A proposed minor-league restructuring plan would be a sad day for baseball.
Last November, news came out that Major League Baseball was looking to make changes to the structure of the Minor League Baseball organization that would cut back a substantial number of teams. SF Giants and Oakland Athletics’ affiliates were potentially affected.
Fast forward to a report on Tuesday from Baseball America by JJ Cooper. The report stated that MILB was on the verge of accepting changes that would see the leagues cut back 42 of the current 160 teams, with two independent league teams joining the organization.
"MiLB and MLB are expected to discuss the parameters of a system where the two sides could work together to ensure that most of the cities that currently have affiliated baseball will have ties to MLB clubs, even if those cities’ teams will not be fielding draftees and signees of the MLB club. It wouldn’t be MLB’s initial proposal, but a system that has been adjusted to give those cities a better chance of having a viable long-term baseball operation."
The Associated Press also reported a similar scenario based on its own sources.
Minor League Baseball disputes the reports and released a statement late Tuesday.
"“Recent articles on the negotiations between MiLB and Major League Baseball (MLB) are largely inaccurate. There have been no agreements on contraction or any other issues. MiLB looks forward to continuing the good faith negotiations with MLB [Wednesday] as we work toward an agreement that best ensures the future of professional baseball throughout the United States and Canada.”"
The Giants have one affiliate that was originally listed among those that would be eliminated, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, as do the Athletics (the Burlington Lake Monsters), both in short-season ball, essentially the starting point for newly drafted players.
Cooper notes that the sides are working toward a deal that would still “have baseball with ties to MLB.” One idea is a “Dream League” for undrafted players, while another is wooden bat leagues for college prospects,” which brings to mind the Cape Cod league or Alaskan league. They may also be along the lines of the Frontier League.
MILB’s reported willingness to reach an agreement could be due to COVID-19 causing sports around North America to come to a complete halt, affecting revenues the organization’s affiliates greatly need.
Regardless of the ideas being floated, it’s hard to find any positive thoughts about this outcome. The connection and feeling of pride that comes with a minor league team is almost hard to put into words.
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To be sure, there will always be baseball. Whether it’s a college team, high school team, Little League team, American Legion team, some adult league, maybe an independent league, that first childhood connection to the sport should remain for most people. No one is taking away baseball with this plan.
But for fans in 42 cities, it’s severing some of the connection that makes minor leagues especially fun: the chance to see some future star ballplayer in an intimate setting.
I grew up in dusty northern Michigan, a connection that maybe doesn’t mean much for what is probably a mostly California-based readership. I can still remember the day the West Michigan Whitecaps were announced. They were to play in a suburb of Grand Rapids, about 100 miles down the road.
At the time they were the Oakland A’s Low-A affiliate. Today they’re associated with the Tigers.
To a kid growing up playing baseball on a dirt field near a smelly cow farm, 250 miles or so northwest of Detroit, having a minor league team — with actual real prospects, some of whom would become major leaguers! — within a day trip’s drive was the greatest thing ever.
That was bright lights and big city, complete with baseball stars, to a smalltown kid. The pride they felt in Grand Rapids must have been even greater.
Just think of it, every day you might be seeing a future Hall of Famer on your own city’s team or its opponents. Years in the future, you can watch a player in the All-Star Game and reminisce about when he was a baby-faced 19-year-old staying in some friend or family member’s spare bedroom.
That’s just one of the things that makes minor league baseball cool.
Baseball in Grand Rapids and other nearby cities remains safe, but it’s sad to think of the heartbreak so many other communities will soon feel, and its unlikely a wooden bat summer league’s going to replace the loss.
It’s not just the short-season or Rookie level cities that will be affected. While the plan might be to cut those leagues, the reconfiguration of MILB means that four cities that had Double-A affiliates may lose their teams in the future. Four more cities with High-A affiliates were among the proposed cuts last November, too.
You might not have a lot of prospects at the Rookie level, but you certainly do by High-A or Double-A. That’s a connection lost, just so MLB can exert a little more control.
All in all, it’s a sad day for baseball. Maybe necessary, maybe not. But sad, nonetheless.