The 1981 Quad City Cubs

Vintage minor league baseball cards has been another quest of mine in terms of the One Million Cubs Project. Technically, 1981 isn’t “vintage,” but I consider it vintage when it comes to minor league cards.

The Quad City Cubs were always an object of curiosity growing up. John O’Donnell Stadium (now Modern Woodmen Park) was about 45 minutes from my hometown and I grew up attending Quad City Angels and later River Bandits games. Predating my youth were the Quad City Cubs. I was enamored by the fact the Cubs had a minor league team in the same ballpark I watched future Angels, especially knowing Shawon Dunston once roamed that field.

The Cubs’ Midwest League affiliate called the Quad Cities home from 1979 to 1984. Every now and again I will scour eBay in search of Quad City Cubs team sets. Over the years I have had most of them in my collection. Last week, I found a 1981 team set at a nice price and made the purchase.

This set doesn’t feature much in terms of future Major League Baseball talent. The headliner here is Henry Cotto. Cotto had a 10-year career in the big leagues with one season in Chicago with the Cubs. In 1984, he hit .274 with nine stolen bases in 105 games. Cotto was dealt to the New York Yankees in a deal that brought Ray Fontenot and Brian Dayett to the Cubs.

Ray Soff was drafted by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 1979 MLB Draft. Soff did get a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Cardinals in both 1986 and 1987.

Gene Oliver was a coach for the 1981 Quad City Cubs. Oliver was very popular in the Quad Cities, where he grew up in Moline, Illinois. Oliver also had a 10-year big league career in which he spent two seasons with the Cubs, including the 1969 squad.

The staff cards are always interesting. Mike Palmer was the trainer and is pictured in this set “in action.” Flipping over the card it was neat to see Palmer grew up in Wyanet, Illinois, which was just down the road from my hometown of Annawan by about 15 minutes.

Joe Housey is featured on my favorite card of this set. Not because he went on to have a spectacular career (he didn’t), rather the backdrop in his photo. It’s the scenic Centennial Bridge that spans over the Mississippi River. Modern Woodmen Park is one of the most scenic stadiums in minor league baseball.

The next last name may sound familiar. Schoendienst. Yes, that’s relation to former Cardinals great and later manager, Red Schoendienst. Kevin was a 7th round pick of the Cubs in 1980. His season with the 1981 Quad City Cubs was his last in professional baseball. The Naples News wrote about Kevin Schoendienst and his daughter Kendall in a July 10, 2009 article.

“Schoendienst played in the Cubs’ farm system in the early 1980s, but a combination of an injury to his eye and being told that his arm was not quite strong enough led to his departure from the game. Although he played for the archrival of his father’s long-time team, no arguments ever broke out over Thanksgiving dinners.

‘At the time it really didn’t affect me,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to play baseball. Every time I watched those two teams play, I rooted for the Cardinals.'”

Don Schulze (misspelled on this card) was the Cubs first round draft pick in 1980 and only appeared in five games for the Chicago Cubs before getting shipped to the Cleveland Indians. Schulze started 16 games for the 1981 Quad City Cubs going 8-5, 2.31 ERA with 61 strikeouts and 51 walks.

Stan Kyles spent 11 years in professional baseball, but none in Major League Baseball. Kyles would reach the big leagues as a bullpen coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Dennis Webb started his baseball career in the Kansas City Royals organization before his one and only year with the Cubs organization in 1981 with Quad City. He appeared in 14 games for Quad City with 11 hits in 31 at bats.

Mark “Spider” Wilkins apparently didn’t take the dip out of his mouth for picture day. It goes well with the perm flowing out from under his hat coupled with those great 1980’s satin team jackets.

Tom Smith was undrafted and spent three years in the Cubs organization with Geneva, Quad City, and Midland.

Mickey Tenney also spent three years with the Cubs. His 1981 campaign in Quad Cities saw him hit .239 in 20 games.

Jim Gerlach jumped all the way from single-A Quad City to triple-A Iowa from 1981 to 1982. Gerlach went 7-5 with a 1.67 ERA in 1981 with 59 strikeouts and 21 walks. He was the winning pitcher in the 1981 Midwest League All Star Game.

Mike King was the fourth overall pick in the 1980 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. He never made it to the big leagues. King came over to the Cubs in 1981 and split time with Quad City and Midland. By 1983 he had moved on to the New York Yankees and was out of baseball after the 1984 season.

Shane Allen played 74 games with the 1981 Quad City Cubs. He hit just .189 and struck out 48 times in 233 at bats.

