In 1978 I moved to Hawai'i after living for a bit more than three years on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. During the mid-1970's, there was no entertainment to speak of for the 3,000 or so civilian contract workers working on Kwajalein that we didn't generate on our own; in 1975 the only television capability we had was videotape flown in from Hawai'i. Thus, for example, we saw only one game of the '75 World Series on TV; fortunately, the one we did get was Game Six, up to and including Carlton Fisk's dramatic home run. As a lifelong baseball fan, this was hard to bear, so when I got to Hawai'i and found that a AAA Pacific Coast League team played its entire home schedule at Aloha Stadium, a very short drive from my home, I was delighted. I quickly made up for lost time; that first summer in Honolulu I attended nearly every home game the Islanders played. Ticket prices were cheap ($2.50 for General Admission), parking was inexpensive, and you could get a 20-oz cup of beer for $2.00 or so. It was quite a value for the entertainment dollar.
While surfing the web one day, I thought of those days, and went looking for some information about the team and its players. To my surprise, there was very little. It was as though a franchise with nearly 30 years of history hadn't existed, and that seemed wrong, so I decided to build a page or two about it. This is the result. More images are welcome.
In 1960 the Sacramento franchise of the Pacific Coast League was failing. The move to San Francisco by the Giants of the National League in 1958 had taken away a natural rivalry with the old Seals of the PCL, and attendance had slumped below 120,000 in 1960. The advent of jet travel had made a franchise in Hawai'i a possibility, so in 1961 the former Solons began what would be the first of a 27-year association with the city of Honolulu.
During its first year, the team was affiliated with the Kansas City Athletics . For the next three years, they were the farm team for the newly-formed Los Angeles Angels. The Angels were an expansion team, but they set standards for new teams which have yet to be exceeded. In 1962, only their second year, they were contending for the American League pennant, and some former Hawai'i players were contributors. In 1965 the Islanders switched to the Washington Senators, the other expansion team formed in 1961 (the original Senators moved to Minnesota; the new Senators were formed in what should probably be considered a successful attempt to keep Congress from looking too closely at baseball's anti-trust exemption). This association lasted through 1967. In 1968 there was a short-lived hookup with the Chicago White Sox, followed by two more years with the renamed California Angels. Then, in 1971, the Hawai'i franchise became the top farm team for the San Diego Padres, a marriage which lasted 12 years. From 1983 through 1986, it was a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate; then in 1987 the White Sox were back for another Hawai'i venture. Following the 1987 season, the team was moved to Colorado Springs, CO.
If one knows anything of major league baseball history, it's obvious that for most of the entire life of the Islanders they had the misfortune of being associated with perennially losing teams. Even so, the team did occasionally succeed on the field; it won two league championships and several division titles during its existence (see standings). There were many more outstanding individual performances. They started off with a bang; in their very first year outfielder Carlos Bernier won the batting title with a .351 average and another outfielder, George Prescott, hit .301 with 32 homers. The team as a whole hit 163 home runs that year, enough to lead the league.
In 1962 Bernier was back for his second year with the team (he eventually moved on after 1964), and he hit .313, while Stan Palys hit .332 with 33 homers, leading the league in that category. A pitcher named Richard Egan was 17-11 with 201 strikeouts that year. Palys and Bernier were back in 1963, hitting .305 and .300 respectively. In 1964 Bernier was still with the team, hitting .294 with 27 home runs; in 1965 Fred Valentine hit .324, smashed 25 homers, and stole 58 bases, leading the league. Willie Kirkland led the league in both home runs (34) and RBI (97) in 1967. Chuck Tanner, later a big league manager for several teams, came on board in 1969; his first team hit 107 homers to lead the league. That team included All-Stars John Werhas (.298, 15HRs, 90 RBI) and Tomas Silverio (.313), as well as Dennis Bennett, who tied for the league lead with 13 wins. Bo Belinsky, in his second tour with the Islanders, had a 12-5 record; he'd been with the team in 1962 before going up to the Angels and becoming baseball's version of Joe Namath before Namath got to the NFL.
