If you want to know the mendacity behind Major League Baseball’s plan to eliminate 42 minor league affiliates, just look at the comments from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred at the owners’ meetings on Thursday.
“Bus rides, long, six, eight, 10 hours and trust me, in a lot of cases, it’s not on a luxury cruise liner, it’s on a school bus,” Manfred said.
A school bus?
I’ve spent the last two seasons covering the Midwest League. Sorry, Rob, they’re not in school buses.
Charter buses, actually. Some teams even bring more than one bus, because of a larger on-field and off-field staff. Everyone at the lower levels use them.
This is one in a series of deceptions going on as MLB tries to squeeze Minor League Baseball.
The Burlington Bees are one of the teams on the list of affiliates considered for elimination, which was reported by the New York Times two weeks ago. Two other Midwest League teams — the Clinton LumberKings and the Quad Cities River Bandits, are also on the list.
If MLB goes through with this plan as the new Professional Baseball Agreement is completed, 2020 will be the last season for minor league baseball in Burlington, the smallest market among full-season teams.
It’s a long way before the PBA is completed — one owner said last week that this is just the first inning of a nine-inning game, and MiLB hasn’t made its counter proposal. But it’s clear that MLB is trying to make a strong case for eliminating affiliates, and it’s a decision that could damage baseball.
The New York Daily News did the math last week on the actual cost savings to MLB.
“Of the $500 million MLB pays the minor league players – their own players by the way – a large chunk of that comes from the signing bonuses, and the total outlay below Triple A is about $40 million, half of which is subsidized by minor league baseball in the form of an annual ticket tax which it pays to MLB,” the Daily News’ Bill Madden wrote. “Under the ‘120 plan,’ the total savings for MLB from top to bottom would be roughly $20 million in an industry that grossed in between $11-12 billion in 2019 – or less than a fifth of 1%.”
MLB is claiming that it wants better conditions for its minor-league players, and also wants to raise their salaries. But the owners are taking their cues from retail giants across the country who have promised better wages for employees, then cut hours or jobs so their actual costs won’t go up.
What will happen is that fans across the nation will lose affordable access to professional baseball, and communities that have supported teams for years will lose a summer tradition.
That’s dangerous for the game.
Manfred and his owners are trying to make the case that players are playing and working in substandard conditions, but all three Midwest League teams are in compliance with the standards set under the most recent PBA. And the eliminated teams around the nation would not be given a chance to comply to any new standards.
By releasing the names of the teams on the list, it is essentially a threat to the teams not on the list. Make this agreement with MLB, it seems, or you’re next when the next cuts come around. And they will come around.
It’s something to concern the rest of the Midwest League, because the next round of cuts will come primarily from the Low-A level. Teams like Cedar Rapids and Peoria might be willing to let the demise of the Bees, LumberKings and River Bandits happen. But when the next PBA expires, it will be their turn.
MLB is taking a big risk. Members of Congress have already signed a letter with veiled threats about going after baseball’s antitrust exemption. Cities that will lose teams could file lawsuits to try to get back money they have sunk in stadium improvements.
Minor league players should be compensated better, but MLB owners have had years to do so and haven’t. Now, they want to take it out on communities that have supported their sport for decades.
This may just be the beginning of MLB’s lies. And it’s not good for the sport.
John Bohnenkamp contributes weekly columns and high school sports coverage for Pen City Current