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Is MLB Backing Off on Its “Assault on Hometown Baseball?”

29 Jan, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Despite Commissioner’s Negative Stance, It Appears Some Compromises May Be on the Horizon

There’s no doubt that Major League Baseball has been tried and convicted of insensitivity in the court of public opinion. Ever since announcing its plan to slash Minor League Baseball by 42 teams, it has been reviled by enthusiasts of the sport.

Now, it seems, there has been some work toward trying to save face. Negotiations between MLB and MiLB are underway and, according to at least one source, MLB may be scaling back its proposal a bit.

Chatter coming out of December’s Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego found at least a few people who thought cuts would not be quite so drastic, according to WTOP, which noted, “one source said chatter following the Friday and Saturday meetings suggested that, at least privately, MLB was “backpedaling” off its initial stance.”

Just don’t expect an announcement any time soon, WTOP cautions. “It seems we’re still a ways off from any substantive ground being ceded by either side. But at least on the minor league side, even if they are currently winning the war of public opinion, interested parties seem willing to wait to get to a better solution.”

Minor League Baseball itself doesn’t have anything concrete to report – at least not yet.

“Negotiations are ongoing, but at this time I do not have any new information to share,” notes Jeff Lantz, senior director of communications for MiLB. “The current deal expires at the end of the 2020 season and we have not set any type of deadline or anything like that.”

SB Nation noted that representatives of MiLB teams in cities that stand to be affected by the cuts have enlisted the support of their local elected officials. In addition, political candidates like Bernie Sanders have gotten involved and threatened to bring Congress into the equation if MLB doesn’t back down.

Having to deal with Congress could be an effective threat. The main power Congress has over MLB is threatening to repeal its antitrust exemption, which has protected baseball for nearly 100 years against competition.

Someone who is not in favor of the negative press generated by MiLB is Commissioner Rob Manfred, who noted, “I think they’ve done damage to the relationship with Major League Baseball and I’m hopeful that we will be able to work through that damage in the negotiating room and reach a new agreement. You know, when people publicly attack a long-time partner after they’ve committed to confidentiality in the negotiating process, usually people don’t feel so good about that.”

As the process continues to play out, WTOP says, that while MLB owners initially voted 30-0 in favor of the contraction plan earlier this spring, developments at the meeting in San Diego may indicate some cracks in MLB’s solidarity, noting,

MLB organizations typically come together for a dinner each year, with Major League representatives hosting all of their minor league affiliates. Ken Young, who owns a number of minor league clubs including the Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Frederick Keys, one of the 42 proposed cuts, said he spoke with top team officials at the Orioles’ organizational dinner and came away with the sense he had their support.”

“I really believe the Orioles, who I met with, they want to stay in Frederick,” he told WTOP. “They love the proximity of all their [minor league] ballclubs, and they do have an ideal situation.”

While it is unlikely we’ll see a resolution any time soon, the sense of unease is creating tremors at the local level as well. Without knowing whether they’re going to last MiLB teams are having difficulty securing the kinds of multi-year sponsorship and ticket partnerships that are so necessary for survival in any city. And with the current Professional Baseball Agreement set to expire in September 2020, it’s ratcheting up the panic level in cities that stand to be affected.

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