A proposal by Major League Baseball could mean the end of the Appalachian League as we know it.
The working agreement between Major League Baseball and MiLB, the group that oversees minor league baseball teams, expires after the 2020 season and as part of the negotiations for a new deal, MLB has proposed to eliminate as many as 42 minor league teams.
A lot of negotiation will take place before anything is decided and finalized, but as the proposal stands, teams in the Appalachian League would be encouraged to form an amateur wooden-bat league with help from MLB and would no longer be affiliated with their parent major league teams.
The Pioneer League, the other Rookie Advanced league, would also be eliminated.
The proposal, which is detailed in an in-depth piece in Baseball America written by J.J. Cooper, says MLB wants to improve stadium facilities at every level of the minor leagues. The leagues and remaining teams would also be reorganized based on geography and many will change their classifications, with even some Class A teams being moved to Triple-A.
There are currently 160 minor league teams; if the proposal passes, there would be closer to 120.
Johnson City has been affiliated with the Cardinals since 1975, when a switch was made from the Yankees. The team was also the Cardinals from 1939 to 55.
Boyd Sports, which operates the Johnson City franchise, faces the possibility of losing three of the four teams it runs. In addition to the Cardinals, the company also oversees the Elizabethton Twins and Greeneville Reds in the Appy League and the Tennessee Smokies in the Class AA Southern League.
Boyd officials said the company is planning “business as usual” for next season at least, and directed any media inquiries to MiLB. Jeff Lentz, MiLB’s senior director of comunications, could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
The Johnson City Cardinals won the Appy League championship this year, their fifth title since 2010.
Johnson City has been considered one of the most successful franchises in the league, breaking its attendance record for the fourth year in a row with 80,612 fans coming through the gates at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. In addition, general Manager Zac Clark claimed the league’s executive of the year award, and the team has won the league’s promotional trophy for the past three seasons.
Boyd Sports installed a turf infield at the Cardinals’ stadium in 2017 and Johnson City installed new LED lighting in 2018.
While Johnson City has enjoyed success and would certainly miss having a minor league team, MLB’s proposal would have profound effects on other local Appy League fan bases as well.
Before last season, the city of Elizabethton entered an agreement with the Minnesota Twins to fork out more than $1.5 million for clubhouse renovations. The major-league team coughed up $800,000.
In Kingsport, there has been talk about a new stadium being built for the Mets.
The Appalachian League began in 1911 and originally lasted until the 1914 season. It re-formed in 1921 and ran for five years. The league started up again in 1937 and has been in operation every year but 1956 since.
The two sides are expected to return to negotiations in November.