Jesse Goldberg-Strassler and Kevin Reichard discuss recent reporting on the upcoming MLB takeover of MiLB and cover additional topics relating to the takeover of MiLB, like travel updates and the potential death of Thirsty Thursdays, on this week’s Ballpark Digest Broadcaster Chat.
With regular commentator Mick Gillispie unavailable, Jesse and Kevin settled in for the last chat of 2020 before a winter break. The topics:
- Yesterday we posted several stories about the reorganization of Minor League Baseball, including one long story about changes to the minor leagues structure, which include sweeping changes to Class A leagues, unresolved transitions for the Pioneer and NY-Penn Leagues, and plenty of new affiliations—but still no final list of the 120 teams comprising the future of Minor League Baseball.
- In short: the Midwest League and Northwest League could rise to High A, and the Cal League and Florida State League will move to Low A. In addition, there are some other teams moves from level to level and league to league.
- Kevin and Jesse discuss other topics related to MiLB reorganization that did not make the cut, including changes to travel protocols. Teams would be required to supply two buses for team travel, including one coach. MLB wants to see fewer late-night road trips and more days off, so one proposal has Thursday getaway games end at 4 p.m. The unintended side effect: no more Thirsty Thursday promos at minor-league parks. Thirsty Thursday promos are cornerstones to the MiLB schedule, making both fans and pouring-rights partners happy. (As a side note: it looks like MiLB schedules will look more like MLB schedules, with more days off and fewer four-game series.) The other proposed change could eliminate morning games aimed at school groups—the kind of games that expose plenty of potential fans to the ballpark experience. They will be allowed only if MLB parents give approval. The bottom line: MLB teams don’t appear to know what is successful in Minor League Baseball.
- One other potential problem with these new travel expenses: they will also affect the bottom line for MiLB teams. The big theme here is that the whole MLB reorganization is a continual effort to push costs onto MiLB affiliates.
- MLB continues to reject plans that could have saved some minor leagues. For instance, MLB negotiators rejected a plan to allow teams to send prospects to Pioneer League and NY-Penn League teams, but not bear the costs of an entire roster. (This is how professional hockey handles its AHL/ECHL farm system.) That would have allowed both leagues to remain professional circuits and retain ties with MLB.
- One other development: It looks like the Minor League season will begin in early May. A reason for the delay: spring training may be run in shifts, with MLB and Triple-A players in camp in February-March and the minor leaguers in camp in April. Many MiLB owners are secretly happy about this: those early April games in a northern climate are not good for players or Conversely, southern teams won’t be happy with seasons extending into September, between the hot weather and the competition with high-school football.
- With the end of the World Series, we will see final decisions made on the MiLB reorganization. MiLB teams are growing frustrated with how long negotiations are going. A final 120-team lineup has not been announced, but even for teams assured of making the cut, the lack of schedules means no plans can be made: no promos sold to sponsors and no entertainment booked. It also prevents teams from booking other non-game-day events like weddings and corporate gatherings.
- Another side effect of the MLB takeover: the layoff of MiLB staff and a general brain drain within the industry. Many were saddened by layoffs among St. Pete staffers, with more expected. One thing that distinguished MiLB is that many bright people chose baseball as a career or an ownership opportunity, but the changes in the industry are causing them to walk away. Baseball’s institutional memory is rapidly dissipating.
- Speaking of the World Series: both Jesse and Kevin enjoyed the Series as well as Game Six, though Jesse wished Justin Turner had not been in the lineup after an inconclusive test and not come out for team photos after testing positive for COVID-19. It sent a message that the Dodgers did not take COVID-19 season and stained what should have been a great moment both for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. In the end, though, the 2020 MLB season can be viewed as a success overall: despite some early-morning hiccups, MLB teams did a good job of addressing player safety while completing the season.
- This year’s neutral-site World Series inevitably opens the possibility of future World Series being played at a neutral site. This will totally change the event and make it less a reward for local fans and more an event onto itself, planned with no regard of potential opponents, like the Super Bowl or the College World Series, geared more for sponsors and insiders than for fans.
- The general theme for the day, between MiLB contraction and MLB demographics: baseball is a shrinking sport, with the pro game being played in fewer states and fewer players in a pro uniform.
- The Baseball Thesaurus term of the day: Captain Hook. Kevin immediately thinks of Dick Williams, while Jesse brings up Sparky Anderson. A Captain Hook is known for quickly pulling a pitcher a la Kevin Cash and Blake Snell, invoking the image of the vaudevillian hook to drag the performer off the stage. (This leads to a discussion of baseball statisticians and where they are best applied.) The Football Thesaurus term of the day: a gadget play, also called a gimmick play or flea flicker.
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is the Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and the author of The Baseball Thesaurus and The Football Thesaurus from August Publications. Mick Gillispie is the Voice of the Tennessee Smokies and a spring-training Voice of the Chicago Cubs. Kevin Reichard is publisher at August Publications and Ballpark Digest.