Lee Landers, the affable former president of the Appalachian League who kept the circuit running during some very lean years in the face of MLB apathy, passed away from natural causes Monday. He was 83.
Landers was a baseball lifer; he entered the game in 1959 in Fresno and worked the minor-league circuit with stints in Modesto, Twin Falls, Little Rock, Tulsa and New Orleans before being named GM of the Springfield (IL) Cardinals before the 1982 season. After 12 years in Springfield, Landers rose to VP of the parent St. Louis Cardinals in 1986, and a decade later assumed the presidency of the Appalachian League in 1996. He was named 2017 King of Baseball at the Winter Meetings.
Speaking of the Winter Meetings: It would not have been a normal Winter Meetings without some sort of chat and update with the genial Landers, providing the latest update on the happenings in his circuit. Until its reorganization from a Rookie MiLB league to a summer-collegiate licensed league, the Appalachian League was a unique proposition in Minor League Baseball: a circuit with all the teams owned by MLB parents. Some MLB overseers, such as the Minnesota Twins’ Bill Smith, took the Appy League seriously, but many MLB teams did not, and at times it was a struggle to keep enough MLB teams interested in the league. There were always rumors about the league’s demise, but Landers kept the lights on during some very trying circumstances, and at the end of his tenure the league with on its strongest footing in decades, bringing in experienced operators like Boyd Sports to run teams and other MiLB operators exploring a financial commitment to the MLB-owned teams. He retired after the 2018 season but remained involved as AppThe Appy League survived because of Landers’ hard work and vision.
Photos courtesy Minor League Baseball.