As an organization, Major League Baseball is worth somewhere in the vicinity of $36 billion. However, as any business would, it wants to cut expenses it deems inappropriate. The idea is sound, but one of the cost-cutting measures is receiving a lot of negative attention. It has gotten so bad that Congress is now getting involved to try to keep MLB brass from making a fateful error. Reducing the number of teams in the Minors is not an option anyone – except for those MLB executives – wants to see.
MLB and NAPBL At Odds Over Minors
MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues have been at odds for about the past year over plans by the league to cut back on the number of minor league teams. The Professional Baseball Agreement, which allows the two organizations to work in tandem, will expire this coming December, and MLB wants to get rid of as many as 42 teams. 13 of them would be abolished completely, and the remaining would be stripped of their MLB affiliation, transforming them into independent teams.
Virtually everyone is against the measure. Fans don’t want to see it and ballplayers are definitely against it. Now, several senators are even getting involved, penning a letter to the MLB and asking them politely to reconsider its plan.
The congressional group includes Bernie Sanders and Representatives David McKinley, Max Rose, Mike Simpson and Lori Trahan. According to a statement by McKinley, “Minor League Baseball teams have had a major impact on small communities. These teams provide an enormous cultural and economic benefit to the communities they call home. Doing away with 42 teams is not a reasonable solution.”
Simpson adds, “The proposal to cut 42 teams will leave communities like Idaho Falls without affordable and accessible options for families to experience America’s pastime.”
The letter, which was made public by The Associated Press, indicates that the House is behind the minor leagues and that it fully “supports the preservation of minor league baseball in 160 American communities” and it “recognizes the unique social, economic, and historic contributions that minor league baseball has made to American life and culture.”
MLB, and the teams, would like to see changes to make the minors more productive, but eliminating the teams can best be described as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s an overreaction to several simple issues that can be resolved to see the minor league flourish.
How Did MLB Respond?
The league responded to the concerns raised by the lawmakers, saying in a statement, “MLB is confident that we can modernize our minors league system, improve playing conditions for our players, and protect baseball in communities across America. However, doing so is best achieved with Minor League Baseball’s constructive participation, and a recognition that they need to be part of the solution. So far their approach has been neither constructive nor solutions-oriented. The most constructive role Congress can play to achieve these goals is to encourage Minor League Baseball to return to the bargaining table so we can work together to address the real issues impacting minor league players and communities all across the country.”
This cloud over minors league baseball has not just one silver lining, but two, the first one is drawn around the power that Congress has over MLB. In an odd twist of legislative interpretation of laws, MLB is exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act, a piece of legislation designed to prevent companies from working together to fix markets; however, Congress has, on more than one occasion, threatened to hold MLB accountable per the law. If lawmakers believe MLB is overstepping its limits, they could call a foul and turn the screws.
The other silver lining comes from the origin of the plan to reduce the minors. The idea was apparently started by Jeff Luhnow, the former GM of the Houston Astros and one of the people at the center of the sign-stealing scandal. Now that he has been removed, it’s possible not much attention will be given to the team reduction idea.