This story was updated at 6:44 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, with more information.
More than two dozen mayors — and counting — had signed on to a task force to save minor league baseball in their communities in the first 24 hours since the group was created, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Wednesday.
"It's because all of us understand that this plan is a major league error," Berke said of a proposal to cut 42 minor league teams, including the Chattanooga Lookouts. "There is a huge following of Major League Baseball fans who also love minor league baseball in all of our cities."
Berke was joined by the mayors of Dayton, Ohio; Akron, Ohio; Lansing, Michigan; and Grand Rapids, Michigan, to kick off the task force in Washington, D.C., where about 300 mayors have gathered for a conference.
The goal of the task force is to represent the interests of communities that have not been involved in a proposal by Major League Baseball to cut teams that are an essential part of the culture of many mid-sized cities, Berke said.
"I learned from a New York Times article that the Chattanooga Lookouts were on the chopping block," he said. "We've been nowhere in these discussions before today."
In November, Major League Baseball proposed its minor leagues be reduced from 160 teams to 120, beginning with the 2021 season. Cities across the country have made substantial investments in their teams and the facilities where they play, said Mayor Nan Whaley, of Dayton, Ohio.
"These are incredibly important assets," she said. "Some of us actually own these stadiums. These are cities that have invested in baseball."
Chattanooga is in a somewhat unusual spot in having a privately owned ballfield, but ongoing conversations about a replacement for 20-year-old AT&T field — and about potential funding for such a facility — are stalled until this issue is sorted, Berke said.
"When you build something of that size, you need decades of return to see it makes sense," he said. "All of us have very little confidence in what the future holds, which is a recipe for disinvestment."
A fight with Major League Baseball may not be easy to win, but it's important that local communities have a voice, Berke said.
"[Major League Baseball] said they were disappointed that this had gotten out into the press, but of course for me that's a good thing," he said. "We want to know what the status is rather than have that go on without our input."
A similar task force involving members of Congress is also gaining momentum, and the mayors will coordinate with other elected officials to make sure the conversation is happening in every quarter, they said.
"It's refreshing to see Congress agree with mayors," Whaley said.
Lookouts co-owner Jason Freier said Major League Baseball enjoys government support that ranges from an exemption from anti-trust laws and federal minimum wage requirements to public-private partnerships.
"They do and should care what fans think. They do and should care what mayors think," Freier said. "They do need to care what public entities think."
The Lookouts' roots in Chattanooga date back to 1885. The team has been in the Southern League since 1976, winning championships in 1988, 2015 and 2017. The Lookouts were recognized after the 2019 season as the Southern League organization of the year, with team president Rich Mozingo named the league's executive of the year.
Contact Mary Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.