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Baseball Analysis  Mike McCann / Minor Leagues

November 2002


By Mike McCann

In September, I gave some insight into the affiliations of Minor League Baseball. But now I'd like to elaborate on that and give some personal commentary on how I think things should be done. In other words, I hope that somebody associated with Minor League Baseball is reading this and agrees with what I'm saying. There are often questions that come up about how things are organized and why they are that way, so I'll attempt to answer some. To be honest though, I can't understand some things myself.

The main reason I chose to attack this topic now is because I was reading something about how the Kansas City Royals want to put a team in the Appalachian League. This is significant because it would force the league to 11 teams. An odd number of teams would wreak havoc on the schedule since an odd number of teams would force at least one team to sit idle each day. This would also cause the schedule to be extended by at least a week. The team also wouldn't have a place to play.

To me the location of the team is one of the biggest factors. There was talk about having it rotate between the Tri-Cities area (Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport) as all three cities are somewhat collocated. I guess that it could also play all road games, which would add a few home dates to each team, but I doubt that would happen. One other place I can think to put a team would be Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington last had an Appy League team in 1995, but I don't know what kind of shape the stadium that was used at that time is in now. Or maybe there is another city in that vicinity that could have a stadium ready by June.

Come to think of it, having an odd number of teams in a league wouldn't be that big of a deal. There are many instances in the past where a minor league had an uneven number of teams. My quick check shows that the last time this happened was in 1996 when the Appalachian League fielded 9 teams. In 1995, the River City Rumblers (who played in Huntington, WV) were a co-operative team, but they didn't return for the 1996 season. The Pulaski Rangers began play in 1997 to fill this void. So this shouldn't really be an issue.

To me, I think the issue is how we ended up here in the first place. I'll need to take a step back to explain. I know I've talked about the general organization before. 30 teams, 30 affiliates at each level. Simple enough. Only it's not that easy. At the AAA, AA, High A and Low A, this works. But for the Short Season A, Advanced Rookie and Rookie, it doesn't work. Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike the names of these levels?

The consistency of the lower levels seems so close, yet it is so far. There are 22 Short Season A teams (14 NY-Penn, 8 Northwest), 18 Advanced Rookie (10 Appalachian, 8 Pioneer) and 21 Rookie (14 Gulf Coast, 7 Arizona). Well, that was the split of the Rookie for last season. With the Rangers and Royals moving their Spring Training Camps from Florida to Arizona, I'd have to think their Rookie League teams would move too. Anyway, if you add it up, that totals 61 teams. Now if it were 60, each team could have 2 affiliates to mix and match as they please. But as you can see it doesn't add up. The Orioles and White Sox each have three affiliates, and the Royals are left with one. And the Royals don't like that they only have a Rookie level affiliate in this whole mess. So to appease them, they want to add an Appalachian League team for them.

I really think that the powers that be should have stepped in and prevented this from happening. The affiliation switch that takes place during the fall of the even numbered years basically ends up with a circle of changes. For instance, Team 1 affiliates with City A, Team 2 changes from City A to City B, Team 3 changes from City B to City C, and Team 3 goes from City C to City A. Circular. It has to work that way because each team has to have the same number of affiliates. Except that Minor League Baseball let things stray from this philosophy and we ended up where we are now.

Here is what happened... Spokane of the Northwest League went from the Royals to the Rangers, Pulaski of the Appalachian League went from the Rangers to the Blue Jays, Medicine Hat of the Pioneer League (which may be moving to Helena) went from the Blue Jays to the Brewers, Ogden of the Pioneer League went from the Brewers to the Dodgers, and Great Falls of the Pioneer League went from the Dodgers to the White Sox. To complete the circle, either Great Falls or Bristol of the Appalachian League should become a Royals affiliate. Only it didn't happen that way. Now the White Sox have two Advanced Rookie teams, and the Royals have none.

To me, the sensible thing is either to make Great Falls a Royals affiliate, or have the White Sox sell the Bristol franchise to the Royals. The former seems much easier, I think. But in these politics of baseball, we are left with creating an 11 team league rather than creating minor league consistency. Maybe one day, there will be 30 affiliates at each level, and parity will finally exist. Then again, official minor league baseball has been around for over 100 seasons, and it hasn't happened yet, so why should I believe it will happen anytime soon?

I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an email and let me know what would be interesting reading for you. Feel free to ask any questions or give an idea for a column.

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