The speculation in recent weeks about whether the California League will lose some of its clubs to the Carolina League has been a major topic of discussion in the Minor Leagues. But while those two leagues have been busy talking, the Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues have been busy taking action.
The two Class A circuits, along with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, announced on Tuesday that the South Atlantic League is going to transfer two of its franchises -- Bowling Green and Lake County -- to the Midwest League prior to the 2010 season. The Bowling Green club, formerly known as the Columbus Catfish, will be moving from Georgia to Kentucky and will play its final SAL season there in 2009.
The transfer of the two clubs addresses concerns both leagues had about travel while providing better geographical alignments. The SAL currently has franchises in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, Kentucky, North and South Carolina and West Virginia. The Midwest League is more concentrated with teams in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
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|Midwest League mileage|
"I would like to thank [Midwest League President] George Spelius and [South Atlantic League President] Eric Krupa for their leadership in ushering in this transfer initiative through the process in their respective leagues, and the owners of the clubs in the South Atlantic and Midwest Leagues for their vision and willingness to address an industry problem by approving this transfer," Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner said. "This is a perfect example of leagues and clubs setting aside personal interests, coming together and working toward a common goal."
Spelius said the Midwest League, which had been a 12-team circuit before expanding to 14 teams in 1988, has not decided on how the new 16-team league will look, and likely won't any time soon. The same can be said for the league's convoluted playoff format. Currently there are two divisions -- one with eight teams and one with six -- and eight teams participate in three playoff rounds.
"We haven't even discussed it," Spelius said. "We said we would start mapping out divisions and playoffs and all that when they said it was finally a done deal. So there's been no talk at all. We want to take our time and do it right."
Spelius said that originally it was the Indians that approached the Midwest League and the NA about having Lake County join the league earlier this decade. But at the time a 16th team wasn't available so Lake County joined the South Atlantic League. Lake County had been the Columbus (Ga.) RedStixx from 1992-2002 before moving to Ohio prior to the 2003 season.
"They asked that somewhere along the line if a 16th team became available [could it be addressed]," Spelius said. "But we weren't the point guard early on, that was the Indians. We took our vote on Aug. 22 and had 14 yes and no negatives.
"We always said that if a 16-team league couldn't be had, we're very happy at 14. But if we can help out the NA and Major League Baseball, traveling will be less for both leagues. We want to do our part and be good Samaritans. This wasn't done for greed or anything like that."
The Bowling Green franchise will be playing in a new 4,000-seat state-of-the art stadium. The team has yet to be named with club officials planning on holding a contest to determine what it will be called.
"The amount of travel involved with the South Atlantic League is no secret and realignment is intended to address that issue," Krupa said. "The South Atlantic owners recognize the overall, industry-wide aspects of realignment even though the league itself will lose two solid clubs. Their willingness to cooperate with the desires of our partners at Major League Baseball in the realignment process is commendable.
"As we move forward it is likely that scheduling changes will require additional cooperation to maximize the intended impact of realignment."
Krupa said the SAL has yet to decide on how the loss of two teams will impact the divisional setup, the playoff structure and the format of the regular season. The circuit currently plays a split season but Krupa said there is always the possibility that they could switch to a full-season schedule.
"It's something that we have to decide," Krupa said. "There are so many issues involved. We're going to look at other 14-team leagues and see how they do it. No set guidelines have been determined, though. We're going to be working on it through the fall and spring.
"I think the worst aspect of all our travel that people don't realize is the life of the umpire. They have to drive everywhere on their own. They're not hopping on a bus with someone else driving. We have eight umpiring crews and they are traveling about 11,000 miles a season."
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com.