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August 28, 2010

Orioles out of Bluefield

The Orioles announced today that they will end their 53-season relationship with Bluefield, W.Va., where the club has its Rookie-level affiliate.

The Orioles have had a minor league team in Bluefield since 1958, and that's the longest such relationship between one parent club and a baseball town in affiliated baseball.

So in a sense this is a sad day, a historic break for the Orioles.

But let's not get carried away. For the Orioles, Bluefield had outlived its usefulness. The Orioles have two other short-season Single A affiliates in the Gulf Coast League Orioles, who play in Sarasota, Fla., the club''s minor league headquarters, and the Aberdeen IronBirds, who are an easy drive from Camden Yards.

Bluefield is a haul from Baltimore -- six hours plus in a car, I have been told, With most of the other minor league clubs closer, it sort of became the forgotten affiliate.

Bluefield will likely get another major league parent club while the Orioles will cut down their number of affiliates to six, which falls in line with some other teams. That means the Orioles will reduce the number of minor leaguers they employ -- they'll shuffle the Bluefield roster to other affiliates and pare the system a bit. That, too, makes sense. It's about quality, not quantity, and having too many players can be a strain on the development process.

Yes, Bluefield and the Orioles had plenty of history. But it is tough to get too worked up about this one.

Here's Andy MacPhail's prepared statement on the issue:

"On behalf of the Orioles, I wish to express our deepest appreciation to the town and residents of Bluefield for their support of the Orioles organization and over a thousand players who have worn the Bluefield Orioles uniform in the last 53 seasons. While extremely difficult, we believe the decision to end our affiliation with Bluefield is in the best interest of the franchise moving forward. The history of Orioles baseball is not complete without Bluefield, and we have enormous respect and gratitude for the club and the community that helped launch the careers of legends such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Boog Powell. We hope and expect that the next organization in Bluefield enjoys as long and as productive a relationship as we have enjoyed.”

Posted by Dan Connolly at 2:34 PM | | Comments (27)


Here is another corporate stream lining job by Andy for Peter A.. It's all about the bottom line here. Andy will be here 1 more year and leave. The club will still be in last place when Andy drives his car out of Baltimore.

Having spent a part of my life in the area and returning for several years after my family moved away I hate to see it come to an end, but such is life.

I suppose the move makes sense- given the Orioles stated focus on their developmental system keeping the affiliates as close as possible is probably useful. The only downside is that contracting the minor league system in this way limits the Os ability to reach out to new markets. Frederick, Bowie and Aberdeen are clearly within the Orioles existing market, while Norfolk and Delmarva are on the margins of Baltimore's historical reach.

I live in Charleston, SC and the local team here is (unfortunately) a Yankees 1A affiliate. Tampa- which is supposedly the epitome of the kind of organization the Orioles are trying to build- has minor league teams in:
-Montgomery, Alabama
-Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina
-Bowling Green, Kentucky
-Hudson Valley, New York
-Princeton, WV

Note that Tampa doesn't have a single minor league affiliate in Florida, and ALL of these teams are a longer drive than from Baltimore to Bluefield. So apparently Tampa, the model of success for building a strong developmental organization, sets up their minor league network in the exact opposite way that MacPhail does?

This sounds like a pure cost-cutting move, which is sad to see from an organization that has made so many promises in regard to their farm system (but then again they promised to "open the pocketbooks" for top free agents too, didn't they?). They said they wanted to crack Asia and Koji was supposed to be the catalyst- what have we done in Asia since? They said they wanted to develop a more formidable presence in Latin America and touted a Dominican academy as the key investment- but what exactly have we seen on that front either? Our scouting presence and developmental headcount still dramatically trails other teams in the AL East, and in 3 years under MacPhail I really can't say our farm system is much better than it was before he arrived. Sure, we have put more of a focus on stocking the system with talent through draft and trades, but is our system really outperforming others in developing players once we have them? And is our system and the "investments" we're making in our farm affiliates and international presence landing any talent we wouldn't otherwise have gotten?

Until they can start showing fans that the system is truly working better, and not just that we've spent the last years aggressively pumping as much talent as we could into it, any news like this will look like strictly bottom-line thinking.

"But it is tough to get too worked up about this one."

Unless you live in or near Bluefield(which I do) and are an Orioles fan with no other affiliate nearby. I understand the reasoning, but I don't have to like it----or not get "worked up" about it. Many teams have affiliates that are not close by.

They wanted to drop a team and Bluefield made the most sense.

