ESPN Network: | | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY

Outside the Lines: Minor Leagues, Major Changes

Here's the transcript from Show 69 of weekly Outside The Lines - Minor Leagues, Major Changes

Host: Mark Schwarz, ESPN.
Reported by: Dave Revsine, ESPN.
Guests: David Chase, President and Executive Director, The National Pasttime.

Announcer - July 22, 2001.

Mark Schwarz, host - Minor League Baseball is celebrating its 100th birthday. And if you haven't been to a game lately, you might not recognize it. The minors are moving up to modern ballparks, in bigger cities. It's now less about the game, and more about the so-called fan experience.

Unidentified Female - Only 50 percent of the fans left the game knowing what the score was.

Schwarz - Small town teams in small time facilities could face extinction.

Unidentified Male - This is baseball the way that it used to be.

Schwarz - We'll look at the movie that may have best depicted minor league ball, and find out why the Durham Bulls are now giving "Bull Durham" mixed reviews.

Unidentified Male - We're glad to be associated with the name and the fame and all of that, but that was not a PG movie.

Schwarz - Wacky promotions, coordinated concessions, major league amenities; is the action on the field still the most interesting? A tour of the minor leagues reveals major changes.

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Joining us from ESPN Studios, and sitting in for Bob Ley - Mark Schwarz.

Schwarz - On its 100th anniversary, Minor League Baseball is as healthy as its been since the height of its popularity in the late 1940s before television. Before the majors expanded into the largest minor league cities. Celebrated at the Smithsonian this week, Minor League Baseball is on a roll. Attendance has more than doubled since 1986, and has increased steadily for the last three decades, nearly quadrupling since 1969.

Since 1990, exactly half of Minor League Baseball's 160 affiliated clubs have built, or are completing modern stadiums, custom homes decked out with club suites, party decks, even swimming pools. Just as in the Major Leagues, though, big market clubs have begun to outclass their small town cousins.

Perhaps the best example of that, the Midwest League, where the new look, represented by the Lansing Lugnuts, faces the old guard, typified by the Clinton Lumber Kings. The teams battle today in Clinton, Iowa as a matter of fact, and Dave Revsine tells a tale of two Minor League cites.

Unidentified Male - Ready for a ball game?

Dave Revsine, ESPN correspondent - Riverview Stadium, Clinton, Iowa, home of the Class A Midwest League's Clinton Lumber Kings.

Unidentified Female - What kind of candy bar hon?

Unidentified Child - Any kind.

Unidentified Male - Any kind?

Unidentified Child - Yes, Snickers.

Revsine - From the ball player working the concession stand during a rain delay to the birds nest on the field of play, to the general manager raking the infield, this is Minor League Baseball as we've always known it, in a place where Norman Rockwell could have found plenty of material.

Unidentified Male - This is baseball the way that it used to be, and that's why people love it, and are drawn to it.

Unidentified Male - We're sold out right now, standing room only, that's what we're trying for.

Revsine - But this, too, is Minor League Baseball. Oldsmobile Park, Lansing, Michigan, home of the Class A Midwest League's Lansing Lugnuts. Same classification, same league, different world.

Lansing is a metropolitan area of more than 300,000, Clinton a relatively isolated town of about 30,000. Lansing's $12 million stadium, funded by the city and leased to the team, includes 26 luxury suites and a state of the art scoreboard, concession areas and amenities on par with a Major League park.

The contrast between Lansing's five-year old stadium and Clinton's Depression-era facility are stark, whether you're comparing Lansing's spacious clubhouse to Clinton's cramped facility or Lansing's electronic marquis to Clinton's low-tech model. And the differences don't end there.

Sherrie Myers, Co-owner, Lansing Lugnuts - I would say we're in the entertainment business. We did an exit interview, actually, a couple of years ago, and found out that only 50 percent of the fans left the game knowing what the score was.

Revsine - Do you have any idea who's winning?

Unidentified Male - Nope, don't care either.

Revsine - Would you be surprised if I told you that we're one inning away from having a no-hitter pitch?

Unidentified Male - I guess I didn't know that.

Revsine - The fans may not be coming for the baseball, but the point of Lansing is that they're coming. Husband and wife team, Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers brought the Lugnuts here in 1996 when they became the first Class A or AA franchise ever to draw more than half a million fans in its inaugural season.

