Here’s a look at five players who became Triple-A legends

Detroit Tigers

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Rise and Shines: Last Friday, at 9:03 a.m., the Indianapolis Indians announced that they will retire Razor Shines’ No. 3 jersey as part of a multifaceted September celebration of the longstanding franchise’s most beloved player.

Shines played parts of nine seasons with Indianapolis (1984-93, excepting 1990), which largely occurred when the team was affiliated with the Montreal Expos. He was part of multiple title-winning teams and ranks high on the franchise’s all-time leaderboard in multiple categories.

I was reminded of Shines’ exalted status in Indianapolis when I visited the team’s home of Victory Field this past September. A mural on the outfield concourse features Shines and Indians president Max Schumacher celebrating after the Indians won the 1987 American Association Championship.

“He was a good player who got a lot of clutch hits. Switch-hitter, but natural left-handed hitter, which was unusual. In 1984, he was our team MVP. Three or four weeks into the season our PA announcer Kurt Hunt says, ‘Now batting RRRRRazor Shines.’ Razor lined a ball into the gap for a double, crowd was buzzing. … It just caught on and people around the city would go ‘RRRRRRazor Shines.’ That helped his popularity.”

Shines spent parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues with the Expos, but clearly his biggest impact came in Indianapolis. The Indians’ upcoming tribute got me thinking about other players who profile similarly, so without further ado:

Here are four more Triple-A heroes, all of whose careers ended after Shines. All of these individuals made their mark playing for a team that is currently part of the International League.

Jeff Manto, Buffalo Bisons

The history of the Buffalo Bisons stretches back to the 19th century, but nonetheless the team has only retired three numbers: Ollie Carnegie, Luke Easter and, you guessed it, Jeff Manto. His No. 30 was retired in 2001, following the conclusion of a 16-year professional career that included stints with eight Major League clubs.

Manto was a force in the Bisons’ lineup from 1997-2000, hitting 79 home runs over just 276 games. He helped lead the Cleveland affiliate to an International League title in 1998 and followed that up by hitting .533 in the Triple-A World Series.

Manto was no stranger to the International League prior to his arrival in Buffalo. He won the league’s MVP in 1994, during a season in which he played for both Norfolk and Rochester. The peripatetic slugger also spent time in four other IL locales: Richmond, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pawtucket and Syracuse.

Corky Miller, Louisville Bats

Grizzled backstops don’t get more grizzled than cult hero Corky Miller, who, despite playing the game’s most demanding position, ended his career as the Louisville Bats’ all-time leader in games played (548). The Bats retired his No. 8 in 2014, making him the third player to receive that honor (the team has also retired the numbers of Jackie Robinson and his Louisville-born Brooklyn teammate Pee Wee Reese).

Miller played for the Bats from 2001-04 and again from ’09-14, becoming well acquainted with the drive between Louisville and parent-club Cincinnati. During Miller’s latter stint in Louisville, his mustache enjoyed a celebrity of its own, culminating in a Bats’ T-shirt giveaway that read “Fear the ‘Stache.”

Mike Hessman, Toledo Mud Hens

Mike Hessman’s career was capped by a crowning achievement: In 2015, the 6-foot-5 first baseman became Minor League Baseball’s all-time home run king. He earned that designation in his final season as a member of the Toledo Mud Hens, for whom he hit 184 of his 433 Minor League home runs.

Hessman had two stints in Toledo, from 2005-09 and 2014-15. Upon retiring he stayed within the Detroit Tigers system, working as a hitting coach. The Mud Hens, meanwhile, rechristened an area of their left-field concourse as the “Mike Hessman Home Run Alley.” Long may he reign.

Sean Kazmar, Gwinnett Stripers

When Sean Kazmar appeared in three games for the Atlanta Braves in 2021, it marked his first Major League appearance in over 12 years. He spent the bulk of his time in between playing for Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Stripers (originally known as the Braves).

Kazmar, a right-handed infielder, played for Gwinnett from 2013-21. In the process, he set the Atlanta organization’s all-time record for hits at the Triple-A level (675). Following Kazmar’s retirement, Gwinnett produced a bobblehead featuring the beloved franchise stalwart doffing his cap to the crowd.

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