MLB is forcing MiLB players to leave spring training, without pay or hope

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Spring training is officially over, and the Major League Baseball Players Association sent out a memo to its members telling them they could stay at the spring training facility, go home, or head to the city that their team plays in. The allowances teams give to players during spring training, like for housing, are still in effect. The on-field facilities players use to prep for the regular season will remain open to those who stay, as well, and teams will assist in flying out the families of any players who had their families with them in Arizona or Florida, to boot.

According to minor-league players spoken to under the condition of anonymity, MLB’s response was much more terse and disconcerting: go home. It was left up to each individual team to craft their own message to their minor-league players that said as much, but that was what had to be relayed from above. Go home, whether you’re a domestic or international player. Go home, because you, as minor-league players, don’t have the protections and rights to negotiating an exit as unionized players.

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American sports’ response to coronavirus is still lacking

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Despite the growing threat of coronavirus — which the World Health Organization is close to calling a pandemic, which now has over 1,000 confirmed cases in the United States despite America failing to test for the virus at the same rate as other afflicted countries — American sports leagues, for the most part, are going about business as usual.

Yes, the media is now barred from locker rooms and clubhouses across four major active sports (MLB, NHL, NBA, MLS), but fans are still attending those games. Media members can’t get within six-to-eight feet of a player to interview them, but 20,000-plus people still get to sit elbow-to-elbow, eating food from a concessions worker who can’t afford to take the day off if they have a cough, and then those 20,000 people disperse into the world once more, potentially carrying COVID-19 with them into their next interactions.

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MLB’s planned pay raise for MiLB players is severely lacking

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One of MLB’s excuses for attempting to disaffiliate 42 minor-league teams following the 2020 season has been the need to increase pay for minor-league players. Obviously, players need to be paid more, but MLB tying these two events together is disingenuous: MLB’s owners can afford to keep every team in Minor League Baseball going and pay every minor-league player far more than they do now, and it would still be a drop in the proverbial bucket for them.

As has been said before, the average minor-league salary could be $50,000 per year, and it would cost each team about $7.5 million. That’s it! MLB is tying the disaffiliation of teams together with increasing pay as a threat to the thousands of minor-league players who will remain: this is what could happen to you and your team if you make too much noise about your pay.

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John Buck learned about Curt Flood, and made sure other players would, too

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Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees for a massive nine-year, $324 million deal that gave him the largest annual average payout of any deal in MLB. It’s the kind of contract that’s only possible because free agency, as an institution, exists: Cole was allowed to go into the open market, freed from the initial deal he inked when the Pirates drafted him in 2011 and then brought him to the majors in 2013, and agreed to sign with the team he wanted to, for the immense money they had to offer in order to show it wasn’t a one-way desire.

It feels like a given these days that this order of operations exists, but Cole didn’t forget that the existence of free agency is what brought him to this point, and during his press conference introducing him as a Yankee, he thanked the first Executive Director of the Players Association, Marvin Miller, and Curt Flood, who challenged MLB and its longstanding reserve clause, for what they did to allow the moment Cole was in to even exist. On its own, it was an excellent gesture, the kind of thing Miller himself said didn’t happen often enough in his own time guiding the players’ union, but the backstory makes it an even better moment.

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MiLB players speak on MLB’s idea of “waste”

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Part of Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball’s plan to shrink the minor leagues revolves around the concept of “waste.” Per a report by Bill Madden, “waste” was an important reason to agree to this plan to disaffiliate 42 minor-league teams: you can see my reaction to that reveal as well, as it published here in mid-November. This time around, though, the focus is on what minor-league players think of this idea, that any player who doesn’t make it to the bigs was a “waste” of resources for MLB teams.

I spoke with three players — two former, one active but anonymous to protect them from any blowback from MLB — for a feature that published at TalkPoverty earlier this month, titled “Major League Baseball Wants to Crush 42 Minor League Teams — And Their Hometowns.” I asked them a wider range of questions than what was used in that one piece, however, including on the subject of “waste.”