That mark was exceeded last year by another Midwest League franchise, the Dayton Dragons, who exemplify the impact big business is having on the minors. They are owned By Mandalay Sports Entertainment, hardly your stereotypical mom and pop operation.

After drawing nearly 600,000 fans in 2000, the Dragons sold out every seat in their stadium this year before the season even started. Still, the fans in Clinton believe they have the better product.

Dennis Lauver, President, Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce - The product they're delivering is a miniature version of Major League Baseball, which is different than Minor League Baseball in the sense that everything was talked about back in the '94 work stoppage. And all the charm that was found in Minor League Baseball in that you get to know the players in the community and that knitting together of the ball team. I don't see that and how that can occur in a community of quite that size. It's more of a business there than it is in a community this size.

Revsine - And cities like Lansing are cashing in.

Mayor Dave Hollister, Lansing, Michigan - We are growing, we are thriving, and the Lugnuts were part of turning it around, and they're a major part of keeping it going to fundamentally change how people view this city.

Revsine - Great as the Lugnuts have been for Lansing, this city's gain has been another's loss. Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers moved the team from Waterloo, Iowa, where it had played for 90 years.

Tom Dickson, Co-owner, Lansing Lugnuts - Part of me would like to see some of the franchises that struggle a little more survive, because there's a lot of character in that and there's a lot of history to that. I'm not sure whether some of them will long-term. The economics of this business have changed, you know, in many ways like they've changed in Major League Baseball.

Unidentified Male - There you go, boyo.

Revsine - One of the reasons the Lumber Kings have survived this long is their unique community ownership structure. The fans are also stockholders, and at the going rate of about $5 million for a class A franchise, the potential is there to cash in.

George Chaney, President of the Board of Dir., Clinton Baseball, Inc. - Ever since I've been president, we get inquiries about, maybe one a month about if we want to sell the ball club. But it's just not for sale.

Revsine - How much money would it take?

Sid McDonald, Lumber Kings stockholder - It wouldn't -- there's no amount of money that could buy my shares.

Revsine - But simply hanging on to their shares won't guarantee Clinton residences the ability to hang on to their team. Each Minor League Baseball city has to be in compliance with the Professional Baseball Agreement, which sets minimum standards for team facilities. And while Clinton is currently in compliance, were Minor League Baseball to raise the bar significantly, the city might be in trouble.

Gail Ryner, Lumber Kings stockholder - Some of these towns, I guess, have floated bond issues. There's no way that we would get a bond issue passed here to build an 8, 10, $11 million-dollar stadium.

Dickson - If you don't have a new stadium that can economically do what we're able to do here, for example, it's hard to deliver the fan experience. If you can't deliver the fan experience, you can't get the crowds, and then you can't afford to pay the people. And it starts to snowball. I would hate to see them lose Minor League Baseball. And it might happen, it already has happened in some places.

Revsine - Do you think that this team will be here 15 years from now?

Lauver - Well I hope so, but you can say the same thing about Montreal, Minneapolis, you can say that about Milwaukee, Kansas City, and several other small American teams across the nation. Are they going to be there in 15 years? I don't know. Is it critical to those communities? Yeah, it's important to baseball to be in communities of this size.

Revsine - Progress can be a double-edged sword. For now, small town-based ball fans like those in Clinton, Iowa hold on tightly to the past, while hoping for a future.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Dave Revsine.

Schwarz - So what will Minor League Baseball look like in the future? Well, in fact, it may look an awful lot like this - Memphis, Tennessee, the new beautiful home of the Memphis Red Birds, built a year ago, AutoZone Park. They had 850,000 fans a year ago.

And joining us from there, where he is a president of a soon-to-open Museum of Minor League Baseball, David Chase, who also served as publisher and then-president of "Baseball America" for two decades.

Welcome David.

David Chase, President and Executive Director, The National Pasttime - Good morning, Mark.

Schwarz - Good morning.

You saw the piece that Dave Revsine just did, and we saw this mom and pop community-owned small town ballpark and team from Clinton, Iowa. Is there a future for a Minor League Club like that?

