It was the last new affiliated minor league, but it didn’t last a full season: remembering the 1979 Class AAA Inter-American League, with teams in Miami and the Caribbean.
We’ve written in the past about Bobby Maduro, the visionary minor-league-baseball entrepreneur who owned the Havana Sugar Kings and later served as a liaison between baseball and the city of Miami. (Miami Stadium, shown above, would later be renamed Maduro Stadium, serving as spring home of the Baltimore Orioles and various other Miami MiLB teams.) He was a major figure in the baseball world in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, owning teams and serving as an adviser to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It was while serving under Kuhn and Maduro came up with a plan for a Class AAA-level minor league launching in 1979 with six teams in Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Caracas, Venezuela; Maracaibo, Venezuela; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Panama City, Panama. After resigning his post in the commissioner’s office, Maduro
The Inter-American League was recognized as a Triple-A league, but it would not have franchises affiliated with MLB teams. (Not the first or the last to use this business model: the Triple-A Mexican League operates under similar rules.) The rationale: with a lot of older Latin American players (Cesar Tovar, Chico Carrasquel, Tito Fuentes) and American players (George Mitterwald, Tom House) still looking to play — something that really didn’t happen in the development-oriented minor leagues — you’d have a solid base of names to attract a solid base of fans, while at the same time developer players in the Caribbean that might go unnoticed by MLB teams. After raising money from other owners, Maduro’s experiment was ready to launch, with the Miami Amigos serving as a league flagship, so to speak.
Now, we’re not quite sure the Inter-American League was as wild as promised in this Hardball Times headline, but it definitely was interesting, and we’d recommend reading the article. In the end, the Inter-American League failed because of the same reasons other leagues fail: not enough fans paid enough money to see the team, and without proper financing, the center could not hold. The league was suspended on June 30 after two teams dropped out, and Maduro never did raise enough money to bring it back. Probably just as well: with a business model that relied on air travel — which was very expensive in 1979, especially when you’re looking at international travel — and operations in multiple countries (which raised all sorts of visa issues), the league was probably doomed before the first pitch was thrown. There’s a reason why baseball is played in the winter in the Domincan Republic and the Caribbean: it’s rainy, hot and sticky in Panama and Venezuela during the summer baseball months. Rain didn’t kill the Inter-American League: it was doomed from the beginning. From the Hardball Times:
Every one of the six league franchises lost money. Other than Caracas, which averaged over 3,000 fans per game, none of the other teams cracked an average of even 2,000 fans per game. Even the Amigos, who won the first and second half titles and were declared league champions, struggled to draw fans to Miami Stadium, attracting only 1,300 fans a night.
Awash in unpaid bills and unfulfilled payroll obligations, the league could boast of only one positive development. “We showed a brand of ball better than anyone expected,” Maduro told The Sporting News. “I thought finding good players would be one of our biggest problems. It turned out to be one of our smallest.”
Today, after 20 years of successful independent leagues, that statement is still true: Finding good players is never as hard as finding enough fans to support a team.
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