Can the Knights Turn 80… Again?

The Knights have recorded 80 wins twice in franchise history and both times they were IL Champions! Can they do it again?

The Charlotte Knights have enjoyed a solid 2012 campaign. After a win on Wednesday night, the club moved to a season-high 20 games over .500. With 18 games left to play, and a 10-game lead over second place Norfolk, things are looking bright for the first place Knights.

Boasting a 73-53 record (heading into Thursday’s game), the Knights have a possibility of making franchise history. The club has only won 80 games in its history two other times and both of those times turned out to be special seasons.

The first 80-win season came all the way back in 1993, when the Charlotte Knights were led by manager Charlie Manuel. That season, the Knights won an impressive 86 games and finished the season with a mark of 86-55. The team had tons of talent, including future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome, who was the International League’s Most Valuable Player that season – the only one in Knights history.

Before Thome was hitting monster home runs at the Major League level, he was the IL batting champion that season hitting at a .332 clip with 25 home runs and an IL-best 102 RBIs. He added a .441 on-base percentage and scored 85 runs. Thome led an impressive offensive assault on International League pitchers.

With Thome in the middle of the lineup, Manuel must have had an easy time penciling together a lineup each day. But wait, Manuel had more!

Mark Lewis, a solid middle infielder, was at the top of his game in 1993. Lewis, a first round pick of the Indians in 1988, hit .284 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs that season. He also scored a team-high 93 runs and was the table-setter the team needed.

Add slugger Sam Horn to the mix as well, who was a feared homer hitter in the league. Horn mashed 38 home runs that season drove in 96 runs and was one of the most prolific Minor League sluggers of that era.

But wait, there’s more, much more. Beau Allred hit 20 home runs with 61 RBIs, Luis Lopez had 12 home runs and a crisp .314 batting average in 67 games, and Jeff Kunkel added 11 home runs, 12 steals, and a .281 batting average.

And then there was Manny. Yes, that Manny. At just 21 years old, Manny Ramirez was a name fans in Cleveland would become familiar with very soon. Knights fans would get that first glimpse of Manny-World in 1993 and it was a good one.

In just 40 games with the Knights, Ramirez hit .317 with 14 home runs and 36 RBIs. After beginning the season with Double-A Canton-Akron and finishing it with Cleveland, Ramirez had a ride like no other that season.

He went on to achieve greatness at the Major League level, but his 40-game stop in Charlotte during the 1993 season added to the team’s prominence and ultimately, dominance.

With a lineup like that, who needs pitching — right?

Well, the Knights had pitching too!

Chad Ogea posted a 13-8 mark that season with a 3.81 ERA in 29 starts. His 13 wins tied him with Mike Birkbeck of Richmond for the most in the IL that season. Paul Byrd was also a starter on that team and he went 7-4 with a 3.89 ERA. Byrd went on to win 109 games at the Major League level.

Scott Scudder and Bill Wertz also chipped in with seven wins apiece, while Jerry DiPoto, Jason Grimsley, Tom McCarthy, and Jeff Mutis each had six wins apiece. DiPoto also added 12 saves, finishing second on the team to Mike Christopher’s 22 saves.

Other notable pitchers on that team that contributed to the team’s success were Dennis Cook, Bob Milacki, Matt Young, Heathcliff Slocumb, and Dave Eiland.

The 1993 season was Charlotte’s first in the International League and it was a truly special one for the Knights. The team won the IL West Division by 6.5 games over second place Richmond and moved on to face the Braves in the first round. Charlotte took three of four games from Richmond and found a spot in the finals against Rochester.

The finals in 1993 took five games, but the Knights were victorious en route to the IL Championship in their first year in the league.

We’ll take a look back at the second 80-win season in next week’s edition. Stay tuned…

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