Chase - I really don't think there is a future inside affiliated baseball for operations like that, unfortunately. The smaller cities just can't compete, and it really doesn't have a lot to do with the desire of owners or the greed of owners, it has more to do with the quality of the facility. Major League Clubs are here to grow prospects. To do that, they have very high demands on the facilities now. And without public money or a large influx of corporate dollars, such as here in Memphis, you can't have that in a ballpark like Clinton.

Schwarz - So you're saying that Lansing owner Tom Dixon was right when he said, "Without the new stadium, without these great amenities, you can't deliver the fan experience." David, I thought baseball was supposed to be the fan experience.

Chase - Well if you come to a ballgame in Memphis, the fan experience is number one. But you can also have a family experience without interfering with the baseball game. And I think traditionally, Minor League Baseball has been very close to crossing that line, in as much as they do a lot of promotions on the field between innings. Because they think they need to do that to hold the audience.

Here in Memphis, you mentioned the attendance last year, the other side of that is, 925,000 tickets were sold for the regular season and play-off games. We sold out play-off games here in Memphis, which is unheard of in Minor League Baseball. But it was done because the baseball experience is pure. The total family experience happens elsewhere in the ballpark.

Schwarz - Well you know, when I was a kid, my dad would hand me a scorecard and teach me how to score the baseball game. He'd show me what to look for. When I go to the game with my kids, who are 11 and 9, they might just as well bounce on that Moonbounce and look for that merry-go-round. Now, they may love going to the ballpark, David, but are we raising a generation of kids who won't necessarily understand the nuances of the game, and won't be able to love it long-term?

Chase - Well I have an eight-year-old son, and he has recently discovered baseball, not necessarily from visiting the ballpark, as much as the other things, the computer games, and television, things like that. When he gets a little older, I'm hoping he'll realize you come here and sit down. You don't come here just to get a hot dog or to play in the playground area, but to do other things. I think that's our challenge is to make it exciting.

When we were growing up, the radio helped us do that, helped develop our imagination and appreciation for the game. Now it's a little bit different. But I think in the long run, the game of baseball is incredibly solid, and the experience in the Minor League ballparks, getting the kids out here is the first challenge. And then you can teach them baseball as you go along.

Schwarz - David, which version of Minor League Baseball is best for the game? Is it Lansing's new look, or is it Clinton's charm?

Chase - I think it's Lansing and the other new ballparks. And the reason for that is, remember when the Clinton ballpark was built, it probably was a WPA project. That was the community's source of recreation at that point. We were coming out of World War II, Minor League Baseball exploded during that time. Hundreds of cities, upwards of 500 cities of all size had baseball. Now-a-days, the battle for the entertainment dollar is different. You need to have the amenities of the Lansing or Dayton, Ohio, or Durham Bulls athletic park to really make it work.

Schwarz - Ah, you foreshadowed much of the rest of our show. Durham Athletic Park, more to come with our guest David Chase, who was on the scene when the film "Bull Durham" was shot about 13 years ago.

Kevin Costner's character explains that you never handle your luggage in the show, but in the minors, you have to handle just about everything.

Just ask Toronto rookie, Chris Mahosk.

Unidentified Male - We're on a bus in the middle of a desert, and on our way home. And the bus decides to run out of gas about, maybe about a half a block away from the gas station. So all-28 guys in the team had to get out and push the bus into the gas station, and sit there for about an hour while we filled up. They had to do something -- I didn't understand it with the diesel engine. But we had to sit there for an hour. Fortunately, there was a casino across the street. Most of the guys ran over there and played a little cards while we waited for the bus to refuel.

Schwarz - The most famous Birmingham Baron of all time, despite his Buddy Bianco-like batting average, Michael Jordan, one of many former Minor Leaguers who found their calling in other professions. Others include ex-New York Governor Mario Cuomo, actor Kurt Russell, quarterback John Elway -- outfielder in the Yankee's chain -- author Zane Grey and filmmaker Ron Shelton who was, in fact, the screenwriter and director of the definitive movie about the minors, "Bull Durham."

Buck Martinez, Blue Jays manager - I lived that movie, I actually played in that ballpark. And that was when I was in the Carolina League, and yeah that was pretty accurate. And I tell you what, it brings back a lot of great memories.

Unidentified actor - You been in the show man?

Kevin Costner, actor - Yeah, I was in the show; 21 greatest days of my life.

