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‘These teams ... allow kids to experience baseball.’ Politicians join the fight to prevent minor-league contraction

Lori Trahan’s congressional district includes Lowell, home of the Spinners.FILE/JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

Minor League Baseball has called up a new teammate in its battle to save 42 of its teams.

The new squad member is the US Congress, which along with MiLB announced the formation of the “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force” in a Rayburn Building conference room in Washington, D.C., late Tuesday afternoon.

Led by Representative Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and three other congresspeople, along with the support of more than 100 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives, the Task Force has taken aim at Major League Baseball’s opening salvo in negotiations with Minor League Baseball to strip 42 teams, including the Red Sox’ Lowell Spinners, of their big-league affiliations.


Major League Baseball has a number of reasons for streamlining operations, and cost savings is a key factor. In the eyes of both minor league owners and politicians, the overhaul is too drastic and will not only effectively doom the 42 teams to extinction but also create economic hardships in their communities.

“It’s easy to delete a row on a spreadsheet,” said Trahan, whose congressional district includes Lowell. “But that wreaks havoc in so many of these communities that have partnered to bring baseball — affordable baseball — to families in Massachusetts, West Virginia, Iowa.

“I can’t tell you how many families in Lowell don’t have the opportunity to go to Fenway Park. These teams, these parks, allow kids to experience baseball.”

Trahan mentioned that the cause to save the Spinners is “personal for me. My youngest sister was actually the ‘Canaligator’ [the Spinners’ mascot] when the park opened. It’s just so much a part of the fabric of my hometown.”

By itself, a task force announcement is the stuff of one brief news cycle, but if it gathers momentum, Congress can apply considerable pressure on Major League Baseball. It can make the granting of visas of international players more challenging, it can amend sports broadcasting rules that allow major league teams home territorial rights, and it can go so far as exploring a repeal of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.


Few expect that last hammer to be dropped before the negotiations between MLB and MiLB wrap up next September, but Spinners owner Dave Heller, who was in attendance, praised Trahan’s tenacity.

“Having a champion like Lori on our side makes all the difference in the world,” said Heller, who along with some of the 15 or so other minor league owners in attendance will spend part of Wednesday lobbying other members of Congress to stay on MLB’s case.

Heller said he felt the Task Force announcement left him optimistic about the chances for changing MLB’s mind.

“It feels like there is a growing sense on Capitol Hill that what Major League Baseball is talking about doing is wrong and Congress is prepared to insert itself into this conversation to right that wrong,” said Heller.

Besides Trahan and Representative David McKinley (R-W.Va.), who organized the initial letter to MLB late last month, two other co-chairs joined the Task Force’s cause, Representatives Max Rose (D-N.Y.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), on Tuesday.

MiLB president Pat O’Conner spoke at the gathering and referenced the current number of minor league teams.

“This is a fight for 160,” he said. “This is a fight for minor league baseball, and this is an existential threat to our future and our being.”


Representative Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) placed the matter in a famous biblical battle context, saying, “Sometimes this might feel like a David versus Goliath type of battle, but I will remind you that David won that battle, and we will win this battle.”

On Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) met with commissioner Rob Manfred at MLB headquarters in New York to discuss the matter. Each left the meeting expressing a limited degree of optimism about reaching a palatable solution for both sides.

Major League Baseball described the meeting as productive, while Sanders said Manfred “committed to a good faith negotiation with Minor League Baseball and is open to solutions that would maintain professional baseball in the 42 communities while addressing concerns about facilities, working conditions, and wages for minor league players.”

Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB