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Free the Minors!



Leave Scorch Aloooooooooooone!

On Thursday, I inadvertently stumbled onto a story that would get national media attention. I drove to the War Memorial world-renowned Glens Falls Civic Center to get tickets to the inaugural opening night game on Saturday, and met the mascot who was on the premises as part of what turned out to be a disastrous PR initiative. In addition to the obvious tastelessness of the film, I’m also offended by the historical revisionism of the backstory. Everyone knows that the name is meant to commemorate Sherman’s marches through Western Canada and the Adirondacks.  Never forget.

I am, however, compelled to note that Scorch not only offered us a friendly greeting but directed me through the labyrinthine set of stairwells to the office where I could buy a ticket-flex pack. So I AM ON TEAM SCORCH.

To make a broader point, my relative excitement about the new AHL team 50 miles away when I only sporadically attend the games of the local AHL team says something about the nature of minor league sports in the US. I like watching live hockey a lot, of course, and if I still lived in Calgary I would see as many games as I could afford to. (Which, given current prices, wouldn’t be very many; it’s good that I’m not moving back, since this blog might have a higher fundraisers-to-posts ratio than Jeff Goldstein’s.) AHL games are cheap and relatively high quality. But as Bill James pointed out a couple decades ago, since they exist purely for developmental purposes and aren’t really allowed to compete properly, it’s impossible to develop any real attachment to the teams. I’m interested to watch Adirondack because I have an attachment to the players through my attachment to the parent club.

For some reason, people are very fond of citing the European relegation system, often using it to make quarter-assed arguments that could be identified as unworkable on the slightest inspection. (Hi Utica — you’re an NHL team now! Let us know how selling what are surely your many skyboxes to all the Fortune 500 companies with head offices in Oneida County is going!) Relegation doesn’t make any sense here, even if you think that its benefits are greater than I do. On the other hand, having actual free minors like European club teams would be a major improvement for North American pro sports. The best players would eventually end up in the major leagues, but minor leagues where teams could actually compete on a season-to-season basis rather than existing solely to serve the goals of another organization would be a lot better.

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