They are the champions: MiLB's winningest clubs
This is the time of year when Minor League championships are won. But the absence of a Minor League Baseball season has meant the absence of playoffs, which has meant the absence of championships. You, of course, already knew this. So enough talk about absence. This article is about those
This is the time of year when Minor League championships are won. But the absence of a Minor League Baseball season has meant the absence of playoffs, which has meant the absence of championships. You, of course, already knew this.
So enough talk about absence. This article is about those with presence, the clubs that have time and time again ended a season with trophies and Champagne and other such signifiers of postseason dominance. What follows is a list of the title-winningest active team (or teams) in each league, and please note the word "active." To be on this list, a team must a) still exist and b) have won the titles in question while in the same league and city in which it currently operates.
Consider this article, then, a championship celebration of championship celebrations.
International League: Columbus Clippers (11 championships)
After playing their first two seasons as a Pirates affiliate, the Clippers linked up with the Yankees prior to the 1979 campaign. The result was an immediate three-peat, with a Steinbrenner-stocked club of "Almost Yankees" winning it all in 1979, '80 and '81. The Clippers won four more championships ('87, '91, '92, '96) as a Yankees affiliate, then four more (2010, '11, '15, '19) with the Indians as their parent club.
Of course, one could argue that the venerable Rochester Red Wings should get the nod when it comes to IL championships. Rochester has 19 titles, but the first nine occurred before the 1933 establishment of the Governors' Cup playoff series. This marked the first instance of postseason play on the circuit, which had previously awarded the title to the team with the best regular-season record. Rochester has won the Governors' Cup 10 times, one fewer than the aforementioned Clippers.
Pacific Coast League: Sacramento River Cats, Tacoma Rainiers (five championships)
The Pacific Coast League has a long and storied history, as it served as something like a de facto third Major League during an era when the American and National circuits had yet to traverse farther across the country than a few blocks above the western banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Thus, it's not surprising that the PCL's all-time winningest teams are the San Francisco Seals (14 titles) and Los Angeles Angels (12). As for active clubs, that honor belongs to Tacoma and Sacramento, each of whom has won five.
Tacoma's titles came between 1961-2010 and are divided among four affiliations (Giants, Cubs, Yankees and Mariners). Sacramento won five in a far more condensed period, as the River Cats were established in 2000 and went on to capture titles in 2003-04, 2007-08 and 2019. The first four of those championships were as an Athletics affiliate. Last year's crown came as an affiliate of the Giants, with whom they remain.
Eastern League: Harrisburg Senators (six championships)
The city of Binghamton has been the site of many an Eastern League championship celebration. The Binghamton Triplets won 10 titles before folding in 1968 and the Binghamton Mets/Rumble Ponies, established in 1992, have won another three. But the active team with the most titles is the Harrisburg Senators, who won six in their first 13 seasons of existence (1987-99). This includes a four-peat from 1996-99, when the Senators were affiliated with the Montreal Expos. The last of the four consecutive titles was won in what is literally the most dramatic fashion possible, as Milton Bradley hit a grand slam on a 3-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Harrisburg a 12-11 win over the Norwich Navigators.
Southern League: Birmingham Barons, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (six championships)
The first iteration of the Birmingham Barons dates to 1885, but the current Southern League version of the team debuted in 1981. In the time since, they have hoisted the trophy on six occasions (1983, '87, '89, '93, 2002, '13). The club was a Tigers affiliate in 1983, but the remaining five came during their long-running (and still active) affiliation with the White Sox.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, who entered the Southern League as the Suns in 1970, also have won a half-dozen titles. The championships in question occurred between 1996-2014, during a period of time when the team was affiliated with the Tigers (one title), Dodgers (two titles) and, finally, Marlins (three titles).
Texas League: Arkansas Travelers (seven championships)
Like the Barons, the Arkansas Travelers have more than a century's worth of stories to tell. But while the team name dates to 1901, the current Texas League iteration of the Little Rock-based Travelers began in 1966. They went on to win it all in five times as a Cardinals affiliate (1971, '77, '79-80, '89) and twice with the Angels (2001, '08). The Travelers are still a long way from the all-time Texas League record, as the Houston Buffaloes were league champions 16 times between 1889-1957.
