Better Know a Commissioner: Kenesaw Mountain Landis

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​Before Rob Manfred, before Bud Selig, there were lots of other aggravating, power-hungry men leading up Major League Baseball. This series exists to discuss the history of every commissioner MLB has had, with particular focus, where applicable, on their interactions and relationship with labor, the players. The rest of the series can be found through this link.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was known as the man who saved professional baseball even before he became MLB’s first commissioner. What’s curious about this is that he didn’t actually do anything to save it: he didn’t even give an actual decision on the antitrust suit he was presiding over, and yet, he got the credit, anyway.

Landis was the judge in the Federal League’s antitrust suit against Organized Baseball, way back in 1915:

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MLB could pay MiLB players a living wage, and for their housing, for a relatively paltry sum

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I wanted to expand a bit on my latest Baseball Prospectus article, which focused on the Astros’ decision to provide furnished apartments for all of their minor-league players in 2021, to talk about just how much doing all of this would cost. Per the original report by Brittany Ghiroli, Houston went ahead with this plan due to the multiple restrictions that playing a minor-league season in the midst of a pandemic entailed, so it’s unclear if housing will still be provided for in 2022. Whether that’s the plan or not, it should be.

It just would not cost that much in the grand scheme of things for every single MLB team to provide housing for their minor-league players each season. As I wrote for BP:

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A’s threat to move a reminder MLB expansion is more conceptual than anything

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Last Friday, my original plan was to write about a bit of news that had nearly gotten away from me. On April 27, the Associated Press reported that expansion fees for potential brand new Major League Baseball clubs could rise to the “$2.2 billion range.” That figure was arrived at because of a recent discussion commissioner Rob Manfred had with Sportico, where he shared that the average franchise value in MLB these days is $2.2 billion.

The rest of the information in the piece isn’t new, which is part of why I was fine pushing it off when something else came up. And why would there be new info? There hasn’t been a round of expansion since the 1998 season, and while it occasionally comes up in conversation as a possibility, it tends to be casual, or brought up in order to make a point elsewhere.

I had initially planned on reminding everyone about that last point mostly as a hypothetical, since the last time I discussed expansion in detail was back in the summer of 2017, while I was still with SB Nation. That piece, titled, “Rob Manfred won’t expand MLB while it needs new cities as stadium leverage,” kind of speaks for itself right there, but let’s dive in, anyway, since that reasoning has become all the more relevant thanks to some news from this week.

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The minor-league housing situation is even worse than realized

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About a month ago, it was revealed that MLB teams weren’t allowing their minor-league players to spend the season living with host families. While that made sense for COVID-19 protocol purposes, teams didn’t provide any kind of financial relief to these players who relied on the host system in order to save — or, more accurately, redirect toward another need — money from their paltry paychecks. The solution, to me, was that MLB teams should be paying for MiLB player housing.

A week after that, it was revealed that some teams aren’t paying for the hotels or the meals for minor-league players at the alternate sites. The reason? Nothing said that the teams had to do that, so, some of them decided they weren’t going to spend a dime on something they were not required to.

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Jeff Bridich is gone, but does that mean anything for the Rockies?

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Longtime Rockies’ general manager Jeff Bridich resigned from the position on Monday, less than a month into the 2021 regular season. His exit was a “mutual decision” with Rockies’ higher ups, meaning they told him he was fired but could bow out on his own instead of getting tossed out. Rockies’ owner Dick Monfort finally tiring of Bridich and telling him to go doesn’t mean that there is a major change coming to the organization, of course. Bridich acted the way he did for years because Monfort wanted him to: it is entirely possible that Monfort just needed someone new as general manager so they can restart this whole cycle.

You might remember this line of reasoning from when the Pirates parted with their own longtime GM, Neal Huntington, and their team president, Frank Coonnelly, after the 2019 season. Here’s me on that:

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On that Super League nonsense

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I’ll be the first to admit I’m not completely learned in the ways of men’s soccer’s worldwide economics. I know enough to know, however, that the system that is in place — in Europe, not in the United States’ MLS version of the game — does a better job of promoting competition than an American league like Major League Baseball does. There is a reason that, over the years, you’ve seen more than one writer pine for the idea of relegation in American sport leagues, especially in one like MLB where tanking or actively not trying is so rampant: the threat of being demoted to a lesser league and replaced by a team that is actually trying would provide the kind of motivation missing from the day-to-day and long-term operations of quite a few MLB teams.

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Some MLB teams aren’t paying for minor leaguers’ hotels or meals at alternate sites

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One week ago, I published an article stating that MLB should be subsidizing the housing of minor-league baseball players, especially given how awful the salaries of those players are. I brought it up then due to a rumor that MLB wasn’t allowing families to host MiLB players during a pandemic — understandable — but also wasn’t footing the bill or arranging for housing otherwise. While that was unconfirmed, we now have word from Advocates for Minor Leaguers that there are definitely MiLB players forced to pay for their own housing, even though they’re taking part at the alternate training sites that have them basically on call for MLB duty during its second COVID protocols season.

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After Kris Bryant grievance, the Cubs still feel free to manipulate service time

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Is what the Cubs are doing with 24-year-old second baseman Nico Hoerner service time manipulation? The most important answer is neither yes nor is it no: it’s that it doesn’t matter as much as it should, thanks to the Cubs themselves.

This isn’t the same as saying it’s not worth pointing out that what the Cubs are doing is service time manipulation. It’s that we still don’t have a definitive answer on what service time manipulation is, even though it sure felt like we were going to know well before this time last spring. The Cubs won Kris Bryant’s service time manipulation grievance last February, and that, in essence, was that for a while in terms of the players’ side being able to successfully point out that clubs were trying to get away with something as far as service time is concerned. As I wrote at the time the grievance was being arbitrated, the implications went far beyond just the state of Bryant’s tenure with the Cubs:

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Mailbag: Is it currently ethical to attend MLB or MiLB games?

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The MLB season is starting soon, and around a month later, we’ll also get the start of the Minor League Baseball season, the first since 2019… and the first under its new, shrunken format. MLB’s hostile takeover of MiLB brought a mailbag question to my inbox, so that’s what we’re going to tackle today.

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Round-up: NCAA disrespects women athletes, revenue sharing, minor-league pay

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Today’s newsletter is going to be a bit of a week-end round-up of topics, as there are a few things floating around in my head or that I’d like to share with y’all. So, here goes.

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Usually part of the disparity between respect paid to men’s and women’s sport is in the pay itself, but don’t worry, the amateur-filled NCAA found another way to show they care less about the women athletes in their ranks than the men. The start of March Madness brought us social media posts showing off the truth of this, and it ranged from the space the women’s basketball players had to work out, to the food they were provided, to the kinds of swag and merch available for their half of the March Madness tournament.

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