It feels like a decade ago, but back in October, Baseball America reported that MLB intends to strip 42 minor league teams of their major league affiliation. It’s a famously terrible idea that would take away live baseball from millions of North Americans. In addition, it would further prey upon the dreams of late-rounders through the proposed Dream League, a name as cruel as it is ironic. The original plan was for this to happen after the 2020 season, but one would hope that Rob Manfred and MLB would delay the decision by at least a year following the delay of Opening Day. With the season starting in mid-May at the absolute earliest—and even that seems incredibly unlikely—these 42 teams on the chopping block will be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to proving their viability. Going through with the plan following a partial season would be a craven and opportunistic move by MLB.
One of the excuses MLB likes to tout for eliminating teams is that their facilities don’t meet MLB standards. Some MiLB owners, like Dave Heller, take issue with that claim. Standards for baseball facilities haven’t been updated since the 1990 Professional Baseball Agreement, and it’s certainly a problem if stadiums don’t meet expectations laid out 30 years ago. However, it sounds as if MLB is holding these facilities up to the whatever standards will be agreed upon when the new PBA is ratified. if teams are eliminated when the current PBA expires at the end of the year, they won’t be given a chance to upgrade their facilities.
That’s not only unfair, but it could kill off any chance these teams have of ever being viable if they are, in fact, unviable now. The last time standards were upgraded, revenues increased as the upgraded facilities drew larger crowds. Teams in the mostly independent Dream League won’t have the same financial support available to make these upgrades, and independent teams have short life expectancies. Even if MLB keeps the Dream League afloat, what motivation would they have to keep one team alive when another could pop up in a different city.
Any team that falls below the current standard would find it all but impossible to make the required upgrades before the end of the season. Most minor league teams will be hit hard by lost ticket revenue from cancelled games. Teams should at least be given until the PBA can be renegotiated. The contentious 1990 PBA was eligible for re-negotiation after three years, and a three-year period to update facilities to a new agreed upon and clearly defined standard seems more than reasonable.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already thrown enough of the baseball world into question. These communities needed this summer to further prove how important baseball is for them, and with everything shut down indefinitely, they’ll lose that opportunity. MLB should table this proposal for the immediate future if not throw it out entirely.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.