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Three indy leagues joining forces for 2011?

Golden Baseball LeagueMultiple sources have confirmed talks regarding a merger of sorts between teams in the Northern League, the Golden Baseball League and United League Baseball for the 2011 season, giving these beleaguered circuits a boost as they continue a challenging offseason.

It’s no secret that the three leagues have faced some tough times this offseason: four teams left the Northern League for the American Association and another sued by their landlord, the Village of Schaumburg, over unpaid rent; several teams have left the Golden Baseball League (most recently: the Victoria Seals); and ULB lost franchises in Amarillo and Laredo. Given the bad economy, the coming season would continue to be a challenge, to say the least.

Now, it may not be as bad as all that for these teams when you look at individual cases — for example, in the defense of the Schaumburg Flyers, the lawsuit basically puts a lien on the team when it’s sold, and both sides say it was more a legalistic move than an adversarial one, as no one is talking eviction. Still, with the Northern League and United League Baseball apparently down to four teams apiece and the Golden Baseball League at six or seven teams, we’re talking a challenging 2011 — though both the GBL and ULB run winter pay-to-play leagues that draw a lot of interest from players, efforts that bring additional money into league coffers.

The plan, we’re told, is for each league to play an abbreviated schedule (76 games in the case of the Northern League teams), with 24 or so games against the other two leagues. The whole thing will be played under the Golden Baseball League banner, with four divisions: Canada, West Coast, Midwest and Texas.

It allows the four-team leagues to add something interest to the schedule; 35 Lake County vs. Joliet games would certainly get old otherwise. It also keep the three leagues going as business entities and positioned to add more teams in 2012; for instance, Omaha is an available market, and there’s certainly been talks between MECA officials and the Northern League over a lease. Discussions on the league level are fairly advanced, we’re told — so advanced that at least one team involved has scheduled a presser for Monday to unveil the arrangement. (Update: The press conference has been pushed back to Wednesday at the earliest.)

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