Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Inter-American League of 1979

This is the last of a four-part entry on the role of minor league teams in Latin America. As we highlighted in the three prior posts, Cuba was the location of the first two minor league teams in Latin America (Havana Cubans and Havana Sugar Kings). This time around, the idea was more ambitious. Organized by Roberto “Bobby” Maduro, the league was to be played within the U.S. and Latin America. The league was to be played within the framework of an AAA class league with no affiliation to Major League Baseball. With the league commencing play in 1979, the following cities were chosen:

Miami Amigos (U.S.)
Caracas Metropolitanos (Venezuela)
Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia (Venezuela)
Santo Domingo Azucareros (Dominican Republic)
Puerto Rico Boricuas
Panama Banqueros

Though the idea that baseball was very popular in Latin America, the interest in the new league by the local population did not reflect that. Very often, the team’s average attendance was in the low one thousands and in some cases in the hundreds. This lack of revenue from the gates with limited revenues from radio and television plus the expense of international travel put a dent in the league’s operations. With the financial losses mounting, the Panamanian and Puerto Rican franchises folded on June 17 leaving only 4 teams continuing play. This was only to last for another 13 days when the rest of the league was disbanded. Of the six teams, only the Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia and Miami Amigos were the only teams remaining that wanted to continue the financially troubled league.

The final team standings were as follows:
Inter-American League Standings 1979
TeamsWL
Miami5121
Caracas3727
Santo Domingo 3829
Maracaibo3136
Panama1536
Puerto Rico 1639

Here is a description of the 6 franchises:

1. Miami Amigos

The team played its games at Miami Stadium leading the league with a 51-21 record. With the league folding during its inaugural season, the Amigos were crowned as the only Champion of the Inter-American Baseball League. Being the best team of the league, they naturally led in the league in most categories. Former Major-League player and future Major-League manager Davey Johnson managed the Amigos. The team’s average attendance was 1,350 fans per game.

2. Caracas Metropolitanos

The team played its games within the Venezuelan capital of Caracas finishing with a record of 37-27 for second place. Jim Busby managed the team, and the team drew an average 3,500 fans per game, which made it the most popular team in the league in terms of attendance.

3. Santo Domingo Azucareros

The team played its games within the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo finishing with a record of 38-29 for third place. Mike Kekich managed the team, and the team drew an average of 1,000 fans per game.

4. Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia

The team played its games within the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo; the team went 31-36 for fourth place. Former major leaguers Pat Dobson, Gus Gil and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio managed the team, and the team drew an average of 1,100 fans per game.

5. Panama Banqueros

The Panama Banqueros went 15-36 for fifth place. Chico Salmon and Willie Miranda managed the team, and the team drew an average of 800 fans per game.

6. Puerto Rico Boricuas

The team played its games within the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan; the team went 16-39 for sixth place. Jose Santiago managed the team, and the team drew an average of 650 fans per game. As with the Panama Banqueros, financial difficulties forced them to fold at the end of the first half of the season.

Why did the league fail?
For obvious reasons, a lack of profits was the main reason. With only one team having a television deal (Caracas) and only three with radio deals, it was hard to promote and generate revenues from a product that was not visible to the local population. In addition, the expense of international travel between locations was crippling league’s dwindling finances.

Similarly to the situation with the Montreal Expos who played a number of games in Puerto Rico a couple of seasons ago it was hard to convince the local population to attend games. In comparison to the Winter League games that are played in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean, many of the fans are allowed free entry after a certain amount of time after the game has started. In addition, the expense of attending a Winter League game is less for the fan that it would be for a fan at a Major League Game.

Can a league like this succeed today?
In my opinion, if the league does not have substantial financial banking then it can’t survive. Only with the backing of Major League Baseball can an endeavor like this succeed. The league would need operate within the off-season of the Caribbean Winter Leagues so as to not affect their season. With the potential shift of power in Cuba at the end of the Castro regime, the movement for the reintroduction of professional baseball in the Caribbean/Latin American could be looming on the horizon.
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