The writing was on the wall for the Calgary Cannons.
When they entered their final Pacific Coast League (PCL) season in 2002, club owner Russ Parker had already agreed to sell the team, which was set to be relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico and take on
The Simpsons-themed name of Isotopes.
After 18 seasons and more than 2,500 regular season games in Cowtown, Triple-A baseball was coming to an end in southern Alberta. The final game for Calgary was a thrilling 14-13 come-from-behind triumph over the Edmonton Trappers on Sept. 2nd that ended with a 21-gun salute from the team’s booming cannon and the song “Happy Trails” serenading the 8,512 fans in attendance.
There was one small, but lasting gift to commemorate the Cannons time in Calgary. This 36-card set of baseball collectibles reminds us of some of the best players to suit up for the team.
Sponsored by the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC), and featuring tiny Oral Health America ads in the top right corner of each card, this set includes a number of head shots and blurry images.
For an affiliate that graduated over 400 Major League Baseball (MLB) players for the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins parent clubs, the Cannons deserved a sharper and higher quality set of cards to send them off.
Calibre of cards aside, let’s dive into this star-studded collection and highlight some of the notable names who represented the Cannons over the years.
Let’s start with a thumbs up for that Cannons logo, pictured in the top left. One of a few different variations the club displayed over the years, this logo has a few Easter eggs worth looking for. Front and centre is that growling cannon, which is ready to put its opponents on blast. Less obvious is the ballcap the cannon is wearing, which features a maple leaf on it. That is a nod to the team’s Canadian roots. In the background is a mountain silhouette, which speaks to the Rocky Mountains that are visible from Calgary. The city name sits in an overarching horseshoe (although some consider it bad luck to display a horseshoe facing down) in recognition of Calgary’s western heritage. Below, the word “Cannons” and the baseball embedded in the “S” are designed to look like they are being shot out of a cannon. Lots of great symbols hidden within that logo! …. Onto the players, Bret Boone (bottom row, middle card) is arguably the most accomplished member of the group. The son of MLB catcher Bob Boone, Bret was a PCL All-Star infielder who experienced success in the majors, claiming Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger Awards along the way …. Often overlooked among Cannons alumni is pitcher Mike Campbell (top row, middle), who was named the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1987. The righthander appeared in parts of four seasons for Calgary in the late 1980s and that 1987 campaign was the best year of his professional career. Through 24 games and 162.2 innings with Cowtown, the Seattle-born hurler went 15-2 with 130 strikeouts and a 2.66 earned run average (ERA). He pitched in the big leagues with the Mariners, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs – and continued taking the mound professionally through 1999 – but he could never recapture the magic of that season with the Cannons. Campbell was also a part of the five-player trade that saw himself and Mark Langston dealt from the Mariners to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris in 1989.
Third baseman Mike Gulan (bottom left) is another unheralded former Cannon. He played three seasons for Calgary between 1999 and 2001, and suited up in 327 games in that time. Along the way, he became the all-time franchise leader in extra-base hits (165), hits (371), total bases (646) and doubles (107). The Ohio native appeared in 11 MLB games with the St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins. He also played for the Yokohama BayStars in the Japanese Central League in 2002 before returning for a pair of minor league seasons in the United States …. Outfielder Darren Bragg (top right) only played one year with the Cannons, but it was a memorable campaign. In 1994, he played 126 PCL games and smacked 17 long balls, while registering 85 RBI and 28 stolen bases. The Connecticut product also batted .350 with a .430 on-base percentage and his 175 hits and 112 runs scored established single-season records for the Cannons. Bragg ended up appearing in over 900 MLB games over 11 seasons. He went into coaching after his pro playing career was over.
