Sunday, September 9, 2007

Minors in Trouble


(This is the first in a series of three stories covering conditions in minor leagues. The AP has surveyed 28 leagues including 234 teams to compile the series)
ATLANTA, Jan. 17 — The roots of baseball—the Minor leagues—are quivering because of money, manpower and the military.
Proposals to solve baseball's many problems before the opening of the 1951 season in February and March are varied. Some of these proposals unearthed in an Associated Press survey of 28 leagues and 224 teams may become happy solutions and give the little cities and towns of America and Canada the professional teams to which they've become accustomed.
Others may prove to be simply ill fated ideas which didn't work out.
Solutions range between one club owner's "I am finished" epitaph, to borrowing more money, hiring Cubans, finding new club owners, operating as six-team instead of eight-team leagues, and finally to a growing practice which sounds like the law of the jungle — the survival of the fittest.
A heavy sprinkling of Minor leagues, which once bred trained and promoted the Major league stars of today, are attempting to find replacements for defunct or dying teams by filling their ranks with teams from other leagues.
This policy, whether the switch is a promotion for a team to a higher classification league or a move to a league similar class, may save one league for operation this summer. But it also transfers trouble from one league to a less fortunate league.
There are dozens of proposals for team switching.
The Class C Rio Grande league plans to operate this summer but the league is in trouble. Plans hopefully hinge on finding a sixth team to replace fast growing Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus Christi left the Rio Grande to join the Gulf Coast, recently upped from Class C to Class B. Because of technicalities in scheduling, leagues need six or eight teams, preferably eight.
The once healthy Georgia-Florida league, which the majors consider one of the best Class D outfits, has lost a member—Tallahassee, Fla.—and may lose another—Thomasville, Ga. The Tallahassee franchise of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been placed at Brunswick, Ga. If Thomasville drops out the eighth team may become Tifton, Ga., of the Class D Georgia State. If Tifton goes into the Georgia-Florida, the apparently set Georgia State will be short and in trouble.
Owners of the 1950 championship Oil City, Pa., team of the Class C Middle Atlantic say they won't field a team this summer. Youngstown, Ohio, is a doubtful Middle Atlantic member since it has signified its intention to transfer to the Class A central league. A solution will be sought at a meeting Sunday. Every Middle Atlantic team lost money in 1950 and Vandergrift dropped out in mid season.
Class D, C and B lower minors aren't the only ones with troubles. The strong South Atlantic (Sally), usually one of the soundest of the four class A outfits, is worried about one of its members — Greenville, S. C. Sally President Earl Blue says he will know "soon" if Greenville will be able to solve its player shortage and operate in '51.
Baseball managers, unlike their football counterparts, are an optimistic breed. So are club directors and league presidents. Seldom do they predict anything short of "our greatest season in history is coming up," or "we're a pennant contender."
Optimism isn't anything like that high this season. Few if attendance to match the big year of 1947, 48-9.
As low as some presidents feel, there were no statements from any of the 28 leagues covered in the survey which said their leagues would not operate.
Few officials deny that some leagues are on the borderline of existence, but their inherent optimism keeps them from officially predicting the worst.
Many baseball men, however, will tell you unofficially and on condition that you won't use their names, that the face of minor league baseball soon will be changed radically because of war and mobilization.
And the face won't be lifted, they say. It will be lowered with dozens of teams going out of business.
(Tomorrow, the second installment outlines Major troubles besetting Minor leagues and teams and gives a list of 16 which are suffering)


(This is the second in a series of three stories on conditions in minor league baseball)

