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Backstory: The Rise of the NABL


Posts : 5625
Join date : 2012-10-12
Location : Long Island NY

Backstory: The Rise of the NABL

Post by Rich on October 19th 2012, 10:07 am

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North American Baseball League Weekly
By Slap Maxwell
Staff Writer

Nov. 1, 2019 -- With only two months left until the unprecedented North American Baseball League redistribution draft, it’s time to take a look back at the incredible series of events that brought us to the precipice of a new day in professional baseball in North America.

Professional baseball in North America started making bizarre decisions beginning in the mid-1990s, around the time Bud Selig ascended to the position of commissioner. Interleague play and ever-expanding wildcard playoff spots began to upset some fans, many of whom were already disenfranchised after the strike/lockout of 1994 cancelled the World Series. In his shockingly-candid memoir published in the three month span after stepping down as commissioner, but prior to his death, Selig admitted MLB owners were desperate to drum up interest and attention in their sport.

“Sure, we talked about all kinds of things,” wrote Selig in Just A Used Car Salesman: A Milwaukee Baseball Story. “Cal Ripken’s Iron Man streak helped bring a little attention back to the game, but it wasn’t enough. So we added wildcards. We expanded past what was logical. We talked about contraction. We moved the Expos out of Montreal. We started inter-league play.”

Selig admits the next part of the plan was extreme, and ultimately backfired. “Did we know guys like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens were taking steroids? Of course we did. We may have been out of touch, but we weren’t morons. Did we encourage it? Not explicitly, but we sure didn’t discourage it, either. But the public rebelled. We made up the ‘Mitchell Report’ to try to smooth things over. It worked to some extent. But baseball just kept losing fans.”

By 2002, major league attendance was half of what it had been just a decade prior. The league kept making attempts to straighten things out, but they were paddling upstream. The disparity between the rich and poor teams kept getting wider. So they started contracting teams for real. First it was Kansas City and Miami, to get down to 28 teams. The following year they got to 24 by eliminating Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Houston and Milwaukee.

But the fly in the ointment continued to be the New York Yankees. The Steinbrenner family refused to cooperate with many of the financial suggestions made by the other 23 owners. In fact, beginning in 2004, they openly flouted all attempts at imposing a salary cap or luxury tax. Quite simply, they refused to play ball with the other 23 owners. They signed everyone. Their AAA squad for several years was as good as most other MLB teams. Free agents knew they could get millions more in a contract with the Yankees than anywhere else. And then they started winning: pennant after pennant, championship after championship. The Yankees won five MLB World Series titles, from 2005 to 2009. And although, historically, having a strong franchise in New York was a key to MLB’s survival, this was going too far. Why should fans in 23 other cities support teams they knew had no chance of winning a title? Why should they see all their best players leave for New York as soon as they could? The situation became untenable.

A few days after the 2009 World Series title, an emergency meeting of all 24 teams was convened in New York. As we later learned, the other owners demanded an end to the financial tyranny of New York. The cajoled, they pleaded, they reasoned. Nothing worked. Eventually they threatened, telling the Steinbrenners that if they didn’t agree to the terms presented, they’d all walk away. After all, you can’t have a league with just one team.

Again, New York refused to budge. Faced with either continuing under the same financial model or walking away from it all, the other 23 owners chose the latter. MLB ceased operations on Nov. 3, 2009, shut the doors, cancelled all player contracts and stadium leases and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The New York Yankees had killed baseball.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. The Yankees didn’t kill baseball, they killed the MLB. Baseball is just a game. And that’s what James Gordon and representatives from 24 interested parties believed. Beginning a prior to the collapse of MLB, these people began meeting with the goal of offering a league that got back to the roots of the game. They wanted to make it about the players and the fans again.

With that in mind, they began planning an alternate baseball league, competition for MLB. They were looking to go into either areas of both the United States and Canada where the thirst for real baseball with real competition was strong. By October, with nothing more than rumours and innuendo making their way into the public domain, they’d signed leases on ballparks in 24 communities. They were ready to compete with MLB beginning the following year.

And then the Yankees killed MLB.

The fledgling league was ready to step into the void. At a press conference held in Chicago, Commissioner James Gordon outlined some of the league’s plans. They met with representatives of what was formerly the MLB Players’ Association (now the NABLPA) and agreed to continue most of the provisions in the previous MLB CBA. In return, the players agreed to play in the league with a salary cap of $95 million.

In addition, rather than a free agent feeding frenzy that would have done nothing but drive salaries up, the new league conducted an inaugural draft of all players who announced an interest in playing and keep up their membership in the NABLPA. The league will ran with four levels of minor leagues, AAA, AA, A and Rookie. A draft of players from the college and high school ranks has been conducted annually in June.

For the first six years of the NABL, things went well. Fans flocked to the ballparks and owners ran their teams largely without help. These were baseball men who seemed to know what they were doing. But they are also businessmen and accustomed to winning. And greedy. Things started getting out of hand. Although they stayed true to the salary cap, owners began finding ways to circumvent it – backroom deals, handshake agreements, incentive bonuses and the like. Commissioner Gordon saw the league falling into the same trap that had doomed MLB a decade earlier.

So, using the broad powers vested in him when the league was formed, he issued a stunning decision. Like a playground game that got out of hand, the NABL was going to have a do-over. First, Gordon assigned general managers to each of the 24 franchises. Although owners would still have control over the purse strings, the baseball decisions were to be made by these new GMs. And to give everyone a fair shot at building the team they want, there was going to be a complete redraft, from the top-ranked superstar to the last guy hanging on in Rookie ball.

The owners were shocked, fans were shocked and players were shocked. But with his absolute power, Gordon could basically do as he pleased. In effect, the NABL was just like his own OOTP sim league. And he decided he wanted things to run fairly and equitably.

And that brings us to today, the eve of this unique dispersal draft. The selection order hasn’t been set yet, but the general managers have been meeting with Gordon for several weeks to hammer out the details.

As more details of the draft are released, we’ll continue to bring the in-depth and hard-hitting analysis you’ve come to expect from NABL Weekly.

Richard J. Rutkowski
North Shore Honu
2027 NABL Champs!
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