Wow! That’s quite the batch of Calgary Cannons here. We’ve written previously about several players pictured here. Harold Reynolds (top left) told us about the inaugural season of the Cannons and his broadcasting career in a wide-ranging interview …. Darnell Coles (middle row, left) also joined us on our podcast to chat about that first season of Triple-A baseball in the Stampede City and his travels …. We caught up with pitcher Ryan Dempster (bottom centre) after he was tabbed for induction in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019 …. Second baseman Tony Womack (bottom left) and his base-stealing ways were explored in this story …. And yet there are so many other former Cannons to discuss. See the next picture for more information on some of them.
Shortstop Alex Rodriguez (top right) is likely the most famous player to ever slip on a Cannons jersey. Whether it was lucrative contracts, celebrity romances, performance-enhancing drug controversies or Baseball Hall of Fame debates, A-Rod has made headlines throughout his life. Before he catapulted himself into the spotlight, the New Yorker was a can’t-miss prospect with the Cannons in 1994. He played just 32 games for Calgary, batting .311 with six homers and 21 RBI. The Mariners wasted no time promoting him to the big club and a stellar 22-year MLB career followed. Rodriguez was a three-time American League (AL) MVP, a 10-time Silver Slugger and a 14-time All-Star. His MLB totals include 696 home runs, 3,115 hits, 2,086 RBI, 329 stolen bases and a career .295 batting average …. Outfielder Mickey Brantley (bottom right) – the father of current MLB player Michael Brantley – was the team MVP of the Cannons in 1986. He launched 30 long balls, stole 25 bases, produced 92 RBI, scored 106 runs and batted .318 during that season, which displayed his full range of skills. Brantley, who split time between the Cannons and Mariners between 1985 and 1990, ended up logging over 300 games at the big-league level …. You don’t see a lot of players who can successfully convert from outfielder to pitcher at the Triple-A level, but Dave Brundage (top middle) did just that for the Cannons. The Oregon product tracked fly balls in the outfield for Calgary in 351 contests. Never much of a power hitter, Brundage had a discerning eye and ended up becoming the club leader in walks with 208 bases on balls amassed between 1989 and 1994. He chipped in as a reliever here and there in the early 1990s, but in ’94 he fully embraced a role in the bullpen. That season he pitched in 24 games, going 1-4 with three saves. Through 24.1 frames, he struck out 15 batters and recorded a 2.96 ERA. Brundage never played in the majors. He has, however, worked as a manager and hitting coach in the minors since he hung up his cleats.
Danny Tartabull (middle) was Calgary’s first superstar. In his 125 games with the Cannons in 1985, Tartabull blasted 43 homers and collected 109 RBI. He also batted .300, scored 102 runs and stole 17 bases while playing shortstop that year. As a result, he was named the team MVP and the PCL MVP. The home run mark endured the test of time and remains the single-season record for the club. The Miami native ended up playing over 1,400 MLB games and bashed 262 long balls in the bigs. The former New York Yankee also made some memorable cameo appearances on the hit TV show …. Pitcher A.J. Burnett (middle right) is an interesting addition to this set. He only made one road start for the Cannons, but he did go on to have an excellent MLB career. It was so good, indeed, that Burnett was Seinfeld considered for Hall of Fame induction at Cooperstown …. First baseman Tino Martinez (middle left) was an exceptional member of the Cannons. He was the only two-time team MVP and he also claimed the PCL MVP award in 1991. That success continued on in The Show, where he played over 2,000 games, clubbed 339 bombs and registered 1,271 RBI. The Tampa, Florida product picked up a Silver Slugger Award in 1997, the same season he won the Home Run Derby and finished second in AL MVP voting. Tino also won four World Series titles with the Yankees.
