They were unexpected history makers in the world of professional baseball -- undrafted, unheralded players who put together an unequalled winning streak.
Twenty-five years ago today, the Salt Lake Trappers won their 29th straight game, earning them a place in history and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1987, the Trappers were an unaffiliated independent team in the Pioneer League; a rookie level club without a player development contract with a major league team -- in other words, without a pipeline to top-shelf talent -- and yet, they broke an American pro baseball record of 27 consecutive wins set in 1902 by Corsicana of the Texas League and tied in 1921 by Baltimore of the International League.
"We always referred to them as the Dirty Two Dozen," Ogden Raptors president Dave Baggott says of the '87 Salt Lake Trappers. "They were the castaways, the players that affiliated clubs didn't see a fit, and for the most part, they probably weren't a good fit. Pitchers didn't throw 94, but they might have thrown 90; runners didn't run 4-flat to first base, but they might have run 4.2. Not every hitter was a home run hitter, but those were hitters that could hit it to the gaps."
Some of those players had been teammates of Baggott, who played for Salt Lake the previous season. He went home in the 1986 offseason, gave away his baseball equipment to the neighborhood kids, and rejoined the '87 Trappers as an assistant general manager for his first season in a pro baseball front office.
Their 29-game winning streak has its place in the history books, but with ties to both the Ogden Raptors and Salt Lake Bees, the Salt Lake Trappers are also part of present-day minor league baseball in the Top of Utah.
The Ogden Raptors are the direct descendants of the Trappers franchise, which was forced out of Salt Lake when Triple-A baseball arrived, made a one-season pit stop in Pocatello and relocated permanently to Ogden in 1994, with Baggott as a co-owner.
The Salt Lake Bees play at Spring Mobile Ballpark, a stadium built on the site of the Trappers' former home, Derks Field. The Bees will honor the 29-game streak tonight by honoring manager Jim Gilligan and his team in a pregame ceremony and wearing Trappers jerseys during their 7 p.m. game against the Sacramento River Cats.
For a month in 1987, Pioneer League players were the rock stars of pro baseball, with actual rock stars performing the national anthem at Derks Field -- Huey Lewis performed the anthem at a game, thanks to a chance meeting with the Trappers' movie star part-owner, Bill Murray.
Another co-owner, Arte Moreno, became a star in the business world, but he's come full circle -- Moreno now owns, the Los Angeles Angels, coincidentally, the parent club of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees and the Pioneer League's Orem Owlz.
Steve Pearson, an advertising executive who was the Trappers general manager in '87, has helped organize the reunion of players for the 25th anniversary of The Streak. He has also compiled their history online at 29inarow.com.
"It's been a fun time rolling back and remembering what went on that summer," said Pearson, Salt Lake's G.M. from 1985-88. Baggott succeeded Pearson, who left to become a director of marketing in the Weber State athletics department for a few years.
There were many moments The Streak could have been derailed, but the Trappers always found a late-inning miracle.
"You look at all the little things that could have happened differently where there wouldn't have been a streak," Pearson said. "A pitch, a passed ball, a couple of different things -- you never know."
"To me the thing that jumps out is this is, was, Pioneer League baseball, and yet it still had an opportunity to grab nationwide attention," he said. There were articles in Sports Illustrated and USA Today; shortstop Jim Ferguson and catcher Frank Colston were named players of the week by ABC's Wide World of Sports.
Team founder and president Jack Donovan recalls ballpark performer Max Patkin showing up on the day the Trappers broke the record.
Patkin, "The Clown Prince of Baseball," had performed his comedic act for thousands of consecutive games, but Donovan offered him his paycheck to sit in the box with the owners and drink champagne during the game instead, wanting to avoid distraction.
Patkin nearly broke down.
"He said, 'Jack, let me tell you something. I've been in this game forever. This is the most important game I will ever have worked. I'm supposed to be here.' I'll never forget the way he said it. 'You booked me in December -- think about it -- the date of this (record-setting game) and I'm here: I'm supposed to be here," Donovan said. "I looked down at him and I said, 'Max, suit up.' And I've never regretted it."
There are no regrets about the streak from those who gathered Wednesday night at Duffy's Tavern, a favorite team hangout during the season, and those who will appear tonight for the celebration of the anniversary.
None of the 1987 Trappers made it to the majors, but as a team, they accomplished what no one else in American professional baseball has ever done.
"That's why baseball truly is a team game," Baggott said. "It's not just one guy, it has to take everybody to pull it off, even the role players. They may not have made the big leagues, but they made the Hall of Fame, and nobody can ever take that away from them.
"To this day, it's still one of my fondest memories."