In The Cards: 1991 Calgary Cannons

By JOE McFARLAND

The set of 1991 Calgary Cannons baseball cards conjures up a lot of different emotions for fans.

They likely spark memories of the jerseys and colour schemes, but the team itself had a lot of talent and promise to potentially win the city’s first baseball championship. Unfortunately, one of the other emotions that might come up is heartbreak.

After getting off to a slow start in the first half, the Cannons came together in the second half to cement themselves a spot in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. They sept the Portland Beavers in the first round, moving on to face future MLB star Kenny Lofton and the Tucson Toros in the league final.

Things started off well for the Cannons, who won both home games. The best-of-five shifted to Tucson for the final three games, where the Toros won the first two. That set the stage for a winner-take-all fifth game which lived up to the hype. Tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, Toros outfielder Joe Mikulik drove in Trent Hubbard for the walk-off 4-3 victory.

Cannons players took the loss hard, as they believed they had been victimized by some late-season call-ups by the Mariners, including pitchers Dave Burba and Dave Fleming.

Owner Russ Parker was just as gutted with how everything played out, especially with a lineup featuring league MVP Tina Martinez. He laid the blame at the feet of the Mariners.

“Our relationship will never be the same after this,” he told the Calgary Herald. “I’m very upset.”

His Cannons had not only done all they could to win the PCL championship, but they also had one of their best years at the turnstiles. They attracted 325,965 fans that summer, which ranked them third in the league. It would turn out to their second-highest turnout in team history, behind the 332,590 who came to the stadium in 1988.

As for the cards highlighted in this In The Cards, there is nothing flashy with the Impel/Line Drive Pre-Rookie set. It is extensive though, with 650 cards just for the Triple-A players. The Cannons were featured on cards 53 through 75.

Here are just a few of the stories of some of the players from that squad.

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When it comes to longevity, Dave Brundage might be on top of the Calgary Cannons’ mountain. The former fourth round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies was sent to Seattle in a five-player trade involving Phil Bradley and Glenn Wilson in 1987. Two seasons later, he got his first taste of life north of the border, hitting .261 in 27 games for the Cannons. Brundage spent most of the next five seasons in Calgary. When all was said and done, he posted a .284 batting average with seven home runs, 120 runs batted in and 25 stolen bases in 351 games. The outfielder also pitched a little bit and became a full-time reliever for his final season in 1994, posting a 1-4 record with three saves and a 2.96 ERA in 24 games. Brundage’s longevity continued after his playing career ended. He began managing teams a year after he left Calgary, making several stops along the way. Most recently, he managed the Sacramento River Cats to the Pacific Coast League championship in 2019.
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While not a household name, Rick Balabon might be remembered as a piece in one of the most contentious trades in pop culture history. Associated with the sitcom Seinfeld, the New York Yankees famously traded Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in 1987. Many remember that the Yanks got Ken Phelps back. But Buhner wasn’t the only player who headed west, as the Mariners also acquired two minor league pitchers: Troy Evers and Rick Balabon. The latter spent seven seasons in the minors, with his final season coming in 1991, splitting  it between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Calgary. The Cannons were the highest level the former first round pick played at, but he unfortunately wasn’t able to put up big numbers. His stat line includes a 6-6 record and a 6.41 ERA in 17 games. The right-hander is currently living in his home state of Pennsylvania.
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There were plenty of expectations surrounding Patrick Lennon after he was selected by the Mariners in the first round of the 1986 MLB Draft. But he had an attitude and a mean streak, which culminated in a bar fight in 1989 where Lennon pulled out a gun and fired. No one was hit, but the ball player was charged with attempted murder among others. While the more serious charges were eventually dropped, Lennon was suspended from baseball and spent most of the season in jail. The problems persisted while he excelled on the field, hitting .329 with the Cannons in 1991 and .354 in 1992. But he only earned 10 games with the Mariners over those two years, eventually being released. He bounced around the pros until 2005. Lennon is also one of a handful of players to play with both Alberta PCL teams, as he played in 107 games for the Edmonton Trappers in 1996-1997.
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A common theme through the relationship between Seattle and Calgary was the young, high-end talent the Mariners brought in created a logjam for those hoping to take the step to the majors. One such story is that of Shane Letterio. Taken in the fifth round of the 1987 MLB Draft by Cincinnati, Letterio found himself in Seattle’s farm system a couple years later. He made his way up to Calgary in 1991, but it didn’t go overly well, as he hit just .174 in 17 games. He would be sent down to High-A Peninsula after the Mariners acquired Mike Blowers from the Yankees and sent him down to Calgary. While he seemed optimistic he would find himself in MLB soon, he spend the 1992 season in Double-A before hanging up his cleats. He never left the game though, as he opened up the Letterio Baseball Academy in Sanford, Florida, where he is also an assistant coach with the Florida League’s Sanford River Rats.
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By the time Steve Springer arrived in Calgary in 1991, he was a grizzled veteran at 30. He had bounced around the minors since 1982, getting into four MLB games with the Cleveland Indians in 1990. He earned the card in this set as he spent the entire season north of the border, finishing with a .256 batting average to go along with 17 home runs and 70 runs batted in. Springer finished his pro career in Winnipeg in 1995, then made a name for himself as a player agent, then a scout and performance coach in Toronto’s farm system and then founded Quality At Bats, which has a strong online presence if you want to check them out.
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“We are going to play tough, aggressive baseball,” new Cannons manager Keith Bodie said when he was introduced to reporters in February 1991. “We’ll make each player believe they can play aggressively. Play every game as if it was their last.” Bodie was the sixth manager in seven years for the Cannons, who were hoping to get a little more consistency. They got exactly that as Bodie managed the club for three seasons. None was as good as 1991, though. Meantime, pitching coach Ross Grimsley was back for a second tour of duty with the Cannons. After holding the position in 1985-1986, the former MLB hurler came back for the 1991-1993 seasons. Very well-known for some unorthodox reasons as a player, Grimsley wanted to clean up his reputation in Calgary. “I did some crazy things, but I was never a pig,” Grimsley told the Calgary Herald. He said some of the stories told about him were blown out of proportion and that he felt they took away from his on-field performances, including a 20-11 season with the Montreal Expos, becoming the first pitcher on a Canadian team to win 20 games in a season. Both Bodie and Grimsley went onto lengthy coaching careers.

That will do it for this edition of In The Cards. We hope you have enjoyed taking the trip down memory lane with just some of the stories of this team. We invite you to leave a comment about the players and cards below.

If you have a series you would like to share with us, email albertadugoutstories@gmail.com. We continue to build our online database of baseball cards connected to baseball in our province. You can see all of that work here.

Until next time, happy collecting!

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