Minor League Baseball Is In Trouble

I and lots of other sports commentators have focused a lot of attention on MLB and the MLBPA and their current confrontation regarding playing baseball in 2020.  What has gotten less attention – – insufficient attention – – is the plight of minor league baseball and its players.  Minor league baseball has encountered a perfect storm.  All the way back in 2019 when the word “coronavirus” was used only by a small coterie of virologists and biologists, MLB teams let it be known that they were going to reduce the number of teams affiliated with MLB clubs.  That is a big deal because affiliated teams put players on the field who are paid by the major league affiliate; lots of minor league teams do not have “player salaries” as their major expense item.

Then, MLB with the acquiescence of the MLBPA cut the baseball draft from 40 rounds to 5 rounds.  That means there will be fewer minor league/developmental players under contract with the major league teams and it may then be necessary for minor league clubs to spend a bit of “player salary money” in order to fill out a roster.

MLB has been paying minor league players at the rate of $400 per week since the time when minor league seasons should have opened but that commitment runs out on June 1st; only 9 MLB teams have indicated that they will continue those payments beyond that date meaning some of the minor league players will need to find other employment and give up at least part of their developmental processes.  For other players who might be able to hang on economically, MLB teams are in the process of releasing a couple hundred players.  Those moves are partly cost saving moves and partly a recognition that some of the players just are not ever going to help the MLB team win any games.

It is at least a 50/50 proposition that there will be no minor league baseball in 2020.  If the MLB proposal to the MLBPA to have major league rosters frozen at 40 – 50 players, there will be no need for MLB teams to have ready reserves in the minor leagues and without MLB financial support, the minor leagues would have to change the way they fund operations to exist in 2020.  There is not nearly enough time for that to happen.  As someone who enjoys minor league baseball and who tries to attend several games a season, I find that a gloomy conclusion; but it is one I cannot avoid.

I understand that MLB owners are going to have a lean year in 2020 no matter how the negotiations come out with the players’ union and why cost containment is more important in 2020 than it is in any “normal year”.  I also understand that MLB has a longstanding need to grow its aging fanbase and to attract “new blood” to the game.  The reduction in minor league baseball contracts the exposure of the game; the reduction of developmental players – – making a few hundred dollars a week – – shrinks the pool of potential future MLB stars.  The long-term implications for BASEBALL writ large of drying up a lot of minor league baseball are not good.

One minor league team is apparently looking at creative ways to generate some revenue in these days of “no baseball”.  According to a report at CBSSports.com, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins) have put their stadium up for rent on Airbnb. Here is the deal:

  • Cost is $1500 per night.
  • Accommodations can be for up to ten people.
  • Guests will have full access to the field, the home team clubhouse, a “large bedroom” and the batting cage/pitching machines.
  • Club house amenities include 2 flat-screen TVs, ping-pong table, and leather couches.

There will be a member of the Blue Wahoos staff on hand to provide security and logistical support for the night.  Obviously, the guests will need to bring their own food/beverages or have the evening catered.  I doubt that I would partake of such an offer, but it would not surprise me if the Blue Wahoos did not get at least a few takers.

Moving on …  For the first time in 124 years, there will be no Boston Marathon in 2020.  The event had previously been postponed from April 20 to September 14 as the coronavirus spread around the country last month.  Earlier this week, Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, did what politicians hate to do; he confronted reality and made an announcement that would not be popular:

“The traditional one-day running of the 124th Boston Marathon is not feasible this year for public health reasons.  There is no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity.

“While our goal and hope was to make progress and contain the virus and recover our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or any time this year.”

Thank  you, Mr. Mayor.  Thank you for candor and realism.  Thank you for incorporating science and public health factors into your decision making.

Tom Grilk is the CEO of the Boston Athletic Association – the organization that stages and provides the logistics for the Boston Marathon.  Like Mayor Walsh, his statement earlier this week reflects acceptance of reality:

“The spirit of Boston and the spirit of the Boston Marathon is to be strong and to be smart.  When necessity drives you in a direction you may not like, you have to have this strength, the wisdom and the guidance from public officials to do what is right.”

Thank  you, Mr. Grilk.  Might I say that it would be beneficial to the country if every decision regarding choices between public health and sporting events were made with your statement in the forefront of the decision makers’ minds.

Finally, since much of today had to do with money and economics, here is a related comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“A bat used by Lou Gehrig sold for $1 million. There is only one baseball bat in the world worth $1 million. It’s the one with a check for $999,000 taped to the barrel.”

  • Memo to Greg Cote:  That means the bat cost you $1000.  That is an awfully expensive bat too…

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



6 thoughts on “Minor League Baseball Is In Trouble”

  1. Patiently anticipating the first personal injury claim against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos when some Wahoo Yahoo cranks up the pitching machine to about 80 or 90 mph and he leans in while standing in the batters box, just knowing he’s going to take that fastball over the fence but instead takes a fastball to the noggin!

    1. Gary:

      An interesting scenario here – – particularly if the renters have brought a keg of beer with them as part of their “catering” and decide to crank up the machine aftere quaffing a few…

  2. It was my dream as a runner to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It is the only race, other than the Olympics, that has qualifying standards. I know a lot of runners who have been training hard are disappointed by not getting to run “Boston.”

    1. Doug:

      My #1 son is a marathoner – – tries to do 2 or 3 a year – – and he would jump at the chance to run in Boston if he ever qualified. He has already had two marathons that he had signed up for canceled on him this year. Nonetheless, I have to agree that it makes no public health sense at all to hold that event in 2020.

  3. I love when Sports Curmudgeon does math like the Lou Gehrig bat.

    If you miss minor league baseball, you could always watch the “Lollygaggers” scene in Bull Durham over and over.

    1. You could see if MLB.COM has any replays of recent Tigers games……

      Sports are going great in Detroit, aren’t they?

      Tigers, worst record in MLB

      Red Wings, worst record in hockey. Only team in league eliminated from the playoffs before COVID

      Lions – third from bottom of NFL at 3-12-1

      Pistons,. 4th fewest wins in NBA….. guess that is their good team…

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