By Thomas Mumau│Utica Blue Sox Media Relations Assistant
The Utica Blue Sox have a long-standing tradition of providing prospects a platform to develop their talent. The organization has been affiliated with seven Major League Baseball franchises and has produced two Hall of Fame sluggers, a Triple Crown Winner, as well as several MLB All-Stars and World Series champions. The Blue Sox currently provide college players with the opportunity to improve their skills, as a member of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
“Some of the best baseball players in the world have called Utica home at one point in their career,” Blue Sox General Manager Cooper Deck said. “From when the team was affiliated with various major league organizations to now – a top summer collegiate team in the country – we’re proud that we can be a small part of so many player’s paths to the bigs.”
The Utica Blue Sox franchise was founded in 1939, and first resided at McConnell Field in North Utica. The team was founded as the Utica Braves of the Canadian-American League and was affiliated with the Boston Braves organization for two seasons. Utica partnered with the Detroit Tigers in 1941 and then the Springfield Rifles in 1942.
Utica transitioned to the Class A Eastern League the following season, and became affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1944, the club first adopted the Utica Blue Sox name. During Utica’s first eight seasons affiliated with Philadelphia, the Sox hosted several future stars, including Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn (1945). Philadelphia’s talented prospects helped the Blue Sox win their first title in franchise history, which came in 1947.
After the Phillies’ affiliation with Utica ended in 1950, baseball did not return to Utica for nearly 30 years. When the organization returned in 1977, it found a new home in Murnane Field. The club has resided at the ballpark for the past 43 seasons and continues to call it home today.
Utica was affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1977 to 1980, as a member of the New York-Penn League. The club adopted the Utica Blue Jays name for these three seasons. During the duration of this affiliation, the team hosted several future stars such as Jesse Barfield and two-time World Series champion David Wells.
After Utica’s partnership with Toronto ended in 1980, the organization re-adopted the Blue Sox name and played as an independent member of the New York-Penn League until 1985. The Sox had success as a non-affiliated club, winning their second title in 1983.
This stretch also included many notable players on the roster. The 1981 team included right-handed hurler Doug Delett, who is the current manager of the Blue Sox. In 1985, the club’s first baseman was future Hall of Famer Larry Walker, and the team was managed by former MLB All-Star Ken Brett.
The Sox were welcomed back to professional baseball in 1986, when they renewed their partnership with the Philadelphia Phillies. Utica was then affiliated with the Chicago White Sox from 1988 to 1992, hosting future All-Stars Mike Cameron and Ray Durham. The organization was affiliated with the Boston Red Sox from 1993 to 1995.
The Blue Sox final affiliation with professional baseball was with the Florida Marlins from 1996 to 2001. The team was called the Utica Marlins for the 1996 campaign but returned to the Blue Sox name the following season. The 2000 Utica Blue Sox club featured future stars Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez.
Cabrera has gone on to hit nearly 500 home runs, appear in 11 All-Star games, as well as win a World Series, two MVPs, a Triple Crown, seven Silver Slugger Awards and four Batting Titles. Many consider these credentials worthy of being enshrined in Cooperstown. Adrian Gonzalez also went on to have a very respectable career, as he amassed 2,050 hits and 317 career home runs.
In 2002, the league required that the Blue Sox renovate the ballpark in order to meet the league’s standards. The organization was unable to make these improvements, requiring the club to sell the team to Cal Ripken Jr. and the Ripken Professional Baseball Association. Ripken then moved the team to Aberdeen, Maryland, where the team was renamed to the Aberdeen IronBirds. The IronBirds still operate as a Short-Season Class A New York-Penn League minor league team affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles.
Baseball was absent in Utica for 10 seasons following the sale, until the Utica Brewers became a member of the New York Collegiate Baseball League in 2011. The inaugural year of summer collegiate baseball in Utica was very successful, as the Brewers won the league title. The championship roster included current Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Ryan Yarbrough. The Brewers then became a member of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in 2013, which Utica is still a member of today. In 2014, Utica hosted current Baltimore Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins.
The organization returned to its roots in 2016, renaming the club the Utica Blue Sox. The organization has developed several talented players in recent seasons, such as Khalyd Cox, Franklin Jennings, Taylor Olmstead. They are the only players in franchise history to have their numbers retired.
In the team’s most recent season of 2019, the Blue Sox posted a 30-16 record, winning the PGCBL West Division. The Sox will look to continue this success when they return to action.
The Utica Blue Sox are currently led by Manager Doug Delett, General Manager Cooper Deck and Owner George Deak.