ALL ABOUT MELBOURNE'S REDS
A TRIBUTE TO THE HISTORY OF THE

WAVERLEY (MELBOURNE) REDS

  

WHO ARE (WERE) MELBOURNE’S BASEBALL REDS?   

When the Australian Baseball League started competition in the summer of 1989/90 the WAVERLEY REDS were one of the eight foundation members of Australia’s first national (semi-professional) baseball league. The Waverley Reds were created and foundered by the Waverley Baseball Club (WBC) in Melbourne who were the original majority owners and managers of the new team. In general terms, the Waverley Reds were intended to represent the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, while the cross-town rival Melbourne Monarchs would somewhat represent the north-west.  

However, this would always provide a fairly contentious issue because the long tradition of strength and success of the WBC in local VBA (Victorian Baseball Association) competition had produced an unhealthy degree of “jealousy and dislike” among rival teams around Melbourne, including its own local south-eastern area. While we could never be certain about this effect, it is known that many “rival” baseball people in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs found it most difficult to “support” a team in the national league that carried the name WAVERLEY, especially as they knew the origins of the new team. Despite every best effort and intention of the Waverley REDS to truly represent a wider audience in Melbourne, there always remained a substantial “barrier” that didn’t seem likely to be broken down. 

One of the key people in the formation of the Waverley Reds was great WBC pitcher and head-coach Phil Dale who, at that time, was an assistant (pitching) coach for the Cincinnati Reds organisation in the US professional leagues. Naturally, Phil was at the forefront of arranging the first affiliation of the team with Cincinnati and this was to be the key reason for the club adopting the same REDS nickname. In its early years the Waverley Reds team also featured the traditional Cincinnati ‘C’ as part of their team logo, along with a traditional Waverley Baseball Club ‘W’, as depicted at left. 

After the 1994/95 season, long after the team had moved its base from Waverley Park to Moorabbin Oval, club management decided that it would attempt to broaden the appeal of the club and hopefully increase its supporter base by officially changing the name of the team to MELBOURNE REDS. It would be a purely hypothetical exercise to guess whether this name change did have any tangible effect, but support numbers did not show any significant increase and it can probably be assumed that it was too late to rectify any damage that may have been done by initially calling the team Waverley? 

The team continued to compete in the Australian Baseball League as the Melbourne Reds until the league disbanded after the 1998/99 season, ten short years after its formation. History will record the Waverley Reds as the first “flagship” team and organisation in the Australian Baseball League and the early standards set by the Reds would provide the impetus for dramatic improvements around the league in the following few years.  

The Waverley / Melbourne Reds were the inaugural Champions of the Australian Baseball League and the only three-time Championship winners in the ten year history of the competition, more on that later! 

At the 2002 Annual General Meeting of the Waverley Baseball Club, president Lloyd Reeman proudly announced that the Waverley Baseball Club had again secured rights to the trading name “Waverley Reds” and, in doing so, it probably follows that the club should also “take over” responsibility for remembering the history of the sadly missed Waverley / Melbourne Reds, our original "national league allegiance".

  

  

OWNERSHIP & MANAGEMENT   

While most of the new Australian Baseball League clubs were initially substantially owned and financed by their respective State Associations, the Waverley Reds were the one team to be financed and managed by a single local club, the Waverley Baseball Club. This was some indication of the strength and stature of the Waverley Baseball Club as an entity, not to mention the imagination and foresight of the club management to make sure that the club would not be “left out” of any major advancement in Australian baseball. 

The feeling of the Waverley baseball Club at the time was very much along the lines of “if there is going to be a national league, then WE have to be in it!” While it would be perhaps unfair to generalise or individualise about who were the key people behind the formation of the Waverley Reds, this is commonly attributed to the combined will of Phil Dale and Tony Peek. 

