The End of an Era for the Smokies Was Only the Beginning for Vernon Wells

Vernon Wells, now with the LA Angels, spent 1999 with the Smokies.

Vernon Wells, now with the LA Angels, spent 1999 with the Smokies.

The 1999 season was a time of beginnings and ends in the Smokies organization.  For Vernon Wells it was his first season with the Smokies, and later that year would be his first call-up to the Majors.  For Knoxville, it was the last season the Smokies would call Bill Meyer Stadium home.

Bill Meyer Stadium was the home of the Smokies organization from 1955-1999.  Though the organization began and ended its run at Bill Meyer as “The Knoxville Smokies”, the organization was also called the Knoxville White Sox (or Knox Sox) and the Knoxville Blue-Jays (or K-Jays).  Only in 2000, when the organization made the move from Bill Meyer (located in downtown Knoxville) to the Smokies’ current home of Smokies Park (the greater Sevierville area), did they become the Tennessee Smokies.

Bill Meyer Stadium during the 1995 Season. (Photo Courtesy:

Bill Meyer Stadium during the 1995 Season. Photo Courtesy:

For the Smokies this was the end of an era.  For Vernon Wells, he was just getting started.

Wells was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays as the 5th overall pick in 1997 MLB Draft.  He would spend the 1999 season with the Smokies (then the AA affiliate of the Blue Jays), Syracuse Sky Chiefs, and then was a September call-up to the majors.

During his time with the Smokies Wells played in 26 games batting .340 with 3 HR 6 Doubles and 17 RBI in 106 at bats.  He also showed his ability on defense with a 1.000 fielding percentage in 26 games as a Center Fielder.

Wells spent 8 full seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, winning 3 straight Gold Gloves.

Wells spent 8 full seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, winning 3 straight Gold Gloves.

Once Wells became an every day player beginning in the 2002 season for Toronto, he hit .275 with 23 home runs, 100 RBI and 87 runs.  He also began to set himself apart as one of the best defensive center fielders in the league committing only 3 errors in 394 chances.

Wells followed up by batting .317 in 2003 with 33 home runs, 117 RBI and 118 runs scored. He also led the league with 215 hits, 49 doubles, and 373 total bases and made his first All-Star Team.

Wells was rewarded for his defense with his first of 3 straight Gold Gloves in 2004.  In 2006, along with his Gold Glove, Wells hit 3 Home Runs in a game against the Boston Red Sox, a game-winning Home Run against Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, and collected his 500th RBI.  He was rewarded in the off-season with a new contract for $126 million over seven years.

Wells was plagued with injuries the next 4 seasons, including a shoulder injury in 2007, a broken wrist in 2008, and various hamstring injuries.  However, he was still producing.  Hitting the 1,500 hit milestone in 2010 and launching over 30 Home Runs, placing him in an elite class that includes former Smokies Carlos Delgado and Fred McGriff as Blue Jays players that had 3 or more seasons with 30 or more Home Runs.

Wells was traded after the 2010 season to the Los Angeles Angels for Catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera.  He got off to a slow start in his first season with his new team, but finished strong hitting 11 home runs in two months including the first pitch he saw in his return to Toronto as an Angel.

The upcoming season could be a struggle for Wells.  2012 was a down year with Wells getting only 262 plate appearances due to injury and lack of production.  In the offseason the Angels acquired Josh Hamilton from the Texas Rangers, signing Hamilton to a 5-year contract worth $125 million.

Due to the signing of Hamilton, Vernon Wells became the subject of trade rumors to various teams including the Philadelphia Phillies.  None of the rumors materialized due, in large part, to Wells’ large contract.

Vernon Wells now finds himself in a very similar position as he was in 1999 with the Smokies.  He will be working hard to earn playing time, and show his value to the Angels organization.

Jay Lifford is a Broadcast and Media Intern for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow Jay on Twitter here: @JayLifford

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