Major League Baseball’s threat to contract Minor League Baseball lands right in the wheelhouse of Bernie Sanders for reasons that extend beyond his familiar outrage at corporate greed.
As the mayor of Burlington, Vt., in the 1980s, Sanders successfully attracted a minor-league team to play in his city, and now that team is on the list of 42 teams MLB has proposed to strip of their major-league affiliation.
When he was 16 years old, the Brooklyn Dodgers broke Sanders’s heart when they left his hometown for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
So, yes, this is not only personal for Sanders, now a senator from Vermont who is also among the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination.
It’s also all too familiar.
“I saw what kind of devastation it did to the community where I grew up,” said Sanders from his home in Burlington Monday afternoon. “It was more than a baseball team, there was a sense of community developed around the Brooklyn Dodgers, and in order to make more profits, the owner of the Dodgers moved them to California.
“And right now you’re in a similar situation. You have an extremely profitable organization called Major League Baseball that makes $1.2 billion in profits [a year], and in order to save a few bucks they are prepared to punish 42 communities around this country. That is greed, and the kind of corporate greed that we see every day, but in this case we are dealing with the national pastime.”
Sanders is not the only politician in the country to speak out against the proposal by MLB, which is in contentious negotiations with Minor League Baseball on a new Professional Baseball Agreement before its current deal expires this September.
A bipartisan group of more than 100 US representatives from both sides of the aisle have created a “Save Minor League Baseball” task force to apply pressure on MLB to scale back or abandon its efforts to reduce its affiliates by 25 percent, to 120. On the 42-team list, which MLB claims is outdated and thus inaccurate, are the Lowell Spinners.
On Tuesday, Representative Lori Trahan, a Massachusetts Democrat, will host the first “Save the Spinners” community meeting at the team’s LeLacheur Park home.
The unity behind this cause strikes Sanders as significant.
“It’s one of the few issues lately where we’ve had any bipartisan activity on,” he said. “You’ve had Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives coming together, because I think everybody understands baseball, and local baseball creates community, it allows kids to go out and watch games. It’s far, far less expensive than going to the Red Sox. The Spinners, the price of admission is considerably less than it is for the Red Sox, so bottom line here, we’re going to do everything we can to protect the 42 communities around the country who currently have minor league baseball, and we’ll do everything possible to prevent them from losing their affiliations.”
The hammer held by Congress extends beyond the biggest, which would be to strip the antitrust exemption enjoyed by MLB.
Said Sanders: “There are carrots and sticks that Congress has on this issue” related to federal aid that can perhaps pressure MLB into eliminating its plan.
Sanders does not buy MLB’s plan to replace baseball in some communities such as Lowell and Burlington with an independent “Dream League.”
“[Affiliation] matters, it matters enormously,” said Sanders, who said the de-affiliation plan will only weaken the hold of minor-league baseball in affected towns.
“What they are saying is they are prepared, despite record-breaking profits, despite being owned mostly by billionaire groups of people, that they want to deny millions of people the opportunity to enjoy minor league baseball in their communities, and that is just unacceptable.”
Clearly, Major League Baseball is not any old business to Sanders.
It’s special to him, and it’s special to this country.
“Major League Baseball has got to understand that baseball is the national pastime, that Minor League Baseball is an integral part of what baseball’s about, and they’re going to have to reach an agreement with the minor league teams. They may not, they should not, they will not cut 42 teams and communities away from the baseball they have.”