SBJ/June 8 - 14, 1998/No Topic Name

Wolff guiding merger of Northeast, Northern leagues

When minor league baseball impresario Miles Wolff brought his name and backing to the independent Northeast League recently, it injected instant credibility. The merger that followed can only increase that impact.

The Northeast League and the Northern League, the latter of which has Wolff as its president, will combine forces beginning next season. The leagues intend to operate under one name — most likely the Northern League — with Eastern and Midwestern divisions.

Interleague play, a postseason series and an All-Star Game also will be part of the merger, with details yet to be worked out.

The merger allows the Northern League, which consists of eight teams in the Midwest and Canada, to extend its presence into the Northeast, where many of the nation's more attractive vacant baseball markets lie.

The Northeast League has teams in upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and plans to field a team owned by Wolff in Canada's Quebec City next season. The league also has been lobbying in three attractive larger markets — Hartford, Camden, N.J., and the outer reaches of Long Island.

The Northern League has been the most visible of the independent leagues, providing a forum for players attempting MLB comebacks, such as Darryl Strawberry and Jack Morris, and, more recently, signing estranged Philadelphia Phillies draft pick J.D. Drew.

"This will give some stability and credibility to independent baseball," said Mike McGuire, executive director of the Northeast League. "The reputation of independent baseball desperately needed a strong shot of credibility. For the first time, you've got a non-major league-affiliated baseball organization."

Both sides hope the merged league will carry more credibility in the eyes of potential fans. It also should stand a better chance of securing sponsorship and advertising revenue, McGuire said.

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MLB, Philadelphia Phillies

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