Five years after the biggest split in independent league baseball, the gang has gotten back together.
The American Association officially welcomed the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Kansas City T-Bones and Gary Southshore Railcats to the league on Wednesday, as the league's owners approved the four teams' applications to join the league.
The move brings back into the same league many of the stalwarts of the Northern League that had helped the league become the bellwether independent league in the 1990s. St. Paul, Sioux City, Sioux Falls and Lincoln left the Northern League after the 2005 season to form the American Association because of disagreements over the direction of the league and its leadership structure. Anger and resentment subsided over the next five years, as the logic of reduced travel expenses and renewed rivalries eventually won out.
"There were some hard feelings when the four clubs left the Northern League," said American Association commissioner Miles Wolff, who was the founder of the Northern League in 1994 before leaving to lead the AA and Can-Am leagues. "All of that animosity had sort of died down.Then common sense comes into play."
In addition to several natural rivalries between former Northern League clubs, the move will make plenty of geographic sense for Kansas City. In recent years, the T-Bones have faced long bus rides for all of their road games. Now they will have close-by rivals in Wichita and Lincoln.
The league will field three divisions for 2011, with Fargo-Moorhead, St. Paul, Sioux Falls and Winnipeg playing in the North; Gary, Kansas City, Lincoln, Sioux City and Wichita forming the Central; and El Paso, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Pensacola and Shreveport-Bossier making up the South.
As a concession to the new teams, the American Association will raise its salary cap to about $115,000 (up from $100,000) next year. The Northern League had a higher $130,000 salary cap. Some other rules will be tweaked, including rookie limits (four instead of five) and eligibility rules for determining levels of experience.
Northern League commissioner Clark Griffith told the Winnipeg Press yesterday that the remaining four teams in the Northern League (Rockford, Schaumburg, Joliet and Lake County) would move forward for next season, and the league was looking at adding two teams.
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