About the Book
It’s 1984. Minor League Baseball mogul Larry Schmittou needs a new home for his Southern League Nashville Sounds franchise. Walt Jocketty, an Oakland A’s executive, searches for a new town for his Double-A club. Fate brings them together in Huntsville, Alabama, a city in need of an outlet to unite its residents. Thus the Huntsville Stars are born. One Season in Rocket City brings to life the baseball renaissance that shook up Huntsville, a city many doubted would support professional baseball.
Named after Huntsville’s celebrated space industry, the Stars electrified the town with baseball fever to become one of the biggest attractions in Minor League Baseball that first season. Composed of Oakland’s top prospects, who later fueled the A’s championship run in the late 1980s, the Stars were the hottest ticket in town. Visiting teams called Huntsville the “Minor League show,” and the Stars were the toast of the Southern League. Wearing patriotic red, white, and blue team colors, the team won the Southern League championship in their first year, led by future Major Leaguers Darrel Akerfelds, Tim Belcher, Greg Cadaret, José Canseco, Brian Dorsett, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk, Luis Polonia, and Terry Steinbach. But besides the lineup of touted prospects on the club, it was the gutsy role players who never reached the Major Leagues that willed them to a championship.
Through interviews with former players, managers, executives, coaches, and beat writers who witnessed the Stars take the Southern League by storm, Dale Tafoya depicts the city’s romance with the club, success on the field, and push for a championship. Beginning with a glimpse into Huntsville’s rich history, One Season in Rocket City takes readers on a journey through the team’s dramatic founding, Huntsville politics, tape-measure home runs, and the club’s resilience to win the championship despite losing top players to promotions in midseason. The Stars were just what Huntsville needed.
Dale Tafoya is the author of Billy Ball: Billy Martin and the Resurrection of the Oakland A’s and Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed (Potomac Books, 2008). His work has appeared in the New York Daily News, New York Post, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, Baseball Digest, and other noteworthy publications. Sandy Alderson is special advisor to the New York Mets after serving previously as their team president and general manager. He served as the Oakland A’s general manager from 1983 to 1997.
“An engaging and colorful moment, unique in Minor League Baseball history. Dale Tafoya recounts how larger-than-life characters and future big-league stars from the A’s system descended on Huntsville, bringing that city a dream season in the club’s inaugural year. This is a story that will inspire any baseball fan.”—Billy Beane, senior advisor to the managing partner for the Oakland Athletics
“I love Minor League Baseball: it is filled with fun, magic, and untold stories. Dale Tafoya provides a fascinating look at a famous Minor League team, the Huntsville Stars, an Oakland A’s affiliate that won the Southern League championship in its inaugural season. It is clever, cool, and captivating; I learned something on every page. All A’s for Dale.’’—Tim Kurkjian, writer and analyst for ESPN
“A wonderful look back on a very special team that tells the story of the players, life in the Minor Leagues, and an amazing era of baseball that is slowly fading away. Those Stars were a tough team filled with future Major Leaguers. I know firsthand, as my Charlotte team played them in a most memorable Southern League championship game. Dale Tafoya expertly captures the essence of that place and time, and if you love baseball, this book is a must-read.”—John Hart, former MLB executive and MLB Network analyst
Table of Contents
Foreword by Sandy Alderson
Prologue: Musical Chairs
1. Music City’s Field of Dreams
2. The Phenom
3. Albany Takeover
4. Rocket City
5. New Kids on the Block
6. Huntsville Stars
7. The Huntsville Kid
8. Falling Stars
9. Huntsville Lumber
10. Southern Comfort
11. Boys of Summer
Epilogue: Season for the Ages
Notes on Research and Sources