Why We Need More Independent Ball

ALSO: TOP TEN CANDIDATES FOR JOBS WHEN MANAGERIAL SPOTS OPEN

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Reader Reacts to ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ Putdown

Your comments about Sunday Night Baseball are right on — especially about the ESPN announcers. The home team announcers are totally better than the talkative ESPN people! Keep up the great writing.

—Bob Luchs, Somerset, NJ


Pregame Pepper

Did You Know . . .

After slumping all season, the the slumbering bats of theAtlanta Braves erupted Friday night with 20 hits and seven home runs in a 20-1 romp over Pittsburgh at Truist Park . . .

Johnny Bench hit three home runs in a game against Steve Carlton twice . . .

Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit .350 in April, had more walks (20) than strikeouts (16), and had a three-homer game – something his Hall of Fame father never achieved . . .

Milwaukee starter Corbin Burnes had an April strikeout-to-walk ratio of 49:0 . . .

The two starting pitchers who hit 101 mph in April were Jacob deGrom and Shohei Ohtani.

Leading Off

America Needs (More) Independent Baseball

By Brian Koss

Over the course of that last year, the entire developmental levels of professional baseball has been restructured.  Under the control of MLB, 43 minor-league teams were eliminated prior to the 2021 season. 

Some of those franchises joined "independent" MLB Partner Leagues.  Others formed collegiate (wood bat) summer leagues like the Appalachian League and MLB Draft League. 

While those leagues may not be considered part of affiliated Minor League Baseball, their partnership with MLB places them at risk of controlling their own destiny.

MLB Partner Leagues

The development of the MLB Partner Leagues has actually shrunk the number of independent baseball leagues. 

Prior to this season, the Atlantic League, American Association of Professional Baseball, Frontier League and Pioneer League were fully independent.  Now, as part of the MLB Partner League, Major League Baseball has influence in their decision- making.  The result is mostly that MLB will impose experimental rule changes on their partners.

For example, the Atlantic League will have computers, not umpires, call balls and strikes.  The Pioneer League will incorporate a home run derby rather than extra innings to settle games tied after nine innings.  Those ideas may be worth exploring, but MLB could have easily used their MiLB affiliate leagues to test-run their ideas.  That's what they have been doing the last few seasons.

While there are certainly benefits to partnerships with MLB, there's a considerable positive value in seeing a fully independent baseball league succeed.  In fact, independent, unaffiliated professional baseball may play a critical role in the future of the game.  The restructuring of Minor League Baseball actually increased the control MLB has over affiliated baseball and even many independent leagues.  Instead, MLB seems to be on a quest for more control over all American baseball.

The True Independents

Empire Professional Baseball League

The Empire Professional Baseball League is a six-team league (founded in 2015) with franchises in upstate New York, New Hampshire, Georgia and Puerto Rico. Similar to USPBL, they focus on attracting undrafted college players and giving them an opportunity to continue to play and improve. 

Due to COVID restrictions, the 2020 season took place entirely in Washington, Pennsylvania. While the league is in the process of hosting tryouts for the 2021 season, a full schedule has yet to be released.  It also appears that it will only include the teams in the Northeast and exclude Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Pecos League

The Pecos League is a 14-team league that spans the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and West Coast. Founded in 2011, the league has more than doubled in size and expanded its geography. 

Pecos League has two divisions, Mountain Division (8 teams) and Pacific Division (6 teams).  The Mountain Division includes franchises in Alpine (TX), Colorado Springs (C), Garden City (KS), Roswell (NM), Salina (KS), Santa Fe (NM), Trinidad (CO) and Tucson (AZ).  The Pacific Division franchises all fall within the state of California (Bakersfield, Martinez, Monterey, San Rafael, Santa Cruz and Wasco).  The season runs early June until early August.  Opening Day in the Pecos League is June 2.

United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL)

USBPL is a four-team league (established in 2016) located in Utica, Michigan (northern suburbs of Detroit).  This is a unique concept among independent leagues, but one worth considering.  USPBL plays all its games at Jimmy John's Field in Utica, MI.  It eliminates travel between cities and all players live in the area during the season.  The Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Wooly Mammoths play largely a long weekend schedule (Thursday-Sunday).  Their season runs late May to early September.  Opening Day in the USPBL is May 28.

It remains unclear if the three-team Pacific League, located in northern California, will play a season in 2021.  Its entire 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID and no indication has been made yet for this season.

