In The Cards: 1988 Calgary Cannons

By JOE McFARLAND

Expectations were high for the Calgary Cannons heading into the 1988 season.

After making it to the Pacific Coast League final the previous summer, the Cannons seemed primed for a repeat performance.

Their Major League affiliate, the Seattle Mariners, hadn’t made a lot of changes, meaning a solid number of players would be returning including Edgar Martinez, Dave Cochrane, Mike Campbell and Erik Hanson. There was also a slight chance that the first overall selection in the 1987 MLB Draft, Ken Griffey, Jr., would make a stop at Foothills Stadium if he continued his meteoric rise up the depth charts.

However, none of that came to fruition. The Mariners continued to bounce players between the big league squad and their triple-A affiliate, not allowing the Cannons to gain any sort of momentum.

They finished the year with a 68-74 record, good enough for third place in the North Division but not good enough to make the playoffs. They finished third in runs scored but second-to-last in runs allowed. The Cannons did get some standout performances, including Martinez hitting .363 in 95 games and a no-hitter from Hanson (we will get to that shortly).

Despite the challenges on the field, the team fared very well at the ticket office. They finished second in the league in attendance behind the Vancouver Canadians, with 332,590 fans coming through the turnstiles.

The Cannons’ ProCards set of 1988 was a slight upgrade from the previous three seasons, at least on the fronts. While the photography didn’t change much as they are still static, posed shots of the players in the Foothills Stadium outfield, the border was gold instead of what had been white. The backs of the cards are as simple as ever though, all black and white with full statistical breakdowns for each player. And just like the 1985 and 1986 sets, there are pieces of advice from the Calgary Police Service.

Let’s take a closer look now at the set and just some of the players who donned the red, yellow, blue and white of the Calgary Cannons in 1988.

August 21, 1988 will live on forever in Calgary Cannons’ history. 6-foot-6, 210-pound right-hander Erik Hanson took to the mound and hurled a near-perfect seven inning no-hitter as the Cannons blanked the Las Vegas Stars 5-0. Outside of one walk in the sixth inning, Hanson (bottom centre) was flawless, tossing the second no-no in franchise history (Frank Wills threw one in 1985). Hanson was the team’s ace, leading the way in innings pitched, strikeouts, wins and starts. He bounced between the Cannons and Mariners between 1987 and 1991, before moving onto several other teams including Boston and Toronto.
Rod Scurry was a reliable arm coming out of the bullpen over eight MLB seasons between 1980 and 1988. He split his final year between the Cannons and Mariners, posting a 2-1 record and a 4.07 ERA in 18 games in Calgary. But it was what the lefthander did after that final season that grabbed all of the headlines. The Mariners released Scurry (top left) on December 21, and a day later he was arrested for buying crack cocaine from a crack house in Reno, Nevada. Then in October 1992, Scurry was found outside his Nevada home complaining that snakes were in his home, crawling on him and biting him. He became violent and stopped breathing when authorities when deputies tried to put him in handcuffs. He was taken to hospital but died a week later, with the official cause of death being a cocaine-induced heart attack. Scurry was also the first MLB player directly linked to the Pittsburgh drug trials during the mid-1980s.
Scurry wasn’t the only one to have run-ins with the law. Jay Baller (middle) was arrested in 2007 with a handgun in his hands and small bags of cocaine and cash in his vehicle. This was well after his 15-year professional baseball career, which started in 1979 with the Pioneer League’s Helena Phillies. So having played against a few Alberta teams in that league including the Calgary Expos, he was no stranger to Foothills Stadium when he arrived as a member of the Cannons in 1988. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound right-hander was excellent out of the bullpen, leading the team in appearances with 66. All but one came in relief, with Baller’s final stat line reading 10 wins, 7 losses, 10 saves and a 3.75 ERA.
Some athletes leave a mark on the communities they play in. In others, the communities leave a mark on the athletes. Such is the case with Roger Hansen. Triple-A was the highest level the Kansas City Royals’ s 1980 second round draft pick made and he did it on a few occasions, including with the Calgary Cannons in 1988-1989. In 86 games for the team, the catcher hit .229 with two home runs and 20 runs batted in. 1989 was actually his last year of playing before he turned to coaching, managing the Everett AquaSox on a pair of occasions and serving as bench coach for the Mariners in 2010. Hansen remains with the M’s as a special assistant to the GM. So what did Calgary mean to him? Hansen (top right) met his wife, Lynn, at a hot dog stand in the city. They got married a year later. You can read more about Hansen’s journey here.
A second round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1982, there were some high expectations for Nelson Simmons. The barrel-chested outfielder quickly made his way up the depth charts, debuting with the Tigers in 1984 and a year later, entered the team’s record books by becoming the first player to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. Almost as fast as his rise, Simmons (middle right) couldn’t seem to keep his spot in the lineup as he was labeled as being too one-dimensional. He was sent packing to Baltimore, then Seattle in 1987, where he had his first stint with the Cannons. He returned in 1988 to hit .305 with 14 home runs and 73 RBIs. It wasn’t good enough to get the call-up, and he continued to bounce around with different teams. Simmons returned to Calgary in 1995, where he once again put up some impressive numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate. He hit .281 with nine home runs and 58 RBIs. The Society for American Baseball Research has a great breakdown of the ups and downs of Simmons’ pro career here.
If you collected baseball cards in the late-80’s and early-90’s, you will definitely remember the glasses worn by Greg Briley. Yet interestingly, he isn’t wearing them for the picture taken for his 1988 Cannons card. Briley (top right) was a first round pick of the Mariners in the secondary phase of the 1986 MLB Draft after failing to sign with the Dodgers and Indians when they took him in separate 1985 drafts. Nicknames “PeeWee”, Briley played in 598 MLB games over six seasons with Seattle and Florida. While in the Mariners’ system, Briley suited up for the Cannons in 137 contests, hitting .317 with 15 home runs, 86 runs batted in and 41 stolen bases. News of his release by the M’s ahead of the 1993 season led to tears being shed by the president and lone member of the Greg Briley Fan Club: 18-year-old Gregg Klayman. You can read that story here.

To the surprise of no one when we talk about the “junk wax era”, this isn’t the only minor league set that was produced in 1988. So stay tuned to Alberta Dugout Stories as we will share some more stories from that Cannons team with the other set.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our In The Cards database, which we continue to add to every couple of weeks.

If you have a set of cards you would like to share with us, email us at albertadugoutstories@gmail.com or drop us a line on any of our social media accounts.

And as always, if you have some favourite memories of the players in this or any other set we have highlighted, leave us a comment.

See you next time!

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