Last month, we learned that Major League Baseball was working to reorganize the minor leagues which would involve cutting 42 teams. In response, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued a statement saying that contracting minor league teams “would be a disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities across the country. We must protect these teams from corporate greed.” He also sent a letter to Rob Manfred in which he threatened baseball’s antitrust exemption if he proceeded with the plan.
Four days ago Manfred and Sanders had a meeting. After that meeting, Manfred issued a statement which said, well, basically nothing apart from previously-issued MLB talking points. That kind of thing often ends criticism of Major League Baseball. People tend to move on because, hey, it’s just a sport. Bernie Sanders is not simply moving on. Sanders called Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times yesterday, and he’s still hopping mad at about Manfred’s contraction plan.
After noting the positive effect he observed when minor league baseball came to his home state of Vermont — kids going to games that families can afford, baseball in a casual, up-close-and-personal setting, and the improvement of community spirit — he took aim at Manfred and the owners:
We have a situation today where Major League Baseball is mostly owned by a group of billionaires, people who have tremendous wealth. Last year, Major League Baseball made nearly $1.2 billion in profits, up 38% from the previous year. It is a business that uniquely receives an antitrust exemption from the United States Congress and over the years has received many hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare from communities all over this country where taxpayers build stadiums for their owners. So this is a business that must respond to the needs of the American people, and you cannot do that — they should not do that — by shutting down baseball in 42 communities around this country.
Sanders went on to call it a simple matter of “corporate greed” on the part of Major League Baseball and the “group of billionaires” who own its teams.
Oftentimes Sanders is either alone or in small company when he goes in on the billionaire class. This is a different situation. That letter that Sanders sent to Manfred was signed by over 100 of his fellow members of Congress, including conservative Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. When you talk about taking baseball out of small towns, you tend to see partisan lines fade a good deal.
Representatives from Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are meeting in San Diego this weekend and, likely, into next week at the Winter Meetings. It would not be at all surprising if we hear much more about Manfred’s contraction plan — assuming it still exists — in the coming days.