SSTN Interviews Dennis Bidwell (NY-Penn League Expert)
SSTN: Today we are here with Dennis Bidwell who runs the fantastic New York-Penn League History website. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and can be followed on Twitter at @NYPennNews.
Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News. It is great to have this discussion with you.
Thanks for having me Paul. I like what you are doing at Start Spreading the News.
Thank you Dennis! To begin, please tell us how you became a baseball fan.
I bought my first Topps nickel wax pack when I was about 7 years old. My love for the game has continued to grow since then.
What drew you to minor league baseball?
I think minor league baseball is the purest form of the game today.
In 2015, the Jamestown Jammers relocated to Morgantown, West Virginia where I live, and became the West Virginia Black Bears. My wife and I were season ticket holders for the 5 seasons the New York-Penn League had a team here. We also attended league games at Batavia and Auburn, New York, State College and Williamsport, Pennsylvania, as well as Niles (Mahoning Valley), Ohio.
I agree, there is something very special about minor league ball.
Please tell us about your website.
New York-Penn League History is a non-commercial blog that is intended to provide interesting historical information about the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League (aka: PONY), which was established in 1939 and became known as the New York-Penn League (NYPL) in 1957. The last season of the league was in 2019. I try to post something daily about prospects who played in the league or “on this date” posts featuring newspaper articles about league news from years ago.
I am currently working on a comprehensive history of the league, including a complete listing of everyone who was on a roster from 1939 to 2019. I’m not sure at this point if the final product will provide material for the website, or if it will morph into a book proposal.
The Yankees used to be very active in the NY-Penn League with teams over the years in Auburn, Oneonta, Staten Island, and in other cities in the region. How many of those teams did you get to see play?
I saw the Staten Island Yankees play four times during the 2015 season. Several members on that Staten Island team have since played in the majors: Domingo Acevedo, Chance Adams, Trey Amburgey, Thairo Estrada, James Kaprielian, and Josh Rogers.
I remember seeing Bernie Williams play for Albany-Colonie Yankees (many years ago).
Was there a player you saw perform that you knew immediately that he would make it to the big leagues as a Yankee?
I was impressed with Trey Amburgey, who batted .367 in 21 games for the 2015 Staten Island team. He has appeared in two games for the Yankees this season.
In the history of the PONY/NYPL there have been several future Yankees who played in the league, including Jerry Coleman, Charlie Silvera, Bobby Richardson, Jim Coats, Phil Linz, Pete Mikkelsen, Joe Pepitone, Jim Bouton, Rollie Sheldon, Mel Stottlemyre, Doc Medich, Don Mattingly, Al Leiter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Petite, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner to name a few.
There were also several players who were on NYPL rosters of Yankee affiliates who made it to the majors with other teams. Future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway played for the Oneonta Yankees in 1982.
Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?
It’s a great, timeless game, with rich history and traditions. I recommend a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York for anyone with a passing interest in the history of the game. Another great resource is the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website.
That’s great advice about visiting Cooperstown and joining SABR.
There’s a lot of talk about baseball needing to be “fixed.” Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?
I don’t think the game is broken, but today’s game takes too long for the casual fan. Very few games are played in under three hours today. It is a complex issue. I just hope that Major League Baseball doesn’t make any drastic changes to the game in its attempt to attract more fans.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
Maybe a biography about longtime Yankee manager Ralph Houk.
That’s a great point. I don’t think Ralph Houk, a player, manager, and general manager for the Yankees has ever been the subject of a book of his own.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
In person, Al Kaline.
On television, take you pick between Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays. I could add to the list, but the topic of who is the greatest player in baseball history will continue to be debated, forever without resolution.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Who was your favorite player?
Norm Cash, who led the American League with a .361 batting average in 1961.
What is your most prized collectible?
A ticket from the last game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit on September 27, 1999 (I attended the last two games at Tiger Stadium).
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
The late, great Levon Helm.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Chicken wings, the hotter the better.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
I hope you enjoyed this interview. See you at the ballpark!
I did enjoy the interview. Thank you for spending this time with us.
Please keep in touch!