Why did they want to drop a team ?
Because stocking too many teams with players involves the signing of marginal players who take up space not only on the field and in the dugout, but in the lineup as well.

Streamlining is a good thing.
It lets managers and coaches focus on the players who truly have promise without wasting time on the scrubs.

If you want to twist it around and blame the bottom line and/or cost cuts, that's your own cynicism talking.

The truth is, there is only a small percentage of professional players in this world good enough to be major leaguers and a much larger percentage who are not. Now the Orioles have to pay attention to about 25 less who are not.

I think it's a smart move.

Sad losing Bluefield, a lot of good histroy and they support the Os for sooo long.
The Rays Charlotte team is located in Port Charlotte, FL, their spring training home.

Of all the places in the country where bad news might come from during these tough times, who could have thought Bluefield would be in the news over the heart-rending decision of the Orioles to end their long minor league affiliation with that storied beacon of life in the Blue Ridge?

Yes, we might have to write a new song for our work-in-progress musical, "Blue Ridge Morning," which centers on a romance between a guy and a gal from Winston-Salem and Bluefield. In another song, "On the Blue Ridge Side pf Winston," he pines away for his sweetie from across the Blue Ridge in southern West Virginia.

But since she's been a lifelong Orioles fan herself, she is bound to shed a tear, no longer being able to enjoy that magical link "from minor to major," as Cole Porter might have put it, representing the long-standing view of Southerners that the City of Baltimore, from The Sun's Gerald Johnson to the Orioles' Brooks Robinson, was in some serene, pastoral sense intimately linked with the South in ways that perhaps only Tchaikovsky could have explained when he conducted a concert in Baltimore in 1891, for Beethoven never made it to America.

And for those of us who grew up in Charlotte and saw Eddie Murray and Cal Ripkin Jr. pull a hitch in our Double-A Orioles city of those times in the mid-1970s, now we look in vain to the inspiring meadows of the Blue Ridge crescent from the Carolinas to the Virginias for the baseball ties that bind.

We have had to bid adieu to Elmira and Rochester in New York State, and now we must read our Jefferson "Notes on the State of Virginia" (which then included West Virginia) for solace as the City by the Chesapeake, where Thomas Wolfe breathed his last, where "Tommy" Woodrow Wilson analyzed political science trends at Johns Hopkins and which we thought really did still love the South in the 21st Century, has turned to more "efficient" ways of grooming pitchers, shortstops and bullpen catchers grasping for branches from Elrod Hendrick's trails of perennial glory.

Alas, Ken Burns, we too must pine:

"Dear Bluefield, the Orioles are going,
"To new climes closer to town,
"When we're on the grass a-mowing,
"We must fight off a frown.

"Chuck Thompson and Jimbo Palmer,
"Cousin Cosell was from Winston,
"Don't forget those times much calmer,
"From Reisterstown clear to Kinston.

"Viva Baltimore's Class A clubs,
"Wherever the atlas should find them.
"Singleton knows Yankee elbow rubs,
"But his hits won many O's gems.

"Bluefield,. nestled in yon Blue Ridge,
"Keep a room for these embers of old,
"For you helped stock the fridge,
"For Orioile treks so bold!

C'mon Andrew. You went to all the trouble of looking up Tampa's minor league teams, but didn't go the extra step to see why their system is set up that way?

Total # of AAA teams -- 30
# of AAA teams in Fla -- 0
Total # of AA teams -- 30
# of AA teams in Fla -- 0

They have two A-ball teams in the state, in Port Charlotte and their team in the Gulf Coast League.

Oh, and the number of minor league affiliates that Andy MacPhail had any input into bringing into the Orioles system? Zero. The system is the same as it was when he was hired.

You want to rant that closing down Bluefield is evidence of cheapness, okay. But if your point is that having minor league teams close to the big league club is somehow a bad thing, you lost me. Should they move the AAA team to Alaska and the AA team to the South Pole?

I think its amazing they had a team in Bluefield for so long. Where in the hell is Bluefield?

Makes sense they are playing just in Sarasota at the spring training facility.

It would be nice to find a way get York into the mix. Plant the O's flag deeper in Central PA. ML teams should form an affiliation with the Independent leagues. More talent, the better.

Did anyone know the O's have 2 DR Summer League Teams? They are hitting a combined .209 with 14 home runs in 142 total games. I think I could hit .210 in that league... jeez...

I don't think Bluefield has had a winning record since Aberdeen joined the organization. Three short-season teams are too much, and GCL works better for the youngest players. It's where they train for spring and extended spring anyway.

