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Congressional task force passes resolution opposing MLB’s minor league contraction plan

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We’ve talked at length about Major League Baseball’s plan to eliminate 42 minor league clubs. We also recently talked about Congress getting involved. Today that process started. It started with a non-binding, symbolic move.

That move: several members of Congress, calling themselves the “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force,” introduced a resolution saying that Major League Baseball should drop its plan to eliminate the minor league clubs and, rather, maintain the current minor league structure. The resolution reads as follows:

RESOLUTION

Supporting Minor League Baseball, and for other purposes.

Whereas 40 million plus fans have attended Minor League Baseball games each season for 15 consecutive years;

Whereas Minor League Baseball provides wholesome affordable entertainment in 160 communities throughout the country;

Whereas, in 2018, Minor League Baseball clubs donated over $45 million in cash and in-kind gifts to their local communities and completed over 15,000 volunteer hours;

Whereas the economic stimulus and development provided by Minor League Baseball clubs extends beyond the cities and towns where it is played, to wide and diverse geographic
areas comprising 80 percent of the population in the Nation;

Whereas Minor League Baseball is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion through its Copa de la Diversio´n, MiLB Pride, FIELD Program, and Women in Baseball Leadership initiatives;

Whereas Minor League Baseball is the first touchpoint of the national pastime for millions of youth and the only touchpoint for those located in communities far from Major League cities;

Whereas Congress has enacted numerous statutory exemptions and immunities to preserve and sustain a system for Minor League Baseball and its relationship with Major League Baseball;

Whereas abandonment of 42 Minor League Baseball clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate communities, bond purchasers, and other stakeholders that rely on the economic stimulus these clubs provide;

Whereas Minor League Baseball clubs enrich the lives of millions of Americans each year through special economic, social, cultural, and charitable contributions; and

Whereas preservation of Minor League Baseball in 160 communities is in the public interest, as it will continue to provide affordable, family friendly entertainment to those communities:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved,

That the House of Representatives—
(1) supports the preservation of Minor League Baseball in 160 American communities;
(2) recognizes the unique social, economic, and historic contributions that Minor League Baseball has made to American life and culture; and
(3) encourages continuation of the 117-year foundation of the Minor Leagues in 160 communities through continued affiliations with Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball issued a statement in response:

MLB is confident we can modernize or minor league system, improve playing conditions for our players, and protect baseball in communities across America. However, doing so is best achieved with Minor League Baseball’s constructive participation, and a recognition that they need to be a part of the solution. So far their approach has neither been constructive nor solutions-oriented. The most constructive role Congress can play to achieve these goals is to encourage Minor League Baseball to return to the bargaining table so we can work together to address the real issues impacting minor league players and communities all across the country.

So that’s fun.

It’s worth noting, again, that this move by Congress does nothing substantively and, rather, exists primarily to allow Members of Congress to talk about baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and America in that way that politicians like to do. Almost any act they take is opposed by half the populace, so they will always jump at an opportunity to say things that most people agree with like “taking away our sports teams is bad. If Congress wants to do something substantive here it can hold hearings and take tangible steps toward eliminating baseball’s antitrust exemption, which is basically the only real hammer it has in influencing the league. I suspect it won’t go that far and will, instead, continue to just issue statements like this.

For its part, Major League Baseball’s statement should be read as “we want to kill these guys over here, the guys we want to kill are being REAL JERKS about it and won’t help us in killing them. Congress, please shut up about not wanting them to die and, instead, tell them that they should let us kill them, OK?”

The upshot: wake me up when something actually happens beyond this posturing.

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.