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General History

The History & Function of Minor League Baseball

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now known as Minor League Baseball, was formed Sept. 5, 1901, from a meeting of Minor League executives at the Leland Hotel in Chicago. The President of the Eastern League, Patrick T. Powers, was elected as the first President of the NAPBL. Fourteen leagues and 96 clubs were members during the first season in 1902. The first NA office was established in Auburn, New York, under President Powers and successfully run by Secretary-Treasurer John H. Farrell. By the time Powers left office in 1909, there were 35 leagues and 246 clubs.

In 1910, Michael Sexton became President. In his first few years, wars between the Major Leagues and the outlaw Federal League hurt Minor League Baseball. The Federal League raided top Minor League Baseball teams, as well as National and American League teams, for players and territory. Sexton led a fight at the 1914 Baseball Winter Meetings to ward off a bid from radicals for Minor League Baseball to desert the Major Leagues and back the Federal League. For 22 years, Sexton presided over Minor League Baseball, leaving at the height of the Depression in 1932. But during his time, peace was restored and the Minor Leagues began to flourish.

At the Winter Meetings of 1932, Judge William G. Bramham was elected President and served for 15 years. Bramham, who moved the NAPBL office to Durham, North Carolina, inherited 14 leagues and 102 clubs, but turned over 52 leagues and 388 clubs to George M. Trautman in 1947. During the height of World War II in 1943, the National Association had only 66 clubs and drew less than six million fans, an all-time low. But the end of the war would see fans again crowding into the ballparks in record numbers.

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Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers farm team, before he integrated the Major Leagues. (AP)

Trautman moved the office to Columbus, Ohio, as he began a 16-year reign as President. The year 1949 saw 59 leagues and 448 clubs, both all-time highs, attract 39,640,443 fans, a record that stood for 54 years. However, the advent of television and, in Trautman's last two years, Major League expansion, would begin to cut into attendance. Following Trautman's death in March 1963, Frank Shaughnessy served as interim president until Trautman's assistant, Phillip Piton, was elected in December 1963. There were 20 leagues and 132 clubs in 1964 and attendance was only 10 million. By the time Piton left office in 1971, membership was back to 155 clubs.

With the election of Henry J. Peters as President in December 1971, the NA was headed for another move. In September 1973, the office found its fourth home on Fourth Street South in St. Petersburg, Florida. Peters left in 1975 to become General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Robert R. "Bobby" Bragan became President in January 1976, and by 1978 there were 158 clubs. On March 28, 1978, the office moved five blocks to Bayshore Drive into the old clubhouse beside Al Lang Stadium, which was renovated and turned into an office building.

In January 1979, John H. Johnson took office. While the number of clubs stayed near 160-170, attendance skyrocketed. In 1987, more than 20 million fans attended games, a figure not matched since 1953. Franchise values also went up dramatically during Johnson's time. Johnson died January 12, 1988, and Sal B. Artiaga was elected in April as the ninth President. His first year in office saw Minor League Baseball climb to over 21,659,000 in attendance with 188 clubs.

Mike Moore, who had been Chief Administrative Officer of the NA, was elected President during the 1991 Baseball Winter Meetings. One of his first moves after taking over in January 1992 was to convene a constitutional convention that would rewrite the National Association Agreement, the by-laws that spell out the relationship between the NA and its member leagues. It was an agreement that had not materially changed in nearly a century of existence.

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Ted Williams came into professional baseball as a rail-thin teenager with a powerful left-handed swing.

One of the more important changes was converting the National Association to more of a "corporate" structure than a "political" one. The governing authority of the NA is vested in the President, working closely on policy and direction with the 17-member Board of Trustees (consisting of one club owner from each of the various leagues) and the Council of League Presidents (consisting of the Presidents of the various leagues.) The President is elected at an annual meeting of the Minor League Baseball membership for a four-year term.

The NA had phenomenal growth under the leadership of Moore, who retired in December 2007, after 16 years as President. In 1991, prior to becoming President, he established an agency agreement partnership between the Professional Baseball Promotion Corporation, a NAPBL subsidiary, and Major League Baseball Properties to authorize licensed merchandise. From a humble beginning in the early 1990s, merchandise sales in 2017 topped $70 million. At the Baseball Winter Meetings, the Promo Corp. conducts the annual Baseball Trade Show, where merchandisers and manufacturers display the goods that will fill stadium novelty stands and souvenir shops in the year ahead, and conducts business seminars for member teams. The Promo Corp. also runs Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO), which assists candidates seeking jobs in pro baseball and the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar.

There were several major accomplishments during the 1998 season, including the realignment of Triple-A baseball from three leagues into two, and establishing the Triple-A World Series, which was played in Las Vegas (1998-2000). Since 2006, the Triple-A champion has been determined by the winner of a game between the International League and Pacific Coast League champions, hosted by a Triple-A club. Another subsidiary, Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. (PBUC), was formed in 1998 to operate and maintain the umpire program for the 16 domestic leagues, under terms of the historic 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement that was negotiated with Major League Baseball.

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Joe DiMaggio, who debuted as shortstop with the 1932 San Francisco Seals, had a career average of .398 in the Minor Leagues.

Minor League Baseball has been a continuing success story at the box office. The 2008 regular season attendance total of 43,263,740 established a new all-time record. Total regular season attendance has increased in 28 of the last 36 seasons and has surpassed 33-million fans for 24 straight years, a level not attained since the late 1940s when membership consisted of more than 50 leagues and more than 400 teams. In 2017, the 15 leagues with a total of 176 teams that charged admission attracted 41,832,364 fans.