As mentioned, Phil Dale was not only one of the playing legends of the Waverley Baseball Club, but his broad knowledge of US professional baseball and the way they managed their minor league teams and games was an integral input into the establishment of the Reds. Tony Peek also “wore two important caps” that were vital to the formation of the new team. 
Firstly, Peek was the incumbent and long-serving president of the WBC, but perhaps equally as importantly he was a senior executive (Communications Manager) with the powerful then Victorian Football League (VFL). In this capacity, Peek was able to "broker" the deal that enabled the Waverley Reds to use the magnificent facilities of VFL Park (later to be known as Waverley Park) as its original home venue.

When the WBC realised that "ownership" of an Australian Baseball League team was not going to be a profitable exercise it was the responsibility of the WBC Board to make sure that the club would not be burdened with debt from its ABL team so it soon sought to distance itself from the Reds. An obliging suitor soon appeared when young American Andy Karetsky arrived with a healthy bankroll of US dollars and a determination to become involved with baseball club ownership in Australia. Karetsky had made his fortune at the New York stock exchange and had first made overtures to buy into the Perth Heat club, before finding that the Waverley Reds were seeking a new majority owner.

Andy Karetsky was certainly a "forward thinking" guy who, quite truthfully, may have been a bit ahead of his time in terms of his visions for the Waverley Reds. He had plenty of lofty visions for the club based on his experiences with US baseball, but it is possible that he found these not so easy to "translate" into the Australian market. Certainly, whatever anyone may have thought about Karetsky's style and decision making, everything he did was with the best intentions for the Waverley Reds. He dearly loved "his team" and he was driven to make them succeed on and off the field! It was towards the end of the "Karetsky era" that he officially changed the name of the team from Waverley Reds to Melbourne Reds, before the 1995/96 season.

It may have been "divine intervention" when his brother's serious illness forced Andy Karetsky to return home to the USA in order to take over some family business responsibilities. It was around this time that things seemed to be sliding downhill for the Reds and maybe Andy's forced departure came at the right time for the "mutual benefit" of both he and the club. Although Andy Karetsky did not return to Australia, other than a brief occasional visit, during the remainder of the ABL's tenure let history record that he remained keenly interested in the club from a distance and he did continue to supply some financial help... Andy Karetsky was truly a 'Reds Man' above all other things!

Next to pick up the ownership reins was a local "baseball junkie" named Geoff Pearce who was a very successful local businessman and a long-time associate of the Blackburn Baseball Club. Geoff's takeover as the majority owner of the club perhaps marked the real transition of the club from its "Waverley days" to its more generic status as the Melbourne Reds. Geoff Pearce presided over an era where it became increasingly difficult for ABL clubs to survive as most clubs were in decline and the league itself had lost much of its early momentum. Gone were the respectable crowd numbers and television coverage, while media support in general was waning! 

Pearce was a tremendously dedicated and "imaginative" owner of the club and he certainly tried everything he could to maintain and raise the profile of the club against insurmountable odds. It was his unwavering spirit and financial backing that brought the club its final triumph with the 1998 ABL Championship, but this was to be our "last hoorah"! Geoff Pearce was at least as heartbroken as all of the "Reds faithful" when the club was forced to close the door, along with the ABL, not long after the 1998/99 summer season had concluded.

Possibly maintaining his hopes for a revitalised National League at some time in the future, Geoff Pearce remained very much involved with the State Association via the Victoria Aces teams in subsequent years and he also maintains his lofty profile with the Australian Baseball Federation. It should also be recorded for posterity that the Waverley Baseball Club was eventually able to recoup all of its original financial investment in the Reds during Pearce's ownership reign.

Of course along the way there have been various other individuals who have been major contributors and minor owners of the club perhaps most notably the Gittus family (particularly Geoff) who were WBC people and superstar player David Nilsson when his brief association with the Reds was supposed to result in him adopting an increasing ownership share.

  

  

THE FRONT OFFICE   

In the early years the Waverley Reds the club was managed by the Board of the Waverley Baseball Club and it also relied totally upon the administrative resources of the Waverley club as its effective "front office".

