SAN DIEGO — Major League Baseball’s plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliations has not gone over very well with, well, almost anyone.
It was immediately assailed by many the moment it was first reported by Baseball America in October, and then U.S. Senators Bernie Sander and Elizabeth Warren — and about 100 more other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle — weighed in with their disapproval.
Yesterday Rob Manfred was asked about the plan. He bashed Minor League Baseball for leaking the plan and for taking a “take it or leave it approach” with the league in negotiations.
Here’s what he said after saying, contrary to earlier reports, that he and Major League Baseball have not yet finalized any plan and are willing to discuss the matter:
I think in contrast, I think some of the activities that have been undertaken by the leadership of Minor League Baseball have been polarizing in terms of the relationship with the owners.
I think they’ve done damage to the relationship with Major League Baseball, and I’m hopeful that we will be able to work through that damage in the negotiating room and reach a new agreement. You know, when people publicly attack a long-time partner after they’ve committed to confidentiality in the negotiating process, usually people don’t feel so good about that.
Later in the press conference Manfred characterized Minor League Baseball owners as coming to the table in bad faith, claiming that they say they know they have “substandard” ballparks and not caring to do anything about it. He also said, repeating a talking point from his original defense of the contraction plan, that minor leaguers “deserve to be paid fairly.” He was not asked, however, why, if that was a priority of his, he and MLB owners lobbied Congress hard to get a law passed just last year allowing baseball to pay minor leaguers less-than-minimum wage as “seasonal employees.”
Finally, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for its alleged obstinance:
Major League Baseball has been and will remain flexible in its negotiating position. I hope that Minor League Baseball, which has taken the position that they’re not willing to discuss anything but the status quo or any changes that would provide for upgrades in adequate facilities, better working conditions for our players. That they move off the take-it-or-leave-it status quo approach and come to the table and try to make a deal.
The talk around the Winter Meetings is that Major League Baseball was taken aback by Baseball America’s reporting of the contraction plan, did not have their P.R. strategy for the plan ready, and severely underestimated the backlash they would receive for wanting to eliminate minor league teams. I’d say, based on Manfred’s comments and his defensiveness when he delivered them yesterday, that talk is accurate.