State political leaders take stance against MLB’s plan to reduce the minor leagues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Few states would take a bigger hit than West Virginia if Major League Baseball’s plan to cut dozens of minor league teams goes through, and now state political leaders are getting involved.

Gov. Jim Justice said on Tuesday that he has been in touch with Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred and both have agreed to meet very soon on the proposal that would most likely eliminate three of West Virginia’s four MLB-affiliated teams.

A 30-year working agreement between MLB, owners and Minor League Baseball is set to expire at the end of the 2020 season. Officials are looking at restructuring the minor league system upon expiration, in which the New York Times reported 42 teams would be ousted.

Included on the list that would lose affiliation with MLB teams are the Charleston-based West Virginia Power (Class-A South Atlantic League), Bluefield Blue Jays (Appalachian League) and the Princeton Rays (Appalachian League).

Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor, the General Manager of the Power, said on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ that the teams are on the list based on travel distances, player amenities and facilities such as playing field, clubhouses, stadium, and lights.

That is why Taylor said the Power, affiliated with the Seattle Mariners, being on the list is mind-blowing playing at ‘one of the best facilities in the league,’ Appalachian Power Park.

The ballpark was built in 2005 at a cost of $25 million that came from state and local funding. It sits in downtown Charleston and has hosted other events such as the annual Alzheimer’s Walk, 5Ks, the high school baseball state tournament, and Marshall and WVU baseball.

“If they are saying this is all truthfully based on travel, facilities and player amenities, then we shouldn’t be on this list,” he said. “Given our geographic location, we have one of the best facilities in the league itself, and we are ongoing renovations for player amenities such as clubhouse areas, dining areas, and lounge areas.”

U.S. Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va.) has been on the issue since last month when Manfred received unanimous approval from MLB’s 30 owners to create a plan to streamline the minor leagues.

David McKinley

McKinley released a statement with released a statement on Tuesday saying he is working with Congresswoman Lori Trahan (D-MA) to lead a bipartisan effort with 104 colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to urge MLB to abandon its plan. Inside McKinley’s district is the Morgantown-based West Virginia Black Bears of the New York-Penn League, which is not on the list.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin both released statements on the situation on Tuesday, as well.

Capito said, “Minor league baseball has become a part of the fabric of many West Virginia towns. I have stressed to both Major League and Minor League Baseball my hope and encouragement to work together and also with the impacted communities and franchises. We have to communicate openly and honestly to understand the proposals and impacts fully.”

Manchin addressed the issue by saying, “I will do everything I can to protect minor league baseball in West Virginia because many of these teams have been pillars of the community for decades. I’m contacting everyone I know in the MLB to ask them to consider the consequences of scrapping our local teams.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Our national pastime has a rich history in West Virginia, and for generations, minor league baseball has brought our communities together and introduced countless youth to the sport. They need to understand the negative economic impact that this will have on our communities and that West Virginians have a true love for the game.”

The Power, Rays and Blue Jays could still exist if they become non-affiliated but when asked by ‘Talkline’ host Hoppy Kercheval if the Power could survive the storm, Taylor said: “We’d have to take a hard look at it.”

Story by Jake Flatley