Last month we learned that Major League Baseball is planning a radical reorganization of the minor leagues, that would involve eliminating over 40 minor league teams. Today over 100 members of Congress sent Major League Baseball and all of its clubs a letter urging them to rethink their “radical” plans.
“If enacted, it would undermine the health of the minor league system that undergirds talent development and encourages fan loyalty,” the letter read. “It would particularly be felt in areas far from a major league team or where tickets to a major league game are cost-prohibitive.” The letter asked Major League Baseball to “strongly reconsider its proposed course” and ensure continuity of minor league baseball with Major League affiliations in their communities.
There is no doubt some amount of personal anger in the letter as well, as Congress has, quite recently, bent over backwards for Major League Baseball specifically so that it could maintain the minor leagues on the terms which MLB said was necessary to do so. Specifically, MLB successfully lobbied Congress to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying players as seasonal workers thus they are no longer entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, among other protections. That put a lot of heat on Congress, but Congress came through and gave Rob Manfred what he wanted.
As such, this part of the letter seems like a threat:
The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs. We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.
For over a century, Congress has taken numerous actions specifically designed to protect, preserve, and sustain a system and structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.
Congressional threats to baseball have, in the past, greatly altered the league’s behavior. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens again here.