When American Andy Karetsky took over as the majority owner of the Reds he established an independent office base for the Waverley Reds in Miles Street, Waverley in an office adjacent to then sponsor company Active Display Group. As the new owner of the team Andy Karetsky also insisted that he wanted to be at the helm of the club's activities when he also took over as Managing Director of the club. There was enough said about Karetsky's management of the club in the previous section, but he did preside over the all too brief period of success at the club when he enticed superstar David Nilsson and promptly secured the 1994/95 ABL Championship. Unfortunately, whatever gains were achieved during this time, seemed to make our position even worse when Nilsson departed after one season and the "Greg Jelks saga" ensued with an equally short and unsatisfactory outcome!!

During Karetsky's time, when the club could no longer play at Waverley (VFL) Park, the club took up new premises in a partially abandoned office building at the Moorabbin Football Oval, our new home venue for ABL baseball games. The new "front office" of the club was on the First Floor of the former St.Kilda Cricket Club offices.

When Karetsky handed over majority ownership to Geoff Pearce he soon after appointed Bruce Utting as the new Operations Manager of the Melbourne Reds. A stalwart character of the Upwey - Ferntree Gully Club and father of star Reds' players Ben and Andrew, Utting made an immediate impact in the clubs front office. Not only was he a universally popular personality, but he also proved himself to be an excellent manager, both of the office activities and in helping Pearce develop the club and attract players to the team. Pearce may have supplied the financial support, but it was Utting who found and recruited the (import) players that were so vital to the extraordinary success of the 1997/98 ABL Champion Melbourne Reds.

Like Pearce and every other loyal Reds devotee, the tireless Bruce Utting suffered an agonising blow to his life when the Reds were forced to shut the doors at Moorabbin. For those of us that were involved with the club at the time, the grief could only be likened to a "death in the family"... life would go on, but it would never be the same!!

Finally, but by no means last on the list was Marion Wood. Previously a hard working associate of the WBC, Marion joined Andy Karetsky as the "Office Manager" of the Waverley Reds and she continued as a permanent fixture in the front office of the Melbourne Reds through the Bruce Utting era until the demise of the club. Popular game announcer Doug Clarkson was to be universally known as "the voice of the Reds", but for anyone that phoned the Reds office virtually throughout the club's history, Marion Wood was the pleasant voice that would most probably greet you! Another tireless worker who always seemed to be only too happy to help or talk with supporters, Marion was a delightful person and a magnificent asset to the club.

There were a few young people that provided great support to the Reds' office over the years, but perhaps the most notable was a young guy named Robbie Cameron who always seemed to be the "spare parts man" doing anything that was asked of him to assist the club and not caring too much what his financial rewards were!

Over the years, the club often received temporary administrative support from students who may have been doing "Sports Administration" courses and/or players who needed something to do to keep themselves out of mischief. In later years a couple of popular player "Whites" were employed in the front office. Starting with South Australian recruit Darren White, then followed by ex-patriot American and ABL pitching great David White.

  

  

VENUES & ATTENDANCES   

In the early years of the league, the Waverley Reds boasted easily the best “adapted venue” when they had the use of the then VFL's superb VFL Park stadium, later known as Waverley Park. The 70,000+ capacity "home" of VFL football in Melbourne was a magnificent host for baseball with its beautiful playing surface and first class spectator facilities. However, it was probably too good to be true for ABL baseball as high costs for lighting and staffing were a problem. The end of the honeymoon came as the VFL began to limit its use when pre-season VFL football competitions became fashionable and it would not be available to the Reds for playoff matches.

