EDITORIAL: MLB plan goes down on strikes
A proposal by Major League Baseball to whittle the number of minor league teams nationwide by some 25 percent is getting a well-deserved Bronx cheer.
Minor league officials, needless to say, are far from enamored with the plan, which would see 42 teams eliminated from MLB-affiliated minor leagues.
Boosters, developers and lawmakers from the targeted markets — including three in Pennsylvania — are rightly pointing out the economic hit their hometowns would sustain. And they’re being backed up by bipartisan members of Congress.
“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,” read a letter sent to the league last month and signed by more than 100 congressional representatives.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined the chorus. “Not only would your extreme proposal destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies,” he told the MLB, “it would be terrible for baseball.”
Even Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf weighed in this week, declaring opposition to the proposal in his own letter to baseball commissioner Robert Manfred: “The result of your proposal will be detrimental to not only players and employees of teams who will lose their jobs, but to the communities these teams call home.”
The York Revolution and Harrisburg’s Senators are safe, but the Erie SeaWolves, State College Spikes and Williamsport Crosscutters are on the MLB’s reported hit list.
Spurring the widely criticized reduction is the pending expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball and 160 minor league teams. The current contract ends following the 2020 season. Reducing the number of minor league teams is just part of broader negotiations.
“MLB is looking to dramatically improve Minor League Baseball’s stadium facilities as well as take control over how the minor leagues are organized as far as affiliations and the geography of leagues,” writes J.J. Cooper for BaseballAmerica. “Those areas have been under the control of (the minor leagues) for the past 100-plus years and would lead to a dramatic restructuring of how (the league) is governed and operates.”
It is to be hoped the suggested reductions are simply an opening gambit. While there may be a handful of legitimately underperforming teams that merit elimination or relocation, wholesale reductions would be detrimental not only to the minor leagues, but the majors as well.
The minor leagues are the chief wellspring of major league talent. Reducing the number of teams — especially at the higher levels; Pennsylvania’s SeaWolves are one of four Double-A teams on the chopping block — reduces the opportunities for future stars to cut their teeth. Strike one!
The economic reverberations will be real and deeply felt — and not just by the franchises and those they employ. “Minor League teams support local businesses and host various forms of charitable work for their communities,” Wolf astutely points out in his letter. Too, many of these communities have invested significantly in minor league ball. Wolf signed off on a $12 million grant last year aimed at improvements to UPMC Park, the SeaWolves’ home. Strike two!
Many minor league teams play hours from a major league venue (the State College Spikes and Williamsport Crosscutters are two such examples), providing local fans the only opportunity to conveniently enjoy professional ball. Those fans are going to take none to kindly to the MLB shutting down their hometown team. Attendance at major league games was down more than 1 million this past season from 2018; and more than 10 million from 2008. The league won’t just be pulling investments from players and local communities, it will be pulling investment from its future fan base. Strike three!
Other than being that rare issue that brings Democrats and Republicans together (in opposition), the MLB’s scorched-earth minor league reorganization plan is basically a swing and a miss. Put in a call to the bullpen and bring a stronger proposal to the mound.