By Chris Kline
December 7, 2005
Plenty of minor league franchises like to talk about how they are tied into their respective community historically, but not many can trace their roots back to before that community officially existed.
The Double-A Tulsa Drillers are one such franchise, as baseball began in 1905 when the Tulsa Oilers first took the field in the Class C Missouri Valley League–two years before Oklahoma became a state.
The team celebrated its 100th anniversary this past season, culminating in an entire year’s worth of promotions tied into honoring the game’s storied past in the region. Baseball in Tulsa has been tied to the oil industry since the beginning, and the team has had just three nicknames since 1905–the Oilers, the Producers (which lasted just one season in 1917), before finally settling on the Drillers when they joined the Texas League in 1977.
Tulsa baseball has also been tied to the fortunes of the local economy, with attendance slipping to 273,155 in 2003 after the city lost 25,000 jobs over two years. Attendance jumped back up to 320,733 in 2004 and topped that mark by drawing 335,018 this season in a market that isn’t exactly vibrant in a league that now features new teams in Springfield, Mo., and Corpus Christi, Texas.
But if there’s one thing Tulsa has been over the years, it’s the benchmark for stability. General manager Chuck Lamson will celebrate his 25th year with the club in 2006, and four of his top front office employees have been with him since the mid 80s.
“You can look at that a couple different ways,” Lamson said. “One is that, yeah, there certainly is stability, but you always want to be open to new ideas and not date yourself too much. We’re always looking to borrow new concepts on marketing and promotions from teams like (Double-A) Reading. (Reading GM) Chuck Domino has a knack for making the most out of all the nooks and crannies in his ballpark. It might not be completely new, but if it’s new in your market, it’s likely to get people talking–and coming back.”
And Lamson isn’t your typical minor league GM. A 10th-round pick of the Rangers in 1977, Lamson played three seasons in Tulsa and started working in the ticket office during the offseason in 1980. His career as a lefthander was cut short by elbow problems, and Lamson found himself working full-time as director of stadium operations in 1982.
Lamson worked his way up to assistant GM in 1983 before taking over as GM in 1995.
“So many people get into this industry and move around,” Lamson said. “I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to remain in the same place with the same great people.”
And with the great heritage and tradition that makes baseball in Tulsa so unique. The franchise might be into new ideas promotion-wise, but when it comes to the overall look on the field, the team tends to lean on history.
“When we changed our logo last year, we opted for something that represented our past and our ties to the oil industry,” Lamson said. “I’m not knocking them, but if we went after some of these crazy animal logos that are so popular these days, it’s just something that would not remain true to our heritage.”