The often-fluid nature of baseball affiliations can lead to shifts during every affiliation cycle, making long-lasting agreements between Major League and Minor League teams more notable. With another affiliation cycle set to kick off in the coming weeks, we take a look the longest affiliations in each MiLB league.
As for how we are qualifying affiliates, there are a few things to note. Since affiliations are recognized by player development contracts (PDCs), we are not counting MiLB teams that are owned by their MLB parent club, unless MLB ownership is prevalent throughout a particular league. That affects a few leagues, though we will note where an MLB club has held long-term ownership over an MiLB club in that circuit.
In addition, we are recognizing affiliations that shifted when a minor league club relocated. As a result, not all agreements listed below began when the MiLB affiliate was in its current market.
International League: Pawtucket Red Sox and Boston Red Sox (1973)
In one of the most storied affiliations at the Class AAA level, the PawSox have been the top affiliate of their nearby MLB parent for 45 years. The two sides are currently under a PDC through 2020. While the PawSox’s ongoing pursuit of a new ballpark leaves their future in Rhode Island uncertain, the club seems likely to remain a Red Sox affiliate for years to come. The Gwinnett Stripers, owned by the Atlanta Braves, have a relationship with their parent club dating back to the mid-1960’s, when they were still based in Richmond.
Pacific Coast League: Omaha Storm Chasers and Kansas City Royals (1969)
Currently the longest active affiliation at the Class AAA level, the relationship between the Storm Chasers and Royals was recently extended through 2020. Both the Omaha and Kansas City franchises began play in 1969, and neither has had another Triple-A affiliation throughout their histories.
Eastern League: Reading Fightin Phils and Philadelphia Phillies (1967)
Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium is one of the more historic parks in the minors, but that history is not limited entirely to clubs affiliated with the Phillies. Both the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox fielded affiliates at the ballpark previously, but Philadelphia’s long-standing run in Reading began in 1967. Technically, the Phillies are an owner of the club, so this partnership will continue in perpetuity.
Southern League: Birmingham Barons and Chicago White Sox (1986)
Birmingham’s long baseball history has been intertwined with the White Sox for the decades. During their affiliation with the White Sox, the Barons have played at three different ballparks and saw many notable players pass through Birmingham, including Michael Jordan in 1994. The two clubs are currently signed through 2020. The Atlanta Braves have also ensured stability in the Southern League by owning the Mississippi Braves, and Atlanta’s ownership of that club long predated its move to Pearl in 2005.
Texas League: Northwest Arkansas Naturals and Kansas City Royals (1995)
Beginning with the 1995 season, the Wichita Wranglers became an affiliate of the Royals. The affiliation between the two franchises continued when the Wranglers moved to Springdale in 2008 and is currently set to run through at least 2020. The Texas League has a few interesting distinctions that should be noted. The Houston Astros own the Corpus Christi Hooks, but their relationship with that franchise goes back to when it was the Jackson Generals in 1991 (those Generals played in Mississippi and have no connection to today’s Tennessee-based Jackson Generals of the Southern League). The longest-standing affiliation in one market belongs to Midland, where the RockHounds have been an affiliate of the Oakland A’s since 1999.
Carolina League: Frederick Keys and Baltimore Orioles (1982)
The Keys and Orioles recently announced an extension through 2020, continuing the longest affiliation in the Carolina League. While Frederick and Hagerstown count their organization histories separately, there is a link that makes the Keys’ current partnership with Baltimore longer. The Keys arrived in Frederick in 1989, after relocating from nearby Hagerstown, where they played as the Suns. The original Suns became an exclusive affiliate of the Orioles in 1982 after playing as a co-op team (with select players and coaches supplied by Baltimore) in 1981.
California League: San Jose Giants and San Francisco Giants (1988)
With this affiliation, the Giants maintain a presence in a large market near their home base while fielding a team at a historic ballpark in San Jose Municipal Stadium. Technically, San Francisco holds partial ownership, so this affiliation will continue in perpetuity.