Schwarz - Problem was, he couldn't hit those hellacious curveballs in the show.

The Durham Bull's front office has tried to distance themselves from a film that made the Bulls a household name, and still rings true today. In fact, on this year's team there are striking parallels with some of the movie's richest characters.

Revsine - Sweet and nostalgic. Life in Durham, North Carolina where the AAA Durham Bulls play in the shadow of a four-star movie.

George Habel, General Manager, Durham Bulls - We have a marketing paradox of sorts with the movie. We're glad to be associated with the name and the fame and all of that. But that was not a PG movie, and we're all about PG entertainment. I mean, this is family entertainment. So you do not see movie posters around the ballpark.

Revsine - The only evidence of "Bull Durham" is a picture of the real Crash Davis, a second baseman. Not nearly as celebrated as his fictional namesake.

"Crash" Davis, former Durham Bull - They don't know me until I tell them my name, though, of course because I don't look anything like Kevin Costner. But I was a lot better looking than Kevin Costner when we were the same ages.

Revsine - Better looking, and perhaps less destructive.

Costner - I want you to throw the next one at the mascot.

Revsine - These days, Wool-e-Bull is headache free, and living in the fast lane, much like the Durham Bulls, who have left the past to rust.

Unidentified actress - Now batting for the Bulls, number eight, Crash Davis.

Costner - So relax, let's have some fun out here. This game's fun, OK?

Unidentified actress - All right!

Revsine - The old Durham ballpark is like a ghostly movie set. Even the bull is gone, transported across town in 1995 to its new pasture, a $16 million stadium, attracting record crowds. The last three years, the Bulls best ever.

But even if there is no evidence of the movie itself, you can find the minors all-time home run hitter, 32-year-old Chris Hatcher is the current Crash Davis - 232 Minor League home runs, most by an active American player. And he can't watch the movie without wincing a bit.

Susan Sarandon, actress - You hit 227 home runs in the Minors. That's not bad.

Costner - Don't tell anybody.

Chris Hatcher, Durham Bulls - I can understand where that character was thinking. You know, he just doesn't want anybody really to know about it. In one way it is kind of embarrassing to be in that -- in the Minor Leagues that long.

Revsine - Hatcher has been riding buses 12 years, for six different organizations.

Hatcher - It's not a glamorous life by no means, playing in the Minor Leagues for this many years. You spend a lot of time away from your family, you don't make very good money. I could write a book on it, but I don't think it would be a bestseller. It would be too depressing at times.

Revsine - In the film, the Bulls had a flame-throwing phenom, Nuke LaLoosh, entrusted to the wise veteran Crash Davis. The phenom on this team is catcher Toby Hall, Baseball America's top AAA prospect, his mentor and teammate is 1992 World Series MVP Pat Borders.

Pat Borders, Durham Bulls - I didn't envision me playing in 2001, so that's good to be here. It's a bonus to play anywhere.

Revsine - Borders is now a Durham Bull, often watching from the dugout, enduring limited playing time and locker room humor.

Toby Hall, Durham Bulls - I really get a kick out of that. I had nothing to do with that one.

Revsine - But Hall has plenty to do with Border's benching, blessed with Big League power and an impressive eye, he is not yet Border's equal in the field.

Announcer - Straight up goes the pop-up in front of the mound. Toby Hall is there, and he drops it!

Revsine - In at least one respect, Hall and Borders have already surpassed their movie counterparts. After all, they get along.

Borders - For him to go out and do well, I'll be following for the rest of his career, and I'll be very happy for him.

Hall - That's why we think it's very beneficial, maybe, him and I end up in the same spot one day.

Revsine - Bill Evers would like to be there, too. This is the 100th anniversary of the Minor Leagues, and Evers has managed for 26 of them, nearly 2000 Minor League games. And who knows how many batting practice pitches, not to mention countless clubhouse tirades, which would make the current Bulls front office blush.

Unidentified actor - You lollygag your way down to first! You lollygag your way out of the dugout!

Bill Evers, Durham Bulls - I don't say "lollygag." I have my own terminology, and I'm sure I can't say it right here.

Schwarz - No, Bill, our program is definitely rated G.

