The Yonkers Hoot Owls were the Northeast
League’s attempt to field a team in the New York
metropolitan area for its inaugural 1995 season.
Adele Leone, a New York literary agent
who wanted to bring pro baseball back to her adopted hometown,
owned the team. Apparently she had little choice in the
nickname given to it by the leaders of the Northeast League.
“I don’t like it,” she said during a league meeting in
November 1994. “It’s not Yonkers."
The unusual nickname was originally
planned for a team in neighboring Mount Vernon, New York that
never materialized. Not wanting to lose the name, Yonkers went
from being the Blue Bandits to the Hoot Owls.
Leone pressed forward with the name and
made preparations for the 1995 season. She personally paid for
the installation of lights for night games and had the field
sodded, a process that continued up until the end of the
season. With limited parking available and that space within
range of home runs balls, she paid for a shuttle service to
bring fans in from another parking lot.
Former Baltimore Orioles and New York
Yankees outfielder Paul Blair was named manager of the Hoot
Owls. Randye Ringler was hired as general manager. Ringler had
been the director of communications for the New York Mets
before losing her job when the players went on strike in 1994
and the front office staff was cut back.
The city of Yonkers had a population of
over 188,000 residents and seemed capable of supporting a
professional baseball team. One of the team’s biggest
supporters was Yonkers mayor Terence M. Zaleski. “The Hoot
Owls will provide some exciting ball at affordable prices,”
he said before the season began. “This is what baseball is
Unfortunately, local businesses weren’t
as eager to support them. The team had a hard time selling
advertisements for game programs and outfield signage. Fans
who came to Fleming Field found no amenities to keep them
coming back. It was essentially a recreational field – a
softball field with a dirt infield and terrible seating –
located in a city park. The grandstand consisted of bare
concrete steps with no chairs or bleachers. The concession
stand was a chuck wagon brought to the park for each game and
the restroom facilities consisted of temporary Port-A-Johns.
For a $6 general admission ticket, fans were given the comfort
that only cold, hard concrete could provide and a last-place
team to watch on the field.
The Hoot Owls began the season with a
two-week road trip and held a 3-9 record when they played
their home opener against the Sullivan County Mountain Lions
on July 1. Two weeks later, they were in last place with a
6-18 record and 12 games behind the Albany-Colonie Diamond
Dogs. Pete Bifone was their leading hitter, batting .391
(third-best in the league) with 15 runs batted in. Their
pitching staff was ranked last in the circuit with a 4.86 ERA.
Jim Nelson led the team with a 1-4 record and 2.15 ERA and
three complete games.
The Hoot Owls never managed to escape the
cellar over the next two months. Their team offense and
pitching stayed at or near the bottom among the six teams.
Injuries took their toll, but the club also fielded the
youngest and least experienced players in the league, many of
them from the surrounding area. “We are about
development,” stressed GM Randye Ringler before the season
began. But injuries prevented many from developing, which kept
them from being scouted and their contracts being sold to
major league clubs.
The team’s most popular player and only
power hitter was outfielder Andrew Jemison, who batted .311
with eight home runs and 47 runs batted in. Pete Bifone batted
.329 with 28 RBI and 13 stolen bases. Outfielder Vince Zarate
played through pain most of the season, hitting .289 with 23 RBI
and a club-best 15 stolen bases before it was found he had a
There were few bright stars among the
pitching staff. Jim Nelson, who started and relieved when
needed, led the team with 41 strikeouts but touted a 3.78 ERA
and 3-7 record. Chris Anastasi led the staff with his 4-9
record but allowed more than five runs per nine innings
Despite dismal attendance and a losing
record, the Hoot Owls finished their schedule and ended the
season with a 12-52 record and a .188 winning percentage.
Their offense ranked last in the league with a collective .251
batting average and next-to-last in pitching (Sullivan County
had the worst by six points) with a 5.41 earned-run average.
The team also allowed the only forfeit loss in the league on
June 30 to Mohawk Valley.
Leone described her financial losses as
“considerable.” The team drew only 5,216 fans for 30 home
games or an average of 174 per game. She cited the lack of
support from local businesses and fans as the primary reasons
for the team’s collapse. “We did all we could,” she
remarked. The franchise relocated to Bangor, Maine for the
1996 season and was renamed the Blue Ox.
Adele Leone ended the disastrous season
with a depleted bank account but her head held high. “I’m
proud of what I’ve done,” she said. “I feel a civic
sense of accomplishment.” Her team’s legacy would be the
lights she had installed at Fleming Field. “I will be paying
for the lights at Fleming Field for the next five years. When
you see them, think of the Yonkers Hoot Owls.”
She died four