Slowly but surely, baseball is losing its ties to the old era of the minor leagues.
Bill Cutler, the longest-serving president in the history of the Pacific Coast League, died March 24 at the age of 92 at his home in Mesa, Ariz.
His death follows that of longtime South Atlantic League president John Henry Moss in 2009, and minor league statistical pioneer Bill Weiss last August. The three all had different perspectives on the game, but they represent an era when working in baseball—and in particular the minor leagues—was something more like a calling than simply a profession.
“Bill Cutler is a name synonymous with minor league baseball and especially the Pacific Coast League,” Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said. “His experience at virtually every level of our game gave him insights and perspectives not many possess. Bill represented his teams and league with integrity and dignity. He was well liked and admired by his peers and set the standard for league presidents for years to come.”
Moss’ tenure as a league president spanned the highs and lows of minor league evolution in the last half of the 20th century, as he led teams and leagues through the booming post-World War II years to the subsistence of the 1960s and ’70s and on to the renaissance of the 1980s and ’90s.
Cutler represents the era of expansion that began in the late 1970s and resulted in the robust minor league landscape that most fans know today. He took over as PCL president in 1979, after eight years of owning a franchise in the league and 25 years of working in the American League office, the front office of the Oakland Athletics, and in scouting for the Montreal Expos.
“What a special human being, what a warmly liked baseball figure, so able to treat others with respect even when there were considerable differences to be resolved,” current PCL president Branch Rickey said. “He honored the Pacific Coast League with his exemplary fairness and professionalism, his commitment to making the league better. I am, in turn, truly blessed to follow in his footsteps, privileged to carry on that special legacy. The successes of his almost- 20-year tenure are embedded everywhere in the current prestige of the PCL. He will be missed, but long remembered and genuinely admired.”
Life In The Game
Cutler was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., and spent most of his baseball career working in the American League office, which was then in Chicago. He came out West when he bought the PCL’s Portland franchise in 1970. Apropos of the time, he served both as the team’s owner and general manager. He moved the team to Spokane, Wash., in 1973, finally selling it in 1978 just before he became league president. (The franchise moved to Las Vegas in 1983 and has been there ever since.)
While the health of the PCL was beginning to improve in the 1970s, the league still dealt with frequent franchise moves, and the hope was that Cutler would stabilize things. He did that and more. First, he moved the league office from Pennsylvania, where it had been when Roy Jackson was league president, to Arizona.
The league had 10 teams when Cutler took over, with the recent additions of Portland and Vancouver as expansion teams to match the Mariners and Blue Jays joining the major leagues. It still had 10 when he retired, but the league was on much more solid footing.
There were definite weak spots when Cutler took over. San Jose had replaced Sacramento after efforts to get a new stadium there had failed. When the team didn’t thrive in San Jose either, it moved to Ogden, Utah, for the 1979 season.
Cutler helped that franchise finally find a stable home in Edmonton in 1981, and he took a Salt Lake City franchise that was in disarray—it lost its electricity, phone service and radio broadcasts in 1984 because its bills hadn’t been paid—and brought it to Calgary in 1985. This coincided with the amazing surge in minor league attendance that continued through the 1990s, and along with the bigger crowds came new ballparks.
The league came full circle when the Portland franchise moved to a new ballpark in Salt Lake City in 1994 and drew 713,224 fans, breaking a league record that had stood since 1946, when the San Francisco Seals drew 670,563 fans.
Cutler’s final act as league president represented the selflessness he led his league with, as he oversaw a dramatic realignment of Triple-A into two leagues. Teams from the old American Association were split between the International League and the PCL, with six joining the PCL to make it a 16-team circuit stretching from New Orleans to Vancouver. Cutler decided to retire, and Rickey, who had been president of the AA, took over as president of the new league.
“I was saddened to hear about the passing of Bill Cutler,” said Mike Feder, general manager of the Tucson Padres and a longtime PCL executive. “For me, when I first came into the PCL in 1989, he was a tremendous asset. I always looked forward to our talks and his visits to Tucson. The baseball world lost a good man.”
When he walked away from the game, Cutler had plenty to keep him busy. He and his wife, Delores, had 12 children, nine girls and three boys. His love of the game ran through the family, and he has two grandsons who have played pro ball. Brett Bordes and Jimmy Patterson are both lefthanders who attended Arizona State. Bordes spent four years in the Orioles organization before getting released, while Patterson is still with the Rays and pitched in low Class A last year.
Cutler was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2005.
“Bill was one of the great people of the game,” former Minor League Baseball president Mike Moore said. “He cared deeply about the game and his many friends he made along the way. He shall be missed.”