California League: San Jose Giants (nine championships)
San Jose and Stockton have each been home to 11 California League championships. The current iteration of the Stockton Ports, established in 1978, has won six. The San Jose Giants have won nine since their establishment as the Bees in 1962. The Orioles-affiliated Bees won it all in '62 and '67, while the Mariners-affiliated Missions brought home the trophy in '79. Since then, San Jose's championships have all come courtesy of the Giants (in '98, 2001, '05, '07 and '09-10).
Carolina League: Winston-Salem Dash (11 championships)
Winston-Salem has been a bedrock of the Carolina League, fielding a team every year since 1945. The Cardinals were the first Winston-Salem team to win it all, doing so in 1950 and again in '51. The Winston-Salem Red Sox added five titles, accomplishing the feat in 1964, '70, '73, '76 and '79. The Spirits, a Cubs affiliate, enjoyed back-to-back championships in 1985-86, then won again in '93. The last Winston-Salem team to emerge as ultimate victors was the 2003 Warthogs, whose parent club was the White Sox.
Florida State League: Daytona Tortugas (six championships)
The Tortugas were known as the Cubs from 1993-2014, winning the FSL championship on a half-dozen occasions ('95, '00, '04, '08, '11 and '14). Their 2004 championship was shared with Tampa, as the teams were unable to play the Finals as a result of Hurricane Ivan's foreboding approach.
Midwest League: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (nine championships)
The Timber Rattlers joined the Midwest League as the Appleton Foxes in 1962. The Foxes won it all for the first time two years later, as an Orioles affiliate. Their next seven titles, secured between 1964-84, came during a fertile affiliation with the White Sox. The team has won it all just once -- 2012 -- in the Brewers-affiliated Timber Rattlers era.
South Atlantic League: Greensboro Grasshoppers, Augusta GreenJackets, Asheville Tourists (four championships)
The South Atlantic League as we know it today was established in 1980, and in each of the circuit's first three seasons, the Greensboro Hornets captured the championship. Greensboro has won it all on just one other occasion (2011), however. Augusta and Asheville also have claimed a quartet of titles apiece. The former accomplished the feat in 1984, 2001, '04 and '14. The latter in 1989, '95, '99 and 2008.
*New York-Penn League: Auburn Doubledays (eight championships)
*The Oneonta Yankees won a whopping 12 New York-Penn League titles between 1968-98, but that franchise relocated in 2009 to Norwich, Connecticut. This leaves Auburn as the reigning NYPL title king, having won it all eight times. Three came as the Auburn Mets (1962, '64 and '66). The next two came as the Twins ('67 and '70). The Phillies netted one ('73). The Doubledays have won two, in 1998 as an Astros affiliate and 2007 as a Blue Jays affiliate.
Northwest League: Spokane Indians (eight championships)
The Spokane Indians joined the Northwest League as a Padres affiliate in 1983. The team had a remarkable run of success from 1987-90, when it rattled off four championships in a row while its players posed their baseball card photos inside a local mall. The team added one title during its time with the Royals in 1999. Their ongoing Rangers era began with another championship in 2003. Two more followed, in 2005 and '08.
Appalachian League: Bluefield Blue Jays (14 championships)
Bluefield has been in the Appalachian League for a long time, so long that the city's first two championships came in 1949-50 when it was an affiliate of the Boston Braves. Bluefield added a third title in '54, as a Red Sox affiliate; the fourth came in '57 during the team's only season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A long-running "Baby Birds" affiliation began with the Orioles in '58 and resulted in 10 championships between 1962-2001.
Pioneer League: Billings Mustangs (11 championships)
The uber-venerable Billings Mustangs have won 15 championships, with the first four occurring between 1950-62. The franchise ceased to exist from 1963-68, however. The "new" Mustangs debuted as a Seattle Pilots affiliate in 1969 after the six-season hiatus. Championships were summarily won in '72 and '73, the final two seasons of a three-season stint as a Royals affiliate. Billings partnered with the Reds in '74, an affiliation that lasts to this day. Nine championships have been won during this time, the first in 1978 and the last in 2014.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.