Imagine a summer without baseball.
After one more season of Appalachian League baseball, your imagination might not be needed.
It could very well become reality.
There could be no more Bristol Pirates, Johnson City Cardinals, Elizabethton Twins, Kingsport Mets, Bluefield Blue Jays or even Pulaski Yankees.
The Appalachian League, which first began play in 1911, could come to an end, seemingly like the complete game, World Series games played during the day and the hit-and-run.
Baseball has become a sport of home runs and strikeouts. Here is hoping this proposal is a big swing and a miss.
No more Appalachian League? Pardon the poor grammar, but in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal, say it ain’t so, Major League Baseball, say it ain’t so.
Major League Baseball has had a Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) with Minor League Baseball since 1903. It has continued on for more than a century, without much interference from the MLB.
That could change in a radical way when its current agreement ends after the 2020 season, which is next summer. That’s right, one more year of Appalachian League baseball could be all that remains.
A proposal – and that is all it is as of now - calls for a radical reorganization of the minor leagues, including the disbanding of as many as 42 teams, which would put an end to short-season and rookie league classifications like the Appalachian League.
More than 160 teams could be whittled down to 120.
In MLB’s mind, this would be progress.
In the small towns and cities that comprise the 10-team Appalachian League, it would be anything but. A league that has been part of the region since 1911 could disappear from the baseball landscape…forever.
There is currently no limit of how many minor league teams a major league club can operate. The New York Yankees – yes, the mighty Yankees – have nine teams, including three rookie-level clubs and a Dominican Summer League club. Under this proposal, teams will be able to have only five clubs, four full season and one rookie league team that would operate spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.
Think George Steinbrenner would let that happen to his team?
There isn’t a lot of money being made in the Appalachian League. The teams are just trying to survive, providing a service not only to the players and their affiliates, but to the communities that call them home.
What MLB wants through this proposal is costly, including better facilities at the minor league level - a definite issue in places like Bristol – reorganizing the higher minor leagues to require less travel and working to address the growing cry of better wages for minor leaguers.
Jobs will be lost. Teams will be limited to 150 to 200 players on contract. The Major League Amateur Draft would drop to 20 or 25 rounds since there wouldn’t be a need for more.
So-called fringe players like Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza – who was a 62nd round pick in 1988 – or Bluefield product and current San Francisco Giants outfield Kevin Pillar, who was picked in the 32nd round in 2011 - may have never gotten a chance.
If the Appalachian League was to disband, local professional baseball would disappear. Some clubs like Pulaski could attract an Independent or college level wooden bat team, but for others, local diamonds would remain quiet, dark and empty.
It is difficult enough for teams like Bristol to get fans at their games. Who, other than your most diehard baseball fans – and those appear to be shrinking with every pitching change - are going to those games. Worst yet, there will be little chance of ever seeing a future major leaguer, which is one of the many appeals of the Appalachian League.
Now that is a depressing thought.
Expect this proposal to get more attention when the Winter Meetings are held in December. In reading the comments from Jeff Lantz, senior director of communications for Minor League Baseball, this was supposed to have been kept quiet until then.
Instead it broke as the World Series began.
Efforts to get comments from local executives with area teams were met with the same refrain: Contact Lantz, who can’t say much either.
Appalachian League baseball is not only an economic boom for the 10 towns that comprise the circuit, but it provides residents with a fun, reasonably priced entertainment alternative. That will be gone if baseball ceases to exist.
An election year approaches. You will hear the phase “It is time for a change” so many times you will want to shut off the TV, cancel the newspaper – please don’t – stay off social media, and you might even want to go into hiding for a few months.
We all have our opinions. Some are happy with how things are, others want change. Whether that change is for the better remains to be seen.
As for the Appalachian League, there is no discussion needed.
Baseball happens every summer in places like Bristol and the rest of the towns fortunate enough to field an Appalachian League team.
Let’s keep it that way.
Save the Appalachian League. I think we can all agree that it’s worth saving.