The Catch’s Minor League Time Machine, Part Two: 1985 Durham Bulls

When I was a kid in the mid-1980s, I spent a lot of time watching, playing, reading about, and thinking about sports. I was truly obsessed. That obsession led me to taking the logical next step of writing letters to major and minor league teams to get pocket schedules, team information, and whatever else they happened to send back to me. We didn’t have the internet back then where I could get this information in approximately 30 seconds, like we do now. I had to put pencil to paper, buy a stamp, and drop an actual letter into the mailbox. (Thanks for assist USPS!) The cool stuff I received in return – which I absolutely treasure – has been sitting in waterproof boxes for the better part of 35 years. I’ve looked at it often, but I haven’t shared the stuff before now. Enjoy!

The second team into the Time Machine is the 1985 Durham Bulls. Yes, the same Durham Bulls made world-famous by the movie Bull Durham in 1988. They weren’t world-famous when I received this stuff, but the Bulls did indeed fashion themselves at the time as “America’s Minor League Team.” (The Toledo Mud Hens would like a word). Over the last 36 years, ownership has changed, the team has upgraded its stadium significantly, and the club made the significant jump from A ball to AAA ball, but it is still the same team.

The Bulls didn’t send a ton of stuff, but the stuff they did send is pretty neat. As shown above, they sent a 1985 schedule. The logo is exactly the same. Why mess with a pretty great logo, right? The colors have changed a bit, going from black/brown/blue in 1985 to the black/blue/orange of today. The envelope logo (below) is brown, while the schedule cover (above) is black. Maybe the brown evolved into the orange? Nevertheless, very interesting.

The inside of the schedule looks like this:

There’s so much to take in from looking at the pocket schedule. First off, look at those ticket prices! Just $4.00 for a box seat at the old park. Awesome. Even adjusting for inflation, it’s a fantastic price. Next, I count a total of four days off across the entire schedule. Four. And these guys were on – I presume – non-luxury buses while playing for peanuts. Fantastic working conditions, huh? The Carolina League of 1985 has some familiar cities in the league, save for Peninsula who have been out of minor league ball since the early 1990s. Finally, I love that you could mail a check to the club for tickets. No Ticketmaster or Stubhub and their stupid “handling” and per ticket fees to take more money out of your pocket.

The back of the schedule:

A couple of things: First, look at the promos. There are seven of them. Seven! But hey, at least the 1985 Bulls hit the basics: hat, jersey, bat, and ball night, along with a team photo. In 2021, it seems like there are two to three promos every game in minor league baseball. Second, I love that a local pizza joint is the advertising sponsor of the pocket schedule. Not Pizza Hut or Domino’s…but the Pizza Palace. (The physical location appears to be a BBQ spot in 2021.) One thing that I love about minor league baseball, and I wish every team did more of it, is utilizing and promoting local businesses.

The Bulls sent along a merchandise price list:

You can almost smell the mimeograph machine just by looking at this! (I’m guessing it is a copy from a page in the game program.) Not a whole lot here, but the prices are great. The only price here that is comparable to today’s prices is the player’s cap. (And yes, you should ask yourself why prices were so low then, but are so high now, especially after adjusting for inflation) Seriously, though, this illustrates just how far teams have come since the 1980’s with their merchandising efforts. One sheet in 1985, versus entire websites in 2021 that offer pretty much anything on to which you can slap a logo. There’s a deep philosophical discussion on a number of issues in there somewhere.

Finally, something that I noticed only after pulling the envelope from storage when I started this project. The interesting postmark:

As you can see, alongside the October 13, 1985 postmark is a Durham Bulls promo (for lack of a better term) “You Don’t Have To Be From Durham To Love The Bulls.” I am guessing that is something the team applied using their own postage meter (you can see part of the P.S. Meter # to the right). I found that to be incredibly cool and showed how the team was promoting the Bulls “brand” even before the producers of Bull Durham came to town looking for locations to film.

That’s it for Minor League Time Machine, Part Two. Please pardon some of the camera angles as it was tough to unfold the paper items and keep them flat after so many years tucked away. I’ll be back with future editions soon. I still have a LOT of stuff to share. If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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