader masses of
the Australian sporting community.
Reds’ 1999 ABL Batting Champion Adam Burton ended the decade as the only
two-time winner of the award, having earlier won the title during his brief stay
Burton (.402) was one of only seven “.400 season men” in the history of the
competition, led by Brendan Kingman with his extraordinary .487, John Jaha .445,
David Clarkson .444, Andrew Scott .414, Steve Hinton .403 and David Nilsson
.400. Not surprisingly these are almost a “Who’s Who” of ABL batting
stars, but again we remind you that Nilsson and Jaha used wooden bats! David
Nilsson’s ABL-Best .356 career average is just one testimony to his lofty
standing in ABL history.
Adelaide’s Andrew Scott ends the decade as the man with most ABL appearances
with 469 games, while his .329 career average is not too shabby either! Scott
also takes the records for most hits (521) and runs (343). Next in line is Ron
Johnson with 457 appearances to go along with his other ABL records of 106 home
runs, 375 RBI’s and 247 walks.
Another “Who’s Who” of the league’s power men lists the ABL leading
sluggers as David Nilsson .648, Greg Jelks .639, Adam Burton .613 and Tony
Adamson .606 as the only men to top .600 slugging percentage. Of course, Ron
Johnson was not far behind with .590!
Queensland evergreen Peter Hartas finished the decade as the only ABL player to
steal more than 100 bases, finishing with 121 although he was also caught
stealing a league most 50 times. The honor for the ABL’s greatest base thief
must go to the Reds’ offensive dynamo Adam Burton who stole 81 bases (fourth
most in ABL history), with an ABL best success rate of .871 stolen base
Among imports, apart from John Jaha, only Mike Musolino batted over .400 in a
season but his .420 average came from only 81 at bats. Jay Kirkpatrick (48) was
the import who delivered most RBI’s in a season, but this was a long way
behind the best Australian players. Todd Nichols holds the import record with 18
home runs for a season, but there remains doubts about how much his small home
venue contributed to this.
One area where imports really led the way was for stolen bases… while no
Australian could top 30 for a season, imports Lonell Roberts (33) and Curtis
Goodwin (32) were the ABL’s all-time leaders.
Former US major league slugger Greg Jelks is also worthy of special mention as
one of the great offensive forces in ABL history. While he continued to play
well into his 30’s as a naturalised Australian, Jelks started in the ABL as an
import and his name appears three times among the top 14 imports for the best
season batting average. Before his last season in 1999, when age finally seemed
to take its toll on his talents, Greg Jelks topped all lifetime ABL averages
talking about ABL pitchers, it would be remiss not to mention that many of the
best have been US imports. While these pitchers did not provide the longevity of
performance to rank them against local greats, it is worth noting that the Top
20 List (Page 10-13) reveals that the worst season ERA in the top 20 for imports
is 2.73! Among these, perhaps the most extraordinary season records were Jim
Dedrick (1.90 ERA), Carlos Reyes (2.02) and Barry Parisotto (2.04). Import Pat
Ahearne was also an outstanding performer who reappeared in three seasons and
owns the ABL’s sixth best lifetime ERA with 3.24.
Among other single-season imports, Dirk Blair (12 wins) and Brad Cornett (10
wins) were the most successful, while Chuck Beale’s 10 saves also deserves
special mention. Imports Derek Brandow and Everett Stull (both 119 K’s) are
the only two pitchers to top 100 strikeouts in a season. When playing as an
import, David White also produced the remarkable performance of 11 complete
games in a season!
For contributions across the decade of the ABL, four pitchers stand out. Graeme
Lloyd and Phil Dale have incomparable records, while David White and Adrian
Meagher have also made very significant contributions.
For relief pitchers, Bob Nilsson, Ross Jones and Grahame Cassel have outstanding
Major leaguer Graeme Lloyd has the honour of best ERA in ABL history with his
2.34, however, the ABL did not see as much of him as we would have liked as he
pitched only 250 innings. He also owned the league all-time best opponent
batting average of .210.
The most impressive long-term ERA’s belong to Phil Dale 3.14 (792 innings) and
Adrian Meagher 3.08 (465).
As further evidence of a league that “favoured offence”, only 14 ABL
pitchers with any longevity boasted a lifetime ERA of under 4.00!
For workhorses, only three ABL pitchers surpassed 500 innings pitched; Phil Dale
(792.1), David White (587.2) and Brett Cederblad (576.0). For appearances,
relief pitchers Bob Nilsson (194) and Grahame Cassel (158) were the leaders, but
Phil Dale’s 147 for third billing was remarkable for a usual starting pitcher.
Dale led the ABL with 102 starts from next best Brett Cederblad (85).
Phil Dale recorded a league best 65 wins, while David White was next with 48.
The ABL’s three great relief pitchers topped the list for saves with Bob
Nilsson (53), Ross Jones (43) and Grahame Cassel (35) the only ones to record
more than 30. Not short on versatility, Phil Dale and David White also appear in
the all-time Top 20 list for saves!
Phil Dale (553) and Adrian Meagher (420) were the ABL strikeout kings. Finally,
for complete games, Phil Dale recorded 58 and David White 40, while next best
was Adrian Meagher with 19!
I’m sure you’d agree that those names have a repetitive ring to them? It
would be hard to argue against Melbourne legend Phil Dale claiming the honour of
ABL’s greatest pitcher.
