OMNI September 2020

Since I launched this site about three years ago, I’ve been had a consistent pattern of posting an OMNI every two months. The only exception was two years ago–September 2018–when I did I few extras because there was a glut of minor league news. At that time, the big excitement was the PDC open signing period. This every-two-years event (which I would get stoked for in the same way others do for the NFL draft or whatever) is now a thing of the past. 

This extra OMNI in September 2020 is also spurred on by behind-the-scenes MLB/MiLB interplay, but this time around, the news is related to the broader and more ominous PBA negotiations. Plus, there are some other bits of news that would otherwise bloat the October OMNI. I still expect to put that up around Halloween, so I’ll avoid bloating that edition by delivering some of those goods here on the last day of September. 

MLG News

The biggest change to Minor League Geek since the August OMNI is that just a few days into September, my WordPress account finally switched over to the long-anticipated and widely-derided Gutenberg editing platform. It was a bigger change than I thought it would be. This is very “how the sausage is made,” but the main change with Gutenberg is that things like images, paragraphs, and even spaces are individual “blocks” rather than one big MS Word-like document for a webpage. I had a mini freakout at first, especially when I realized that I didn’t have the option to revert to the classic editor like a great many WordPress editors (who use the downloaded version rather than the web editor) have done. I even kicked the tires on switching over to Squarespace or another platform. 

But I’ve gotten used to Gutenberg and have found that once I learned a few tricks, it has some advantages over the classic system. What really sucks is that any time I edit an existing page–including something petty like adding a hyperlink or fixing a typo–all the pre-existing spaces are eliminated, meaning images are stacked on top of each other and natural spaces between between places like the title and the main text go away. So then I have to manually add blocks for each image and “spacer blocks” between them. Depending on the size of the team page, this could take upwards of an hour. So, yeah, I’ll be chipping away at that for the next few years. Luckily, the pages will remain as they were until I edit them, so I won’t edit unless I’m prepared to overhaul an entire page. 

As far as new content goes, I have been using Gutenberg to crank out some new team pages and seem to have good momentum for that this fall and will report back on progress in a month. The lion’s share of my MLG time, however, is wrapped up with the Professional Baseball Agreement and the tectonic plates that are starting to shift underneath the minor leagues. I’m putting this OMNI together on September 30, and today is the last day of the current PBA, and there will be no renewal before the expiration at midnight. It’s the end of an era. 

I’m expecting that a deal of some kind will be reached in time for a season in 2021, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if the season is shortened or otherwise abnormal due to the pandemic. I write about that here, in one of the nine articles I wrote about the PBA in September that I’ve called “Last-Month Minis.” Even though we’ve hit the expiration date of the current PBA, and there’s no announcement about the new minors or the list of 120 affiliated teams, there’s still plenty of peripheral things to consider. 

It’s a time of change. Let’s dig in. 

News of Minor Interest

Pat O’Conner retired from his role as President and CEO of MiLB. You can read a good summary of his career–beginning in 1981 as an administrative assistant with the Vero Beach Dodgers–in this article. O’Conner’s retirement (and a huge part of his legacy) is tied up in the tumultuous past year of exchanging haymakers with MLB and grappling with the affects of the pandemic. If you have an Athletic subscription, make sure to read this interview he did with Evan Drellich. It shines a light on some of the reasons for the current shakeup of the minors, and makes it seem like change has been brewing for some time.

O’Conner stepping down makes it all but certain that MiLB, as a separate entity with its own office, is unlikely to continue moving forward. But the end of MiLB is expected to come about as a result of legal agreements in a new PBA, and there is no new PBA yet. So technically, MiLB is still an independent entity unless that changes in a new PBA. As of tomorrow, there is legally no such thing as affiliated baseball. Except maybe for the MiLB teams owned by MLB teams. OK, it’s complicated, people! 

More big news! It’s official–the Appalachian League will continue as a summer collegiate league under the auspices of MLB and USA Baseball. I won’t get into the nitty gritty–it’s not minor league baseball, after all–but the one interesting feature of league mechanics is that it is targeted toward college sophomores and to-be juniors rather than those about to enter their senior year as they prepare for the draft. While I certainly expected this to happen, I’m surprised at how satisfied and relieved I am that the league itself (founded in 1911) can continue to exist, even if in a new form. 

One piece of information that stood out to me is the casual mention that all ten current Appy League cities are going to continue in the new collegiate league. This stands out to me because Pulaski has been long-rumored to be getting a bump up to full-season affiliated ball, with the Carolina League as a possible destination. I’m not too surprised to see this. In some of my recent spreadsheets, I’ve been keeping Pulaski out for the simple reason that there are too many teams at the Single-A levels and not enough spots. It’s nigh-impossible to add Pulaski yet also keep fourteen teams in the Midwest League or six teams in the Northwest. 

