At the end of the 2020 season next September, the Professional Baseball Agreement which binds Major League Baseball (MLB) with Minor League Baseball affiliate teams is set to expire. MLB’s proposal for the next iteration of the Professional Baseball Agreement involves some explosive changes, including MLB interfering with the organization of Minor Leagues while increasing standards for stadiums. The most dramatic and controversial of these proposals, though, is the part that destroys MLB’s ties to 42 Minor League teams – including Pennsylvania’s own Williamsport Crosscutters, the Erie SeaWolves, and the State College Spikes.
The proposal to cut ties with teams comes from a poll given to MLB teams to assess each Minor League team’s facilities at the end of the 2019 season, and the unfortunate teams affiliated with the fields that don’t meet the new standards get the ax. To frame this positively, MLB insists that the cuts will save approximately $20 million per year since the organization will no longer be paying the salaries of those 42 Minor League teams’ players and coaches, but many passionate folk including Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner feel that the proposal is selling the soul of the game to save a few bucks and seriously compromising the future of baseball.
The Crosscutters advised their fans not to panic as this is a normal part of retooling the Professional Baseball Agreement to further modernize the sport, but as the end of the year approaches many fans are becoming increasingly anxious.
Leaping into the fray this week are Governor Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who tag-teamed Commissioner Rob Manfred of Major League Baseball this Monday with some interesting letters. Governor Wolf’s letter is a brief but passionate appeal, asking Commissioner Manfred to consider the damage that ditching the state’s Minor League teams will do to their communities. Losing the Minor League teams would end several people’s jobs and all of the charitable works that the teams do, like the Crosscutters’ ever-popular Hot Stove Banquet.
“Cutting these teams will take opportunities away from families to experience an affordable, family-friendly professional baseball game within a local setting,” Wolf says in his letter. On top of that, what kind of monster would try to mess with the home of Little League Baseball’s team? Governor Wolf certainly makes some points that tug at the heartstrings.
Pennsylvania’s state Attorney General Josh Shapiro took a more aggressive approach. He begins by stating the importance of baseball to American culture, the way that local teams attract fans of those specific teams rather than baseball in general, and community work that the teams do. He cites specific examples of public funding for teams, including multimillion dollar government grants for stadium upgrades.
In the end, though, the state AG threatens to hit MLB where it hurts: their wallet. Shapiro states that cutting out the three Pennsylvania teams creates “serious legal questions” and suggests that he is ready and willing to take legal action against the organization to protect the communities that would be hurt by the new proposal, “respectfully urging” Commissioner Manfred to reconsider the plan.
To use a turn of phrase from the wrong game: the ball is now in MLB’s court.