Joining us again, a man who once operated Baseball America, which is in Durham, North Carolina, David Chase. And Baseball America was once an investor in the Durham Bulls. And David, the current Bulls front office says, if it was approached now by Ron Shelton, it would politely decline to participate in the movie. What do you think of that?

Chase - That's ridiculous. Without the success of "Bull Durham" -- you know, they said the vestiges of the movie aren't in the ballpark. They didn't change the logo. It's exactly the same logo that was used in the movie, the logo that was used before the movie. The Bulls were successful by the way long before "Bull Durham" was made. But because of "Bull Durham" minor league baseball now has a national licensing agreement. That was not in place before the movie. All the sales of the Bulls jerseys and jackets and hats that took place after the movie, were handled by that ball club individually. Finally, baseball didn't share in that.

Now we have a national licensing agreement, and the logo mania has exploded across Minor League Baseball, in a large part because of the success of "Bull Durham."

Schwarz - Now former owner of the Bulls, Miles Wilford, was your boss at Baseball America; he told us that he bought the club for a total of $2417 in 1980, and 11 years later sold it for an estimated $4 million. Now how much of the credit for revitalizing Minor League Baseball nationwide do you give the movie, "Bull Durham"?

Chase - Nationwide, I give it a significant amount of credit. But the Bulls were leading the Carolina league at that time, and they were class A, year after year. I think they lead every year except one, perhaps before the movie was made. After the movie, the ballpark, which held about 5000 people, if you are generous on the seating capacity, was full night after night. So from that point of view, it helped. But across the country, it renewed interest in baseball, Minor League Baseball. Many of these communities it was disappearing. But in the mid-'80s and coming to the early '90s, you mentioned the explosion of new ball parks. A lot of that, I think, has to be contributed to the success of "Bull Durham."

Schwarz - Now, Major League Baseball certainly in many cities is facing financial difficulties. The Major League teams pay the salaries, they pay the insurance for all the Minor League affiliates. Faye Vincent among others has said, maybe Minor League Baseball is a logical place for the major league teams that cut costs. Will that happen?

Chase - Well, another ridiculous statement. That is not the logical place. If you look at the P&Ls of these Major League clubs, Minor League Baseball operations, not counting player development, but minor league operations are relatively small amounts. And now, with the success of Minor League Baseball, there is now a ticket tax on the tickets that are sold at the minor league level, that's going back to the big leagues. There's no longer the one-way street it was previous to the '90s.

Schwarz - David, thank you so much for all of your contributions to our program today, and for joining us from Memphis.

Chase - Absolutely my pleasure. Come and see us.

Schwarz - All right, Dave Chase from the upcoming museum, The National Pastime.

Coming up on Outside The Lines, a look at what you said about last week's program on parent's out of control at their kid's sporting events.

Schwarz - A week ago, we tackled the issue of parents behaving badly while watching their kids play sports. And a viewer from Sacramento wrote - "I personally experienced flashbacks while watching your show of my youth and the embarrassment I was put through because of my father's overbearing, extremely critical personality while he viewed me playing hockey. I always feared I would be like my father was. Thankfully, I was not."

An explanation from Seaford, New York - "One reason for violent behavior at youth sporting events, that the show failed to mention, is the hope of college scholarships. What parents don't realize is that scholarships are reserved for a certain few great athletes. Most kids play sports for fun."

And from New Brunswick, New Jersey - "Requiring parents who `get it' to publicly recite good conduct pledges as a condition of their child's participation is beyond unfair - It's insulting and demeaning. Implementing simplistic feel-good solutions to complex social problems is unlikely to change parents attitudes or behavior."

The address for the online Outside The Lines is for more on today's topics, and our library of streaming video. Our e-mail address is

Schwarz - Thanks for watching Outside The Lines. And don't forget to watch the Dodgers try to top their 22-run output from yesterday at Colorado tonight on ESPN at 8:00. The Royals host the A's, same time on ESPN2, as Johnny Damon returns to Kansas City.

Now "SportsCenter" with Dave Revsine and Chris McKendry.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

weekly OTL logo

Weekly Outside the Lines

Send feedback to the weekly OTL show

Mission statement of weekly Outside the Lines show

2001: Transcripts, videos of weekly OTL show

 ESPN's Mark Schwarz celebrates 100 years of minor league baseball.
RealVideo: 28.8

Copyright ©2001 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site. Employment opportunities at