LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Appalachian League president Lee Landers was grim faced Wednesday afternoon as he discussed the immediate future of the short-season circuit. The league has been unable to find a replacement franchise for Pulaski, which lost its affiliation with Toronto in September, leaving only nine teams for the 2007 season.
While Landers expressed optimism back in September when it was announced that his league would be down a team, no such optimism was evident at the Winter Meetings.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is going away," Landers said. "Unless we get some help from Major League Baseball, we can't even run a co-op team in there. And what's terrible about having nine clubs is that credibility-wise it hurts. Pulaski spent over $1 million to bring its park [Calfee Park] to the standard compliance, and now they don't have a club.
"We have other municipalities that are working with city governments, and it becomes tough to walk back in there and ask for improvements. They say why should we? Are you going to guarantee that you'll be there?"
In addition to credibility issues the league is now faced with a scheduling problem. With only nine teams, there will be days, including consecutive days, when one team will not be playing. Two-game series will become the norm, and that's something the league has avoided having on its schedule.
"It's very discouraging, and I take it personally because I have a passion for this league," said Landers, who has been the president since 1996. "I wouldn't ever say 'no' to getting the co-op team in there, but it doesn't look possible right now. We've talked to every club, and the only way to get a club is if a Major League team added a club."
This is the third time since 1992 that Pulaski has searched for a team. The Braves pulled out in 1992, and the Rangers did the same in 2002. The Blue Jays have said they made the move because they wanted to downsize their Minor League operations in order to provide better resources for their remaining clubs.