BOOK REVIEW: “There’s A Bulldozer On Home Plate” Documents Miles Wolff’s Journey In Helping To Save The Minors

Image credit: DBAP (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

You can say that Miles Wolff found minor league baseball at the perfect time, but it’s equally accurate to say that minor league baseball found Wolff and others of his ilk at just the right time to save the minors.

As he explains in his new autobiography “There’s a Bulldozer on Home Plate,” Wolff arrived in the minors at a time when there were serious questions about the minors’ viability. In the early 1970s, minor league baseball had shrunk to a small remnant of its peak in the late 1940s. Right after World War II, every town with a stoplight had a minor league team as the minors stretched from Triple-A to Class D.

But the arrival of television and air conditioning quickly turned the heyday of the minors into a battle for survival. By the 1960s, MiLB teams were dependent on help from the major leagues to survive, with payments framed in the guise of paying for the rights to broadcast in their territories.

Teams shut down frequently, often leaving debts that left cities and vendors very hesitant to be willing to listen to the next prospective owner who came to town.

That’s the environment that Wolff joined as a fresh-out-of-the-Navy job-seeker in the early 1970s. He found himself in charge of trying to eke out success in Savannah, Ga. in cavernous and often empty Grayson Stadium.

Armed with an eye for organization and a zeal to make it work, Wolff found success in Savannah. That marked him as a name to know in the very close-knit world of the minors at a time when few were willing to make a living in the minors. He bounced from team to team, finding some teams to be too far gone while managing to salvage others.

Baseball seemed unwilling to let Wolff go. He left the game to become an author in the late 1970s, but quickly returned to work for teams. And that led to him owning the Durham Bulls, a team that was on death’s door, but quickly became the leading indicator of the minors’ surge in popularity in the 1980s.

Wolff explains what went right in Durham. But what makes this book enjoyable is he’s just as willing to spell out where it went wrong at other times.

Wolff is one of the most significant figures in minor league baseball history. After his success in Durham, he was a driving force in founding the independent Northern League. The Northern League’s success in the early 1990s proved that independent baseball was a viable option for cities without affiliated baseball.

He also bought Baseball America and moved it to Durham, N.C., where Baseball America remains based to this day.

His midas touch even extended to hockey. His success in building a minor league hockey team in Raleigh helped pave the way for the arrival of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

But when Wolff did make missteps, like he did with trying to bring baseball back to Ottawa, he’s just as expansive about how things went wrong.

Many of the key figures who kept minor league baseball alive in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s have passed on. That makes Wolff’s autobiography a very important addition to the story of how the minor leagues were saved during the fight for survival of the 1970s, and the journey of one of baseball’s most significant figures of the past half-century.

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