MiLB or: How I Learned to Start Worrying Because I Love Baseball

Major League Baseball has proposed eliminating 42 minor league baseball teams after the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) expires between the two at the end of the 2020 season. MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem stated that the reductions are to focus on upgrading facilities with “inadequate standards for potential MLB players,” improving working conditions for players, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, providing better geographic affiliations for major league clubs, and better geographic lineups of leagues to reduce player travel.

Credit Greater Des Moines Partnership

The responses I’ve seen to this proposal across social media have been universally negative -- in that, fans don’t want to see MiLB teams go. I am one of those people who would be upset to see these cuts happen.

I was introduced to baseball through the minor leagues. I am a Rochester, New York native and grew up going to Rochester Red Wings (current Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and former affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles) games with my family. I also interned with the team for a season as a media relations assistant. I learned a lot about baseball, both as a fan and on the business side, from this club.

Every baseball fan I’ve ever talked to enjoys baseball for some nostalgic reason or another. Playing catch with mom or dad, going to games as a kid, and lining up for autographs are popular memories amongst us fans. The Red Wings have a Knot Hole Gang club for kids where they can get tickets at reduced prices and other special offers. Minor league baseball makes baseball accessible for families who don’t live near a major league team and/or can’t afford to attend major league games.

When I think of how much teams can mean to a city, I think of the time in 1956 when the St. Louis Cardinals decided to sell the Red Wings and Morrie Silver, a Rochester businessman and devoted fan, created a stock drive to save the team and keep it in Rochester. The stock drive was successful and the team has been owned by the Silvers and Rochester Community Baseball ever since.

While the Red Wings are not one of the teams currently on the possible chopping block, I can imagine that the fans living in the places that are care about their teams just as much as the Red Wings’ fans did in 1956. No Cubs affiliates are on the list to be cut, either, but that’s not to say any team couldn’t be in jeopardy in the future.

I know that baseball is a business, but it’s disheartening to think of these places losing their baseball team. One complaint I often hear is that younger generations aren’t interested in baseball, and taking away a local team certainly won’t help that. I don’t know that I would have become such a huge baseball fan if I hadn’t had easy and affordable access to a team during the summer. It was fun to see guys play in Triple A and then head up to the big leagues. It felt special to see them play in the more intimate setting of the minors before they made it to the bigs.

Another reason these proposed cuts bother me so much is because there have been several issues in recent seasons where it seems that MLB doesn’t care about the fans. Teams have to make revenue, I get that, and not all MiLB teams are as successful as others, but this just seems like a slap-in-the-face solution.

There's been a lot of scrutiny for the low wages paid to minor league players, but I'm also concerned for the other people who work in and around the ballpark. The teens working the concession stands for a summer job, the groundskeepers, the ticket booth workers -- all of these jobs would be eliminated in communities that may not have many other opportunities for employment.

Many are saying that these cuts are not likely to happen, and I hope they’re right. Baseball is a lot of things, but for me it started out as a fun way to spend time with my family and enjoy a sport that I felt connected to. I hope MLB doesn’t choose to sever all the potential connections that could be made in the future by getting rid of minor league teams.

Filed under: Minor Leagues

Tags: minor leagues

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  • Thoughtful, well-written piece. Thank you.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Thanks for reading, Cliff!

  • I love minor league baseball. Heck, I love independent league baseball.

  • I didn't go to minor league games as a child but more recently my son and grandson have gotten a renewed interest in baseball in general because of minor league games near them. Sometimes TV is not enough and attending the real thing in person creates the excitement that is missing when viewing from a distance. I would think that MLB would be expanding minor league teams, not reducing them. Thanks for a good article.

  • In reply to cubster:

    Completely agree. Being at the ballpark is such a great experience, and the minors allow more people the ability to attend. Thanks for reading.

  • I’m also not for cutting minor league teams. But I’m also hoping there’s a way to up those salaries to minor league players. Guess it’s a double edge sword.

    We also want the Cubs to keep investing in development programs & facilities to give them the best chance at getting the most out of their prospects. Hopefully there’s some middle ground that can be found.

  • I grew up on minor league baseball. We lived in Connecticut and had a 10 minute drive one way to see the Bristol Red Sox (AA) or 10 minutes the other way to Waterbury who had the Dodgers, Indians & Reds while we lived there. As kids, we'd spend most of the game chasing foul balls. It was always fun to see guys later in the majors and realize we saw them play AA ball.

  • For many years before I retired, I traveled a great deal for my work, and in the evenings I spent a large amount of time going to various minor league baseball games. I enjoyed them greatly and would like to see the tradition of small town baseball continue, especially since it promotes the sport of baseball, which has been declining in popularity among the younger generations.

    However, I think some of the reporting on the subject has not been totally accurate, and as a result, has placed the "blame" for this action on the wrong people.

    1. MLB Baseball is NOT eliminating 42 minor league teams. They are reducing AFFILIATION with 42 minor league teams. This is not a meaningless distinction. The vast majority of minor league teams are owned and operated local businessmen who own the park and facilities, while the affiliated MLB team provides and pays the players. The gate receipts are split between the owners and MLB team, with the vast majority of the receipts going to the local owners. From a financial standpoint, the MLB team loses substantial amounts of money on every affiliation.

    2. There has been substantial pressure by politicians to force the MLB teams to pay minimum wage to ALL minor league players under their control. This means not only while they are playing or practicing with the team, but also while traveling to the various parks around the league, which often amounts to 5 or 6 hours daily, on average. I have seen realistic estimates that this would triple the costs of maintaining affiliations with teams.