Craig Weissman played 11 seasons in the minor leagues and never received a cup of coffee with a big league club. Weissman topped out in double-A spending time with the Cardinals, Expos, Tigers, and Athletics double-A clubs.

Dan Cataline never made the big leagues, but he was involved in a big league trade. Cataline was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers by the Cubs in exchange for Ron Cey. The Cubs also sent Vance Lovelace to the Dodgers in the deal.

Mike Buckley was a 6th round pick by the Cubs in 1979. He spent three seasons in the Cubs organization.

The first thing I noticed in the background of Glenn Swaggerty posing was the Carpetland USA ad on the outfield wall.

Fritz Connally graduated to the Chicago Cubs in 1983. He appeared in eight games and logged one hit. He struck out five times in 10 at bats.

Mark Vaji started 20 games for the 1981 Quad City Cubs sporting a 7-8 record with a 4.85 ERA. His last stop in pro baseball was in 1982 with Salinas.

Gary Monroe spent just two seasons with the Cubs and parts of both the 1980 and 1981 seasons were in the Quad Cities. Twenty-one of his 56 professional games were with the Quad City Cubs.

Rusty Piggot. That’s a great name. He was also a Midwest League All Star in 1981. He went 0-for-4 in the game held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Tom Johnson hit nine home runs for the 1981 Quad City Cubs. He also struck out 131 times in his 441 at bats.

Greg Tarnow spent seven seasons in the minor leagues. Only 14 of his 257 games were played above single-A. Tarnow had a small part in William Gildea’s Washington Post story from August 8, 1984, “At The Heart of the Game.” Tarnow, then in his second-to-last season as a player was with the Midwest League’s Appleton Foxes.

“They’re grooming him to be a manager,” says a lone man in the seats, nodding toward the first player dressed in his Appleton whites: Greg Tarnow, a catcher, heading for the field, his spikes clacking on the macadam. He looks like a catcher, about 5-feet-10 and muscular, blond and all curls. His father, up for the weekend from La Porte, Ind., sits down next to me in the stands. “You know the story on Greg?” he asks.

“His mother died when he was 9 years old,” says Gerald Tarnow, once a St. Louis Cardinal farmhand. “I have three kids, just a typical American baseball family. I played ball, coached a lot of Little League. We live on a farm. When his mother died we went to the funeral parlor and he picked out the casket — he crawled up on 19 different caskets to make sure he got the right one for his mother. And when they laid her in there he got a baseball, he signed it, he said, ‘I love you mother. I promise you I’ll play professional baseball.’ He put the ball in her hand.

“A day or two later he saw this baseball school in Fort Lauderdale advertised in Baseball Digest. He said, ‘Dad, I promised Mommy I’d go to play professional ball. Can I go down there to learn?’ He went down there every year, three months at a time. When he was 17 years old, he got his professional contract. Course he’s struggling yet.”

“But he’s going to be a manager.”

“I think so. He’s got a good future in baseball. He’s worked hard. As a boy, he dedicated himself. Doesn’t smoke, drink. Good churchgoer. I’m proud of him. He’s a hell of an instructor. He knows the game. That’s what baseball needs. People who teach.”

Ken Pryce reached triple-A in five different seasons (1982 through 1986), but never pitched an inning with a big league club.

Terry Austin spent two seasons, 1981 and 1984, in the Quad Cities. He never surpassed single-A in his seven professional seasons.

Don Hyman played in 41 games for the 1981 Quad City Cubs and hit .188. Hyman peaked at triple-A Iowa appearing in one game in 1984.

John Miglio played 12 seasons of professional baseball. He tossed 69 innings going 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA for the 1981 Quad City Cubs. Miglio now teaches baseball lessons out of San Antonio.

Jim Walsh played 194 games over two years in the Quad Cities. He hit 20 doubles, five triples, and 13 home runs in those two campaigns.

Dave Pagel is getting very close to sporting a classic early 1980’s fu manchu.

That’s a big trophy. Roger “Gabby” Crow is holding the President Trophy that was given to the Quad City Cubs. The award is presented to the best run team in minor league baseball.

Rich Morales managed the 1981 Quad City Cubs to a 77-58 record and advanced to the Midwest League Championship against Wausau. The Wausau Timbers won the series, 2-0, featuring an impressive roster: Harold Reynolds, Ivan Calderon, Darnell Coles, John Moses, Donnell Nixon, and Jim Presley.

This was a fun trip learning more about the Quad City Cubs. Now I’m going to have to go shopping for the other five team sets.

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