1977 Minnesota Goofy’s Professional Slow Pitch Softball Season

logo via Pro Softball History Flickr Page
(Also posted at Minnesota Then)

The game of softball has roots that reach back into the late 19th century. Its popularity increased significantly over the years and by the 1970s it was considered America’s largest participation sport. In an effort to capitalize on that popularity, Columbus, Ohio executive Bill Byrne created the American Professional Slow-Pitch Softball League (ASPSL) and reached out to potential investors in cities throughout the United States to field teams. One of the league’s inaugural squads was the Minnesota Goofy’s.

The Goofy’s, named after a bar in Minneapolis, were owned by Joe Houle. The team was comprised of twelve amateur players from local Twin Cities softball leagues. A public tryout was held at Midway Stadium in April of 1977 to complete the league required twenty player roster. Of the one-hundred and sixty-two potential prospects that were mailed a letter that began “Dear Prospective Player” eight were chosen to join the team. Each of the players picked signed a contract to be paid $1000 for the season. By league rules, they were also entitled to a percentage of the team’s profits.

There was an additional financial incentive for players chosen to the team. The league’s top four teams split a one-hundred-thousand-dollar year-end bonus. First place netted fifty-thousand dollars to split among the team and twenty-five thousand dollars went to second place. Third place and fourth place were worth a fifteen-thousand and ten-thousand dollars prize respectively. While there was the potential to make money playing, no one expected to get rich. The players agreed to play because of a genuine love for the game.

There were some surprises. One of the players signed to the team for that inaugural season was former Minnesota Twin and 1965 American League MVP Zoilo Versailles. The 36-year old former shortstop saw his MLB career end in 1971 and hoped to “prove he could still play.” Houle felt the signing of Versailles, coupled with the incredible popularity of softball would spell success for the Goofy’s. In his eyes, slow-pitch softball would be so popular in Minnesota that “they are going to have to divert 35E and 35W right into the parking lot.” Houle noted that “Midway, in three years, will need another deck and a dome” to accommodate fan response.

The 1977 schedule had the Goofy’s playing seven road trips and seven home stands. Teams played two double-headers against each other over the course of a weekend. Each game was seven innings long. The Goofy’s fifty-six game season began at Midway Stadium against the Cincinnati Suds on May 29, 1977. Houle threw out the first pitch from the press box, noting that the Governor and Mayor were “previously engaged”. 2945 fans came out on Sunday, and 1100 the next night. The Goofy’s finished their opening weekend with two wins and two losses.

Houle had hoped to sell 3000 season tickets by the time the season began but managed only 300. In spite of the setback he remained confident, noting that “we are going to be champions of the world in slow-pitch” and hoping that would lead to local support. The team started well and soon found themselves in second place at 12–4 with an away series on tap against the 14–2 Detroit Caesars. In spite of early success, the team had trouble drawing fans to the stadium, averaging around 2200 per day. Houle noted that the team needed an average of 3000 paying spectators per day to break even.

Getting fans to come and see the games remained a challenge in the early days of the Goofy’s season. Houle added a $2 “Blue Chip Section” to try and increase attendance. However, by a July 4th home series against the Kentucky Bourbons, the season that had begun with so much hope hit bottom. Versailles, hurt while sliding into third during the opening weekend had become little more than a spectator during the season, having only seven at-bats at that point in the season. Team manager noted Versailles injuries when explaining why he left the team.

Attendance also bottomed out that weekend against the Kentucky Bourbons as only 350 fans 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 1000 fans per day, and Houle pointed to that lack of support when discussing the team’s financial issues noting that “when you draw a crowd like this, you have problems.”

By the end of July Joe Houle had agreed to sell the team to 29-year old executive Steve Doran. The transaction was announced at a Twin Cities press conference by League Commissioner Whitey Ford. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but it was believed that Doran had agreed to take over the club by assuming all of its debts — which at that point included paying the players. Doran felt that “if run properly, the team (would) be a viable enterprise.” By the time the sale was finalized on July 31, the team was mired in a sixteen game losing streak.

Doran promised changes. He installed Terry Fredrichs as manager and started making plans to get fans to come out to Midway Stadium to see the team play. While still hoping to finish the season strong, Doran made plans for 1978. He announced that season tickets would cost $24, and single-game tickets would be $1.75 per seat. He wanted the team to be financially viable entertainment “for the average 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 only 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.
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