Remembering the Colorado Silver Bullets

Manager Phil Niekro of the Colorado Silver Bullets looks on during a game.
Manager Phil Niekro of the Colorado Silver Bullets looks on during a game.
Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images

Sixteen-year-old knuckleballer Eri Yoshida made news earlier this week when she was selected in the Kansai Independent Baseball League draft. Remember the name, because you might hear it again in a few years when the Red Sox sign Yoshida to replace her idol, Tim Wakefield. We're kidding (we think).

Of course women playing baseball against men is nothing new. In fact, it was only 11 years ago that the all-female Colorado Silver Bullets were barnstorming across the country, challenging men's pro, semi-pro, and amateur teams from coast to coast. Here's a look back at the history of the team.

The Beginning: The man behind the creation of the Silver Bullets was Bob Hope, the Atlanta Braves' former vice president of promotions (not the late actor and comedian). Hope had developed a reputation for his unique ideas while with the Braves. On "Headlock and Wedlock Night," wedding ceremonies at home plate were followed by a professional wrestling exhibition. During another one of Hope's promotions, an Atlanta disc jockey nearly suffocated after diving headfirst into the world's largest ice cream sundae.

Still, Hope garnered the financial backing of the Coors Brewing Co. in 1993, and under the ownership of Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Silver Bullets became the first women's team to be recognized by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. Hope tabbed former Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro as manager and Shereen Samonds, the only female general manager in Double-A baseball at the time, as the team's top front office executive. Niekro would manage the team for its first three seasons.

The Tryouts: In a process reminiscent of the women-only league portrayed in the movie A League of Their Own, 1,300 women attended tryouts at 11 different locations across the country in the spring of 1994. Forty-eight were invited to the team's training camp in Orlando, Fla., before the team roster was whittled to 24. Legal assistants, nurses, teachers, waitresses, college students, and a Sports Illustrated writer were among those who tried out in hopes of being a part of history. And then there was Geri Fritz. After she was let go in one of the final rounds of cuts, it was revealed that Fritz was born a man. Fritz formerly went by Gerald and played college and professional baseball, but claimed to be legally female. The $20,000 that players earned for making the team could've helped the unemployed Fritz pay for the sex-change operation she wanted.

The First Season: To say the Silver Bullets struggled in their first season would be like saying Coors Light isn't the world's greatest beer. Colorado compiled a 6-38 record in 1994 and was outscored 57-1 in its first six games. The brutal start prompted the team to cancel its remaining scheduled games with Northern League teams and to schedule semi-pro and amateur teams instead. As the season wore on, it became increasingly clear that while the Silver Bullets could field and, to a lesser extent, pitch on par with some of their male counterparts, hitting was another story. Stacy Sunny led the team in nearly every offensive category, including runs (11), RBI (11), hits (23), and average (.200). As a team, the Silver Bullets averaged 1.9 runs per game and hit .154.

The Reaction: The Silver Bullets were a big draw at the gates during their first season. While they normally played in smaller minor league ballparks, they attracted crowds of more than 30,000 fans for games in Denver and San Diego. Silver Bullets souvenirs were hot items and the team generated a media buzz wherever it went. Not everyone was enamored with the idea, however. New York Times sports columnist Barbara Walder wrote: "This sad, slightly embarrassing stunt is just another way women have dropped the ball in their sporting quests over the last 20 years. Not even the most-reflexive feminists can work up much excitement for this enterprise. For instead of being bravely ahead of its time, the Bullets are badly behind, resorting to an attention-getter "“ sports women versus men "“ that like Bill Veeck's baseball-playing midget, can only work once."

The Improvement: The team improved its win total from six to 11 to 18 over the first three seasons, but the novelty of the idea slowly started to wear off. Average attendance dipped from approximately 8,000 in 1994 to 3,500 in 1995 as the team continued to struggle to compete and score runs. After starting the 1996 season 4-19, the Silver Bullets switched to aluminum bats and won 14 of their final 30 games. The team traveled to Taiwan for six exhibition games against men's teams from the Taiwan Major League in the offseason, but were outscored 69-18 and lost all six games. Searching for ways to cut costs, the Silver Bullets established a home base in Albany, Georgia, where they played close to half of their games in 1997.

The Brawl: On June 11, 1997, Kim Braatz-Voisard stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth and the Silver Bullets trailing an 18-and-under state champion team from Georgia by four runs. One pitch after she told the opposing team's heckling teenage catcher to shut up and play ball, she was drilled in the back with a fastball. The pitcher then laughed at Braatz-Voisard, who charged the mound and set off a bench-clearing brawl.

"I don't blame her," first-year Silver Bullets manager Bruce Crabbe told reporters afterward. "If Albert Belle gets hit by a pitcher who laughs at him, you think he might charge the mound?" The opposing team's manager said his pitcher did not intentionally throw at Braatz-Voisard, who one year earlier hit Colorado's first out-of-the-park home run. Attendance received a boost following the brawl, including a crowd of 10,000 for a game in Alaska. "It's almost a validating thing," Hope said. "This is a baseball team. If you're willing to brawl, you care about what you're doing."

The End: The Silver Bullets finished the 1997 season with their first winning record (23-22), but disbanded after losing Coors as their sponsor. A Coors spokesperson said the decision had nothing to do with the team's play, but Hope was disappointed nonetheless. "We don't want to sound ungrateful to Coors for giving us this opportunity, but it brings into question whether they consider this a corporate responsibility program, or just a novelty act," Hope told a reporter. "The idea apparently lost its freshness." The idea, apparently, lacked a Frost Brew Liner.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.