Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Lutz: NBC, Stars should work to extend their relationship

Bob Lutz
October 11, 2017 - 12:04 pm

The Kansas Stars, a collection of former major league baseball players assembled by Adam LaRoche and Nate Robertson, made the National Baseball Congress World Series worth going to the past two years.

Now, just like that, they’re gone. Burned out and gone from view.

The Stars, who announced Tuesday they would not be returning to the NBC World Series because of scheduling conflicts with the Kansas Star Casino and Hotel, breathed much needed new life into the tournament, which in its eight decades has struggled to stay fresh.

It seems like there should be a way for this partnership to continue. It feels too early to pull the plug.

But both sides insist they’ve reached an impasse.

So, unless something changes, the 84th NBC World Series in 2018 will not include the Kansas Stars, who have brought the likes of Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones, Jake Peavy, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to town to compete past their prime years.

The Stars have still been good enough, though, to finish in the top four in 2016 and to win the tournament championship this year behind a savvy and skilled pitching staff that picked apart younger, far-less-experienced hitters.

There are long-standing NBC organizations that aren’t crazy about a group of former big leaguers coming to the tournament every year and winning. Understandable. So, make your teams stronger.

The NBC is a business and the Kansas Stars are good for business. It’s as simple as that. The Stars are great for the NBC and for the local baseball scene. Really, can you think of anything that created the kind of buzz the Stars did before their appearance in the 2016 World Series?

Crowds packed into Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to see this team.

It’s not as if the Stars are bludgeoning opposing teams. These guys are in their late-30s and early-40s – some even older – so ice packs and heating gels have become as important to them as base hits.

The NBC World Series has a tremendous history. But the tournament was not in great shape before the Stars arrived.

College baseball’s landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years or so. It’s been harder and harder for the NBC and its member leagues and teams to attract the kind of elite Division I players who made the tournament so popular during the 1960s into the 1990s.

The list of former World Series players who made their way to the majors is long and impressive. But it’s thinned out dramatically over the recent past.

The NBC has lost some of its territory as college players scatter to other parts of the country where summer baseball is more prominent and more popular. The Cape Cod League and Northwoods League, among others, have become destinations for the best college players while the Alaskan League, so prominent in the NBC’s rich history, has mostly stopped sending teams to Wichita.

Tournament director Kevin Jenks is fighting to improve the World Series and its quality of teams. He’s working to expand the NBC’s territory.

Jenks has condensed the tournament field in recent years, but the World Series is still too heavy with Kansas teams and other clubs from connecting states.

This year, Jenks and the NBC’s board of directors eliminated the Baseball ‘Round the Clock promotion that was hugely popular for many years, but not so much recently.

Jenks has also implemented a major change in the tournament’s format, with a play-in week preceding the World Series’ final week of championship competition. That was designed to help teams cut down on travel costs.

It’s a difficult tournament to organize and operate, but Jenks is a hard worker who has worked to understand the tournament’s history and its importance to Wichita.

Losing the Stars, though, is a blow. And it feels like it’s an unnecessary blow. I’m not privy to all the details of why the Stars have decided not to play in the NBC World Series, other than the stated scheduling conflict at the Kansas Star Casino and Hotel, which housed the Stars and their families the past two years.

Here’s hoping the Stars’ press release Tuesday, in which it was announced that the team would no longer be part of the NBC World Series, was premature.

I know the Stars aren’t popular with everyone around the NBC. I can understand the sentiment that the Stars, with their former major leaguers, aren’t held to the same standards as other teams that have to qualify to play in the World Series.

But for the business of the NBC, the Stars are a windfall. On that, everyone can agree.

Work out the differences, whatever they might be. The Stars need not fall after only two years. If there’s a way to make this work – and there’s always a way – let’s hope it can be found.

These Stars still have plenty of light.​

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