SIOUX CITY -- For as long as friends and relatives can recall, Eldred R. Saltwell has been known to his friends as “Salty.’’ Even at age 93, the name Eldred is about as unusual as the name of my paternal grandfather, Aubert Hersom, who wasn’t so fortunate to have the alternative of a nifty nickname.
We inducted Salty into our Greater Siouxland Athletic Association Hall of Fame back in 2005. And, by the way, the venerable GSAA has been in hibernation for a few years, looking for some of you to recharge the batteries. So, let me know if you might like to volunteer a little time and ingenuity.
Mr. Saltwell, giving him his proper respect, is a former Chicago Cubs general manager who also performed in that capacity for minor league teams in Des Moines and Los Angeles . The 1942 East High graduate served 39 months in the U.S. Army during World War II and then came back home to earn his college degree from Morningside in 1949.
He comes to mind today because (A) I’m constantly reflecting on how many exceptional people this community has produced; (B) I’ve never forgotten the fascinating insight he provided years ago regarding the scheduling process in baseball’s “Senior Circuit,’’ the dear, old National League; and (C) scheduling in our own American Association is nothing shy of bonkers.
Salty’s time as the Cubs’ G.M. lasted just under 14 months, running from Sept. 30, 1975, until Nov 24, 1976, when he was reassigned to one of several other posts he held in the front office of the game’s most beloved franchise.
It was during his post-G.M. days that he was honored to serve on a select committee that essentially formulated the National League schedule by hand, which is to say without the benefit of computers.
Even though technology now handles much of the process that creates a meaningful balance for all 15 teams in the league, he told me years ago “there are so many little variables” that some human intervention is still required.
Now, I’m going to do something former Explorers Manager Ed Nottle always lobbied against, which was criticizing our league, previously the Northern League. Ed always felt, and still does I would imagine, it was detrimental to all of independent professional baseball to emphasize its “warts,’’ a word he often uses.
He didn’t think it was useful to bash the umpiring, which it probably isn’t. Nor did he favor belaboring some uncomfirmable perks that enabled some franchises to rise above the desired balance of a league-wide salary cap. Small-market teams in all sports often find a way to thrive.
Even Ed, though, might have taken exception when it comes to the American Association schedule that our friend “Salty” would have never allowed to happen.
Prior to games Monday night, the Sioux City Explorers sported a league-best 14-7 record. The two-time defending Central Division champs were sitting in first place, but only by one-half game over the Lincoln Saltdogs, who were 14-8. Now, let’s examine those schedules.
There are two teams in this league right now that are struggling mightily. The Texas AirHogs from the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie are 4-18 with a 14-game losing streak. That would be one shy of the league record of 15 in a row set by Grand Prairie in 2015, but the Salina Stockade has already blown past that with 21 in a row and a 1-22 record.
Salina, mind you, is to be commended for enduring its frustrating fate. The Kansas club, after all, stepped up to absorb the 100-game schedule of Laredo when the franchise from a city of 250,000 elected to fold due to an overabundance of empty seats in a very nice 6,000-seat stadium built in 2012.
With a population less than 50,000, Salina had a team in the less challenging Pecos League, which it likely will rejoin next year. Of course, one has to wonder if the Stockade, who are supposed to be playing just 14 actual home games, will stick it out this season.
At any rate, between Texas and Salina, the record is 5-40 with 35 consecutive defeats. So, when you note Lincoln’s current six-game winning streak, it’s important to point out who the Saltdogs played, all at Haymarket Park, no less. The answer: Three each with Salina and Sioux Falls, which at 7-15 has the only other losing record out of 12 clubs in the league.
Lincoln, swept by the X’s in a three-game series at Lewis and Clark Park last month, has won 12 of its last 14 games, dropping only two games in a three-game series with Winnipeg, a perennial power. That means we’re really talking 11 in a row against the three losing teams along with the Cleburne Railroaders, a first-year franchise 35 minutes from Fort Worth.
Cleburne has fashioned a respectable 13-11 record, but a 6-0 mark against Salina and Texas, both South Division rivals, certainly helps. All of which brings us to some bottom-line numbers that kind of boggle the brain.
On a schedule manufactured long before the season started, the American Association assigned Lincoln to 37 games against the four South Division teams and only six of those were with Wichita, the one truly difficult outfit in the division. By comparison, Sioux City plays only 15 games against the South (while fellow Central teams Kansas City and Gary play 28 and 19, respectively).
Lincoln has 15 games against Cleburne, which is more than the Saltdogs play any other team in the league. Cleburne, which faces the X’s just three times, is further from Lincoln (652 miles) than all but one other team in the league (Winnipeg at 690).
Meanwhile, the North Division, decidedly the heavyweight with St. Paul, Winnipeg and Fargo-Moorhead, shows up only 26 times on the Lincoln schedule compared to 44 encounters with the Explorers.
There are plenty more numbers to make the case, but I don’t want to be piling on. I definitely don’t want to suggest a very brilliantly conceived league launched by the magnificent Miles Wolff isn’t a very, very good thing. I simply want the American Association to realize this kind of scheduling needs a big overhaul.
While I’m being rude, though, what’s up with postponing a game because one team’s manager says too many of his players are sick?