A Few Lowlights
doesn’t serve much purpose to dwell on negative issues, but in order to a
summarise the decade of the Australian Baseball League we should not ignore some
of it’s lingering problems.
We have already mentioned the ongoing financial struggles of the clubs and their
loyal owners… and discussions about unsuitable venues have been done to death!
Statistically, most would agree that the different playing field dimensions and
the fact that we had to compare offensive performances between players using
wood and metal bats somewhat “pollutes” our records. There was always
something quite unfair about comparing a young, often immature, professional
swinging a wooden bat with a powerful veteran who was allowed to use a metal
bat. Many pitchers would also like to discuss the relative merits of short
outfields and metal bats!
The issue of metal bats also caused another enduring lowlight, which was the
ever-present danger that metal bat sluggers were to pitchers. Few will forget
the sight of young Brisbane pitcher Owen Smyth suffering a sickening blow to the
head from a ball flying off the metal bat of renowned Sydney slugger Brendan
Kingman. Nobody would seek to blame Kingman and thankfully Smyth lived to play
another day, but the issue has not gone away!
Finally, while it may be an unfair generalisation and we apologise to any
individual or organisation that does not deserve this criticism, the Australian
Baseball League was often deprived the type of support it needed from both
governments and baseball associations. In some instances local baseball
associations viewed the ABL as an unwanted “dilution of their powers” and
some officials did not have the foresight to help establish the league as a most
important bridge between local amateur baseball and the professional baseball
Similarly, there were instances where governments clearly decided that there
were not enough votes in Australian baseball to afford it the type of funding
and overall support it deserved, particularly with respect to the issue of
All this aside, probably the biggest lowlight for Australian Baseball League
clubs and fans alike was the fact that we were not able to consistently attract
sufficient fan support to keep the league vibrant. There was enough evidence on
occasions to suggest that there were significant numbers of supporters around,
but for a variety of reasons their attendance at games was infrequent.
Some would blame lack of media focus for the failure to expand its supporter
base, while others insist that unpopular venues, or unsuitable scheduling of
games were the main contributing factors. It is a fair bet that the problems
arose from a combination of many factors rather than one specific factor, but to
find the solutions is the huge challenge facing any future league.
One thing not in dispute was the quality of the baseball played and the
competitiveness of the competition. The Australian Baseball League produced an
excellent sporting product and it certainly deserved to be witnessed by many
Goodbye AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE
is with a great deal of sadness and quite a deal of regret that we bid farewell
to the Australian Baseball League.
For those of us, including the writers of this publication, who have been along
for the whole ten-year "roller-coaster ride” that was the ABL, we will
have to be content with our fond memories of a really underrated chapter in
The sadness comes from the recognition that a large part of our Summer sporting
interest has been (temporarily?) taken away from us... the regret arises from a
nagging belief that it must have been possible to do something to prevent the
We sincerely hope that our publication of ‘Flintoff & Dunn’s Australian
Baseball League ALMANAC’ (1997 and 1998 Editions) and this ‘Australian Major
League Baseball - The First Ten Years’ will serve as permanent tributes to a
world class sporting competition, along with the players and the personalities
that made it great.
Let us never forget those loyal, passionate owners and other individuals who
took the brunt of personal financial losses to help sustain the Australian
Baseball League for as long as they did… they may be the real “heroes”
from the first decade of Australian major league baseball?
time of writing, Australian baseball is still basking in the reflective glory of
our historic success, winning the Gold Medal at the Intercontinental Cup in
Sydney, November 1999.
some ways this is significant as there is one name that seems inexorably linked
to the now departed ABL, the Intercontinental Cup and probably the immediate
future of Australian baseball… Australia’s greatest baseball product, David
David was a legend of the Australian Baseball League, led our team to its
historic first ever international baseball triumph and is now majority owner of
his new International Baseball League of Australia (IBLA). What happens next
will have a lot to do with David Nilsson’s determination to establish his new
league… we suspect he will need plenty of support and some large slices of
luck along the way.
We know that David is keen to rekindle the interstate rivalry with a re-birth of
a Claxton Shield style competition. We will have to be content with this as our
only source of Australian major league baseball action for the 1999/2000 summer.
What is less clear, are his plans to re-establish a City / State based national
baseball league. We understand that he hopes to lure a few Asian teams who may
be keen to join the competition and that this may provide a number of
opportunities to generate increased funding, not least of which could be the
Asian television market?
No doubt, if he succeeds in establishing a league at least comparable to the ABL
for the long-term, his standing as Australia’s most significant baseball
individual will be permanently etched in Australian major league baseball
history… if it is not already!
As for the future of ‘FLINTOFF & DUNN’S AUSTRALIAN MAJOR LEAGUE
BASEBALL’… well, we would certainly love to keep rolling after all the
effort we have put into the publication, not to mention our hopes to recover
establishment costs! However, it will probably depend upon whether we have an
ongoing league to report on?… and whether Flintoff can drag Dunn away from his
horse racing commitments! We certainly do not intend to treat this as “the
end” and we hope that you will be reading our publications for a long time to
We are presently undecided about whether to publish a 2000 Edition after the
abbreviated Claxton Shield competition this summer, but we intend to maintain
If… or is that when?… a new Australian major league is re-established we
hope that our subscribers will keep their eyes out for new editions of
‘FLINTOFF & DUNN’S AUSTRALIAN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’.
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