In The Cards: 1985 Calgary Cannons

By JOE McFARLAND

There was a lot of hope in 1985 surrounding the newly-created Calgary Cannons.

The Pacific Coast League affiliate of the Seattle Mariners had just moved in from Salt Lake City, where the Gulls had finished the previous campaign with a 74-66 record, losing in the league semi-finals.

Many of those same players were expected to suit up again alongside manager Bobby Floyd, including Danny Tartabull, Darnell Coles and Ricky Nelson.

The team showed some early promise, giving their Major League counterparts a run for their money in a spring training showdown with a 3-3 tie in Arizona.

READ MORE: Blast From The Past

However, the team couldn’t improve on their mark from the previous season. After missing the first three home games of the campaign thanks to an April snowstorm in Calgary, the Cannons finished the year with a 71-70 mark. They would bow out again in the semi-finals after being swept by the Vancouver Canadians, who would eventually go on to claim the PCL championship.

The Cannons were a major draw in that first year, bringing 272,322 fans through the turnstiles. They were an offensive juggernaut, leading the league in runs, home runs and runs batted in. Pitching was a different story, as they also allowed the most runs and the second-most home runs in the ten-team circuit.

The debut of the Cannons also meant the debut of their cardboard collectibles. They were a rather simple design, with most players posed in a variety of ways. The one action shot is of opening day starter Bob Stoddard.

The back of the cards are also pretty simple with a blue hue and statistical background for each player. Each card also gives a nod to the Calgary Police Service and one of a few slogans like “Crime prevention is a team effort – be part of the team.”

Let’s take a closer look now at each of the 25 cards from the Cramer Sports Collections set, which is numbered 76-100.

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One of the highlights of Bobby Floyd’s playing career was fielding the final out in Jim Palmer’s no-hitter with the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. Floyd played in seven big league seasons before turning his attention to managing. He spent nine years in the Seattle Mariners’ organization, with the last coming in 1985 with the Calgary Cannons. Floyd had big dreams when he arrived in Alberta. “Hopefully we can build a feeling that when Calgary fans talk baseball, they don’t immediately think about the Blue Jays or Expos,” he told the Calgary Herald after his plane landed at YYC. Floyd moved onto the New York Mets organization in 1986, holding several positions over the years and was inducted into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame last November.
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Speaking of hope, there was a tonne of it also surrounding Al Chambers. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound outfielder was the first overall draft pick of the Mariners in the 1979 MLB Draft. He had some good years as he bounced between the Mariners and Salt Lake. While his triple-A numbers were always good, he couldn’t seem to replicate that success in the big leagues. He played in 100 games for the Cannons in 1985, hitting .308 with nine home runs, 64 RBIs and ten stolen bases. That year would also be the last where he would get a sniff of MLB action, however he went hitless in four at-bats over four games. In a 2004 interview, Chambers said he didn’t get an opportunity to prove his worth. “What it really came down to is I got drafted by the wrong organization,” he said. “I did everything asked of me in the minors, but when it came time to come up and make money, then they started toying with me.”
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Infielder Pat Casey was one of a few new faces in the Mariners’ organization when he arrived in Calgary in 1985. After several seasons in the San Diego Padres’ system and getting no higher than double-A, Casey was ready for a fresh start with the triple-A squad north of the border. He put in two solid seasons with the Cannons, hitting .286 with 31 home runs and 120 runs batted in over 225 games. Casey didn’t make it to the big leagues, but quickly turned in one of the best coaching careers in college baseball history. He compiled a 171-113-1 record over seven seasons with George Fox University before heading to Oregon State, where his teams went 900-458-6 and won three College World Series between 1995 and 2018. Casey was a guest of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast back on Episode No. 87, which you can find here.
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Like Casey, Frank Wills was another player hoping a change of scenery would help propel him into a full-time gig in the bigs. After several seasons in Kansas City, including a few stints with the Royals, Wills found himself with the Mariners and pitched in nine games for the Cannons during the 1985 campaign. He was very good during that time, going 4-3 with a 4.86 earned-run average. He will best be remembered for a start on May 31, where he tossed the club’s first no-hitter in a 1-0 win over the Tacoma Tigers. “He was hitting the spots in timely situations and, when he needed a pitch, he had it,” catcher Ron Tingley told the Calgary Herald after the no-no. Wills would spend parts of nine seasons in the MLB with the Royals, Mariners, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, posting a 5.06 ERA in 154 appearances.
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Danny Tartabull wasn’t a stranger to Alberta when he arrived in 1985. As a member of the Billings Mustangs in 1980, the utilityman would have played in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Calgary as a 17-year-old. Over the next five years, he built himself up to break out and that’s exactly what he did. The shortstop had his best season in professional baseball, hitting .300 with 43 home runs and 109 RBIs to take home the PCL most valuable player award. It would turn out to be his final season in the minors, as he would stick in MLB for more than a decade with several teams including Seattle, Kansas City and the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, Tartabull has had a handful of run-ins with the law since retiring.
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Another player with some high hopes in the Mariners’ eyes was Darnell Coles. A first round selection (6th overall) by the club in 1980, Coles was in a dogfight for playing time with several players like Tartabull and Jim Presley. Coles kept forging ahead and put in 31 games for the Cannons in 1985, batting .320 with four home runs and 24 RBIs. “I used it as an opportunity to figure out how to get back to the big leagues,” Coles told Alberta Dugout Stories in an interview earlier this year. Coles would play in a total of 957 big league games over 14 seasons, before he turned his attention to coaching. He is now the hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That will do it for this edition of In The Cards. Let us know what you think about the players and cards in the comments below.

You can check out all of the sets we’ve featured to this point with the special site we have created as we begin to develop our online digital archive of Alberta baseball card sets.

If you have baseball cards you’d like to donate – or lend – to our cause, please email us at AlbertaDugoutStories@gmail.com with more information.

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