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MLB/MiLB Contraction Battle Moves to Capitol Hill

BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field

A proposal to eliminate 42 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams and revamp the beginning stages of player development from Major League Baseball (MLB) is a hot topic on Capitol Hill, with the announcement of the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force as part of a hands-on lobbying effort yesterday and today from MiLB management and ownership.

Several MiLB owners were joined by MiLB President/CEO Pat O’Conner in meetings with members of both houses of Congress to address MLB’s proposal to contract 42 MiLB teams while overhauling the player draft and first-season development. (You can review all the details here.) The plan would take effect after the 2020 season as part of a new PBA between MLB and MiLB. A broad, bipartisan group of legislators, presidential candidates, current players, state officials and local politicos had already condemned MLB’s contraction plans, and yesterday the effort was advanced with the creation of the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, chaired by Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA), David McKinley (R-WV), Max Rose (D-NY), and Mike Simpson (R-ID).

“I am proud to launch this important Task Force with my Co-Chairs; Representatives McKinley, Rose, and Simpson. Together along with our colleagues we will make perfectly clear that Congress is ready to defend our communities, which stand to lose out in MLB’s proposal to slash the number of Minor League teams. The Lowell Spinners and other minor league teams across the United States provide critical economic and cultural benefits to the communities they call home, and Congress must have a voice in this conversation,” said Congresswoman Trahan.

“Baseball is America’s pastime, and minor league teams have a major impact on small communities across our country,” said Congressman McKinley. “While we understand the MLB has concerns: the idea that doing away with 42 teams is the only solution is not reasonable. We look forward to working with MiLB and MLB to find a compromise that will preserve affiliated baseball in these cities.”

“Major League Baseball can look at all the ‘sabermetrics’ it wants, but what they don’t understand is the serious impact that losing these baseball teams will have on our communities,” said Congressman Rose. “You won’t see it in any formula, but my colleagues and I have all seen the impact teams like the Staten Island Yankees can have on the faces of the children who show up at the ballpark every year. I’m proud to join this effort to urge the MLB to reconsider.”

“Baseball is America’s pastime and that pastime should not be exclusive to a select number of cities. Minor league baseball is at the heart of many small and rural cities in our country. To deprive those communities of baseball would not only deny them access to our national heritage, but it would also harm local economies that depend on minor league baseball organizations. I am proud to join my colleagues in starting this task force to ensure baseball stays vibrant in communities like Idaho Falls and Boise,” said Congressman Simpson.

A big part of the meeting yesterday: A discussion of how to push the effort further, while monitoring ongoing negotiations between MLB and MiLB and discuss potential legislative action if and when such a remedy becomes necessary. Speaking of ongoing negotiations: it certainly will be a prime topic at the upcoming Winter Meetings, slated for next week in San Diego.

Meanwhile, more politicos came out in favor of their local MiLB teams. U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Steve Daines (R-MT) came to the defense of three Montana teams slated for contraction (Billings, Great Falls and Missoula), while Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom came to the defense of the Connecticut Tigers (Short Season A; NY-Penn League). U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), whose district includes four Appalachian League teams, met with Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem and issued the following statement:

“The First District of Tennessee is home to four minor league baseball teams in the Appalachian League — with a fifth right across the border in Bristol, Virginia. There are ongoing discussions between MLB and its minor league affiliates about the future of minor league baseball, and since half of the Appalachian League teams play in our region, I want to be active in ensuring America’s pastime is preserved for generations to come. For that reason, I met with Deputy Commissioner Halem to discuss the concerns our communities have with the potential loss of the Appalachian League and its impact on Northeast Tennessee. I look forward to continuing on working to preserve baseball in the First District of Tennessee.”

Image courtesy Williamsport Crosscutters.

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