Having the Appy switch over to non-affiliated summer collegiate ball also means that the ten teams–all COTOBs–will need new branding. The press release specifies that all ten teams will have identities with regional flair. Since we’re already in this deep, I’ll go ahead and share my suggestions for new team identities. Some of these are based on resurrecting old nicknames, and I had a blast pawing through my Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball to find some historical options. Others require a little more current thinking. If you’ll indulge me, here are my name suggestions–none of which will see the light of day. 

  • Bluefield is a long-time minor league market, but there are few historical options to choose from. They were the Orioles for so long, and their old tyme nickname–Blue-Grays–is historically interesting yet fraught with political tension. Bluefield’s Bowen Field is in a city park that literally straddles the border between Virginia and West Virginia, so you can see the reason for that old Union/Confederacy nickname. Let’s update it to reflect the unique geographic position and also tip a wing to the Orioles and Blue Jays history. Let the Bluefield Border Birds take flight. Team colors could be blue (WV state color, Blue Jays history) and orange (University of VA color, Orioles’ history) and the diagonal line that forms the NW-SE border line between the states on Bluefield’s map could be incorporated for diagonal lettering or some sort of unique jersey design. Million dollar idea, baby. 
  • Bristol, Virginia, has a couple of mildly interesting heritage nicknames, including Boosters and State Liners. But their Wikipedia page (at least as of this writing) says that they have an alternate nickname of “Scooter Doggies.” I can find no other evidence of this, but I fully support the Bristol Scooter Doggies
  • Burlington and/or Alamance has mostly used COTOB identities over the years, but the unique one that stands out from the middle of the 20th Century is a same name/different city with an Iowa-based club that is conveniently leaving the affiliated minor leagues with the expiration of the PBA. Although I expect Burlington, Iowa, to continue buzzing as the Bees in their new league–likely the indy American Association–perhaps we’ll have two non-affiliated versions of the Burlington Bees moving forward. 
  • Danville has had some minor league teams with great names over the past 100+ years. Some of their agricultural heritage names like Tobacconists and Leafs wouldn’t fly today. While I could get behind their 1911 moniker, the Bugs, I think it makes sense to bring back their 1998 Carolina League placeholder team–the Danville 97s.
  • Elizabethton, also called “Betsy Town” used to use names like Elizabethton Betsy Red Sox and Elizabethton Betsy Cubs. But with tongue at least partially in cheek, I say we return to a name they used in ’49 and ’50–it’s time to resurrect the flashy and highly marketable Elizabethton Betsy Local
  • Greeneville, Tennessee, returned to the Appalachian League relatively recently, and their previous teams (’21-’25, ’38-’42) were called the Burley Cubs. Though they were affiliated with Chicago in the second iteration, the old nickname seems to have been incidental. But the new team can’t be called the Burley Cubs. Let’s dub them the Greeneville Gremlins
  • Johnson City used to have teams called the Soldiers, but that’s not a good 21st Century nickname. Johnson City is a music town, so I’ll name them after the Old Crow Medicine Show song that I think about whenever I hear the city name. Let’s roll with the Johnson City Wagon Wheels
  • Kingsport has mostly used COTOBs through the years, so we’ll have to give them something new. Before the Tennessee City was called Kingsport, it was called Salt Lick, TN. I give you the Kingsport Salt Lickers
  • Princeton, West Virginia, has only had a minor league team since joining the Appy in ’88, and they are actually one of the few teams in the league to have had a unique moniker in the modern era. The Princeton Patriots were a one-year wonder in 1990. But that’s a boring name already used by an NFL team as well as the Somerset club that’s expected to move from the Atlantic to the Eastern League. So let’s give them something that says something about the Mountain State. When the NY-Penn League’s Black Bears were booted up some years back, my favorite of the name-the-team options was Coal Sox. Tempting, but let’s avoid the negative connotations of extractive industry and go with West Virginia’s state fossil. Bring on the Princeton Ground Sloths.
  • Pulaski is a total no-brainer. Their heritage nickname could be repurposed in several marketable ways. Bring back the Pulaski Counts! They could go with a Count Dracula theme, and then they’d perfectly epitomize the Vampire Identity phenomenon. 

Thanks for letting me get that out of my system. Moving on. 

In other not-so-surprising news, MLB officially announced partnership with the independent American Association, Atlantic League, and Frontier League. I’m not going to get too far into the weeds here, but there are some broader and more conspiratorial theories tossed around–Manfred’s “One Baseball” monopoly effort, using this as leverage in the new PBA, etc. But the immediate practical applications of these partnerships are the potential transfer of teams (St. Paul, Sugar Land, Somerset, maybe more) from the indies to affiliated ball, and the potential transfer of several currently-affiliated teams to the indies. Having a partnership should ease legalities surrounding the transfers and help to keep the teams more or less as fans expect them. For example, the Lexington Legends have basically already joined the Frontier League via their Covid-ball fling with Florence. 

