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Hey MLB: I got a million dollar idea for you

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I have a friend who is a scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture. I do not know exactly what he does there. The last time I asked him was about 25 years ago and he talked about, like, genetically engineering square watermelon or squash or something to make it easier and more efficient to stack on trucks. Or maybe I dreamed that. Either way, what he does is way, way above my pay and intellectual grade. Just know that you’re eating better because of him.

Anyway, this friend of mine shared a tweet from the USDA today that I feel like I should share with you. It’s about our baseballs and their bovine provenance:

Given that we are firmly in the Camping World and Doosan Era of Major League Baseball in which the league markets everything that can’t be nailed down and, for the things that can be nailed down, markets the nails, that little set of facts got me thinking. Thinking about business and synergy and corporate partnerships and stuff. Rob Manfred, I know you and I don’t see eye-to-eye on most things, but I give you this idea free of charge.

Baseball Steaks™: steaks made from the same cows from which baseballs are derived. They can put the little MLB logo on the shrink wrap and everything. You dang well baseball degenerates would pay $2-3 more a pound, at least, for The Official Steak of Major League Baseball.™

Even better: if they can figure this out — and given how forward-thinking the league is on biometric tagging of players, cows should be a breeze — they can match up the steaks from each cow to the group of 120 balls that came from the same cow. That’ll allow ’em to do some team-specific branding. They can sell Yankees fans ribeyes and porterhouses which came from the same cow from which the ball that Aaron Judge cranked 465 feet against the Red Sox a couple of weeks back was created. There’d be a certificate of authenticity and all that crap. Maybe an autographed photo of Judge holding the box of steaks you ordered just before it hit shipping. It’d be glorious.

Some of you may question my sincerity here. You may wonder why an MLB-criticizing pinko commie like me is willing to pitch a sure-thing moneymaker to a guy I routinely slam for thinking only about money. To that I’d simply say that it’s a peace offering. Some people break bread to bury the hatchet, I say we break beef. To Rob Manfred I say let’s bury the hatchet by breaking out the captive bolt pistol.

And if you’re curious, no, I am not a vegetarian or a card-carrying member of PETA. Indeed, I’m pretty sure the people at PETA don’t much care for me given our past. This is a legit offer.

Anyway, how about it, Rob Manfred? We doin’ this or are we just gonna sit and let money go down the slaughterhouse drain?

 

MLB execs go to bat in favor of shrinking minor leagues

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Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports published an article this morning in which he quotes several executives of MLB teams, including Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, defending the league’s proposal to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.

We first learned of the idea about a month ago. The proposal was widely panned, even drawing scorn from Congress as more than 100 members of Congress — including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — signed a letter condemning the league. In the time since, MLB has spent considerable time defending itself amid the public scrutiny. MLB also got into a bickering match with Minor League Baseball.

To generally sum up what was said in Brown’s column: the GMs echoed what MLB previously said in defensive of its proposal, which is that cutting 42 minor league teams (mostly in short-season and rookie ball) would free up more money to pay players more and improve their working conditions, including food and travel as well as facility conditions.

It is hypocritical for the league and team executives to express concern for the salaries and the quality of life for minor league players. After all, Major League Baseball spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress in order for language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to be amended. Doing so allowed the league to classify minor leaguers as seasonal workers and thus not owed things like a minimum wage and overtime pay, among other worker protections. This all happened because MLB is the defendant in a class-action lawsuit, originated by Aaron Senne and several other former minor league players, alleging that the league violated state and federal minimum wage laws with minor league players.

Shapiro is not a fan of Sanders’ constant harping on the league’s proposal. Shapiro said, “I’m never going to go toe-to-toe with him on domestic policy. But I will go toe-to-toe with Bernie Sanders on professional baseball.” As Brown explains, Shapiro is among those who believes that having a smaller minor league system would allow his organization to offer greater focus to each player remaining within that system. With the increased focus, the team would be better able to develop major league-caliber prospects. As we know, teams love prospects because their salaries are artificially depressed for the first six years of their careers.

One anonymous GM harped on the fact that “minor league baseball is not a moneymaker.” It didn’t sound like he was complaining; rather, simply recognizing how their parent teams view the situation. Another anonymous GM, however, said that the 42 teams are on the chopping block “for a reason.” He added, “I’m guessing that reason isn’t because they had overwhelmingly positive gate turnouts or that their facilities were in good shape. I think that’s been the criteria.”

As I pointed out last month, there are two teams that, at minimum, disprove the shabby-facility talking point. The Lowell Spinners (short-season) have had multiple renovations done in recent years. Team owner Dave Heller called his team’s stadium “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League.” The Quad Cities River Bandits, as another example, have earned awards from BallparkDigest.com for “Best Ballpark Improvement” and finished in third place as recently as two seasons ago for “Best View in the Minors.”

As for attendance, BallparkDigest has the 2019 numbers for all 160 teams here. The four Double-A teams on the chopping block — the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Chattanooga Lookouts, Erie SeaWolves, and Jackson Generals — ranked 91st, 74th, 80th, and 130th, respectively. Only one of those teams is significantly below the 50th percentile. Furthermore, one of the High-A teams on the list, the Frederick Keys, ranked 57th in attendance this past season, close to being in the top one-third of the entire minor league system.

The arguments are obviously facile. We should expect nothing less, however, as these execs do the bidding of their team’s ownership. Their jobs necessitate developing players efficiently and thoroughly. Chopping 42 minor league teams would have the double benefit to them of helping reduce overhead so the owners can report higher profits, as well as making their system run more efficiently (or so they think). So be it if thousands of jobs in towns across the U.S. get slashed in the process. So be it if small towns lose a central focus of their local economies and cultures. So be it if baseball becomes significantly less accessible across the nation.