After serving 15 years as Chief Operating Officer, Pat O'Conner took over as Minor League Baseball's 11th President in January 2008. O'Conner was re-elected to a second term in December 2011 and a third term in December 2015.

Highlights of O'Conner's first term in office include the extension of the Professional Baseball Agreement with Major League Baseball through the 2020 season; a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) through 2016; realignment of four Class A leagues; the organization-wide bundling of Internet rights; a first-ever diversity initiative; an industry-wide health care program; a "Green Team" initiative to make Minor League Baseball teams and stadiums more eco-friendly and cost effective; and the location of new office space comprised of four buildings, totaling 18,000 square feet, on 16th Street North in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In the first year of his third term (2016), O'Conner oversaw the use of 15-second pitch clocks in the Florida State League which led to a six-minute improvement in the time of FSL games. O'Conner also led the realignment of the Advanced Class-A California and Carolina Leagues following the 2016 season. In his second term, O'Conner and Minor League Baseball launched Minor League Baseball Enterprises and Project Brand in 2013. The primary objective of Project Brand is to create national sponsorship revenues by monetizing the collective branding power of 160 Minor League Baseball franchises. Prior to the 2015 season, PBUC was re-named MiLB Umpire Development and The Umpire School was rebranded as the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy. Also in 2015, Minor League Baseball began the use of 20 second pitch clocks to speed up the pace of play at the Triple-A and Double-A levels. The result was a 13-minute improvement in the time of game at those levels.

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Willie Mays first played Minor League ball in Trenton, N.J., and then Minneapolis before getting called up by the Giants in 1951. (International League)



Minor League Baseball timeline: 1901-2001

1901

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now known as Minor League Baseball, was organized when presidents of seven minor leagues met in Chicago on Sept. 5 and established rules of operation that generally remained through history. The NAPBL, national in scope, began play with 14 leagues and 96 teams in 1902.

1914

Membership in the NAPBL grew to 41 leagues in a period of prosperity and stability, but raids from the outlaw Federal League and World War I were just around the corner. With the loss of manpower and wartime restrictions, only nine leagues were able to operate in 1918.

1921

An agreement was signed which allowed a Major League team to own Minor League teams. Branch Rickey of the St. Louis Cardinals used this to establish the farm system, controlling players at different classifications of Minor League Baseball and developing them for his team.

1930

The first night baseball game under permanent lights was played on May 2, a Western League game in Des Moines, IA, against Wichita. It attracted 12,000 fans for a team averaging 600. The idea spread quickly through the Minors and saved them during the depth of the Great Depression. Night games eventually spread to Major League baseball and revolutionized the industry.

1932

Frank Shaughnessy invented playoff system. He came up with his idea to keep more teams in the race and sustain fan interest. It usually involved the first place team taking on the fourth place team, while second and third matched up in the other semifinal. Winners advanced to the title round.

1933

Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, in his first pro season, hit safely in 61 straight games for San Francisco (Pacific Coast League). In 1941, he had a 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees, considered by many as the greatest batting feat in Major League history.

1944

With players gone to serve their country and travel restrictions, only 10 Minor Leagues remained in operation.

1946

Jackie Robinson made his debut in Minor League Baseball with Montreal (International League). The next season, Branch Rickey made Robinson the first African-American ever to play in the Major Leagues when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

1947-49

In the boom years after World War II, Minor League baseball spread to cities, towns and villages across the country. At the peak, there were 59 leagues with nearly 450 teams in operation. The all-time regular season attendance record of 39.7-million was set in 1949.

1951

Emmett Ashford became the first African-American umpire in the Minor Leagues, working in the Southwestern International League.

1954

Joe Bauman became the greatest home run hitter in pro baseball history, hitting 72 for Roswell (NM) in the Longhorn League, a record that stood until Barry Bonds hit 73 for San Francisco in 2001. Playing in just 138 games, Bauman hit .400 with 224 RBIs and 188 runs scored.

1972

Bernice Gera worked a New York-Penn League game on June 24 to become the first female umpire in professional baseball. She resigned after one game and it was not until 1983 that Pam Postema became the first woman to work through the Minors and reach the top level of Class AAA.

1981

Pawtucket and Rochester (International League) met in the longest professional baseball game ever played, 33 innings. It began on Apr. 18 and into the wee hours on Apr. 19 before it was suspended and finally completed on June 23.

1982

The largest crowd in Minor League history, 65,666, watched an American Association game (and a giant fireworks show) at Denver's Mile High Stadium on July 4.

1991

Baseball's Facilities Standards went into effect, setting minimum standards for Minor League ball parks and touching off the biggest building boom in history. More than half the teams in the Minors now play in stadiums built or completely renovated since that time.

1991

The Buffalo Bisons of the American Association attracted 1,240,951 fans to set the all-time record for Minor League Baseball. The Bisons exceeded the one million mark six seasons (1988-93) in a row.

1997

Minor and Major League baseball reached agreement on a 10-year contract to guarantee a Major League player development contract for all 160 teams through the life of the contract.

1999

The NAPBL formally changed its name to Minor League Baseball, a name many both inside and outside the organization had been using for years.

2001

Minor League Baseball honors its Centennial Season with a year-long celebration.