The slow-but-sure demise of the Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn) franchise might soon open the door to a new chapter of Minor League Baseball history. If all goes according to plan, the Muckdogs will soon become the only majority black-owned team in baseball.
The Muckdogs have reached an agreement to sell the franchise to a group of black businessmen in the Washington area who plan to move the team next season to the D.C. suburb of Waldorf, Md., according to three sources who requested anonymity.
The relocated team would remain in the New York-Penn League, likely affiliating with the Nationals, and play at Regency Furniture Stadium, current home of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. The sources confirmed that the Blue Crabs would move to a yet-to-be-determined market if the deal is completed.
The sale would be a step toward Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball's goal of creating a more diverse industry—from the front office to the playing fields to the stands.
"This is something that should have been done in baseball a long, long time ago," one source said. "Jackie Robinson played 70 years ago. Baseball has made some progress, but not in ownership."
Sources said the Nationals would be interested in moving their New York-Penn League affiliate from Auburn, N.Y., to Southern Maryland. The new franchise would also serve as a sister team to the Orioles' Aberdeen affiliate, creating the opportunity for the league to realign its divisions and improve the IronBirds' travel schedule.
Though agreed upon in principle, the deal faces several hurdles—most notably, gaining approval from the Orioles and Nationals because Waldorf is in both teams' territories. If that is accomplished, the team must also get approval from higher classification minor leagues whose footprint includes Southern Maryland, including the Double-A Eastern and high Class A Carolina leagues. Minor League Baseball bylaws grant higher leagues first crack at open markets.
"(The deal) is not a foregone conclusion," one of the sources said. "Nothing can be done until the big league puzzle is solved, and there is a lot of work left to be done with that."
The Muckdogs were on the verge of financial collapse when the nearby Rochester Red Wings (International) saved the New York-Penn League franchise following the 2007 season. Attendance was down, debt was up and any hope for the future was at an all-time low for the Muckdogs before their Triple-A neighbor agreed to take over business operations.
Rochester may have stabilized Batavia over the past eight seasons, but it has yet to turn around the struggling club—or turn a profit. As part of the agreement to operate the club, Rochester inherited Batavia's $200,000 in debt and covered operational costs in exchange for any profits generated by the team just 35 miles down the road. They struck out on the final part of that agreement.
Rochester president Naomi Silver has long contended that the goal for the Red Wings is to give the best of both worlds—a profitable team that stays in town. But as the years of loss went by, it became evident that dream was not possible.
"In Batavia, it is real tough," Silver told Baseball America in 2010, when Rochester was considering cutting ties with the Muckdogs after operating the team at a loss for three straight seasons. "We market much the same way as we do in Rochester. It's a miniature version, but it just doesn't get the same attention. People are missing out. And then the franchise disappears. And then you don't get it back. Once you lose it, you don't get it back."
Now, after several close calls, the Muckdogs may finally be gone for good.
The Southern Maryland franchise, owned by longtime affiliated and independent operator Peter Kirk, would look to move to another market. The Atlantic League has been seeking to add teams further south because the Sugar Land Skeeters have been such a hit in the Houston area. The league also hopes to add one more East Coast team, and Kirk's franchise could fill that role.
Josh Leventhal was Baseball America's news editor from 2006-2015