The Hagerstown Suns, a minor-league destination for many an Orioles player, soon will be no more, at least as a Class AA team.
Yesterday, owners of the Suns and Hagerstown Mayor Steven Sager announced that the team will move from Hagerstown after the 1992 season. They cited several reasons for the decision, including recent changes in the operating agreement between Major League Baseball and minor-league owners, which have added considerably to the cost of running a Class AA team.
The new agreement requires minor-league ballparks to meet new, higher standards for such things as the number of restrooms and concession stands and improving home and visiting team clubhouses --changes that would have cost between $1 million and $2 million at 60-year-old Municipal Stadium, Sager said.
The Hagerstown mayor said the possibility of raising the money from state and local governments never was fully explored because the team's owners, who also own the Class A Frederick Keys, had doubts about whether they could afford to stay even if the ballpark was updated.
The new agreement requires the Suns owners to share with Major League Baseball 5 percent of their gross ticket receipts. Operating in Hagerstown, the smallest market among the 26 Class AA cities, made that troublesome.
"The writing was on the wall for us and for the Suns, too," Sager said. "Major League Baseball has its hand in the pockets of these minor-league owners, and the money's just not there."
Bob Miller, Suns general manager, cited both the new ticket revenue policy and the stadium improvement for the decision to leave.
"It would have required a multitude of renovations to the park. We're kidding ourselves," Miller said.
The future of the Suns and of professional baseball in Hagerstown remain somewhat muddled. Plans aren't final, but Suns owners acknowledged they've discussed moving the team to Wilmington, Del., for the 1993 season.
Hagerstown also could have a team back, according to Sager, who said that Suns owner Peter Kirk's group has expressed interest in buying a Class A franchise in the South Atlantic League. The Keys play in the Class A Carolina League. For a Class A team, improvements at Municipal Stadium would cost $300,000 to $570,000, Sager said.
Orioles player personnel director Doug Melvin said it was too soon to say if the team's minor-league operations would be seriously affected by the move of the Suns, the Orioles' only Class AA affiliate.
"This kind of caught me off guard. I'll have to talk to Peter [Kirk] and others before I really comment," Melvin said.