This is a disappointment. My wife grewup in the Welch/Davy area. I was hoping to get back there and see the area. As, I made my first O's spring training visit last Feb.

Robert W: the Rays' AA affiliate was in Orlando up until a few years ago, when they moved to Montgomery. Not to get too sidetracked on Tampa's system, which is successful because they have very smart people running it, not where their affiliates happen to be located.

Oh, Robert W: I just remembered that the Marlins' AA club is in Jacksonville, so you're also mistaken about that other thing.

Back on topic, the park in Bluefield was a lot of fun with the best backdrop I've ever seen, and as a fan of the Appy League, I hope they get a new club in there for next season.

Oh, wah wah wah........

My own father used to play semi-pro ball in Bluefield, W.Va. out of Majestic, Kentucky back in 1934-35.

There is history no matter where one goes.
When it's time for a change for the better, don't hesitate.

This is a good move.

I think this makes sense and may make our other two short season teams better since they can put their better prospects on two teams instead of spread out to cover three.. Also with two teams in the domican summer league, I hope some of the money savings will go to getting more players and a team in the venezuelian league..

Sometimes, traditions simply come to an end. Western Union doesn't deliver telegrams anymore. Music is no longer released on LPs. It's a little sad but things happen. As I understand it, with seven minor league franchises, the Orioles had more than most (if not all) MLB teams.

A real low point came a few years ago when the Rochester Red Wings essentially fired the Orioles and switched to the Twins.

If people didn't "get too worked up" over sports, Mr. Connolly, you would be writing about car crashes and committee meetings.

Was the start of the relationship 1958? For the record, I havve a great looking Bluefield Orioles cap, bought from them, which has embroidered on it "est. 1955". Quien sabe? Larry Lawyer

I have been an Orioles fan since 1965 and have lived and followed the Bluefield Orioles for many years.
The decision to end the affiiliation with Bluefield is yet another example of the end of the Oriole Way and a continued alienation of the fans who followed the Orioles in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and through today.
There is ABSOLUTELY no justification for taking this much needed boost to the Appalachian region of our nation at a time when the economy continues to suffer and to insult all of the generation of Orioles fans throughout the Appalachian region.
There are many fans who will never get over this, including many with disabilities who live and die with the Bluefield Orioles. There are multigeneration fans of this franchise and it is just APPALLING that the history of this is not appreciated or sustained.
I, for one, will never again attend another Orioles game given this ultimate crass decision by Andy Macphail and I will encourage all Bluefield Orioles fans to switch their allegiance and dollars to another team.

I remember pitching a game in the Bluefield Stadium while in college. It was the worst mound I ever saw.

I got bombed, so it must have been the mound, right?

Bowen Field is a great little park for baseball and it was just an hour up the road for me. Oh well......... I'll have to watch the Tides in Charlotte. Go O's.

As long as there is a team in Bluefield next season, I'll be fine.

So sad to see the Baby Birds go. I went to my first game with my father in 1964 and followed them as well as Baltimore all that time. Now I can give up on the Orioles without feeling guilty. They are bad and have been for so long. I have not understood their direction for many years now. Hopefully another team will come in and maybe they will be my new favorite (as long as it isn't the Yankees)

To the Authors: Bluefield is not a single A short season club. It is a rookie level club just as the GCL Orioles are.

To Bernard in SC: The Rays DO have a minor league affiliate in Florida: The Charlotte Stone Crabs play in Pt. Charlotte, Fla., not Charlotte, NC.

Shamrock - Bluefield is on I-77, south of Charleston on the VA/WV border.

Mike - You're right... they went 45-23 in 2002

Larry - Interesting. Bluefield was aligned with 4 different teams between '46 & '57 before the O's came aboard. They won the league in '57 as the Dodgers.

I grew up in Bluefield - saw my first (any many after that) minor league game at Bowen field. I remember a young man that I didn't even know catching a fowl ball, and choosing part way through the game to give it to me. It was a wonderful, simple, great family time going to games there - and a great group of faithful fans who attended games and supported the team.

This decision is the Orioles' loss - and a gain for whatever team chooses Bluefield. I for one will never again support anything related to the Orioles.

All is well in Bluefield. Last night I had the pleasure of seeing my first game at Bowen Field. The Blue Jays swept in and the town has taken to them. The regulars were decked out in Blue Jay Blue. I spoke with several Bluefieldians and they are appreciative of the new team and love the spunk of the players. There is a battle for the Mercer Cup this year too. Those of you who aren't in the know, look it up. The Appy League is a real gem.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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