In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report’s Robert Pannier discusses the likelihood that the Southwest League of Professional Baseball will never get off the ground and how Josh Robertson’s arrival in Cleburne may have been the death kneel in the league’s coffin.
Southwest League of Professional Baseball Likely to Never Get off the Ground
In about four weeks the Southwest League of Professional Baseball (SWL) was supposed to be beginning their inaugural season. The league began with teams in Royse City and Waco Texas, which not only were starting new operations, but were also to be part of new stadium projects. It was not long before the City of Joplin was joining the league as well as Dallas.
The league was set to play a 112 game schedule, to be the new hot independent baseball league, but the reality is that this league is never going to get off the ground, and it may be the City of Wichita and former Wichita Wingnuts General Manager Josh Robertson that are responsible for its demise.
Synchronicity in Reality
The City of Wichita and its mayor pushed heavily to get an affiliated team and were eventually able to lure the Miami Marlins AAA affiliate from New Orleans. This led to the end of the Wichita Wingnuts franchise, which suspended operations at the end of the 2018 American Association season.
That left arguably one of the 10 most brilliant minds in the sport out of a job. Josh Robertson had been the GM of the team for the first 10 years of its operation, but stepped down to spend more time with his family last season. He remained as the architect of the team that won 180-plus games over the last three seasons.
At the same time, the Cleburne Railroaders were purchased by John Junker. Junker was not happy with just owning a team, seeking out Robertson to be his Head of Baseball Operations. The former Wingnuts GM accepted and immediately began rebuilding the team in the model he had used to win seven straight division titles. That meant adding a host of former Wichita Wingnuts players, including catchers John Nester and Logan Trowbridge, OFs Zach Nehrir and Nick Rotola, and pitchers Charlie Gillies and Steve Pastora. This, while keeping players like Chase Simpson, K.C. Huth, Tyler Wilson, Michael Gunn, Levi Scott and Angel Rosa.
The Best Laid Plans…
Out of the box, the Cleburne Railroaders are a 65 win team. They have as much talent as any team is going to find, and Brent Clevlen takes over as manager after posting a 61-win campaign in his rookie season.
That is going to be great for the American Association, which has not really had a competitive team in Texas since the Laredo Lemurs folded three seasons ago. However, it has probably ended any chances that the SWL would have of getting off the ground.
One of the worst kept secrets is the Southwest League of Professional Baseball was looking at both the Railroaders and the Texas AirHogs as potential additions to their league. Many have grumbled in the American Association for years about how the Texas teams increase operational costs because of the travel, which was going to be exacerbated by no team being in Southern Kansas. Now it is an eight hour bus ride to the nearest team (Kansas City) from Texas.
It would have seemed natural to simply persuade the Railroaders and AirHogs to jump ship and join the new independent league but, with Robertson there, that plan is dead.
The league even sees this as reality. The Joplin Miners already defaulted on their first payment to the city, which was set to be paid in February of this year, two months after Josh Robertson joined the Railroaders. The Royse City Ballpark, home to the Griffins team, never began construction. Neither has the Bellmead Ballpark been completed, the proposed home of the Waco BlueCats.
The SWL website posted an article that teams would be offering tryouts in November of last year, but have had just one post since – which was to inform readers that the SWPBL was not to be confused with the SWL.
It is true that every year there is some upstart independent league that gets operations underway, but soon finds themselves closing up shop. The SWL looked like they had the proper plans in place to be the exception, but that will not be the case. Don’t be surprised if by June if their site is down.
By Robert Pannier