In 1970 Tanner guided the team to its first division title, winning the Southern Division by 13 games, but Spokane, which had won the Northern Division by 26 games, swept the championship round 4-0. Bennett was 18-8 that year, and Tom Bradley was 11-1 before he went up to the Angels. The hitters were led by Winston Llenas (.339, 20 HR, 108 RBI), Doug Griffin (.326 with 35 SB), John Werhas (.283) and Charles Vinson (.268, 22 HR, 91 RBI)
1971 brought a change of affiliation to the Padres, and there were few bright spots in the first four seasons (there were few for the major league team, either). In 1971 Jerry Crider won the ERA title (3.29), and in 1973 Dave Freisleben led both the strikeout (206) and ERA (2.82) totals. Gene Martin won the HR and RBI titles with 31 and 106, also in 1973.
Up to this point, the Islanders' home stadium had been Honolulu Stadium, an old city park first opened in 1926. It was affectionately called the "Termite Palace," and it had fairly small dimensions, to fit into a 2-acre site in downtown Honolulu. In 1975 the brand-new Aloha Stadium opened, a 50,000-seat facility 12 miles from downtown, and the Islanders moved in as the primary tenant. The new digs were witness to some very good baseball teams; during the next three years, the team won three consecutive Western Division titles and two League Championships. The Islanders were managed by Roy Hartsfield in 1975, and featured pitchers Gary Ross, Butch Metzger, and Jerry Johnson. Those three won 41 games and helped the team post the best ERA in the league. Hartsfield was back in 1976, and had Diego Segui and Chuck Hartenstein on the pitching staff; Gene Richards, Bobby Valentine and Bill Almon were big contributors at the plate. In 1977 Hartsfield moved on to manage the Toronto Blue Jays, but the team kept right on winning under new manager Dick Phillips; it won the Western Division behind players like Rick Sweet, Julio Cruz, Mike Dupree and Mark Wiley, but then lost the pennant to Phoenix in six games. Along the way it led the league in fielding and ERA and set two single-game attendance records; 25,189 fans showed up on April 26, and 33,904 were on hand for the game (and the post-game fireworks show) on July 4.
In 1978 the team was out of the running for a title, but it bounced back in 1979 and 1980 to win two more division titles. Phillips managed the '79 edition, and Doug Rader took over in 1980. In 1979 the Islanders led the league in double plays and ERA and were second in fielding, losing the title to Salt Lake City in the finals. In 1980 Tom Tellman won 13 games on the way to the playoffs, and Broderick Perkins (.312), Craig Kusick (.305) and Tim Flannery (.346 in just 47 games) provided the offense.
The 1981 team won a first-half division title, with future major leaguer Alan Wiggins (.302, 73 SB), Jose Moreno (.305) and Craig Stimac (.303) on the team. In 1982 Tony Gwynn played 93 games for the Islanders before beginning his long major league career, hitting .328; Andy Hawkins was 9-7 with a 2.18 ERA before his callup. However, the rest of the team couldn't make up the difference after the departure of those two, and there were no playoffs that year. Neither were there playoffs in 1983; the team switched affiliations to the Pirates, and led the league in ERA behind Jose DeLeon (11-4, 3.04 ERA). They did so again in 1984, with Mike Bielecki winning 19 games to lead the league, while Alfonso Pulido was 18-6, leading in winning percentage, innings pitched, complete games and shutouts. Bob Walk was also on the staff part of the year; in fact he led the league in ERA (2.26). He returned in 1985, winning 16 games and losing only 5 to lead the league in wins and complete games. Rick Reuschel started the season with the Islanders but was called up to the Pirates after posting a 6-2 record, while Dave Tomlin was 8-2 coming out of the bullpen. In 1984 and 1985 the team won divisional titles but lost in the playoffs.
1985, as it turned out, was the beginning of the end for the franchise in Honolulu. Attendance was dropping, despite two consecutive first-place finishes. In 1986 it fell below 85,000; the team finished ninth in the standings, although it once again had the league leader as well as team-best ERA that year. Barry Bonds played 44 games for the team before his callup to Pittsburgh that year. In 1987 the team again posted a ninth-place finish, and that was the end. Owner David Elmore cast about for a new site, and settled on Colorado Springs; the franchise moved there for the 1988 season.
There were several contributing factors to the demise of the franchise, and some of them are itemized here.