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Minor League president retires amid contraction talks

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball President and CEO Pat O’Conner abruptly announced his impending retirement amid talks between the minors and Major League Baseball to dramatically restructure baseball’s developmental pipeline.

O’Conner was with MiLB for 28 years, including a 13-year run as president. He was re-elected to serve a four-year term last December, but he said in a statement Tuesday that he will retire on Dec. 31.

His departure comes weeks before the Sept. 30 expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body for the minors. MLB proposed shrinking the affiliated minors from 160 teams to 120 last year, drawing outrage from minor league team owners, fans in those communities and public officials including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Then the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season in June. The NAPBL said at the time that more than half of its 160 teams were in danger of failing without government assistance or private equity injections, changing the calculus of the PBA talks.

A restructuring of the minors that includes contraction now seems likely. O’Conner won’t be the person to oversee that change.

“It has been a privilege to serve in Minor League Baseball leadership for the past 28 years and I will be forever indebted to all of the staff who worked with me in St. Petersburg over the years,” O’Conner said. “It was an honor to work alongside the owners, executives, players, umpires, fans and communities that have made our organization so successful.”

Revenues and franchise values grew at unprecedented rates under O’Conner, and he also worked with Major League Advanced Media to package digital rights to minor league broadcasts.

O’Conner has been criticized for his role in suppressing player salaries. O’Conner helped MLB lobby Congress to pass the Save America’s Pastime Act in 2018 to exempt minor leaguers from federal minimum wage laws. The bill’s passing stalled efforts by players to sue for raises from yearly salaries that average between $5,000 to $10,000.