Speaking of the pandemic, the last domino for the 2020 minor league season inevitably fell as the Arizona Fall League was cancelled. Taking its place is instructional leagues set up in spring training complexes, and I think the overall effect will be pretty similar to the AFL.

OK, let’s get on to some fun stuff. 

Odds and Sods

If it had happened, the minor league season would have ended earlier this month. The 160 teams had varying levels of activity and different ways to approach a season deferred. Ben Hill did a great summary of these, and it will be good to reference this for future curiosity. When life returns to normal–or at least settles into (ugh) a “new normal”–we’ll realize that any one of these things would be bizarre on their own. Instead, 2020 is like a big boiling stew of weirdness and it will be engrossing to pick through it all years from now. 

On the branding front, the big, big news is that the Beloit Snappers will be changing their name in 2021. Beloit has used the same moniker and Snappy logo since 1995, when they went from being the COTOB Beloit Brewers to being one of the most ubiquitous brands of the nineties. I have a strong personal connection with both the team and the brand. It’s not a stretch to say that I don’t think I would be doing this site today if it wasn’t for seeing that Snappy logo back in the nineties–it really threw a log on the fire of my minor league interest as a youngster. I’ll probably write something up about it down the road.

I’m not emotional or broken up by “losing” the Snappers. Life is full of endings, and honestly, I’m somewhat shocked that Beloit was able to avoid relocation and continue to play in Pohlman Field for so many years. They were on the original list of 42 teams to lose their PDC last fall, and it’s like they slid on their greased turtle shell under the closing door. They made it, but there’s a price to pay. 

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One thing I really appreciate is that new team owner Quint Studer simply and honestly laid out the reasoning for the name change. I recommend reading that entire interview. He goes as far as giving some financial estimates and the importance of beefing up merch sales in order to fund the operational expenses and new stadium costs. They will also be doing “Snapper Sundays” where they wear throwback uniforms and Snappy the costumed turtle mascot will make the move to the new stadium. 

As for the new name possibilities, they are a pretty boilerplate list of Brandiose-era Wisconsin regional nods: Cheeseballs, Moo, Polka Pike, Sky Carp, and Supper Clubbers. There is technically a fan vote, but these things are well-known to be shams. Usually, the name has already been chosen and work has already begun on the logos by the time the votes are counted. I’ve been wrong before, but I expect Cheeseballs to be the most likely outcome. That would be the most palatable to me as well. I asked my daughters (they love it when there are name possibilities for any team) and they also picked Cheeseballs. But then again, the curds don’t fall far from the, uh, cheese wheel. 

One of the more interesting parts of this Snappers saga is that they will be playing every remaining home game at Pohlman Field as the Snappers. The new ballpark is expected to open sometime in the summer, and they’ll switch over with the grand opening. Now, it’s possible that the minor league season could be delayed or even cancelled due to Covid and/or lack of a new PBA, so maybe this is a moot point. But if this Snapper situation does come to pass, it begs a question for me here on the site. In my “year of demise” process, would I consider the Beloit Snappers to be RIP 2020 or RIP 2021? I’m leaning toward the latter.

On a similar note, I never expected this to be an issue, but I’m also trying to figure out what to do with teams like the Pawtucket Red Sox and the other multitude of teams/identities that won’t be in affiliated ball moving forward. The Paw Sox didn’t play a game in 2020, so did they “die” in 2019? I guess I’ll let some of the bigger questions–like the fate of the leagues–be settled before I make any firm decision. 

In Memoriam 

We lost two all-time great baseball legends this month in Tom Seaver and Lou Brock. Some day, I’ll be making a page for Seaver on the MLG HOF page, but his affiliated minor league career is pretty quickly summarized. He pitched in 34 games for the Triple-A Jacksonville Suns in 1966, broke camp in ’67 with the Mets, and never looked back. Seaver played twenty seasons in the majors and his cumulative career WAR (per Baseball Reference) is a ridiculous 109.9, good for sixth best among pitchers all time. Underrated?

As for Lou Brock, I probably won’t be making a page for him anytime soon because he made his MLB debut just before the Upheaval. But his minor league career was a blink. The Cubs signed him out of college in 1961 and assigned him to the St. Cloud Rox of the old Northern League. Brock raked in St. Cloud that summer, winning the batting title with a .361 average. He was a September call-up that year and made his major league debut with Chicago. The Cubs famously traded him to their archrival Cardinals in ’64, and the rest is history. I’m a big fan of the old Northern League, and am very pleased that we have at least one picture of Brock with the Rox. Both Seaver and Brock will be remembered. 

That’s all the news that fit to print for now. Until next time–likely late October–be well and thank you for reading.