In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report’s Robert Pannier reflects on the career of Miles Wolff, who stepped down as the Commissioner of the American Association earlier this year.
Earning a Place Among the Legends
About two weeks ago, the inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame were chosen. This list included four new inductees, including all-time great Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, and Mike Mussina.
The Hall of Fame contains a list of the greatest players who have ever stepped onto the diamond, but it also contains many greats who have helped to make the game into the incredible business and passion that it is today.
Connie Mack and John McGraw were not only great managers, but executives and owners. Bill Veeck, father of current St. Paul Saints part owner Mike Veeck, was instrumental in the integration of the game, and was one of the five most innovative owners in the game’s history. Branch Rickey was bold enough to sign all-time great Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of the game, helping to restore integrity following the infamous “Black Sox Scandal.” Happy Chandler helped with the integration of Jackie Robinson into the league, and Bowie Kuhn helped to keep the sport flourishing through many years of labor unrest.
All of these men have played a huge roll in the history of baseball, as they have helped to shape the sport into America’s greatest game. They have left an indelible mark, and now another legend is stepping aside as Miles Wolff has opted to step down as the Commissioner of the American Association.
A True Legend in His Own Time
Many may be shaking their head at the thought of Miles Wolff being mentioned in the same breath as John McGraw or Branch Rickey, but they shouldn’t be. In fact, Wolff has proven to be one of the most innovative executives the sport has ever seen, literally reshaping the game.
Wolff entered the baseball world in 1971 when he became the general manager of the Atlanta Braves AA-team in Savannah. He would be named as the top executive in AA baseball by The Sporting News that season.
Wolff stayed around the game as an executive for 10 seasons, eventually becoming an owner when he purchased the Durham Bulls in 1980. A year later he helped found Baseball America, a publication that would change the sport.
Baseball America published information on scouting while also ranking prospects. This not only provided a dearth of information for baseball executives, but it also allowed the average fan to get an inside look how players were evaluated. The publication also became the almanac of baseball, where anyone could get detailed statistics from any year. Many acknowledge that Baseball America became the foundation upon which fantasy sports was built.
In 1990, Wolff sold the Bulls and it would not be long before he would help to introduce a new vision to the game – Independent Baseball. In 1992, Miles Wolf became the commissioner of the Northern League, a league that was centered in the midwestern United States and Canada.
The league was run completely independent of Major League Baseball, and many thought it would be doomed from the start. However, the Northern League flourished for 18 seasons, not only helping to give players a second chance to return to affiliate ball, but it also drew some of the most well-known players in the game of the 1990s and 2000s. That list included Darryl Strawberry, Leon Durham, and Jack Morris.
The league not only gave fans an alternative to Major and Minor League Baseball, but Wolff instituted an innovative roster structure that allowed teams to showcase great veterans as well as give younger players a chance to play professional ball. Teams like the St. Paul Saints, Winnipeg Goldeyes, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, and others built a rabid fan following and even gained a national reputation.
Wolff stepped down as the head of Northern League in 2002. He owned Les Capitales de Quebec of the Can-Am League and would take over as the commissioner of the league in 2005. In the interim, he served as commissioner of the Northeast League for two seasons (2003-04) and spent four years as head of the Central League (2002-2005).
In 2005, he also helped start the American Association, as several teams left the Northern League to join Wolff in starting the new independent league. There were 10 teams that first year, including four teams from the Northern League (Saints, Lincoln Saltdogs, Sioux City Explorers, and Sioux Falls Canaries).
In his 14 years as head of the American Association, Miles Wolff has helped to turn the American Association into the premier league in independent baseball.
Recognized for Greatness
While Miles Wolff may not be a household name to most baseball fans, he has earned quite a reputation in the sport. ESPN 25 recognized him as the eighth best among team owners at all levels of the game. He was also chosen by Total Baseball as the 79th most influential person in the history of the game.
Wolff is the author of two books, including Season of the Owl, a book written about minor league baseball. He is the co-editor of the 1997 Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.
A three man committee was named by owners in mid-January to find a successor to replace Miles Wolff as the next Commissioner of the American Association. Whoever he or she is, they will have some big shoes to fill.
By Robert Pannier