Soulless Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is determined to squeeze the life out of the game's minor leagues.
When the 2021 season begins, and no one knows when that might be since COVID-19 wiped out 2020, minor league baseball will be minus about 40 established franchises. Other leagues will be reclassified.
Designated for an overhaul is the Appalachian League, founded in 1911, which fielded 10 teams scattered throughout Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee's picturesque mountains.
Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken, Jr, and flamethrower Nolan Ryan got their baseball starts in the Appy Summer League. But when the decade-long Professional Baseball Agreement with the Minor Leagues ended after the 2020 non-season, Manfred determined that the rookie level Appy League would lose its professional status, and become a summer college wood bat league.
Manfred's money-driven decision reduces baseball opportunities for aspiring young players, and eliminates jobs for local workers.
Manfred's slash and burn approach to eliminating the minor leagues is irreversible. Going back is impossible, so a step back in time to remember earlier eras' great minor league teams that thrilled fans, bonded communities and, like the Appy League, provided a launching pad for baseball's all-time greats is in order.
The San Francisco Seals' Pacific Coast League tenure began in 1903 and is one of baseball's most storied franchises. In 1909, the Seals racked up an astonishing 132-80 record. During the league's existence, 200-game long seasons were common. Since late-spring through early-fall weather in cities like Seattle, Portland and San Diego was mild, playing a 200-game schedule was easy.
Yankees star Joe DiMaggio and the Seals are synonymous. In 1933, DiMaggio played his first Seals game as a shortstop (while his older brother Vince patrolled center field). Before long, DiMaggio took his accustomed place in center.
During his rookie season, DiMaggio strung together a league record 61-game hitting streak. Before long, DiMaggio was in New York Yankees' pinstripes, and led the Bronx Bombers to nine World Series titles in his 13-year career that ran from 1936 to 1951.
When DiMaggio's Hall of Fame career ended, he had achieved the remarkable feat of averaging only 34 strike outs in 716 annual plate appearances. Joltin' Joe's consecutive game hitting streak will never be broken. Father Gabriel Costa, a U.S. Military Academy mathematics professor, broke down Joe D.'s streak, and although considered one of the most unassailable baseball records, fans underappreciate the achievement's magnitude.
Arcadia Publishing's book, "San Francisco Seals," described DiMaggio as a legend who could "do it all," run, throw, hit and field." Moreover, authors Martin Jacobs and Jack McGuire wrote, DiMaggio had "plenty of guts and hustle," and his "mind was always ahead of the game."
Down through the years, many great Seals stories have been told and retold. The best among them involves the team's fastidious multimillionaire owner, Paul Fagan.
In February, 1950, Fagan banned husked peanuts' sale in Seals Stadium, and instead offered fans salted peanuts. Fagan had done the math, and in a written statement, complained that "We lose five cents on every bag of peanuts sold in the ballpark. That's $20,000 a year. It costs us 7 1/2 cents to pick up the husks and our profit on a dime bag is just 2 1/2 cents. The goober has to go."
Backlash was immediate. C.L "Brick" Laws, who owned the Seals' cross-bay rival Oakland Oaks, chided Fagan. Laws asked Fagan if he planned to delete "buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks... " in the old Tin Pan Alley song "Take Me Out to the ballgame." A day later, Fagan relinquished, ruefully admitting that "Mr. Peanut wins."
In his autobiography, Di Maggio explained why the league was minor league players' preferred destination. "I had the good luck to spend my entire minor league career in the PCL, in which all travel and accommodations were first-class, and with my hometown team, the San Francisco Seals, at that."
Years ago, I met a 92-year-old San Francisco native who told me that the Seals, driven out of town in 1958 by the ML--Giants, "are still number one in my heart," a sentiment that most minor league team rooters share.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at [email protected]