The proposed contraction of Major League Baseball doesn't seem to affect Toledo baseball fans much.
After all the Tigers, Indians or Reds aren't expected to be among the “contracted” teams.
But how will contraction affect minor league baseball, and the Toledo Mud Hens in particular? If two major league teams are lost, will two Triple-A clubs go as well? And will one of them be the Hens?
Not to worry - both Mud Hen and International League officials don't expect contraction to have much of an effect on baseball in Toledo, especially in the short term.
Hens general manager Joe Napoli was quick to point out that his team, as well as all 14 teams in the IL, will field teams next spring because of the contract minor league baseball has with the majors.
“Unless I'm miscalculating, I don't see a decision (on contraction) being made in the short term,” Napoli said. “It's premature to talk about (contraction's) effect because the announcement on it was made (this week). All of the ramifications have yet to be discussed.”
Napoli is confident that, once those discussions take place, the Hens will be safe. “I'm not concerned (about losing the team),” he said. “We are well-positioned geographically to serve Major League Baseball and provide quality Triple-A baseball for the Tigers and several other major league teams should our partnership not work out.
“Plus next season we'll have a brand-new stadium, and we feel Fifth Third Field is the best in baseball. It will make us a very attractive affiliate.”
If attendance is a criterion for contraction at the minor league level, the Hens would appear to be safe. Last season Toledo played in front of 300,079 fans, a number that seems sure to swell with the new stadium.
Even if it doesn't, there were five other Triple-A franchises - fellow IL member Ottawa and Pacific Coast League teams in Tucson, Calgary, Colorado Springs and Fresno - with smaller attendance totals.
The IL team in the most precarious position would seem to be Ottawa. The Lynx had the lowest attendance in Triple-A baseball last season, attracting just 205,916 fans. What's more, Ottawa is the top affiliate for the Montreal Expos, the major league team most likely to be contracted.
The two other major league teams most often mentioned as contraction targets have Triple-A affiliates in the PCL -Florida's team is in Calgary, while Minnesota's affiliate is in Edmonton.
IL president Randy Mobley said he expects to field a team in Ottawa in 2002. “We're not in danger of losing any teams,” he said. “The only way a team in Ottawa would be affected is if we lost one or two of our major league affiliates, and then teams such as Ottawa still could become a co-op team.”
A co-op team is one that receives players from more than one source.
For now Mobley agrees with Napoli that it's too early to worry about contraction's affects on the minors. “There are a number of possibilities, but with the information we've received it seems there's not a plan per se,” he said. “It's really impossible to move forward until Major League Baseball is more definitive in its plans.”