Minor league baseball is a huge element of professional baseball. These teams serve the purpose of providing avenues for young ballplayers from all over the world to continue to develop their playing skills in a professional environment with the hopes of one-day stepping foot onto the big league stage. For the thirty teams of major league baseball this provides them the ability to invest in dozens of young players with the hopes of investing in the future of the franchise for years to come.
Aside from the baseball side of things, the 160 teams of minor league baseball allow for fans all over the country that may not be in close proximity to a big league club to catch professional game. Of course in a competitive sport, winning is important but at the minor league level most fans are not necessarily invested in the team’s record as they would with the big league club. The job of the minor league franchises is to create a fun family environment for all to enjoy.
That is exactly the mentality HWS Group, the owners of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, operates their franchises under.
“We bought the team [Scrappers] five years ago. They were the sixth team we purchased in 15 years,” HWS co-founder Michael Savit said. “We have a formula for what we look for and felt there was a lot of good upward movement. In general I felt it [Niles] was a great baseball town.”
Major and minor league baseball have a very large but structured organization with all the minor league affiliates associated with major league clubs. The Mahoning Valley Scrappers are the short season Single A affiliate (New York Penn League) of the Cleveland Indians; they are one of six total minor league affiliates.
Each of the thirty major league teams has a very similar minor league affiliation grouping. Even though, these minor league teams are in most cases independent of their major league parent club as long as they are a member of Minor League Baseball they are guaranteed an affiliation. “Essentially, every major league has five affiliates,” Savit said. “As long as you’re affiliated with minor league baseball you’re guaranteed an affiliation, it is part of our contract as an organization with Minor League Baseball. There are a total of 160 minor league franchises in total and that is a set number that has to stay.”
The minor league affiliates work together with a major league club to sign a contract for affiliation. The contracts generally span from two to four years and each minor and major league pairing signs the same deal. As it all shakes out the minor league team is of course in charge of supplying the venue, the operating personnel for the venue, and the other various aspects expected as part of a baseball game. Meanwhile the major league club provides players and the baseball personnel for the venue. It works out as the perfect partnership for both parties.
Minor league organizations of course can seek to affiliate with other major league clubs if they so choose. For example, these Mahoning Valley Scrappers, although technically considered an expansion team, were brought to Niles, Ohio as an affiliation for the Cleveland Indians from Erie, Pennsylvania. The Erie Seawolves, a New York-Penn League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time, received a bid to move up to Double A, basically making a New York-Penn League team a free agent. This opened the door for the franchise to align with the Indians and move to Niles to become the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 1999.
As previously mentioned, minor league baseball makes sure there are 160 minor league teams operating at all times. Beyond that, there is another organizational breakdown that Minor League Baseball makes sure to maintain, which becomes very important especially when affiliations realign.
“When a major or minor league team wants to be in free agency talks with other organizations they must make sure to adhere to the rule of 30 teams per classification [i.e. Single A, Double-A, Triple-A] while working out a deal with major and minor league,” Savit said. It is this rule that virtually allowed these Mahoning Valley Scrappers to come into existence. There was a vacancy in Short Season Single-A classification and the Scrappers were created to fill it.
Although most minor league affiliations are done through a contractual agreement, there are a few organizations that own some of their minor league affiliates, the Atlanta Braves being one of them. Owning your minor league affiliates does create a feeling of a family of baseball but at the same time, it gives the ownership that much more business decisions to oversee so it is not exactly the ideal practice.
“At the most 20 or 30 affiliates are owned by their parent teams,” Savit said.
In the end, minor league baseball makes up a large part of the American legend that is professional baseball. They serve as an avenue for, in many cases, more affordable fun than can be had at a major league game, and in some cases, due to geography, they are the only avenue for a family to take in a night of baseball. These minor league teams not only offer the opportunity for young kids to dream of their professional playing days but it also allows for the minor league ballplayers to play out their dreams of becoming a star on the field.