    The MLB teams use the minor league systems to provide a stream of players for their MLB rosters. But the vast majority of "prospects" in their system are not prospects at all, in the sense that they have a realistic chance of ever playing in the major leagues. Realistically, they are paid merely to provide enough players to fill the rosters of the minor league teams. Even at what is called "minimum wage", many MLB teams can not afford to keep 200 players on the payroll merely to provide two or three new players per year.

    This places the MLB in a difficult situation. There are a handful of teams (New York Yankees and Mets, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles teams, and a few others) can easily afford it, but small market teams like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Baltimore, etc.) can not possibly do so. But if MLB allows teams to have as many affiliations as they wish, we would end up with a situation similar to Brooklyn under Branchg Rickey, where the Dodgers had 22 minor league affiliates, while others had three or four. No one could compete with that.

    The MLB dealt with that by limiting the number of affiliates to the number that the poorer teams could afford to maintain. But if the minimum wage is applied to minor league players, the number of teams that small market teams can maintain will shrink, and if MLB does not shrink that number to ALL MLB teams, competitive balance will go out the window, even with things like the luxury tax in effect.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Dave P nice write up.
    Not sure I buy that teams can not afford to pay minor league players the minimum wage. If you are correct that MLB teams have ~200 players in the minors for each team and you pay them minimum wage at say $12.00 an hour for a 40 hour week. That would make $5M payroll for the minors. That is peanuts for what MLB makes a year in revenue.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Your point is well taken. However, your number does not take into account that all hours while in employment would be counted. Anything over 40 hours would be time and a half. If there is a Sunday game, that's double time pay. That easily doubles the figure to $10Mil+. That should be easy to swallow. Add in the increased cost for better travel options, accommodations, better meals, etc., and the number I was shown was an increase closer to $20Mil. For folks who say the owners are gazillionaires and can afford it, they are right. I just find it hard to justify that cost when there are only 1-2 players on any Low A, A or AA roster that will see any, let alone significant MLB action.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    I just meant the owners can afford to pay the lower level minor leaguers more. It would not be that much more of an added cost. They are already paying the travel costs, accommodations and meals. I was just talking about pay. But you are right the total cost is more than the $5M for salary I mentioned.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I think it would be easier to set an annual salary for minor league players. While this may ultimately be too high, set the annual compensation at $40,000 per year. That's a hard number of $8Mil on the 200 players. That's much easier than trying to keep up with what would be employment hours, time and a half, double time, etc..

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Thanks for the distinction, that does help clarify. But in essence, they're reducing the visibility of these teams (in my opinion). The Batavia MuckDogs are on the list and I live about a half hour from them, and there's no way they're going to be able to continue to exist without a major league affiliation. This may not be true for all of the teams, but I'm going to guess it will apply to many.

  • Question regarding MILB wages. Is a team free to pay minor leaguers whatever they want or is there some collective bargaining that has led to the current pay model?

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Simply put, MLB (through the Commissioner's Office) sets a minimum rate for players based on level of play, years of service, etc. It is salaried, not hourly. Individual teams must pay the minimum but may elect to pay more, and the Toronto Blue Jay's have led the way in doing so.

    MiLB players are not represented by a union. As DaveP pointed out, they are paid by the MLB team along with the coaches, and the minor-league team is largely responsible for the facilities and other amenities.

    The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues operates MiLB and has a working contract with MLB. This contract does not affect MiLB salaries but does include include provisions dealing with amenities, travel arrangements, and other things that can benefit players beyond the salary structure. The current contract expires in Sept. 2020.

    Much of the debate involving reducing the number of affiliations and improving facilities and other "fringe benefits" are simply negotiating ploys in a lead-up to the the new contract. MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association are opposed to increased salary for MiLB players and want to force the individual minor-league franchises to improve amenities to help offset the pathetically low salaries, and the franchises may not be able to shoulder the burden.

    So the show goes on...

  • Nice piece dh,

    My current hometown (12 years now) Frederick Keys are reportedly on the MiLB chopping block (Orioles Low-A team). The Keys have been first or second in home-game attendance in their league,for years now and are extremely well supported in the community. I manage to catch a home game or two every Summer - and it's an absolute blast to be able to walk 20 minutes from my front door, catch a game, and post-game fireworks most weekend games.

    It's a bad idea for MLB,...

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Thanks for reading!

  • My son's and I include mlb and milb games in our annual baseball road trips. Baseball, a cold beer, and much more in the good ole USA.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    You got me at "a cold beer". Minor league games are so much fun. I grew up going to Wrigley in the late 70's throughout the 80's. We'd party in the bleachers, catch batting-practice HR's, and wander all over the place before, during, and after the games. Chat with the bullpen and meet the players down the 3rd-base line. You can't do that at Wrigley anymore.

    It's become so corporate. I've quit going to Wrigley. It's, for me, not a fun experience any more. You are searched and ushered and chaperoned at every step, urged to buy, buy, buy at every corner. No thanks.

    Minor-league baseball takes me back to that family experience when baseball was fun. We need more of that to grow the game, not less. I really can't think of something I'd rather do than spend a day at a ballgame with a kid. It is such an exuberant atmosphere. It creates fans.

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    Thanks D. It's good to read you again.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks for reading, Jonathan!

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