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Major Shift In Minor Leagues
In 1975, the Bristol Red Sox drew just over 42,000 fans, fifth in an eight-team Eastern League. Charlie Eshbach was general manager or, as he says, "the No. 1 man in a one-man office." He remembers ticket prices being in the $2 range for adults and 99 cents for seniors and children.
"The entire minor league baseball industry has grown beyond anything imaginable in 1975," Eshbach said recently via e-mail from Portland, Maine, where he is president and GM of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Eastern League affiliate of the Red Sox.
"We have 15 full-time staff members and over 200 part-timers that work for us during the season. We draw more than 42,000 fans in a week during the summer. There are a number of teams in the Eastern League today that draw more fans in a season than the entire league in 1975."
One of those teams is the New Britain Rock Cats. The Bristol franchise actually moved to New Britain in 1983.
Bristol won the 1975 EL title, and Eshbach remembers it well.
"Ernie Whitt squeezed home Butch Hobson in the 17th inning of the third playoff game in 1975 to give Bristol a sweep," Eshbach said. "Mark Bomback, who later pitched in the big leagues, went the first 16 innings. In 1975, the Bristol Red Sox had 77 complete games. In 2008, the Portland Sea Dogs had no complete games."
Whitt went on to catch for the Blue Jays, and Hobson played third for the Red Sox.
The Bristol manager in '75 was Dick McAuliffe. Well, at least for much of the season.
"He was our manager until mid-August, when he was activated to play for the Red Sox," Eshbach said. "Rico Petrocelli was out of the lineup. Bill Slack managed the team for the rest of the season and the playoffs."
Eshbach was in Bristol through 1981 and saw Wade Boggs, Bruce Hurst, Marty Barrett, Bob Stanley, John Tudor and Rich Gedman come through. Fred Lynn and Jim Rice (1973) played there before he arrived.
"Muzzy Field was a nice place to watch a game," Eshbach said. "You were very close to the action. When I was there, both dugouts were on the third-base side of the field. The main grandstand was also along the third-base line. There was an enclosed bleacher along first. It looked like a chicken coop. It was later replaced with more modern bleachers. The office was small, as were the clubhouses. The clubhouses would be woefully inadequate by today's standards."
It's a whole different world now, with minor league parks having a major league feel.