The Reds moved on to another most suitable football ground, Moorabbin Oval, the former home of the St.Kilda AFL club. Moorabbin provided a very good adapted baseball venue, but the Reds suffered a significant drop in regular spectators as it proved a far less popular location than Waverley. The Reds club assisted the St.Kilda Football Club by installing superb "state of the art" lighting towers to facilitate night baseball at Moorabbin Oval and these were also gratefully used by the footballers for their training sessions during the failing light of Melbourne's winter evenings. The Reds also installed a small concrete "grandstand" behind home plate with plastic bucket seating that was to become its "premier seating" Home Run Club. It is believed that the lighting cost around $300,000 and the seating around $60,000 as costs that were never recovered when the club was forced to close its doors!

During our heady early days at Waverley Park, the team regularly attracted crowds between 2,000 and 3,500 depending on the night of the week when games were scheduled and, while we would always want more, these we sustainable numbers for the future and survival of the club... and no Reds supporter will ever forget the night of 9 November 1991 when an attendance of 11,444 was recorded (although there were thousands more who arrived after the attendants stopped counting!). 
However, after making the move to Moorabbin, these numbers suffered an immediate drop off to around 1,500 that continued to dwindle in subsequent years to the unsustainable levels of 250 to 600 per game.

It was one of the greatest disappointments about the demise of the club (and the ABL) that it came at a time when the future of the Melbourne Reds was appearing to take a significant upward turn. Owner Geoff Pearce had led a consortium of business people who negotiated an agreement with the ACES Sporting Club in Keysborough for the team to develop its own superb new headquarters there. The struggling golf driving range would be converted into a baseball diamond, while the coincidentally perfectly shaped club rooms would provide a magnificent new facility with potential for significant revenue raising. This was so near to being a reality that the baseball diamond had been "staked out" and the potential for the Reds was obvious but for the untimely demise of the Australian Baseball League.

Of course, whenever we mention playing facilities, it would be remiss not to recognise those individuals who contributed enormous amounts of time and effort to maintaining the playing conditions, marking the diamonds and managing the ground crew during games in the event of rain or other problems. In the early years perhaps the most notable of these were WBC stalwarts Ron Castledine and Jim Bonaddio, while at Moorabbin a great stalwart was Springvale's David Woods.  

  

  

AFFILIATIONS WITH US TEAMS   

The Waverley / Melbourne Reds had four different affiliates with US professional baseball teams over the ten seasons, starting with Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and finally with Tampa Bay Devil-Rays. Australia's Reds initially claimed to be a "good luck charm" for their US affiliates because Cincinnati, Atlanta and New York each won World Series after teaming up with the Melbourne club! Coincidentally, the Reds also won the ABL Championship in those same seasons!  

As mentioned, the Reds initial affiliation with Cincinnati came about because of Phil Dale's position as an assistant (pitching) coach with the Cincinnati organisation in the USA and he was also one of the key people behind the establishment of the Waverley Reds, not to mention that he was also the club's first field manager and star pitcher! As mentioned, the Waverley Reds nickname arose from this initial affiliation and the team logo originally incorporated the traditional Cincinnati 'C'. 

Cincinnati sent a good standard of import players to Australia with catcher Pete Beeler and pitchers Carl Grovom and Mike Anderson each highly regarded among the finest imports ever to play in the ABL, standing the test of time from the early seasons of the league.

After two solid seasons a change was inevitable when manager Phil Dale moved on from Cincinnati to take up a new assistant coaching position with the Atlanta Braves organisation. It necessarily followed that Phil arranged for the club's affiliation to be changed to Atlanta before the 1991/92 season. No doubt Atlanta was highly regarded as an affiliate at the time, partly because the Atlanta Braves had become a powerhouse in US Major League Baseball and their farm system was widely regarded as among the strongest in the USA. Phil Dale remained the manager of the Waverley Reds for the next few years, but Atlanta ultimately decided that it would send its own US managers before the 1994/95 season. 

