Major League Baseball has done something rare in the political world of 2019 — unite Republicans and Democrats. Politicians from both parties are opposed to a plan that would reduce the number of minor league teams.
In October, Baseball America reported that a plan under consideration would reduce the overall number of professional teams. The article indicated that minor league clubs that lose their MLB affiliation might compete in something called the “Dream League” instead of the long-established leagues in which they play now.
Overall, the plan calls for ending the major league affiliation of 42 teams, with 13 vanishing completely, according to The Boston Globe.
MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem said the proposal was in its initial stages.
“From the perspective of MLB clubs, our principal goals are upgrading the minor league facilities that we believe have inadequate standards for potential MLB players, improving the working conditions for MiLB players, including their compensation, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, providing better geographic affiliations between major league clubs and their affiliates, as well as better geographic lineups of leagues to reduce player travel,” Halem said.
But a bipartisan letter authored by Democratic Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia collected 104 members to sign on against the plan.
“If enacted, it would undermine the health of the minor league system that undergirds talent development and encourages fan loyalty. It would particularly be felt in areas far from a major league team or where tickets to a major league game are cost-prohibitive,” the letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
“Tens of millions of fans attend Minor League Baseball games each season. These professional baseball clubs are vital components of our communities because they provide affordable, family-friendly entertainment to members of our communities, support scores of allied businesses, employ thousands of individuals, donate millions of dollars in charitable funds, and connect our communities to Major League Baseball.
“A number of these Minor League clubs operate at a loss but continue to persist due to strong fan support and club ownerships’ commitment to their communities and America’s Pastime.”
“The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs,” the letter said, noting that going ahead with the plan could impact the “long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.”
“Reducing the number of Minor League Baseball clubs and overhauling a century-old system that has been consistently safeguarded by Congress is not in the best interest of the overall game of baseball, especially when Major League Baseball’s revenues are at all-time highs,” the letter said.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has announced his opposition to the plan.
“.@MLB is proposing to cut 42 Minor League Baseball clubs. This has nothing to do with what’s good for baseball and everything to do with greed. It would destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies.I’m urging @MLB Commissioner Manfred to stop this proposal,” Sanders tweeted.
.@MLB is proposing to cut 42 Minor League Baseball clubs.
This has nothing to do with what’s good for baseball and everything to do with greed.
It would destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 25, 2019
Rick French, owner of the Single-A Daytona Tortugas, said during an appearance on Fox News’ “America’s News HQ Weekend” that the plan gets it wrong.
“The fact that you’re looking to contract 42 teams in which Minor League Baseball is such an integral part of those communities and still saying that you want to grow the game defies logic,” he said.
French noted that communities such as Daytona, Florida, would be hurt.
“There’s a lot of economic development that’s taking place around the stadium,” he said. “We employ over a hundred people on game nights that have part-time jobs that they rely on. It affects local restaurants. It affects hotels.
“In Daytona, it’s the only professional sports franchise that we have, so it would impact [the] quality of life and things that people have an opportunity to do in the evenings.”
Lowell Spinners owner Dave Heller said he is also fighting the proposal, according to The Lowell, Massachusetts, Sun.
“This is a very real and very, very serious threat,” he said. “The most serious threat the Spinners has ever faced.”
Jeff Lantz, senior director of communications for Minor League Baseball, said the proposal is part of a negotiation process that is expected to be lengthy.
“Our goal across the country is to save as many of these 160 minor league teams as we can,” Lantz said.
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