The assistant professor of sport management and former minor league general manager discusses the demise of the Rookie-level Appalachian League as one-quarter of minor league teams face extinction.
Assistant Professor Mark Cryan is one of several authorities on minor league baseball cited in a new Harper’s Magazine article, titled “Minor Threat: MLB puts the farm system out to pasture,” addressing the demise of roughly a quarter of all teams from the minor league system. Prior to teaching in Elon’s Sport Management Department, Cryan served as a general manager of the Burlington, North Carolina, entry in the Appalachian League, one of the teams that was eliminated.
“It’s a sad development for baseball,” said Cryan in the Harper’s article. “Dozens of communities were left without a minor league team. Major League Baseball pulled teams out of many cities that had big investments in ballparks, and also seized control of all the remaining teams from their former owners. This is a system that was independently run, in partnership with Major League Baseball, that had endured for roughly a century.”
In the article, published in the magazine’s October issue, author Will Bardenwerper details the pain of the Covid-induced shutdown of minor league baseball in 2020, the dismantling of the former minor league baseball system by MLB, and the ways that communities that lost teams have attempted to fill the gap with MLB-sponsored summer collegiate baseball. He focused on the cities in the old Appalachian League, including Pulaski, Virginia, and Elizabethton, Tennessee. That list of impacted communities also includes Burlington, which debuted the Burlington Sock Puppets in the new, amateur Appalachian League in 2021.
Cryan, who worked in both minor league baseball and summer college baseball, has taught at Elon since 2007, originally working as an adjunct professor, and joining the faculty full time in 2012. He is a former general manager of the Burlington Indians, the Cleveland affiliate in the Appalachian League, and was one of the founders of the Coastal Plain League.
Cryan’s scholarly interests include professional baseball at all levels, including minor league baseball and international baseball. He leads a Winter Term class each year that examines neo-colonialism and globalization in the Dominican Republic, with a focus on the baseball and tourism industries.
He is also the author of “Cradle of the Game; Baseball and Ballparks in North Carolina,” considered the definitive book on baseball in North Carolina. The second edition was published in 2014. A third, completely updated edition was scheduled for publication in 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic. That book is now scheduled for publication in the coming months, and will include a comprehensive look at major changes in the state’s baseball landscape.
Bardenwerper is an American writer of non-fiction narratives, and is known for his 2017 book, “The Prisoner in His Palace; Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid.” He was a United States Army infantry officer, and served in Iraq. His written work has been published in national outlets including The New York Times, Washington Post and The Huffington Post.