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The battle between MLB and MiLB is just beginning

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Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball met at the winter meetings to continue negotiations on a new Professional Baseball Agreement — the governing document for the relationship between MLB and MiLB — and those talks were not promising. If anything, everything surrounding MLB’s plan to disaffiliate 42 teams is somehow worse than it was before the latest talks, as the two sides brought a somewhat-public discussion fully into the public, and spent the end of the week sniping back and forth. This was ugly, and it’s only getting uglier.

MLB is protective of their plan, and, as Michael Silverman put it for The Boston Globe, fired back at Minor League Baseball owners for letting the public know that MLB’s plan to devastate dozens of communities with a connection to pro baseball and gut thousands of jobs is extremely unfair, poorly thought out, and is an excellent summation of the level of greed that’s currently in favor among MLB owners. MiLB then responded to this by going point-by-point on MLB’s plan, including tearing the “Dream League” idea to shreds by saying it’s completely nonviable both for affected MiLB owners and the smaller communities many of these disaffiliated teams hail from.

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MLB thinks paying MiLB players is a “waste”

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We now know the identity of the 42 minor-league teams MLB plans to shut down as part of a major restructuring of Minor League Baseball. The New York Times published the list this weekend, and there are some threads to pull on within it that reveal some of MLB’s intent: we’ll focus on the idea of “waste” today.

Just 14 of the shuttered teams are full-season, out of 120 that exist right now. However, 28 of the 40 short-season teams out there would be disaffiliated: those are inherently lower on the attendance spectrum, considering they are short-season leagues, in smaller parks, often in smaller cities that maybe couldn’t support something the size and scope of a Triple-A team and its park. That doesn’t mean they failed to, say, pay for the stadium they do have to be built, or that the people within those cities aren’t enjoying having a team in town. As Neil deMause writes:

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On Brandon Taubman, the Astros, and MLB’s domestic abuse problem

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The Astros have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week, as their assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, publicly chastised three sports reporters — all women — about Houston’s 2018 acquisition of domestic abuser Roberto Osuna. Stephanie Apstein, a Sports Illustrated reporter who was on the scene, described the moment in a story that the Astros initially declined to comment on:

And in the center of the room, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!”

The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized. The Astros declined to comment. They also declined to make Taubman available for an interview.

Despite the scene being so alarming that another Astros’ staffer felt the need to apologize for Taubman’s behavior, the Astros would eventually deny that it even occurred by releasing a statement whose tl;dr is “fake news.” The slightly longer version of it is that the Astros claimed Taubman was trying to help out a player having a rough go of things, even though Osuna wasn’t even present at the time of the incident.

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On the Tomahawk Chop and the confusion of symbolism with action

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The Braves’ use of the Tomahawk Chop during games came under additional scrutiny this week, thanks to a Cardinals’ rookie pitcher. Ryan Helsley, said Cardinals’ rookie and member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke up after Game 1 of the Braves-Cardinals National League Division Series:

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.”

The Braves, to their credit, listened to Helsley’s remarks, and did not distribute the customary foam tomahawks to each seat in the stadium prior to Game 5. They didn’t listen that much, though, and therefore don’t deserve that much credit, as the real promise here was just to not perform the chop — or the music that goes along with it that prompts everyone in attendance to start chopping — whenever Helsley was in the game:

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“What if MLB’s efficiency fetish could further infect the minors,” asks writer.

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On Monday, Travis Sawchik asked a question to Five Thirty Eight’s audience: “Do we even need Minor League Baseball?” Sawchik’s theory is that so much of player development happens off the field these days, in comparison to how development used to work, that the minors are a waste of time and resources. Sawchik, you might recall, is one of the two authors of The MVP Machine, which looked at how players can kind of just be created these days thanks to advances in analytics and the introduction of the concept of “Betterball,” so this is an arena he knows his way around.

To a point, anyway. As you might also recall, the book brings to mind some key questions regarding labor and homogeneity it does not know the answers to (or even how to answer them), and this article is something of an extension of that. Deadspin’s Albert Burneko, for instance, wants to know who the “we” in Sawchik’s headline refers to, and it’s not an exaggeration that the entire premise of Sawchik’s piece relies on the reader identifying with management in order for it to accomplish the job the author set out for it.

You should read all of Burneko’s piece, as it’s fan-centric and a rebuttal to the idea presented in the initial piece that MiLB exists in the service of MLB teams alone, but I’ll pull this paragraph from it for now:

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