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MLB Doubles Down on Dream League, Facilities Argument

BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field

In response to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal‘s suggestion to reexamine Major League Baseball’s anti-trust exemption should MiLB contraction move forward, MLB issued a statement arguing that a Dream League would be an acceptable substitute and that MiLB refuses to address facilities issues.

There’s been a steady stream of politicians across the country decrying a proposal by Major League Baseball to dramatically overhaul the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between MLB and Minor League Baseball. The current PBA expires at the end of the 2020 MiLB season. The current PBA was negotiated in 2011 and was basically an extension of the previous PBA, guaranteeing 160 MiLB teams and setting forth the standards for facilities, umpiring and player-development contracts. MLB’s first extensive proposal in the talks called for a reduction to 118 guaranteed MiLB teams, an overhaul of the draft and rookie-development process, the establishment of an as-yet-undefined Dream League for contracted markets, and more.

(Ballpark Digest has been intensively covering the ongoing PBA negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, from the initial public revelation of MLB’s plan for MiLB realignment to the release of specific insight into MLB’s realignment proposal and the reaction of elected officials on MiLB’s behalf around the country. Ballpark Digest publisher Kevin Reichard outlined how MiLB could address MLB’s concerns without full-scale contraction and reported on the latest from the Winter Meetings, while contributing editor Jesse Goldberg-Strassler looked at the last time MiLB suffered a mass contraction.)

One of the teams on the MLB contraction list: the Norwich Sea Unicorns (Short Season A; NY-Penn League). That threat of contraction got the attention of Blumenthal, a U.S. Senator representing Connecticut since 2011. In response, Blumenthal said at a press conference that if contraction moves forward, Congress should revisit the MLB anti-trust exemption. We’d also expect Congress to review MLB’s minimum-wage exemptions and the number of visas issued to the sport.

Blumenthal was pretty blunt when announcing his opposition, per the Hartford Courant:

“The purpose of this plan is very simple,” Blumenthal said. “It is enhancing and fattening the bottom lines and profits of Major League Baseball. That’s it. Purely and simply, greed. Putting minor league baseball on the chopping block solely for more profits, without care to the communities, or families or charities that will suffer as a result.

Blumenthal added, “We have strong allies. And just to put it in a way that Major League Baseball will best understand it, since its interest seems to be in dollars and cents, we will revoke its antitrust exemption as a weapon here. So if it understands nothing else, it should understand that the antitrust exemption for Major League Baseball is at risk if they persist with this misguided, deeply unfortunate plan to cripple minor league baseball for more profits.”

MLB’s response: that the owners of the Norwich Sea Unicorns would be free to join a Dream League associated in some way with Minor League Baseball. No one is entirely sure what is meant by MLB “support” of teams in a Dream League, but on a basic level it sure sounds like an independent league with absolutely no financial support from MLB. According to AP, MLB issued a response to Blumenthal stressing the development of a Dream League: “It is not Major League Baseball’s goal to eliminate any club in these negotiations, and MLB currently has a plan for every club to continue operations with some level of support,” Major League Baseball said in a written statement.

In addition, the MLB letter contained a very debatable claim: that MiLB owners refuse to even consider facilities upgrades: “However, minor league baseball owners have refused to bear any portion of the contemplated cost increases for improving facilities, working conditions and pay,” the MLB said. “Instead, they’ve indicated that they would prefer to simply eliminate franchises.”

However, MiLB owners say they’ve never been presented with specific facilities guidelines from MLB negotiators. Without anything specific in terms of improving facilities and working conditions, there’s no way to formulate a reaction–and despite the claim, we can’t identify any MiLB owners in favor of contracting 42 teams.

As noted yesterday, as of now things are quiet on the talks front, but we expect them to resume once the New Year begins.

Photo of BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field courtesy of the Williamsport Crosscutters. The Crosscutters are one of the teams proposed for contraction.

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