The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes have been a staple of the community for more than two decades. But due to a new proposal from Major League Baseball (MLB), the future of the organization could be in jeopardy.
As a part of their plan to overhaul the current minor league system, the MLB has recently created a proposal to cut ties with approximately 25 percent of their lower level minor league teams (42 to be exact), including the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
If the proposal comes to fruition, the Volcanoes would lose their affiliation with the San Francisco Giants and be forced to play as an independent organization — that is, if they continue to maintain operations.
The Volcanoes are one of two teams in the Northwest League that would be getting the axe under this proposal — with the other team being the Tri-City Dust Devils, who are affiliated with the San Diego Padres.
The proposal would take place after the 2020 season.
“The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes are staunchly opposed to any proposal by Major League Baseball that eliminates Minor League Baseball from the Salem-Keizer area, or any other city in America,” said Jerry Walker, who has been the owner of the team since the inaugural 1997 season.
For more than 20 years, Volcanoes fans have gotten the opportunity to watch the future stars of the San Francisco organization. In fact, 11 former Volcanoes players have helped the Giants win multiple World Series titles (2010, 2012 and 2014).
But an even bigger problem for the Volcanoes losing that partnership with the Giants, other than the loss of market value, is that in order for the Volcanoes to keep operations running, they would have to foot the bill for players and coaches' contracts.
As it stands now, minor league coaches and players are on the payroll of their team's major league affiliate. Major league teams also select and assign personnel to fill up all of their minor league rosters.
However, it is up minor league teams to provide all other operations, including field maintenance and travel, plus jerseys and equipment. This working arrangement between both sides, which is outlined by the Professional Baseball Agreement, concludes after the 2020 season.
Considering the Volcanoes attracted just over 80,000 fans in 2019 — which was a 12 percent increase from the previous season — and that it cost just $10 to get in the door, it would be difficult to keep the organization running independently without the help of a major league affiliate.
“It would be crushing to lose roughly a quarter of our membership. It would be taking away something that effects the quality of life in those cities,” said Jeff Lantz, the senior director of communications with Minor League Baseball.
Lantz said there have been examples of independent leagues having success in places like St. Paul, Minnesota and Sugar Land, Texas. But Lantz also believes that independent squads can only find success and support in bigger cities.
“Independent baseball is successful in so few cities. Yes, you have examples in St. Paul and Sugar Land, but those cities are much bigger than Keizer,” Lantz said. “Having players paid by MLB teams is much more sustainable. I don't see how the independent model would work.”
Losing the Volcanoes would do a lot more then leave a litany of bummed out baseball fans in Keizer and Salem. Local businesses and charities would take a hit as well.
“In Salem-Keizer alone, the elimination of the Volcanoes would take away tens of thousands of dollars in charitable donations that we provide to local non-profits. We would lose out on the opportunity to be able to support our beloved military community here in the Salem-Keizer (area). We would no longer be able to recognize and highlight the hundreds of military families here for what they do every day,” Walker said. “It would also severely hurt business on a local level in our community, as well as dozens of other cities throughout the nation.”
According to The New York Times, the MLB is looking to reorganize the current system to make the minor leagues more efficient and improve on conditions and facilities.
With their proposed plan, the MLB hopes to limit the number of rounds to the league's draft — currently there are 40 — and eventually form a “Dream League,” which would provide undrafted players an opportunity to break into the pros. The league would be operated by the MLB at a minimal cost — even though the average salary of a minor league player is $7,000.
It was reasoning regarding the conditions and facilities that left Walker especially “perplexed.”
Volcanoes Stadium was built in 1997 to the standards set by Major League Baseball, according to Walker. The plans were submitted and approved by the MLB and the stadium has undergone several renovations and upgrades over the last 22 years, including the addition of three new buildings.
Another main concern of the MLB was the travel. But Walker claims that the Volcanoes had the fewest miles traveled in the Northwest League.
“This proposal from Major League Baseball is not just an attack on Minor League Baseball, but a threat to the livelihood of communities like ours,” Walker said. “The Volcanoes are ready to fight for baseball to remain in this community as well as the other 41 communities that the MLB plans to steal teams from.”
Fortunately for the Volcanoes, and the 41 other teams who's collective futures hang in the balance, there is support coming from Washington D.C.
U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), as well as 105 members of the U.S House of Representatives, sent a letter asking MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to reconsider the proposal.
“The abandonment of minor league clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs,” the letter said. “We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.”
On Thursday, Nov. 21, Schrader went on his Twitter account to express his support for the Volcanoes.
“I was proud to represent @SKVolcanoes in the Congressional Baseball Game and am proud to represent them at home in Oregon. Millions of people visit minor league baseball games every year and they are vital parts of our communities,” said Schrader in a post that included a picture of him wearing a Volcanoes jersey at Nationals Park.
Lantz also stated that it's important for people to know that both sides are just beginning the negotiation process and that the 2020 season isn't in danger.
“We don't want anyone to panic. We still have a long way to go. We want to know what the MLB's concerns are and how we can fix them,” Lantz said. “You fight with your family members sometimes, but you don't kick them out of the family.”
Fans interested in supporting the Volcanoes organization can go to saveourvolcanoes.com to sign a petition.