It was 1972.
Richard Nixon was the president of the United States, 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Arab Gunman at Munich Olympics, five White House operatives were busted for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee; NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was officially launched and Roberta Flack’s tedious “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was Billboard’s top hit of the year.
For many senior citizens, it’s hard to conceive that 1972 was a half-century ago.
For those who were in Albuquerque back then, there was something else new for them to enjoy: the Albuquerque Dukes.
After many years of having a Class AA baseball team in town, the Los Angeles Dodgers were moving their Class AAA affiliate, previously in Spokane, to Albuquerque. And many people assumed the city’s team’s name would remain the Dodgers.
Nope. After questionable reader polls’ results in the Albuquerque Tribune and Albuquerque Journal, the team’s general manager, Charlie Blaney, learned fans wanted to return to “Dukes.”
And it came to pass, with Rio Rancho’s own Dick Moots coming up with the conquistador-like character that people came to love as the symbol of their team.
Moots, who still lives in the same house he brought his family to more than 50 years ago, was inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, along with former Dukes and big-league greats Da
ve “Smoke” Stewart and Ron “The Penguin” Cey, before last night’s Isotopes ballgame. The three also got to toss ceremonial first pitches.
Albuquerque’s professional baseball team had been known as the Dukes for most of the years it had a team, although Browns and Dons had been used.
But from 1942-55, when the Dukes were in the West Texas-New Mexico League; 1956-58 in the Western League; 1960-61 (There was no pro baseball in Albuquerque in 1959) in the Sophomore League; and 1962-64 in the Texas League, it was the Dukes playing at Tingley Field.
The nickname became the Dodgers from 1965-71, but fans seemingly wanted a return to Dukes. Even today, occasional social media posts lament the passing of the Dukes nickname, as the new AAA team became known as the Isotopes when pro baseball returned to the Duke City in 2003, after two years without it.
Another character that people came to love and, despite being the team’s manager for only one year, he frequently came back to visit Albuquerque, even when the Isotopes were the team playing here: Tommy Lasorda.
Lasorda led the team to the Pacific Coast League championship, and when 1973 rolled around, he was on Dodgers manager Walt Alston’s coaching staff. A few years later, Lasorda succeeded Alston as the Dodgers’ skipper; both are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 1972 Pacific Coast League champion Dukes didn’t have any hall of famers on the roster, but most of the team’s starters played key roles in the Dodgers’ National league success in the years that followed.
Here are the regular starters, by position: Tom Paciorek (first base), Davey Lopes (second base), Steve Huntz (shortstop), Cey (third base) and outfielders Larry Hisle, Von Joshua and Paul Powell. Steve Yeager (80 games) and Joe Ferguson (75 games) basically shared catching duties.
The team’s best pitcher, hands down, was Charlie Hough, who amazingly appeared in 58 games, bit only two as the starting pitcher; he sported a record of 14-5 and had 14 saves.
Doug Rau was 14-3; the team had a trio of 10-game winners: Jose Peña (10-0), Jerry Stephenson (10-8) and Geoff Zahn (10-1).
Paciorek, Cey, Hisle and Rau were named to the all-star team; Joshua was the league’s leading hitter at .337. Lopes led the PCL in stolen bases (48) and Paciorek led the league in homers (27), doubles (33), runs scored (125) and hits (186).
Although the 1981 Dukes have been said to be one of minor league baseball’s greatest teams, that ’72 squad was no slouch, compiling a record of 92-56 and winning the Pacific Coast League’s West Division by 11 games over second-place Phoenix.
In the PCL championship series, the Dukes faced the East Division champion Eugene Emeralds, led by future HOFer Mike Schmidt.
The Dukes split the first two games of the best-of-five series, played in Eugene, winning 6-4 and losing 10-9.
The Dukes quickly ended the series with 8-6 and 6-4 victories back home at the Sports Stadium, and advanced to what was then the Kodak World Baseball Championship, a round-robin tournament played by the champions of the PCL, American Association, International League, Hawaii Islanders and a group of Latin American all-stars. The tournament, played Sept. 10-19 in Honolulu, saw the Dukes go 4-2-1 in the series before losing the championship game to the Caribbean All-Stars, 6-2, in 12 innings.
Attendance was poor, with only 1,877 fans coming to see hometown Hawaii in the opener and just 992 fans in attendance at the championship game. Plans for future tournaments were shelved.
But it was fun while it lasted, and the next year, the drought began. Albuquerque went on to win three consecutive PCL crowns (1980-82), but the city hasn’t seen a PCL championship team since 1994.
Even with the passing of five decades, fans can still be proud of that ’72 squad.
Take me out to the ballgame
Tickets cost $1.50 for adult general admission, $2 for reserved seats and $2.50 for box seats; students and military members could get in for a buck; children 12 and under were admitted for 50 cents.
Here are the costs for food at a 1972 Dukes game at the Albuquerque Sports Stadium:
• Hot dogs: 35 cents
• Hamburgers: 50 cents
• Peanuts: 20 cents
• Crackerjack: 40 cents
• Cotton candy and ice cream: 20 cents• Coffee: 15 cents
• Soft drinks: 15-25 cents
• Beer: 50 cents (14 oz.), 75 cents (24 oz.)
Also, pennants cost a buck; a game program cost 35 cents.
Here were the “Special Nights” of the 1972 season:
Five 10-cent beer nights; five fireworks nights; five “Guaranteed Win” nights; four “Duke Fever Button” nights; four family nights; Camera Day; Bat Night; Autograph Day; Diamond Night; Team Picture Night; Helmet Night; Bingo Night; Women’s Lib Night; and Fan Appreciation Night.