Saturday, October 25, 2008

Is Newark's folding an omen for the Atlantic League?

As the Philadelphia Phillies go for their first world championship in more than a quarter century, there is some big news coming from a minor league based in the northeast.

News out of this week’s Atlantic League winter meetings is that the Newark Bears have folded. Friend of The Dugout Mike Ashmore is all over this story on his Atlantic League blog.

Newark made national news early in their existence by signing the likes of Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco. The Bears have been far less flashy of late and apparently that has not helped.
The Bears informed their employees on Friday that it was their last day of work. Newark is the second Atlantic League club to have offseason issues. League president Frank Boulton had to purchase the Bridgeport club a few weeks back.

Ashmore notes that half of the Atlantic League clubs failed to turn a profit this season, which obviously has league officials worried. The Camden Riversharks, who play their home games across the river from the Phillies, have yet to be able to create a consistent fan base. Will they be next?

The good news for the Atlantic League is that their newer clubs in Lancaster, York and Southern Maryland appear to be doing well. Earlier this season AL commissioner Joe Klein optimistically talked about doubling the size of the eight-team league in the coming years. With the economy seemingly on a downturn, Klein’s hopes may have been too grand.

It is unclear as of now whether the Atlantic League will try to find another owner for a Newark club, or will perhaps have to bring back the homeless Road Warriors for another season.

For the past decade the Atlantic League has served as model for other independent leagues to follow. They’ve lost teams (Nashua and Atlantic City) before and continued to grow. Hopefully this simply serves as another small bump in the road, but for fans of independent baseball this certainly bears watching.