Bob Henley will be coaching third base for the Washington Nationals in the World Series.
He is rumored to be a candidate to become the San Diego Padres’ manager.
Henley was a catcher on the 1994 Burlington Bees. He was most valuable player in the Midwest League All-Star Game that summer, finishing the season with a .301 batting average and 20 home runs.
Henley played nine seasons of professional baseball, eight in the Montreal Expos’ organization. He played one season in the majors with the Expos, hitting .304 with three home runs.
Henley was a 26th-round draft pick by the Expos in 1991, not exactly a top prospect, but he did make it to the majors.
Henley wasn’t the only connection to the Bees in this year’s MLB postseason. Max Muncy, who had his second consecutive 35-homer season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Bees in 2012. Sean Newcomb, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, pitched for the Bees in 2014 and 2015.
There have been Midwest League connections with other teams throughout the playoffs. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros played in Quad Cities. Jack Flaherty, Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader were among the St. Louis Cardinals players who played in Peoria — Matt Carpenter played with the Cardinals’ affiliate in Quad Cities in 2009.
Their postseason success comes at a time when the future of their former league, as well as other leagues in the lower levels of the minors, is under scrutiny.
The Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is up at the end of the 2020 season.
On Friday, Baseball America reported that MLB is suggesting a cut to the number of minor league affiliates from 160 to 120 teams beginning in 2021.
The reduction would eliminate the four short-season and Rookie leagues, but not necessarily the franchises in those leagues. The Midwest League is considered Low-A, and thus out of that part of the proposal, but franchises in the league would have to meet what is expected to be higher facility standards agreed upon by MLB and MiLB.
Such standards could include larger clubhouse areas to accommodate the expected increase in player development staff, improved lighting and field conditions, workout/training areas for players, perhaps even a dining area/kitchen for nutritional staff.
As well, there could be a restructuring of leagues to cut down on travel costs.
Franchises that are cut would be eligible to be part of a proposed “Dream League,” which would be similar to an independent league, where franchises would be responsible for salaries of players and field staff. Baseball America wrote that a franchise in that league would add about $300,000-$400,000 in costs from salaries, workers’ compensation and staffing.
Baseball America wrote that, “In MLB’s viewpoint, roughly a quarter of all current MiLB clubs far fall below the level of facilities they view as needed for their minor league players. MLB has essentially put the onus on MiLB to find a way to guarantee those stadiums will all reach what MLB deems as acceptable standards in the near future. If MiLB cannot, then MLB has a proposal to simply reduce the number of affiliated minor league teams going forward to the 75 percent of MiLB clubs that MLB deems capable of meeting their facility needs. MLB would work with MiLB and others to ensure the remaining 25 percent of clubs have baseball teams of some sort, but they would no longer be affiliated MiLB clubs.”
In many ways, this current negotiation is similar to 1990, when Major League Baseball wanted significant upgrades to ballparks. The negotiations were so heated, it wasn’t until after the 1990 season when a deal was made.
Burlington survived that with major renovations and investment in Community Field, while other Midwest League cities did not.
There are some positives within MLB’s proposal, including affiliations that would be more geographically advantageous. That would mean that Burlington, for example, could get an affiliate closer than the Los Angeles Angels, the Bees’ current affiliate.
But there should be concern everywhere in the minors for franchises that aren’t already owned by MLB teams.
All of this is just a proposal and, as Baseball America points out, it could be a starting point for more concessions from the minors to take on some of the added costs that will come with more staff and higher salaries.
But it is clear that there is some sort of shift coming in professional baseball in the next season.
If anything, it should make it clear to the area that a minor-league team isn’t a guarantee.
Some of the stories that have played out in the MLB postseason have had their roots in the Midwest League.
Fan support, and community support, can only help those stories continue.