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Schumer, elected officials urge MLB to back off reported minor-league plan

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Although Major League Baseball officials have not confirmed it, numerous published reports suggest a plan is under consideration to shuffle minor league affiliations and player development models. More than 40 minor league clubs, including four in New York State, would lose their affiliations and, most likely, their futures.

As first reported by Baseball America, the proposal would include the elimination of affiliations with 42 minor league clubs at the end of the 2020 season. It would also eliminate short-season leagues including the Class A level  New York-Penn League, which began in 1939.

Among the teams affected would be the Batavia Muckdogs, affiliates of the Miami Marlins. The Auburn Doubledays, Staten Island Yankees and Binghamton Rumble Ponies would also be affected. The latter currently plays in the Class AA Eastern League but according to the reported proposal, current New York-Penn League team Brooklyn Cyclones would replace the Rumble Ponies as the New York Mets' Class AA affiliate.

Sen. Charles Schumer on Wednesday called on Major League Baseball officials to put such plans on hold.

"Today, while negotiations are still ongoing, I'm urging MLB to immediately step up to the plate, halt this plan and sit down with community leaders and local stakeholders on the ground, and with Minor League Baseball, to hear them out on their potential concerns and try to rework the plan as soon as possible, so we can ensure that baseball remains in these communities for years to come," Schumer said.

According to the senator, many of the clubs reportedly affected date back to before World War II. The Batavia Muckdogs were founded in 1939, originally as the Batavia Clippers. Through the years, as the team competed in the New York Penn League, the club was also known as the Indians, Pirates, Trojans and again the Clippers before becoming known as the Muckdogs in 1998.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul told Spectrum News' New York State of Politics that she, too, is urging Major League Baseball to hold back on any plans, both as an elected official and as a baseball fan.

"If you’re in Batavia or anywhere nearby, you love the Muckdogs," Hochul told the outlet. "I’ve been to many of their games. I’ve thrown out opening pitches. My husband and I slip in there at least once or twice a year to catch a game so it’s part of the identity of the community and especially these small towns, I mean Batavia has a lot going for it but part of it is being associated with a minor league baseball team."

Hochul also pointed to New York State's role in growing the sport of baseball, noting that Auburn's team names itself the Doubledays. Abner Doubleday, a Civil War hero, was credited in the earliest days of baseball with inventing the sport in Cooperstown, New York. Baseball historians have since debunked that story, though the stadium adjacent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is named Doubleday Field.

Schumer says many small towns look to their minor league baseball teams as both cultural fabrics and economic engines. Rep. Tom Reed, during his weekly conference call with news media, recalled attending games in Central New York when he was younger and called small-town baseball clubs "Americana."

"The bottom line, hopefully we can continue the vibrant legacy of Minor League Baseball in New York," Reed said. "I applaud Senator Schumer in regards to his efforts to lead on this issue. I know he's taken up the mantel to try and protect some of those New York teams. It's something we should be proud of and we should encourage to continue to exist in our community."

The Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings, both Class AAA level clubs, would not be affected by the reported plan. Buffalo-based Rich Baseball Operations, the Bisons' owner, also owns two minor league teams outside of Western New York. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals would not be affected by the proposed realignment.

Rich Baseball's other out-of-town franchise, the West Virginia Black Bears, was not identified by published reports as a club slated to lose affiliation. But as members of the New York-Penn League, it's unknown how the latter franchise would continue to operate if the plan were to be implemented.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.