Heartland League

From BR Bullpen

The Heartland League was one of many independent leagues to start and die in the late '90s, running from 1996 through 1998.


The league held its first season with four teams based in Indiana and Illinois; two of the teams were from the recently disbanded Mid-America League. The Lafayette Leopards captured the first championship and were led by the circuit's MVP, third baseman Garry Kamphouse, who hit .342 with a league-leading 52 RBI. Despite finishing in last place, the Dubois County Dragons had the league's highest attendance, drawing 33,203 fans, more than the other three clubs combined. They were led on the field by Most Valuable Pitcher Johnny Oestrich (8-2 with a 3.18 ERA) and designated hitter Juan Price (who won the home run crown with 13).

1996 Standings
Team W-L Pct. GB Manager
Lafayette Leopards 32-27 .542 -- Bob Hallas
Anderson Lawmen 32-28 .533 .5 Jay Walker
Will County Cheetahs 28-31 .475 4 Gregg Slutsky
Dubois County Dragons 27-33 .450 5.5 R.C. Lichtenstein


After its inaugural season, the league absorbed four teams from the other indy leagues bringing the circuit to its peak size of eight clubs. The Clarksville Coyotes, Columbia Mules, and Tennessee Tomahawks joined from the Big South League and the Altoona Rail Kings came from the North Atlantic League. The Rail Kings and Tomahawks both posted 22-14 marks to win first half division titles. In the second half, the Tomahawks lost just one game en route to a 33-1 record. However, they were defeated by the Mules in the first round of the playoffs, and the Mules went on to beat the Anderson Lawmen to capture the league crown.

Angel Santiago of the Will County Cheetahs led the league with a .374 average, and Tennessee's Curtis Underwood slugged a league-best 15 homers. On the mound, George Mianowski of Tennessee paced the circuit with 11 wins, and teammate (and former big leaguer) John Dopson posted a 1.78 ERA to capture the ERA crown.

Boosted by their league-best record, Tennessee lead the circuit in attendance. Overall, the league drew over 210,000 fans in 1997.

1997 Standings
First Half
North Division South Division
Team W L Pct. GB Manager Team W L Pct. GB Manager
Altoona Rail Kings 22 14 .611 -- Michael Richmond Tennessee Tomahawks 22 14 .611 -- Jeff Gamble
Will County Cheetahs 18 17 .514 3.5 Gerry Clarke Columbia Mules 20 15 .571 1.5 Steve Howard
Anderson Lawmen 13 21 .382 8 David Edwards Dubois County Dragons 16 18 .471 5 Jeff Pinney
Lafayette Leopards 13 22 .371 8.5 Brad Cohen Clarksville Coyotes 16 19 .457 5.5 Jeff Bibb
Second Half
North Division South Division
Team W L Pct. GB Manager Team W L Pct. GB Manager
Anderson Lawmen 19 16 .543 -- David Edwards Tennessee Tomahawks 33 1 .971 -- Jeff Gamble
Lafayette Leopards 18 18 .500 1.5 Brad Cohen Columbia Mules 18 16 .529 15 Steve Howard
Altoona Rail Kings 14 22 .389 5.5 Michael Richmond Clarksville Coyotes 16 20 .444 18 Jeff Bibb
Will County Cheetahs 13 22 .371 6 Gerry Clarke Dubois County Dragons 10 26 .278 24 Jeff Pinney


After the 1997 season, the league entered into some trouble, as the Anderson franchise withdrew from the league and both Clarksville and Columbia suspended operations. With the AA Altoona Curve set to begin play, the Altoona Rail Kings moved west to Huntington, West Virginia. The Cheetahs moved 20 miles east to Midlothian, Illinois while waiting for their new stadium to be built in nearby Crestwood. The league added the Big South League's Tupelo Tornado to bring the league's teams to six. Both the Huntington and Tupelo franchises folded early in the season.

On the diamond, the Tennessee Towahawks, won both the first half and second half titles, but lost in the league championships to the newly christened Cook County Cheetahs. Jason Kinchen of Lafayette hit .324 with a league-best 24 homers and was named MVP. After the season, the league ceased operations as the Cheetahs (with their new stadium complete) jumped to the Frontier League.

1998 Standings
First Half Second Half
Team W L Pct. GB Manager Team W L Pct. GB Manager
Tennessee Tomahawks 24 11 .686 -- Mike O'Berry Tennessee Tomahawks 19 10 .655 -- Mike O'Berry
Cook County Cheetahs 23 11 .676 .5 Brian Dayett Dubois County Dragons 17 17 .500 4.5 Jay Welker
Lafayette Leopards 16 17 .485 7 Bob Hallas Lafayette Leopards 19 22 .463 6 Bob Hallas
Dubois County Dragons 15 19 .441 8.5 Jay Welker Cook County Cheetahs 14 18 .438 6.5 Brian Dayett
Tupelo Tornado 4 10 .286 9.5 Steve Dillard
Huntington RailKings 9 23 .281 13.5 Mike Richmond

Cities Represented[edit]