Most notable of these was their "hard nosed" minor league manager Paul Runge who took the Reds to the 1995 ABL Championship and Runge was to own the best winning record for managers in ABL history from that highly successful season. It did seem that Atlanta tried their best to send "highly credentialed" prospect players to Australia but, like with many imports, not all of them lived up to their billing. Outfielders Brian Kowitz and Kevin O'Connor were among the best import position players to play with the Reds, while pitcher Carlos Reyes will rank among the very finest import pitchers in ABL history.

In the winter of 1996, in an event that would send shockwaves through the Reds club, legendary player and former coach Phil Dale announced that he would be leaving the club and, worse still, he would be joining his good friend Jon Deeble with our cross-town rival Melbourne Monarchs. We won't attempt to discuss the issues surrounding the move but it was to be a significant blow to the "fabric" of the Reds club, the players and the loyal supporters. Not only did Phil entice a few Reds players to follow him across town, but he also took the Atlanta Braves affiliation with him.

Owner Andy Karetsky was delighted to announce that the famous New York Yankees would be the new affiliate of the Melbourne Reds before the 1996/97 season after he had put a lot of effort into arranging the association. While it would always "sound great" that we had the mighty Yankees on board, it was always questionable how much interest they would really take in our Australian Baseball League team? In general, the players they sent to Australia were a disappointment although Chris Ashby and Dereck Shumpert seemed destined for great seasons in the ABL until their time in Australia was cut short... Ashby due to a roster recall and Shumpert due to a lingering back injury. Greg Resz looked a fine pitcher in his half-season with the Reds, while Jason Beverlin supplied some heroics during our 1998 Championship triumph. 

During the Yankees tenure the Melbourne Reds had contrasting fortunes under respected minor league manager Tom Nieto. In his first 1996/97 season the team finished in a franchise worst last place after a hugely disrupted campaign. The following year Nieto had the sweetest revenge as he piloted the team to a most remarkable Championship victory. However, he needed quite a bit of help from the Reds front office who recruited some very important players after most of the original Yankee imports returned home, not to be replaced. One notable feature of the Yankees time as affiliate was their decision to also send their highly respected pitching coach Oscar Acosta to Australia for the summer. Not only did Acosta work with the Yankees import pitching prospects, but he also provided considerable help for some young Australian pitchers who were fortunate enough to be with the club during this time. Acosta continues to be a major league pitching coach in the US today! 

After the Yankees chose to withdraw their affiliation before the 1998/99 season, the club was forced to seek yet another new affiliate club. Following long negotiations, the club formed an association with the recent "expansion team" Tampa Bay Devil-Rays. The 'D-Rays' seemed quite prepared to form a solid alliance with the Reds, but unfortunately the relationship ended all too suddenly when the ABL collapsed after their one season. Tampa sent coach Steve Livesey and some handy rather than dominant import players for the 1999 season. Matthew Quatraro was a good, solid player who was recovering from injury, while Denis Pujals looked a decent pitching prospect until he returned home to get married mid-season!!

  

  

THE CLARKSON FAMILY   

As mentioned, it would not be fair to "individualise" too many people or players who were associated with the Reds during the ten year history of the club, but there is one name that must surely be selected for special mention... CLARKSON.

Also great people from the WBC, son David Clarkson was a tremendous player, while parents Doug and Meg were also special people involved with the Waverley / Melbourne Reds franchise.

David is a legend of the Waverley Baseball Club as both player and coach, but he was able to forge a similar status with the Reds and in the Australian Baseball League. Ever a fan favourite, 'Clarko' was the first ever Batting Champion of the ABL with his superb .444 in the 1989/90 season and he was among the greatest players ever to grace the team and the league. He was inducted into 'Flintoff & Dunn's AUSTRALIAN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HALL-OF-FAME' following his magnificent career.

Doug Clarkson will always hold a very special place in the hearts of Reds fans as the man who was universally loved as "The Voice of the Reds" as our ever popular game-day announcer. A great WBC stalwart, 'Dougie' was there right from the start of the Reds at VFL Park introducing many people to the game of baseball in Melbourne with his own colourful and unique style. With the microphone in hand, Doug Clarkson showed not only a tremendous insight into the game of baseball, but he was always scrupulously fair to umpires, opposition players and visiting supporters. Doug had a great love and respect for the game of baseball and he was a superb "ambassador" for the Reds as easily the best game announcer in the country! Doug also found time to demonstrate his "cheeky" sense of humour and fun-loving approach to the game whenever he could. When Doug Clarkson passed away soon after the 1996/97 season a big chunk of Reds' history went with him!

Then of course there was Meg Clarkson, another stalwart of the WBC who agreed to become the official head scorer for the new Waverley Reds when the club was formed, while continuing to perform the same important duties for the WBC! Meg was a constant for the Reds franchise throughout its history and she was one of the leading baseball scorers in the country. 

It is people and families like the Clarksons (and others) who made the Reds and WBC what they are!

  

  

REDMOND & THE RED DIAMONDS   

One thing that the Australian Baseball League can probably claim as something that they "pioneered" in Australian sport was a true package of entertainment to embellish the playing of the game. While the National Basketball League did introduce a degree of "razzamatazz" with its loud music and cheer leaders, the Australian Baseball League took this a step further with a very impressive package of entertainment during games to keep adults and children interested for every minute of their time at the baseball. Probably nowhere was this better illustrated in the league than by the Waverley Reds at VFL Park, especially in the early days, before budget tightening caused most of these innovations to fall by the wayside.

Of course the Reds were represented throughout its history by the ever popular mascot REDMOND the big red lion! A variety of people spent time inside the traditional red suit of Redmond throughout the ten years, but it never seemed to matter to the kids who was inside the suit as they would always delight in the antics of Redmond. Reds fans will remember the traditional entrance of Redmond after two or three innings of play at home games either cycling onto the ground on a tiny tricycle, or scooting in on a little four-wheeler buggy before dramatically falling off to the screams of laughter from children at the game. Whether it was entertaining the kids at the 'Lions Den' at Moorabbin, dancing with the Red Diamonds or play-fighting with the Monarchs' 'Paddle Pop Lion' he was a much loved fixture of the Reds baseball package for ten years.

Another fixture of the earlier years was the very professional and very attractive cheer leading / dance troup called the 'Red Diamonds' who would entertain fans between innings of home games. It is believed that the girls were originally assembled for the NBL's North Melbourne Giants, but they were equally impressive as the Red Diamonds, if not more so? Quite unlike the solid floor of a basketball stadium, the Red Diamonds often had to endure oppressive heat or extreme cold, not to mention the sometimes wet, often slippery conditions on the grassed surface of the playing arena. How they managed to perform with the professionalism and poise that they always did was a credit to those involved for several years!

... and if all of this was not enough, the Waverley Reds would also provide spectator involvement between innings to keep the interest of fans. There were the often amusing "bat spin races", little kids trying to race Redmond around the bases (and always just winning!), car tyre races or the occasional frenzy of people trying to grab free hot dogs or pizzas supplied by the club. For a while we even had a group of fans who imitated the 'Blues Brothers' who would entertain with a dance between innings late in the game. In those early days at VFL Park, the action never stopped!

Not to ever forget the traditional baseball "Seventh Innings Stretch" when game announcer Doug Clarkson would try to involve everybody in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"... Doug was not a young man during this time, but he always found enough energy to climb up on the players dugout and belt out the song, no matter how bad the weather was!

  

  

TEAMS & PLAYERS   

Other than those mentioned "in context" above, we will not attempt to individualise players apart from providing a statistical history of the performances of the club and its players for each of the ten seasons and to provide TOP 10 Lists for the usual baseball statistical categories.

To VIEW the YEAR BY YEAR TEAM HISTORY, click here.

To VIEW the TOP 10 STATISTICAL LISTS, click here.

To View the COMPLETE PLAYER LISTS, click here.