BY ANDREAS BUTLER
An independent Minor League Baseball team in Daytona Beach with ties to Jackie Robinson could lose its Major League Baseball affiliation next year.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has announced plans to reduce affiliations with Minor League Baseball franchises once the current agreement – called the Professional Baseball Agreement – ends in September 2020.
The New York Times on Sunday reported Major League Baseball’s plan to relocate or eliminate 42 minor league affiliations, dropping the total from 160 to 118.
Tortugas on list
On that list is the Daytona Tortugas, a minor league franchise in the Florida State League (FSL), which is a Class A high affiliate league of MLB. The Tortugas are a part of the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system.
The Tortugas play in the historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark in downtown Daytona Beach, which has a rich tradition and history.
Robinson broke the color barrier in the ballpark named after him on March 17, 1946, in a game with the Montreal Royals the AAA affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time. That was a year before he did it in the Majors.
Rick French, co-owner of the Daytona Tortugas, told the Florida Courier, “I can’t really wrap my head around Major League Baseball not wanting Minor League Baseball in Daytona Beach, which is hallowed ground.”
Bob Fregolle and Reid Smith are the other Tortugas co-owners.
On Monday, French released a letter to the media and Congress about the matter.
“We are angry. We’ve done everything right. We’ve invested and did what Major League Baseball stands for by offering affordable entertainment and supporting the Cincinnati Reds, our parent club,” French said.
On Tuesday, 100 members of Congress notified Major League Baseball about contracting Minor League affiliates and possibly violating anti-trust laws.
“We have a nationwide effort underway supporting saving all 42 franchises. I think what can really help us in Daytona is if the Congressional Black Caucus gets on board,” stated French.
‘A greedy move’
The Tortugas are also an independently owned team and is not owned by its MLB affiliate the Cincinnati Reds like most minor league franchises.
There are three other teams independently owned FSL teams – the Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves), Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay Rays) and the Fort Myers Miracle (Minnesota Twins). The Fire Frogs are among the 42 teams in the report.
“The teams that are being eliminated are independently owned – not the ones owned by Major League teams. It’s a greedy move to make independent owners pay for players’ salaries and more. I am also hearing that MLB won’t stop here and want to limit the number of Minor League affiliates to 90 teams,’’ French added.
Success in Daytona
The loss of these franchises could have devastating effects on their towns and cities.
“The economic impact on downtown would be a tremendous setback where great strides are being made. I feel strongly that baseball should always be played in a place where the game was integrated and in many ways the modern civil rights movement gained its wings,” stated Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry.
Minor League Baseball has been successful in Daytona.
The Tortugas team has been in existence since 2015; the club was previously The Cubs when affiliated with the Chicago Cubs (19932014). They won five FSL titles in 1995, 200, 2004, 2008, 2013 during that span. Other Minor League Clubs including the Islanders and Astros won titles.
The 2019 Tortugas reached the FSL Championship, set a franchise attendance record, averaged the second best attendance in the FSL and posted the seventh best win percentage in all of minor league baseball.
“We have a history of excellence on and off the field in the Daytona Beach community, French noted, adding how the franchise has bought uniforms and equipment to support the city’s youth baseball programs.
The Jackie Robinson Ballpark, originally known as City Island Ball Park, opened in Daytona Beach in 1914. It is the oldest park in both the FSL and MiLB. It’s also the fourth oldest park still used in all professional baseball.
The only Major League ballpark that’s older is Fenway Park (1912), the home of the Boston Red Sox.
Minor league baseball has been at Jackie Robinson Ballpark since 1920 when the Islanders played there.
‘A living museum’
The park also has a museum highlighting Robinson’s achievements.
“Just look what Robinson did here in this park which is a living museum. Robinson opened opportunities for others here. Daytona Beach has a civil rights history that you just can’t trample on,” French stated.
“For Major League Baseball to stress for diversity inclusion and not have baseball affiliations here makes no sense. They celebrate his legacy each year by having players on each team wear No. 42. This year will be his 100th birthday,” French added.