Could the 2020 season be the last one for the Chattanooga Lookouts?
Major League Baseball is proposing that its minor leagues be reduced from 160 teams to 120, beginning with the 2021 season. Both Baseball America and The New York Times reported on the MLB proposal this weekend, with the New York Times listing four Class AA franchises on the chopping block: the Lookouts and the Jackson (Tennessee) Generals of the Southern League plus Binghamton (New York) and Erie (Pennsylvania) of the Eastern League.
The Lookouts have played the past 20 seasons at AT&T Field, which opened in 2000 and replaced Engel Stadium as Chattanooga's home for professional baseball.
"From the perspective of MLB clubs, our principal goals are upgrading the minor league facilities that we believe have inadequate standards for potential MLB players," MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem told Baseball America, "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."
Jackson's ballpark opened in 1998, making it the only one older than AT&T Field among Southern League teams.
The New York Times reported those teams cut under the proposal "would be welcome to join a lower-quality Dream League populated largely by undrafted and released players." One minor league official interviewed by the Times called such a scenario a "death sentence" due to the loss of market value.
Minor League Baseball president and chief executive Pat O'Conner told the Times he would try to save baseball in all the affected communities "if that's possible."
Chattanooga's association with professional baseball dates to the 1880s, and the Lookouts have 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.
The Times Free Press reached out Sunday night to Mozingo and to Lookouts co-owners Jason Freier and John Woods, but messages were not returned.
Baseball America reported there has been a Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB since 1903 and that negotiations typically have been uneventful. The biggest point of contention, according to Baseball America, is that MLB representatives are much more dissatisfied with many minor league parks compared to MiLB officials.
The current PBA expires after the 2020 season, and a new one must be approved by both sides before the 2021 minor league season begins.