Thursday, February 25, 2016

1986 San Jose "Bad News" Bees

The coming 2016 baseball season marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most notorious teams in all of professional baseball, not to mention my hometown team the year of my birth; the 1986 San Jose "Bad News" Bees. The Bees were one of the last independent teams in minor league baseball, but did have a partnership with the Seibu Lions of Japan. As the second incarnation of the Bees (the original Bees existed from 1962 to 1976), the team existed from 1983 to 1987. The franchise failed to be profitable and operated on a shoe-string budget. Aside from several young Japanese players, the rest of the players were disgraced former major leaguers, the majority of which were blacklisted from the big leagues for substance abuse. During the season, many players lived in nearby flophouses and even on mattresses inside stadium's clubhouse. Known as the "Rebels Cave", it featured a refrigerator, beer signs, broken bleacher seats for guests, and a painting made by one of the players of a green-faced Charles Manson as a "conversation piece". The team went 65-77 in the California League during the season under General Manager Harry Steve, who managed the team simply because no one else would. The 1986 team was immortalized by a sensational multi-page write-up in an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. In it, the team was portrayed in a less-than-flattering manner, described as lowlifes that spent their meager paychecks on drugs, booze, and prostitutes. Author Neal Karlen later regretted vilifying them. The 1986 Bees were also covered by several major newspapers across the country and internationally in newspapers such as the London Times.

The 1986 San Jose Bees cap. 1986 was the only season their cap had gold eyelets.

If you look closely at San Jose Municipal Stadium today, you'll find a few reminders of the Bees, including one of the 1986 "Bad News" Bees. On the back of a door on the stadium bowl is a painted "Bad News Bees" sign, autographed by the team. Unfortunately, this side of the door is usually not visible and the signatures have faded away. The tale of the Bad News is also fading away, but that's not surprising given the family-friendly atmosphere of San Jose Giants games (the Giants franchise moved to San Jose  from Freasonin 1988).



General Manage Harry Steve had to manage the team because no one else would.

Perhaps the team's most notable player was the tragic Steve Howe. A great pitcher, Howe had been the National League Rookie of the Year in 1980, a World Series Champion with Los Angeles 1981, and an All-Star in 1982. After being suspended multiple times for alcohol and cocaine abuse, Howe ended up with the Bees in 1986, going 3-2 with a 1.47 ERA. By the following year Howe would find himself back in the big leagues and seemed to have his life together. He became a Born-Again Christian and published an autobiography in 1989. Howe played in the majors until 1996 and retired in 1997 after a stint in independent ball. Howe lived in Arizona after baseball and worked as a self-employed framing contractor. Howe died in 2006 after rolling his pickup truck in the Coachella desert. An autopsy revealed that he had methamphetamine in his system.


The San Jose Giants have announced that they will do one Bees-themed game this upcoming season, but the only detail revealed is that they're honoring George Brett (the only hall of famer to play in San Jose thus far) rather than the 1986 team.