A couple of months removed from Major League Baseball’s restructuring of Minor League Baseball the dust has somewhat started to settle. MLB itself has laid bare what the minors are going to look like moving forward. Meanwhile, unaffiliated leagues throughout America have started accepting new member clubs and forming the blueprints for how their leagues will look for the next few years at least. At least one pop-up league has formed, the Mavericks Independent Baseball League, and more may be on the way.
The professional baseball landscape in America is far different than it was before all this started, but there are still some dominoes left to fall. There are some newly unaffiliated teams who have yet to make their final decision. For most of them there exists a general idea of what their decision will be, though to be sure nothing is exactly known. One thing has become increasingly clear and that is that no matter what happens the residents of Staten Island will find themselves without a baseball team, professional or otherwise, for the foreseeable future.
I’m no Staten Island expert, but even I can see that a metro area of roughly 475,000 people is large enough to support a professional baseball team. Yet here we are about to enter the 2021 summer baseball season and that area will be without a team. It’s not for a lack of interest, I mean, I don’t think I need to provide you any specific examples to convince you that the residents of a New York borough are pretty big baseball fans. There should be professional baseball in Staten Island in 2021, there is a natural fit for a team, and yet there won’t be, why is that?
The largest factor, from which every other factor trickles out, is the former Staten Island Yankees. They were the A-level MiLB club for the New York Yankees. In the past few years, plenty of chatter surfaced of the Yankees being dissatisfied with the Staten Island team. It seemed to culminate in a situation a couple of years ago where the Yankees were poised to pull away from their affiliation, though they ultimately held onto it until Rob Manfred and company blew up the MiLB model. That team is gone, they folded as soon as it was announced they would not be part of the new minor league system. However, their ownership remains and that is a problem.
The ownership group for the former Staten Island club isn’t full of baseball people. They are, first and foremost, investors. Every report out of the Staten Island area has been crystal clear, the ownership group may have had good intentions but in the end, many of the club’s problems surfaced because they cut every corner possible to try and make money. That group has levied a lawsuit against the big league Yankees and they have done so while holding one large piece of the Staten Island puzzle; the lease to Richmond County Bank Ballpark.
That’s why despite the Atlantic League seeming like a natural fit for a Staten Island franchise there has as of yet been no movement on that front. Sources have revealed to me that the former Staten Island club was offered a spot in the Atlantic League, with MLB paying their entry fee, but they turned down the offer. No official word has been released by the Staten Island ownership group as to whether an offer from the Atlantic League was turned down, or even if there was such an offer. However, if common sense tells us anything it’s that the ownership group that folded their club while citing the costs of running an unaffiliated team likely turned down the Atlantic League’s offer because they are not good at running said ballclub.
The interest from the Atlantic League to have a team in Staten Island is real. Unfortunately, as long as the old ownership holds the lease to the ballpark there’s no chance of them getting a team into the borough. It can’t be overstated how important a good stadium lease is to the success of an unaffiliated ballclub. When teams do not have good leases they usually fail or end up moving somewhere else. The Atlantic League may really want a team in Staten Island, but until the ballpark lease is sorted out they won’t even consider placing a team there.
Why won’t there be a pro baseball team in Staten Island in 2021? Politics, pure and simple. The residents want one, the ballpark exists, the Atlantic League would welcome a Staten Island-based club, etc, etc. There are plenty of reasons why there should be a pro team in Staten Island and one day a pro team will call the island home once again. Until then, thanks to the spectre of their old team the only thing Shoalin can do is wait and hope for the return of baseball to a community that deserves a professional team.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Staten Island Advance