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Minor league owners are at a tipping point

The minor league season was supposed to start in a couple of weeks and it’s time for MiLB owners to commit to paying their stadium workers during the shutdown

MiLB: JULY 31 Florida State League - Flying Tigers at Blue Jays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A lot of pressure has, justifiably, been put on Major League Baseball to continue to pay their employees during the COVID-19 shutdown. Whether we’re talking major leaguers, minor leaguers, or stadium workers, pressure was exerted on MLB owners to fulfill their obligations as employers in a time of crisis and in some small measure MLB owners responded. They haven’t responded well enough, but measures have been instituted to at least start addressing the plight of their workers.

The Minor League Baseball season isn’t scheduled to start until April 9th. Presently MiLB owners aren’t being asked tough questions about what they will do for their stadium workers once April 9th comes and goes without any MiLB games having been played. MiLB has already announced that the start of the season will be delayed and that means that MiLB owners will need to act. They will have the chance to act, MiLB owners have been given plenty of time to strike first and it is important that they do exactly that.

In all the chaos of COVID-19, most of the other issues affiliated baseball is facing have been put on the back-burner. Being on the back-burner doesn’t mean that those issues have disappeared, rather they aren’t a priority right now. There’s no reason to believe that MLB has given up on its attempt to enact The Houston Plan and contract 42 MiLB clubs. When the time is right, once COVID-19 related activity has dissipated somewhat MLB will continue with their plan to slash affiliated baseball across America. It will be a lot easier for them to enact such a plan if MiLB owners leave their stadium workers and ancillary staff hanging once the minor league season begins.

MiLB owners need to keep the court of public opinion on their side. They also need to keep Congress and other levels of government fighting against ‘The Houston Plan’. Right or wrong, MiLB owners have come out of the early stages of their fight against MLB looking like the good guys while MLB is the nefarious villain. It’s easy to see why people are quick to lump each group into their respective categories. MiLB is fighting against an oppressive regime in MLB that seems to hate baseball. More than that, MiLB has successfully positioned MLB as the entity that wants to rip baseball away from the American people while hurting minor league players and communities.

MLB’s one chance to swing the pendulum back their way is if MiLB owners decide to tighten up and not pay their stadium workers. That would be a disastrous decision on the part of MiLB owners. I’d like to believe they wouldn’t be that foolish, but they are the same group of owners who wholeheartedly supported the abhorrent Save America’s Pasttime Act and that makes me question their overall intelligence.

Still, MiLB has to know that MLB is watching what MiLB owners are doing and using any possible missteps to turn around public and Congressional support. MiLB President Pat O’Conner should be stepping up and directing every owner throughout MiLB to do the right thing and pay stadium workers and ancillary staff the moment the delay goes into effect. More than that, he should have already made an announcement that MiLB owners would be paying their workers and in doing so cut off any chance of MLB using this particular situation to their advantage.

Thus far O’Conner, MiLB, and the owners have remained silent. Scouring the internet reveals no stories of any owner announcing any sort of plan to pay their stadium workers. What should be done is simple. It’s not simple for any of the reasons I listed herein. In actuality, it is simple because MiLB owners owe their employees some sort of wage while the myriad MiLB leagues are shutdown. With each passing day the concern that the MiLB owners will not do the right thing grows. All the while MLB is waiting in the wings, ready to pounce and use the inaction of MiLB owners to gut the present minor league system. MiLB owners have all the power right now, but will they properly exercise that power?

Editor’s Note: Dave Heller, President & Chief Executive Officer of Main Street Baseball LLC, which owns the Billings Mustangs, Lowell Spinners, Quad Cities River Bandits, and Wilmington Blue Rocks, reached out to Beyond the Box Score to reaffirm his public commitment to not laying off any full-time staff “no matter when we play baseball” and not reducing anyone’s salary during the health crisis.

Three of Heller’s teams were on MLB’s contraction list according to the New York Times.