The Ramifications of Binghamton's Lost Eastern League All-Star Game
The first domino fell on Thursday night, when The Citizens’ Voice in Scranton, Pa., broke the news that the 2020 Triple-A all-star game had been canceled as a result of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The move hadn’t been announced by the league, but team owner David Abrams told the paper, point blank, that the game wasn’t going to happen.
“Obviously, we’re not having our All-Star Game this summer,” Abrams told the newspaper. “Minor League Baseball wants to officially come out in May and tell people, but I’ll tell you guys I view this as quote unquote ‘lemons to lemonade’ because we’re pushing it back to 2022.”
With the cat out of the bag, Binghamton announced on Friday afternoon that the Eastern League’s all-star game, which was slated for July 15 and had been years in the making, was not going to happen.
“This is a very unfortunate casualty of the COVID-19 virus. I know how much went into this from our community. The fans, the elected officials, and the team went all in to put our best foot forward,” Binghamton owner John Hughes said in a press release.
“We are now shifting our focus to providing an incredibly action-packed schedule into a condensed season. I remain committed to providing a safe and memorable experience for this community and look forward to our 2020 Opening day.”
The Eastern League itself confirmed the cancellation with a subsequent announcement. The Texas League announced its all-star game’s cancellation later on Friday.
And while other clubs can start focusing on hosting the 2022 versions of their games, it’s not that simple for Binghamton. That’s because the team could be cut after this season—if it gets played—as part of the contraction and realignment that are likely to happen in the new Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball.
That means it’s not as simple as moving the game back two years. It means that the game the team spent years lobbying to get in the first place and then, once they won the bid to host, even more time preparing for, won’t happen at all. Not in 2020. Not in 2021. Not in 2022. Never.
The financial ramifications for both the team and the area are staggering, and now the club must spend time unraveling all the agreements its made with sponsors and vendors and refunding those (including fans who purchased tickets in advance) who are due.
“This hurts financially, first and foremost, because this is not like the other games where we can offer rain checks like a postponed game—this is a cancelled game,” Hughes said. “We have to refund all that revenue, as well as all of the expenses we’ve incurred to date. We stopped those a while ago, in the middle of March, but we’d still been bleeding up until then.
“We actually had to hire staff to manage this and we’ve done all that legwork. It’s a tremendous amount of workload and it’s almost as much work unraveling it. We have to go back to the bus companies, to the hotels, to the caterers, to all these different entities that were supporting the event and undo all of those things. It’s a significant amount of work.”
While some of Binghamton’s contracts with vendors included out clauses, there are other variables that are sunk costs. The gear for the game—jerseys, hats, sweatshirts—had already been purchased and received. Now those items are likely to become painful reminders of what could have been.
“What are we going to do with those? We can’t do anything. Those things are already bought and paid for,” Hughes said. “We had some other merchandise that was already produced. Team hoodies commemorating the season with an all-star game patch on them for the players.
One of the dilemmas we’re faced with now is: How can you have the players trot out there (when play resumes) in uniforms commemorating an all-star game that didn’t happen? It’s a little bit of a bitter pill and an in-your-face reminder to the fans. Do you just spend a few thousand more dollars on replacement hoodies without the logo on them? It’s a Yin and Yang kind of thing that you just have to work through.”
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The process to get Binghamton the all-star game in the first place involved sinking upwards of $5 million into renovations for NYSEG Stadium. Other steps involved help from Senator Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.), the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Watkins Glen Golf Course before the game was officially awarded to the Rumble Ponies.
As part of the plan, the Hall of Fame and Watkins Glen GC were to provide experiences to the players, coaches and executives who were participating, making an already memorable weekend even more indelible.
Beyond that, the fans in the area won’t get to see Binghamton’s first all-star game since 1994.
“Let’s start with the little kids that we were going to have take the field with the players for the National Anthem and the Little Leaguers who were going to be out in the outfield shagging fly balls during the home run derby. What kind of memories are those kids missing out on,” Hughes said.
“We had all that planned. How do you break a kid’s heart when he’s already been kicked in the (gut) by missing his friends, not being able to go to school, not being able to go to the movies with his buddies? To lose this too, that really stinks.”
The cancellation of the all-star games is also a tacit admission that baseball is unlikely to be played in the minor leagues through June. To properly select an all-star team for those games, there’d need to be some on-field performance by which to judge the players.
Before that can happen, players would need to participate in some kind of spring training to get themselves back in game shape before reporting to various affiliates across the country. Before they can be sent to affiliates, states need to lift stay-at-home orders so fans can go to the stadiums to watch the games.
With stay-at-home restrictions still in place (and in many cases being extended) in states where games would be played, there are many hurdles remaining before minor league teams can even think of opening their gates.
Without an all-star game, there will obviously be no all-stars. That means 50 players will miss out on the chance to play in a game that could wind up as one of the highlights of their careers.
“We don’t know who those 50 players were, but for sure there were going to be 50 Eastern League players who would live the rest of their lives saying ‘I was a Double-A all-star’ and that’s one of the things that you never can get back,” Hughes said. “You can never replace that.”
That’s true for the fans, for the players, for the city and for the team. Coronavirus took away the all-star game, and the threat of contraction might make sure it never comes back.