WASHINGTON (AP)Nearly one-quarter of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked Major League Baseball to reconsider its proposal for a restructuring of the minor leagues after the 2020 season that would lead to 42 teams being dropped from their current circuits.
Reps. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., and David McKinley. R-W.Va., took the lead in the letter sent Tuesday to baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and signed by 106 members of the House.
”The abandonment of minor league clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs,” the letter said. ”We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.”
The Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues expires after the 2020 season. The 176 minor league teams affiliated with the NAPBL combined to draw 41.5 million fans this year.
MLB’s initial proposal, first reported by Baseball America on Oct. 18, would drop four Double-A teams: Binghamton, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, of the Eastern League and Chattanooga and Jackson, Tennessee, of the Southern League. The plan would eliminate the 28 teams from four Class A Short Season and Rookie Advanced leagues that do not play at spring training complexes and would lower the minimum guaranteed affiliation agreements from 160 to 120.
Major league teams supply players, coaches and equipment to the minors and say they spend nearly $500 million annually in salary while receiving back only $18 million.
Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, in a letter to Congress on Tuesday, said MLB wants upgraded stadiums, reduced travel, higher pay and better accommodations for players and a more favorable process for reaching affiliation agreements. Halem wrote that if ”significantly fewer than 160 affiliates” are guaranteed, dropped communities will be invited ”to join collegiate summer leagues similar to the Cape Cod League (but under the umbrella of MLB), existing independent leagues, or a newly created `Dream League’ that also would operate under the auspices of MLB.”
He said based on feedback from teams and players ”we have identified more than 40 minor league stadiums that do not possess adequate training facilities, medical facilities, locker rooms, and, in some cases, playing fields” and said the minor leagues ”communicated to us that it is unrealistic for us to expect lower-level minor league affiliates to meet our facility standards because of the costs involved in upgrading the facilities.”
Jeff Lantz, a spokesman for the NAPBL, said there was not an immediate response from the minor league governing body.
Several minor league players have sued MLB and its teams, claiming their pay violates minimum wage laws. Most minor leaguers receive an initial monthly salary of $1,100.
Halem wrote ”the majority of major league club owners believe that there are too many players in the minor league system” and said fewer than 5% of players selected after the 25th round of the annual amateur draft reach the majors.
”Most of the players on the rosters of rookie, short season and low-A teams are there to fill rosters so the minor league teams can stage games for their fans, not because the Major League Clubs require all of those players to develop major league talent.” he wrote.
In the last contentious negotiation over a PBA, Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Pa., called for hearings in November 1990. The sides reached an agreement the following month for a seven-year deal.
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