Wolf asks MLB not to cut ties with minor league teams in Erie, State College and Williamsport

    (Gustavo Nunez of the Erie SeaWolves in 2016. Photo via Flickr Commons)

    (*This story has been updated to include comment from state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie)

    Gov. Tom Wolf is going to bat for three Pennsylvania minor league baseball teams that could lose their affiliations as Major League Baseball looks to trim the ranks of those feeder clubs.

    On Monday, Wolf sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred and Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem urging them not to cut ties with the Erie SeaWolves, State College Spikes and Williamsport Crosscutters arguing that they’re both economic engines for their communities and provide low-cost entertainment for parents and children.

    “Baseball is one of America’s favorite pastimes and Minor League Baseball teams have brought professional baseball and the joy of the game to many people across the country,” Wolf wrote. “The result of your proposal will be detrimental to not only players and employees of teams who will lose their jobs, but to the communities these teams call home. Minor League teams support local businesses and host various forms of charitable work for their communities.”

    The State College and Williamsport teams play in the New York-Penn Short Season A League, and are respectively the affiliates of the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. The SeaWolves are AA affiliates of the Detroit Tigers.

    Major League Baseball is currently considering whether to cut ties with 42 of its 160 minor league teams across the country, according to the New York Times.  The proposal is part of an overall plan to reshape the minors and the way that up-and-coming players are developed, the newspaper reported.

    According to the Times, the “newly independent teams would be welcome to join a lower-quality Dream League populated largely by undrafted and released players, a plan one minor league official called a ‘death sentence.’”

    Officials in the affected towns and states say they’re worried about the long-term economic impact of severing those ties, as well as the survival of those teams, which bank on their major league affiliations to draw fans, hoping to get an early glimpse of future stars, to their stadiums.

    Wolf raised that same concern in his letter to Manfred and Halem:

    “In Pennsylvania, cutting these teams will take opportunities away from families to experience an affordable, family-friendly professional baseball game within a local setting,” he wrote. Williamsport, State College, and Erie are each located several hours from a Major League stadium, so losing the local Minor League team would make attending baseball games difficult for families who live in these places.

    “Children and young adults in these communities, including Williamsport, the home of the Little League World Series, would lose invaluable opportunities to watch and learn from talented Minor League players,” Wolf continued. “If these teams are cut, it also creates another issue for local authorities in regard to possibly having an empty stadium to maintain. Minor League Baseball teams promote talent development, encourage fan loyalty, and most importantly, bring communities together.”

    In a text message, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, said he was “taken aback,” at the announcement by Major League Baseball that Erie was under consideration for the plan.

    “Millions of state and local dollars have been invested in UPMC Park and the Seawolves provide over 70 days of live sporting entertainment to our region – supporting over a dozen full time and hundreds of part time jobs,” he said. “The economic impact to downtown Erie, including restaurants and hotels, could be more than $10 million annually.  I am hopeful that when Major League Baseball reviews this proposal, they will consider the huge community impact the Seawolves bring to Erie and make the right decision in support of their fans.”

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.