Florida State League: Lakeland Flying Tigers and Detroit Tigers (1967)
The Tigers’ run in Lakeland originally began in 1963 at Henley Field, but was interrupted for the 1965-1966 seasons, when Daytona Beach supplanted Lakeland as the Tigers’ affiliate in the Florida State League. The Tigers returned to Lakeland in 1967 (the photo above shows Joker Marchant Stadium when it opened that year) and have remained there ever since. The Tigers own Lakeland, but the Florida State League gets an exception when it comes to ownership criteria, as two-thirds of its 12 teams are owned by their parent clubs. The Daytona Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds), Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves), and Fort Myers Miracle (Minnesota Twins) are owned by separate entities, while the Charlotte Stone Crabs are partially owned by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Midwest League: Lake County Captains and Cleveland Indians (1991)
In an odd twist, this is the only affiliation on this list that covers two leagues at the same level. The Columbus Indians played at Golden Park in Columbus, GA in 1991 as a member of the South Atlantic League. Cleveland remained the parent club through a name change to RedStixx, and eventually a move to nearby Eastlake, OH in 2003. The Captains switched over to the Midwest League in 2010, but their affiliation with the Indians has remained continuous since 1991. If time in the Midwest League were to only be included, the longest affiliation would be the one between the West Michigan Whitecaps and Detroit Tigers that dates back to 1997.
South Atlantic League: Asheville Tourists and Colorado Rockies (1994)
The Atlanta Braves have owned the Rome Braves for years, but Asheville holds the claim of longest affiliation in the Sally League. After spending years as a Houston Astros farm club, the Rockies began their affiliation with the Rockies in 1994 and that run has been uninterrupted ever since.
New York-Penn League: Two Teams Tied (1996)
In this case, there are two clubs tied for longest affiliation and both have held the same parent club in their current markets. While it was two years before they began MLB play, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays entered into a Short Season A affiliation with the Hudson Valley Renegades in 1996. Also, in 1996, the Lowell Spinners–who had just relocated from Elmira, NY–began their affiliation with the Boston Red Sox. The Elmira Pioneers had played the 1993-1995 seasons as a Florida Marlins affiliate, their final years before moving to Lowell.
Northwest League: Two Teams Tied (1995)
Following the 1994 season, the Bellingham Mariners became the Bellingham Giants to coincide with a change in affiliations. Meanwhile, the Everett Giants rebranded as the Everett AquaSox as they changed parent clubs from the San Francisco Giants to the Seattle Mariners. Those two partnerships have held ever since, even as the Bellingham Giants relocated prior to the 1997 season to Keizer, OR, where they remain today as the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
Appalachian League: Elizabethton Twins and Minnesota Twins (1974)
Technically, Appalachian League teams are owned by their MLB affiliates and managed by local organizations. The longest such partnership in that league today is in Elizabethton, where the E-Twins have suited up as a farm club of the Minnesota Twins at Joe O’Brien Field since 1974.
Pioneer League: Billings Mustangs and Cincinnati Reds (1974)
Starting in their days at the classic Cobb Field to the present era at Dehler Park, the Mustangs have had a long-lasting relationship with the Reds. That affiliation–which has led to many of the Reds most notable prospects since the mid-1970’s making stops in Billings–is currently set to run through 2020.
You can read more about the current state of affiliations on our Affiliate Dance page. We expect a number of affiliations to be renewed in coming weeks, but there are always intriguing openings at every level of baseball. As you can see on the Affiliate Dance page, MLB and MiLB teams can renew their existing affiliations at any point. At the end of the 2018 season, teams can file to search new affiliation options, so there’s always a shuffle of sorts at the end of the year.
This article first appeared in the Ballpark Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? It’s free, and you’ll see features like this before they appear on the Web. Go here to subscribe to the Ballpark Digest newsletter.