Every team needs a guy like Dale Sveum (bottom middle), who joined the Cannons on the downslope of his career but proved to be a heart-and-soul third baseman during his three seasons with the squad. He finished his tenure with the Guns as the all-time leader in at bats (1,264), runs (235), homers (63) and RBI (258). The Californian was also tied with Brundage for most games played (354). Sveum was the team MVP in 1996, an unusual achievement in that the award was typically reserved for budding prospects rather than veteran players. He played 862 MLB games and went into coaching and managing after that. Sveum earned two World Series rings, one as a third base coach with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and the other as the hitting coach of the Kansas City Royals in 2015. He also has the dubious distinction of being shot in the ear by Robin Yount …. After Sveum vacated his role at the hot corner, Olmedo Saenz performed well at the position in 1998. The Panamanian helped the Cannons get to the postseason by smacking 29 homers, scoring 89 runs and punching through 102 RBI. The third baseman, who later played for the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers, also led Calgary in the hit-by-pitch category by being beaned 22 times. Ouch!
Third baseman Edgar Martinez (bottom middle) never gained the celebrity status of A-Rod, and he doesn’t have the collection of World Series rings that Tino Martinez does, yet he is possibly the most decorated Calgary Cannon ever. When injuries prevented him from playing the infield, Edgar turned his focus to hitting. He became so good at smacking baseballs, in fact, that the annual award handed out to the MLB’s best designated hitter now bears his name. In 2019, the former Seattle Mariner cemented his legacy by being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame …. Shortstop Omar Vizquel (middle), who played parts of four seasons with the Cannons, is trying to make his way to Cooperstown another way. Rather than bashing his way there with his bat, experts are analyzing just how good his defense was over 24 MLB campaigns. Is there enough love for his glove to punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame? …. Reliever Jeff Nelson was a master of the middle innings, and sometimes the last inning, too, if you needed him. The Marylander came up through the M’s system, collecting 16 saves over four different stops with the Cannons along the way. He pitched for 15 MLB seasons, mainly for the Mariners and Yankees. Like some other well-known Cannons alums, Nelson picked up four World Series championships with the Yankees during their dynasty years.
Kevin Millar (top middle) was another Cannon who wasn’t in Calgary for an especially long time. After batting .301 through 36 games for the Cannons, the outfielder/first baseman ventured off to the majors, where he helped the Red Sox break their World Series curse in 2004. Famous for using the phrase “cowboy up” and endearingly referring to his teammates as “idiots,” the Los Angeles native played over 1,400 MLB games over 12 seasons. He later went into broadcasting and co-hosted the show Intentional Talk on the MLB Network …. Infielder Luis Sojo (middle left) got to see a lot of Alberta during his Pacific Coast League days. The Venezuelan played 37 games for the Edmonton Trappers in 1992, followed by 24 with the Cannons in 1994. The light-hitting Sojo made the most of his time in the big leagues and was an exceptional postseason performer. After collecting his first World Series ring with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, Sojo helped the Mariners advance to the AL Championship Series in 1995. He was a part of another four World Series title winning teams with the Yankees in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sojo later went into coaching and managing in the minors …. Few players were more inspirational than Jim Abbott (bottom left), who pitched better with one hand than many major leaguers did with two. The Flint, Michigan product pitched for 10 seasons – six of them with the California Angels – as a starter and appeared in 263 games. His best year was 1991, when he logged 243 innings and 158 Ks en route to an 18-11 record for the Halos. The lefty’s biggest moment of his career came on Sept. 4, 1993 when he tossed a no-hitter for the Yanks against Cleveland. Abbott was in the final years of his pro playing career when he came to Calgary in 1998. Through five starts, he assembled a 2-2 record and a 2.61 ERA for the Cannons. One of the appearances was a complete game and Abbott also managed 20 Ks through 31 frames. Unfortunately, his comeback bid ended the following year. The southpaw didn’t let the end of his time on the mound get him down, however. He went into motivational speaking after his playing career came to a close.
Thanks for checking out our latest series of Alberta baseball cards. Let us know what you think about the players and cards in the comments below or on social media.
We are in the process of developing an online digital archive of Alberta baseball card sets with this
series. If you have baseball cards you’d like to donate – or lend – to our cause, please email us at In The Cards AlbertaDugoutStories@gmail.com with more information.