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The Prince William Cannons are likely to end their seven-year affiliation with the New York Yankees and link up with the Chicago White Sox for the 1994 season. However, officials of the Carolina League franchise emphasize that published reports about the change are “premature.” The Yankees still have another year to run on their contract with the Woodbridge, Va., team and could maintain their Class A affiliation with 1993’s news-magnet county. What could be more natural than a team called the Yankees near (or at) Disney’s America?
Uncertainty about the Cannons is yet another minor-league ripple resulting from major-league expansion. Until last season, the Yankees operated a Class A Florida State League (FSL) franchise. But the Fort Lauderdale territory became property of the expansion Florida Marlins when they opened for business in Miami, so the Yankees agreed to leave the area and coincidentally decided to cut their player-development budget, going with two Class A franchises instead of three. For 1994, the Yankees will have a FSL franchise at Tampa, where they have their minor-league headquarters and a rookie-grade Gulf Coast League. If they’re going to remain tightfisted, then they’ll drop one of their other Class A affiliates. Prince William, at a roughly equivalent level of play with the FSL, is the most logical candidate.
Thanks to expansion, the Chicago White Sox also enter the picture. The Marlins, who were the recipients of the dregs of minor-league affiliations last year, want to move their farm teams closer to home; they’ve purchased the White Sox’s FSL affiliate, which had been in Sarasota, to play at their new spring training complex in Brevard County, north of Miami. In addition to bringing Marlin prospects closer to team officials, as the Yankees are doing in Tampa, the move also will help build the Mariners’ fan base in an area where they may someday compete for loyalties with a team in Orlando.
But the sale of their FSL franchise leaves the White Sox short one Class A affiliate. The White Sox alternatives include taking over the Marlins’ former affiliate in the San Bernardino area—the High Desert Mavericks of the California League—or keeping their remaining two Class A affiliates and filling the gap in their farm system with a short-season team, one that begins play after the June draft. Or, as several publications have speculated, the Sox could take the Prince William franchise, assuming that the Yankees give it up.
The Cannons’ uncertain situation is hardly unique in the wild and crazy world of minor-league baseball. Though some teams own farm clubs, most belong to entrepreneurs who are trying to make a buck, perhaps serving a community, and definitely enjoying the vicarious thrill of baseball ownership.
Even independently owned minor-league teams get their players and their on-field marching orders from major-league parents. Since few players and even fewer major-league prospects spend more than a year with the same Class A-level team, the Cannons will have a new cast of players regardless of the source. There’s no reliable way to predict whether they’d get better players from the Yanks or the Sox.
Whether there’s greater Yankee or Sox appeal locally is similarly debatable. Despite their current woes, the Yankees still hold traditional appeal as the team of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle. The Cannons have enjoyed a good relationship during their seven years with the Yankees, even if left-handed pitcher phenom Brien Taylor didn’t come to Prince William last year. Three years ago, Wall Street big wheel and Yankee fan Frank Bolton bought the biggest piece of the Cannons, precisely because they were a Yankee affiliate. But Bolton—having acquired a piece of the Albany-Colonie Yankees, a higher classification team located closer to home—sold out last spring and also became a partner in the Carolina League’s Wilmington franchise. With Bolton out of the Cannons’ picture, there’s no strong Yankee loyalist left in the Cannons camp.
The White Sox are currently riding a wave of popularity with their American League West championship last season and marquee players such as AL Most Valuable Player Frank Thomas, Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell, and bionic Bo Jackson. The Sox also rank high on the merchandise sales list. Although Prince William’s name and its cannon-firing-baseballs logo will remain unchanged regardless of affiliation, a change of affiliation to the White Sox might mean different pin-stripe uniforms, Sunday-black jerseys for the Cannons, and new merchandising opportunities with the Sox’s popular silver-and-black clothing and other paraphernalia. But that’s a potential benefit from a change in affiliates, not a reason to push for a switch.
“It’s not our call,” says Cannons partner and Washington attorney Bart Fisher. “If the New York Yankees are more comfortable having us with the Chicago White Sox, it’s not a problem.”
Fisher thinks it’s “all to the good” that the White Sox owners, shapers of the new television deal and playoff format, are paying attention to the Cannons.
“If [White Sox Chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf is interested, it says something about this market,” Fisher says.
In this big news year for Prince William County, the Cannons’ affiliation question remains a minor-league event in every sense.
Whose Meeting Is It, Anyway? The reason you read and heard so much about the previously obscure general managers’ meetings earlier this month is the decision by the major-league brain trust to make December winter meetings more obscure. Neither the GMs nor the owners will come to the December confab. Owners were concerned about the meetings’ recent evolution into a free agent auction. The changes in this year’s meetings help explain this fall’s caravan of free agents to Baltimore and other interested cities.
So, as free agent signings become local stories, owners wonder why the game has no national stars.