Minor League Contraction Plan Conjures Painful Memories
Image courtesy of © Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY SportsIf the MLB and the team owners get what they want, the landscape of minor league baseball is about to change dramatically. Commissioner Manfred, apparently backed by unanimous support from the owners, is actively working to eliminate 42 affiliated minor league teams.
John Sickels of The Athletic recently wrote a great piece titled “On MLB’s plan for minor league contraction: You gotta be crazy.” Sickels evoked memories from a time when it appeared the Minnesota Twins would be contracted. It’s easy to forget that appeared to be a foregone conclusion at one point.
In November of 2001, the MLB owners voted 28-2 in support of contracting two teams, widely assumed to be the Twins and Montreal Expos. Luckily, the Twins lease agreement on the Metrodome was in effect through the ‘02 season. A Minnesota judge granted an injunction to force the Twins to play their home schedule in the Metrodome that season.
Not only did the MLB appeal that decision, but so did the Twins.
In January ‘01, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. Once again, the MLB and the Twins appealed to the state’s Supreme Court. On Feb. 4, the Minnesota Supreme Court announced they were refusing to consider the appeal, essentially forcing the Twins to play the 2002 season in the Metrodome.
But how did the downturn in fan interest that led to the threat of contraction come about in the first place? While the 1994 strike hurt every team, it was particularly devastating for the Twins.
Backlash to the ’94 stoppage was compounded by the fact the Twins had the worst record in baseball in ‘95. Then Kirby Puckett lost vision in his right eye during spring training in ‘96. It was as if the Baseball Gods were doing everything in their power to send Minnesotans to the St. Paul Saints (who had both Jack Morris and Darryl Strawberry that season), their local town ball team or simply to pick up a new summer hobby.
The ‘94 strike lasted 232 days, but it only ended because the U.S. Court system issued an injunction that reinstated the previous collective bargaining agreement until a new one could be agreed upon. The owners’ only option at that point was to impose a lockout. If that lockout would have been ruled illegal, however, it would have resulted in owners paying huge amounts in damages and back pay to players. So the show went on.
Could there be hope the courts could protect minor league teams against this proposal? The New York Daily News quoted an anonymous “major league official” who expected there to be plenty of legal action.
“I don’t see any way we can do something like this. My God, we’ll be sued all over the place from these cities that have built or refurbished ballparks with taxpayer money, and this will really put our anti-trust exemption in jeopardy. It’s crazy.”
More than 100 members of Congress have expressed opposition to the proposal, but MLB already responded with what The Boston Globe depicted as a “feisty” letter.
How do we keep finding professional baseball in the position in which it needs to be saved from the individuals running Major League Baseball?
Hopefully Elizabethton, a Twins affiliate since 1974, manages to survive this threat of contraction. Afterall, the city recently dedicated funding to renovate the ballpark’s facilities in an effort to appease the Twins and keep minor league baseball in Elizabethton.
Here’s hoping the law will be on Elizabethton’s side. We know Major League Baseball isn’t going to be.
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