Minor league clubs in NY may lose big league affiliation under proposal

WASHINGTON, DC — On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer raised strong objections to a reported proposal from Major League Baseball (MLB) to restructure the minor league baseball system and dramatically reduce or significantly restructure the number of Upstate franchises that share an affiliation with a Major League club.

Earlier this week, news reports revealed that MLB is planning to take 42 teams that are currently affiliated with Major League teams and strip those organizations of their affiliations and reassign them to compete in a newly-formed, lower-caliber independent league, called the Dream League.

Reports indicate that MLB’s current proposal would eliminate the Major League affiliations of four teams across New York State: the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Batavia Muckdogs, Auburn Doubledays and Staten Island Yankees — and drastically alter the business plans of the Tri-City Valleycats, Hudson Valley Renegades and Brooklyn Cyclones.

Schumer criticized the proposal both for economic reasons and because the teams are entrenched parts of their hometown communities, with countless locals passionately supporting the teams and gleaning a sense of pride and joy from their success. Therefore, Schumer urged MLB to stop playing hardball, sit down with Minor League Baseball and work with local stakeholders on the ground to ensure that baseball — America’s past time — doesn’t become a part of Upstate New York’s past.

“Since World War II, minor league baseball has been sewn into the very fabric of Upstate New York, with teams having passionate local fan bases and acting as beloved components of their home communities. To learn, then, that MLB might be playing hardball with teams in Binghamton, Batavia, Auburn, and Staten Island, and planning to strike them out of their major league affiliations and to drastically alter the business plans of the Capital Region, Hudson Valley, and Brooklyn teams was startling to say the least,” said Senator Schumer. “These franchises are cherished by their communities in New York, and since demoting them to a new independent league could have a devastating impact, I’m urging MLB to stop, sit down with community leaders, local stakeholders and Minor League Baseball to rework this plan as soon as possible. Baseball is our nation’s—and New York’s—pastime, and we must do everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t become a forgotten part of Upstate’s past.”

Schumer pointed to a recent report in the New York Times, which claimed that MLB is planning to significantly reduce the number of minor league baseball teams that share an affiliation with a major league club. Reporting suggests that there are plans to reduce the number of affiliated minor league teams from 160 to 118, with those downgraded teams then competing in the newly-established Dream League.

Schumer said that while further details are still needed, these reports indicate that determinations, as reflected in the initial proposal, of which teams would potentially lose their affiliation and be reassigned to the Dream League were based, at least in part, on the level of interest and investment in the teams and their facilities. Schumer explained that while he supports MLB’s effort to ensure minor league teams provide players and fans with a high quality experience and safe and reliable facilities, he is deeply concerned about the impact the relegations of these 42 teams to the Dream League may have on their local communities.

Specifically, Schumer emphasized the potentially negative impact that such a plan could have on local communities across New York State, including Auburn, Batavia, Binghamton and Staten Island, all of which may be impacted by the restructuring of the minor leagues and establishment of the Dream League. Schumer urged MLB, that if the reports are true, to please reconsider such plans. The teams, Schumer argued, have woven themselves into the fabric of these towns and cities across New York State, and upending that relationship could be devastating for both those fans and local communities alike.

For example, the Auburn Doubledays have been playing in Central New York, in different forms and with different MLB affiliations, since 1958. The Binghamton Rumble Ponies have been a mainstay of the city since 1992. The Staten Island Yankees moved to New York City in 1999 and have been a beloved component of their community ever since. And lastly, the Batavia Muckdogs were established in 1939, with minor league baseball having a strong presence in Upstate New York’s GLOW Region since the earliest parts of World War II.

Beyond diminishing fans’ connections with their local minor league teams and teams’ connections with their local communities, Schumer said, the potential restructuring could have a negative impact on local economies of Binghamton, Auburn, Batavia and Staten Island, as well. While the minor league games are attractions both for members of the local community as well as visiting fans and players, it is possible the Dream League may not be as significant an attraction. Furthermore, the teams’ affiliations with major league teams have proven to be a valuable association and the loss of this affiliation could have ripple effects on the local economy beyond just game attendance and to branding opportunities, merchandise sales and tourism dollars. Therefore, Schumer said that the loss of major league affiliations for any of these four teams could have the added consequence of minimizing a valuable source of revenue in these communities.

Additionally, Schumer noted, the minor league restructuring presents the potential elimination of the New York-Penn League, which he strongly urged MLB to reconsider. Having just celebrated its 80th anniversary, the NY-Penn League has been a staple of summer for baseball fans across New York State for decades. Schumer said that its short-season schedule has been ideal for New York baseball fans; starting in mid-June following the end of the colder spring weather and running through the remainder of the summer months.

Furthermore, the NY-Penn League is also the first stop for many of baseball’s top prospects and finest upcoming talents after the MLB Amateur Draft. Schumer said that in Upstate New York, fans often have a deep-rooted affinity for many of these players that they have watched grow up and go on to excel in the Major Leagues. So, Schumer also urged MLB to rethink the potential dissolution of the NY-Penn League, to protect this important experience for local fans.

Since discussions between MLB and Minor League Baseball on the potential realignment of teams are ongoing, and given just how important these teams are to their local communities in New York State, Schumer urged MLB and Minor League Baseball to immediately engage with stakeholders on the ground to get their input and perspective on the proposed plan. Specifically, he called on MLB to sit down and talk with community leaders, team owners and representatives from the minor leagues to ensure that all of the parties have the opportunity to provide feedback and propose constructive solutions prior to any final decisions being made.

Schumer argued that the decisions regarding the future of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Batavia Muckdogs, Auburn Doubledays and Staten Island Yankees are too important to their corresponding communities to be made exclusively in a board room, and that there must be active engagement with the local communities to ensure that all interests — of fans, players, towns, the teams and Major and Minor League Baseball — are appropriately considered.

Schumer said that baseball is this country’s national pastime and part of the very fabric of the United States. This, Schumer argued, is based in no small part on the fact that baseball can be found in every state, not just in big cities with major league clubs but in smaller cities and towns with minor league clubs as well, like Auburn, Binghamton, Batavia and Staten Island. Therefore, Schumer said, there must be a concerted effort to make sure that communities across the state continue to have access to and a connection with their local teams. Schumer maintained this is critical to ensuring that the fabric of the nation remains unbroken and that a love for the game of baseball continues to be discovered and nurtured in communities both big and small.