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Ben's Biz: Title winners ranked for '23

Based on how long it had been since they last won a crown
October 27, 2023

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

The World Series kicks off Friday, and either the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Texas Rangers will take home the crown. In the Minor Leagues, the playoff dust has long since settled with the winners now enjoying their status as league champions.

What follows is a look at each of Minor League Baseball’s 11 title winners, with a focus on historical context. Had the team won a championship before and, if so, how long had it been? As you’ll see, some significant droughts were finally vanquished.

Erie SeaWolves, Double-A Eastern League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Detroit Tigers (since 2001)
Established: 1995
First Title: 2023

The Erie SeaWolves spent the first four years of their existence in the New York-Penn League before switching to the Eastern League in 1999. In 2022, they won their first-ever playoff series, over Richmond, but were vanquished in the E.L. Finals by Somerset. This year, they finally got over the hump, defeating Richmond yet again in the semifinals, then sweeping Binghamton to claim the crown.

Jupiter Hammerheads, Single-A Florida State League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Miami Marlins (since 2002)
Established: 1998
First Title: 2023

The Hammerheads are unique in that they share their ballpark, Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, with the Palm Beach Cardinals. While Palm Beach has won two FSL titles (in 2005 and 2017), the Hammerheads were perennially stymied in their attempts to win it all. That finally changed this season, as Jupiter vanquished its co-tenants in the semifinals before winning the Championship Series over Clearwater.

Tennessee Smokies, Double-A Southern League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Chicago Cubs (since 2007)
Established: 1972
First title since: 1978

The Tennessee Smokies won a co-championship in 2004, splitting the Southern League title with the Mobile BayBears after the Finals were cancelled due to the threat of Hurricane Ivan. In 2023, they captured their first outright title since 1978, when the team was known as the Knoxville Sox. This ended what had been the second-longest outright title drought in Minor League Baseball, behind Syracuse (who last won it all in 1976).

Norfolk Tides, Triple-A International League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Baltimore Orioles (since 2007)
Established: 1961
First title since: 1985

The Durham Bulls set their sights for an IL three-peat -- and their fifth title in the past six seasons – but this season they were felled in the Finals by the Norfolk Tides. The Tides hadn’t won it all since 1985, when they were a Mets affiliate filled with players who, the following season, would contribute to a World Series-winning campaign in Queens.

Cedar Rapids Kernels, High-A Midwest League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Minnesota Twins (since 2013)
Established: 1949
First title since: 1994

Cedar Rapids’ long-running Minor League team changed its name to the Kernels in 1993, the same season in which it began an affiliation with the Los Angeles Angels. The Kernels won the Midwest League title the following season, and 29 years passed before they won another one. This year’s championship was their first as a Twins affiliate, and fifth in franchise history.

Oklahoma City Dodgers, Triple-A Pacific Coast League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Los Angeles Dodgers (since 2015)
Established: 1962
First title since: 1996

Oklahoma City’s Triple-A team first played in the Pacific Coast League from 1963-68, and then rejoined the circuit in 1998 following a long stint in the American Association. Though the franchise had plenty of opportunity, it hadn't ever won a PCL championship until 2023. The last time OKC won it all in any league, in 1996, the team was still known by its original “89ers” moniker.

Modesto Nuts, Single-A California League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Seattle Mariners (since 2017)
Established: 1946
First title since: 2017

The Nuts last won a championship in 2017, which marked the first of what are now two titles as a Seattle affiliate. Prior to that, they won it all while partnered with Pittsburgh (1950), the New York Yankees (1954, 1959), the Kansas City Athletics (1966), St. Louis (1972) and Oakland (1982, 1984, 2004).

Vancouver Canadians, High-A Northwest League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Toronto Blue Jays (since 2011)
Established: 2000
First title since: 2017

The Canadians spent the first 11 seasons of their existence as an Oakland affiliate, and in that time they never won it all. It’s been a different story since they partnered with the Blue Jays in 2011, as that year they won the first of what has now been five Northwest League championships. This year's title was their first at the High-A level, as the NWL was a Class A Short-Season circuit through 2019.

Greenville Drive, High-A South Atlantic League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Boston Red Sox (since 2005)
Established: 2005
First title since: 2017

Greenville’s first title came in 2017, which was its 13th season of existence. The Lexington Legends captured the next two SAL championships, then the Bowling Green Hot Rods won two in a row. The trophy returned to Greenville in 2023, and now the Drive will be gunning for a repeat.

Amarillo Sod Poodles, Double-A Texas League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Arizona Diamondbacks (since 2021)
Established: 2019
First title since: 2019

The Sod Poodles won it all in their debut 2019 campaign, as an affiliate of the San Diego Padres. They became a D-backs affiliate in 2021 and won it all again this season. They now have as many Texas League titles as their predecessor, the Amarillo God Sox (who played their final season in 1982).

Charleston RiverDogs, Single-A Carolina League Champions
Major League affiliate:
Tampa Bay Rays (since 2021)
Established: 1980
First title since: 2022

Talk about a dramatic turnaround: From its 1980 inception through 2020, Charleston failed to win a single South Atlantic League title. In 2021 the RiverDogs switched to the Carolina League and became a Rays affiliate, and since then all they’ve done is win. 2023 marked their third consecutive championship.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.