ATLANTA, Jan. 18. (AP)—In one short year the general condition of many minor baseball leagues has plummeted from hale and hearty to worried and wavering.
With the service draft growing larger practically every month, the supply of playing talent is shrinking. Attendance this season isn't expected to be anywhere near the money making voiume of the lush years of 19-17, '48 and '49.
Many minor leagues have lost their life-savings, farm system tie ups with major league teams. Salary demands by players are higher. Equipment costs are up. Many league presidents and club officials claim radio and television are rushing toward ruin.
Because of these and other reasons, the number of minor league teams already has shrunk and probably will shrink further before the season opens in April and May. Even the number of leagues probably will drop, taking down with them healthy teams.
The Associated Press has surveyed 28 leagues including 224 teams, and found that 16 of the leagues are having difficulties ranging from mild to near fatal.
Not one of the leagues, despite its degree of trouble, positively has given up hopes for operating this summer. Officials aren't yet prepared for the worst but meetings will be held late this month and early in February for further frantic efforts to find solutions to problems.
When attendance fell more than expected last summer, many teams gave up before the season ended. Others announced during the fall they would not open this season. Today, even more are in trouble.
Most of the leagues surveyed by the Associated Press are in the south but baseball officials at the December minor-major leagues meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla., said troubled conditions are reflected across the country. Here are some of the trouble spots and their causes:
Southeastern League, class B—Three teams missing, Anniston and Gadsden, Ala., and Vicksburg, Miss. Hoping at most for six-team operation instead of eight by getting Dothan from class D Alabama State.
Alabama State class D—Threatened with abandonment of several franchises.
Virginia league, class D—Emporia and Suffolk are undecided on future operations due to financial problems. The Washington Senators have pulled out of Emporia.
Blue Ridge, class D—Undecided if will operate.
Appalachian, class D— Pulaski and New River dropped out. Welch needs a major league hookup. Circuit hopes to operate as six-team outfit.
South Atlantic (Sally), class A—Greenville, S. C, has lost tieup with Brooklyn and has serious player shortage. League President Earl Blue says he will know "soon" if Greenville will manage to open the season.
Middle Atlantic, class C—Fate of the league is uncertain. Oil City, Pa., the 1950 pennant winner, has dropped out. Youngstown, Ohio, may shift to class A Central. Vandergrift dropped out last season.
Georgia-Florida, class D—Tallahassee, Fla., has dropped out and been replaced by Brunswick, Ga.; Thomasville, Fla., has lost backing of the Detroit Tigers and has 10 days to decide if it can make the 1951 grade. If Thomasville falls, Tifton, Ga., may be the replacement.
Georgia State, class D—Apparently in fair shape if Tifton does not go to the Georgia-Florida.
Georgia-Alabama, class D—League claims it lost patronage in 1950 because of televising of Atlanta games in class AA Southern Association. Newnan has dropped out and the search for a replacement is going on.
Evangeline, class C—Abbeville, La., will not operate under its old management and possibly won't operate at all. A replacement club may come from one of four possibilities. Two of the possibilities—Lake Charles and Crowley, La.—are members of class B Gulf Coast.
International, class AAA—Jersey City franchise transferred to Ottawa, Canada.
Tri-State, class B—Florence and Sumter, S. C., will be missing. League intends operating with only six clubs instead of eight.
Rio Grande, class C—Donna-Weslaco and Robstown gave up even before end of the 1950 season. The Rio Grande's hopes for 1951 hinge on getting a sixth team to replace Corpus Christi, Texas, which pulled out to join the Gulf Coast.
Gulf Coast, class B—Jackson-Leesville, La., and Lufkin, Texas, won't be in the league this season. Texas City will be one replacement.
East Texas, class C—The league makeup is uncertain.
Coastal Plain, class D—Two or three clubs are concerned over their financial setup but league plans to operate.
(The final installment in a three-story series, outlines methods some minor leagues will use
to combat their troubles.)


(This is the third and last in a series of stories on the prospects of minor league baseball in the current
national emerpency.)

ATLANTA, Jan. 19 (AP) — The gates of Minor league baseball again are opening wider for older players who otherwise might have had their last turn at bat.
Minor leagues across the nation are changing their regulations to allow clubs to hire some limited service and veteran players and fewer rookies.
The reason: older players are less likely to be drafted than youngsters.
This is one of several ways the Minors are combatting the effects of the military draft which already is causing a serious shortage of players.
The Associated Press, in a survey of 28 Minor leagues including 224 teams, fodnd also that many leagues have shortened or plan to shorten playing shedules. The survey was conducted to learn how the Minors are meeting problems caused by the draft and drops in attendance.
There will be more room in organized baseball for Cuban and South American players, several clubs said.
The minors will also go in far more for salesmanship and showmanship by providing numerous "prize nights" and pre-game shows.
Already there are scattered examples of increases in ticket prices and probably more will be announced before the spring training season opens in Februry and March.
Although none of the 28 leagues said definitely they would not operate this summer, many reported new financing and new backers for some of their clubs.
With several Major league teams tightening farm systems, additional Minor league clubs are looking for hookups which would at least assure them of a little help in finding players.
The lower Minors, the Class D, C and B leagues, always are first to feel the bite of the draft, players are younger and fewer saw service in World War Two. If congress decides to draft 18 year-olds the player pinch will be sharper than ever.
As drafts get larger and older men are called, higher Minor and Major leagues will find themselves with the same serious player shortage whch now besets the lower Minors.
The Class D Coastal Plain League already has voted to allow each club two more veteran players, making a total of four. A veteran is a player with three more years experience.
To meet the manpower shortage the Georgia-Florida, another class D outfit, changed its rookie law to require each team to have only five instead of seven rookies. Eight limited service men, players with less than three years but more than 45 days experience, are permissible instead of seven. Restrictions on the number of veterans also were lifted.
These changes are good examples, with minor variations in some leagues, of how player classifications are juggled to ease the effect of the draft.
Clubs in both the class B Florida International and the class D Florida State say they will use additional Cubans if the player situation gets worse. Lower class minor leagues in the southwest have included numerous Cubans and South Americans for several seasons and will again, probably in increasing numbers.
The days of 154-game schedules in small leagues apparently are over for several seasons to come. Even 140-game schedules are less numerous. Many Class D's are going to 126 games. Meanwhile, the higher minors are sticking with 154 games or more as in the case of the Texas and Pacific Coast league.
While the trend is toward fewer games, the class D North State league is increasing its season from 112 to 126 games.
During the next month dozens of league meetings will be held, in several cases, to decide if the leagues will operate at all this summer. The number of professional teams already is considerably smaller than it was in 1950 and it's due to drop again before the season.
Although no leagues surveyed have completely given up, there are several which will function as less profitable six-team instead of eight-team loops.
Privately baseball people say the number of lower minors still will be comparatively large at the beginning of the season but that many of them won't able to operate all summer.

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