Indie ball in the States and Japan
Posted by simon c on 2008 June 4日 Wednesday
The Golden League was formed in 2005, one of a handful of circuits operating independently from Major League Baseball and its farm system. Crowds are small and so are salaries, but independent baseball generally offers great entertainment for fans. Prices are low, the atmosphere is intimate and, unlike in affiliated minor-league ball, the home team’s objective is to win games, not train players.
And of course the independent leagues are at least as enthusiastic about wacky promotions and stunts as the affiliated minors. Golden League commissioner Kevin Outcalt said it was his idea two years ago to trade 60 cases of beer for a player, a move that made small headlines nationwide. The player was Nigel Thatch, the guy who played “Leon” in those Budweiser commercials a few years back.
Thatch was a pitcher as well as an actor, toiling in the independent Northern League for the Schaumburg Flyers, near Chicago. He had requested a trade to a Los Angeles-area team so he could pursue acting work, so Outcalt agreed to arrange for a trade between Schaumburg and the Fullerton Flyers of the Golden League.
Outcalt says that when his Schaumburg contact told him that Thatch wasn’t much of a player, he said, “‘Then let’s have some fun with it.’ So I offered to trade a pallet of beer for him. And then he got all bent out of shape about it and refused to report — which made it an even better story!”
You might recognize the Schaumburg Flyers as the team that lets fans vote on lineup changes and such through a Web site.
For all the fun, the independent leagues are serious business, especially for the players. Men who have washed out of affiliated ball or who have gone unsigned use them as a summer-long audition for big-league scouts, who pay attention. The Golden League sells about 20 contracts a year to big-league clubs, and while the relatively new circuit has yet to graduate a player to the majors, other independent leagues have sent a steady trickle of talent to the show, mostly relief pitchers.
Baltimore Orioles closer George Sherrill played in both the Northern and Frontier leagues. His teammate Kevin Millar is also a Northern League vet. The Atlantic League has established itself as the go-to circuit for former big-league stars who want to keep their careers going. Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, John Rocker and Juan Gonzalez have all played there in the last few years. Henderson also spent time in the Golden League.
Philadelphia Phillies backup catcher Chris Coste spent four years with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Northern League before embarking on a rambling journey through the farm systems of four organizations before Philadelphia called him up late in the 2006 season. He tells his story in a new book,“The 33-Year-Old Rookie: How I Finally Made it to the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors.”
Incidentally the Golden League featured a travelling Japanese team called the Samurai Bears one season, managed by one time favourite Yomiuri Giant and Montreal Expo Warren Cromartie. The team started off ok, but eventually struggled to the bottom of the division, partially due to travel fatigue that always accompany travelling teams, not to mention playing in an entirely foreign country to boot.
There are currently 2 independent baseball leagues in Japan. The Shikoku-Kyushu Island League with 6 teams (expanded into the island of Kyushu this year from just Shikoku island, hence the name), and the Baseball Challenge League which is located in north central Japan which also has 6 teams. These 2 leagues play an annual championship series, so essentially these unaffliated leagues are acting as the third or fourth tier of Japanese pro/semi-pro ball (NPB, farm leagues, and then industrial/college/independent leagues, will get more to the level of competition at each level in a future post as this one was supposed to be more about the Golden League tryouts video.) Incidentally, the Shikoku league has had players drafted into NPB, and even a player (pitcher and league MVP 2 years running, Terumasa Matsuo) signed by the Boston Red Sox.