In the late 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers replaced the Cincinnati Reds as the National League’s premier team.
Now, the Dodgers are replacing the Reds as the parent club of the Chattanooga Lookouts. Dodgers farm director DeJon Watson and Lookouts owner Frank Burke have signed a two-year player development contract that runs through the 2010 season.
The Lookouts had been Class AA affiliates of the Reds since 1988.
“I’m very excited, but it’s kind of bittersweet because I’ve been with the Reds for a very long time,” Burke said Wednesday. “This is something new to talk about and something new to work on. The Dodgers are like the Yankees and the Red Sox in that there are Dodger fans all over the United States. They have such a national presence.
“We will always rely on the unbelievable support that we’ve had from the community and hopefully continue to earn it, but we’re hoping this will help us to raise it up just a little bit.”
There were eight big-league teams on Labor Day that had yet to renew contracts with their Double-A affiliates, but four of those wound up extending their contracts. The four teams left shopping earlier this week were Cincinnati, Florida, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the Dodgers are the first to be removed from that mix.
The five most valued franchises in Major League Baseball (in millions):
1. N.Y. Yankees $730
2. N.Y. Mets $482
3. L.A. Dodgers $435
4. Boston $426
5. Atlanta $424
Southern League members Carolina and Jacksonville still seek a parent club, as does Connecticut in the Eastern League.
The Dodgers have a storied history that dates back to 1890, when they were known as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms and won the first of their 21 National League pennants. They spent 68 seasons in Brooklyn before relocating to Los Angeles, and the organization has been commemorating the 50-year anniversary of that move this season.
It’s an organization that includes Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser among its more recognized players, and it’s also one with ties to Chattanooga. Jim Tracy managed the Lookouts from 1989-91 and managed Los Angeles from 2001-05, while former Tennessee Temple University assistant coach Kevin Malone was the general manager of the Dodgers from 1998-2001.
The most notable link is current Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who was born in Chattanooga and played for Lakeview High School and the University of Tennessee.
“I’m very happy for Frank to get our organization,” Honeycutt said. “I hope he’s happy. I know our farm director is extremely happy. I hope it ends up being a good relationship for a long time and that the people in Chattanooga become a little more Dodger-friendly. Maybe the Dodgers can get a little more press now in Chattanooga.”
By linking with the Dodgers, the Lookouts are getting a team with prestige and a team on the rise. Los Angeles has rallied past Arizona for first place in the National League West and hopes to become a playoff factor for the first time since winning the 1988 World Series.
Honeycutt said the mix of tradition and recent improvement has been evident the past few weeks.
“We’ll be in Pittsburgh, and you’ll see several hundred people with Dodger hats or T-shirts on,” Honeycutt said. “We’ll go to other cities, and it could be more than that. Dodger fans are excited about the moves that we’ve made, having Joe Torre as manager and now getting Manny Ramirez.
“It’s been exciting news for our organization and club, and, honestly, we’re starting to play a lot better.”
The Reds played three exhibition games at AT&T Field from 2000-04, but Burke is not optimistic about the Dodgers ever coming here unless they opened in Atlanta. He pointed out that the Dodgers are like Boston and New York in that they can make money playing exhibitions in big-league parks.
Burke, the Lookouts owner since 1995, will take fond memories of his time with Cincinnati.
“I have nothing bad to say about the Reds,” he said. “We had a great run with them. It was just a relationship that, over time, I felt it was time to try something different.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...