An Independent Future?

The realignment and restructuring of MiLB may have both weakened and strengthened independent leagues all at the same time.  The co-opting of several independent leagues by MLB, under the MLB Partners banner, has weakened independent baseball.  At the same time, there’s an opportunity for leagues like the Empire, Pecos and USBPL to stand out as alternatives to the MLB monopoly on the game. 

These independent leagues can serve as developmental alternatives to the highly- controlled farm systems of MLB.  Independent baseball has the opportunity to create a regional and local appeal, unique to the towns and cities they represent.  They can offer players and fans an old-time baseball experience, reminiscent of the blue-collar origins of America's forgotten pastime.

Brain Koss is a Senior Editor at LegendsOnDeck.com.  You can reach out to him at brianmkoss@gmail.com or on Twitter @kosscountry.  He lives in Horizon West, Florida. 

Cleaning Up

Next Round of Managers Is Warming Up

By Dan Schlossberg

With Memorial Day fast approaching, baseball managers are getting restless.

They know this is the time of the year, with the season past the one-quarter pole, that underachieving teams start thinking about making major changes.

Since it’s easier to fire one manager than 26 players, several pilots are on the hot seat – with no shortage of former pilots ready, willing, and able to replace them.

Among those on thin ice are Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies, a last-place team with a new general manager; Dave Martinez of the Washington Nationals, where GM Mike Rizzo has always given his pilots a short leash; David Ross, in his first year with the Chicago Cubs; Arizona’s Torey Lovullo; and even long-time Atlanta organization man Brian Snitker, who has been heavily criticized for his handling of the bullpen and refusal to change his batting order. As for Don Mattingly in Miami, who knows when his patience (and Derek Jeter’s) will run out?

And that’s just the National League candidates. In the Junior Circuit, managers who need to keep their bags packed include A.J. Hinch, disgraced in Houston and unsuccessful in Detroit; Brandon Hyde of the Baltimore Orioles; Chris Woodward of the Texas Rangers; and maybe even Rocco Baldelli, whose Minnesota Twins fell from first to last in the AL Central Division.

There are also questions surrounding Tony La Russa (White Sox) and Dusty Baker (Astros), both over 70, and Terry Francona (Indians), who has had health issues. LaRussa, 76, is not only the oldest active manager but one who was recycled this year for the first time since 2011. And he’s already run into issues with his much-younger charges.

That being said, here are the Top 10 ready replacements:

1. Bruce Bochy – After a much-needed sabbatical from San Francisco, this three-time world champion is ready to return to the dugout wars even as he approaches age 70.

2. Mike Scioscia – After a long tenure with the Angels, this much-respected long-time Dodger would love to stay in Southern California but will go anywhere for the right deal.

3. Buck Showalter – Any team that wants a no-nonsence guy with a multi-team pedigree can’t go wrong with this by-the-book boss.

4. Willie Randolph – A former Yankee who failed to create much Mets magic, he longs for another shot.

5. John Farrell – A winner with the Red Sox and Jays, he’s also a respected pitching coach.

6. Fredi Gonzalez – This Bobby Cox disciple managed the Braves and Marlins, where his bi-lingual abilities helped.

7. Ron Washington – Anyone who takes the Texas Rangers to the World Series has something on the ball but would the Braves allow this erudite third-base coach to manage elsewhere?

8. Walt Weiss – Another ex-manager on Snitker’s staff, he succeeded in Colorado with his low-key, soft-spoken approach.

9. Bobby Valentine – Now running for mayor of Stamford, this innovative former Dodgers infielder struck out as manager of the Red Sox but was better with the Mets.

10. Clint Hurdle – After trying his hand in Pittsburgh and Denver, he’s ready for a better ballclub to offer him a job.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ writes for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and others. Contact him via ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Of his 17 Gold Gloves, Greg Maddux won 10 with the Braves, five with the Cubs, and one each with the Dodgers and Padres . . .

Maddux not only won four ERA titles (1993-95 and 1998) but led the NL in shutouts five times. He holds the major-league record for most seasons leading his league in games started (7) . . .

In 1995, Maddux became the first pitcher to post back-to-back ERAS under 1.80 since Walter Johnson in 1918 (1.27) and 1919 (1.49) . . .

Maddux was the ninth pitcher with 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts and the ninth to win at least 350 games (he finished with 355, most by any living pitcher).


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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