ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Chattanooga player Alfredo Rodriguez signs a fan's jersey during the Lookouts' home baseball game against the Jackson Generals at AT&T Field on Friday, July 5, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Not again.

And certainly not the Chattanooga Lookouts. It was one thing for our town to lose Spring Fling. And the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament. And the NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) football national championship game. And the U.S. Cycling Championships. And the Gold Cup golf tournament. (OK, never mind the Gold Cup).

But hearing late Sunday evening that Major League Baseball in all its infinite selfishness and greed intends to strip the Scenic City of its ageless minor league baseball franchise is undoubtedly the cruelest cut yet, assuming it happens.

In case you missed it, both Baseball America and the New York Times reported that MLB is proposing that the nation's minor leagues be reduced from 160 teams to 120 by the start of the 2021 season.

MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem told Baseball America, "From the perspective of MLB clubs, our principal goals are upgrading the minor league facilities that we believe have inadequate standards for MLB players."

In other words, these young men, many of whom have just graduated from high school, aren't pampered enough when being forced to play in a 20-year-old facility such as the Lookouts' AT&T Field.

Halem went on to say that improving these standards at the minor league level would include "improving the working conditions for MiLB players, including their compensation, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, providing better geographic affiliations between major league clubs and their affiliates, as well as better geographic lineups of leagues to reduce player travel."

So all those funny, character-building and team-bonding stories about long, hot, bumpy bus rides and $10-a-day meal money and flea-infested motels, all those things that made a movie like "Bull Durham" such a box-office smash now will be lost forever.

Before long a team like the Lookouts will fly a charter to Greenville, South Carolina, or Huntsville, Alabama, each player staying in his own Courtyard Suite, with catered room service and chocolates on his pillow, some politically correct manager softly telling his players, "There's no roughing it in baseball."

(Read more: Fight to save the Chattanooga Lookouts begins)

Here's a thought for MLB: The more luxurious and lucrative you make these young phenoms' stay in the minors, the less likely they might be to quickly fight their way to the major leagues. Beyond that, the romance and charm of baseball is partly due to those minor league experiences, because in the big leagues too many players are no more than mercenaries brought aboard a particular franchise for a season or two, or even half a season, to win a pennant.

Have .325 batting average or 2.75 ERA will travel for serious money.

Tom Griscom was the executive editor and publisher of the Times Free Press for 11 years. Now 70, he grew up here, became a member of the kids-exclusive Knothole Gang at Lookouts games at Engel Stadium and promptly bought season tickets as soon as he returned to run the paper in 1999.

"When we first came back we bought season tickets right behind home plate," Griscom recalled Monday afternoon. "I like the game. I like watching these young players progress. I remember seeing Yasiel Puig hit two home runs the last night he was here before being called up to the Dodgers. I remember when were living in the Carolinas watching Andruw Jones goes from Single A to the World Series (with the Atlanta Braves)."

Griscom, once the director of White House communications under Ronald Reagan, also rightly observed that minor league baseball is more than players and games.

"Minor league baseball is one of those things in communities such as ours that help us define who we are," he said. "My community has this and yours doesn't. It's a source of pride. Plus, it's fun, family-friendly and affordable."

Before the New York Times story broke, Griscom has been counting down the weeks and months until he can take his 2-year-old grandson "to see the Lookouts. We can't wait."

And whatever happens down the road, whether the Lookouts cave and build a better stadium or stand pat on principle, the team is supposedly guaranteed to remain here through the upcoming 2020 season.

But as Monday moved along, the anger and frustration regarding the Lookouts' possible demise already was evident on Twitter.

Wrote Joel Mendelson: "The Chattanooga Lookouts have been around since 1888, but to MLB it's just a number and a balance sheet. They could care less what happens to a team deeply rooted in a community for more than 130 years. This is despicable."

Added Lex Lee: "If the @chattlookouts lose their team due to latest proposal, I'll be finished with ALL of @mlb."

Said Griscom: "If this happens, we'll find other things to do. But we'll miss it."

We will, and almost undoubtedly far more than we've missed all those other sporting events combined that have come and gone since the modern Lookouts took root in the Scenic City in 1976.

some text Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT