Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, called Monday for Major League Baseball to abandon restructuring plans for Minor League Baseball that would result in the elimination of 42 teams around the country, arguing that the proposal would “do irreparable harm” to the sport.
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In a letter to MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred, Sanders joined a chorus of congressional members who have criticized the plan, noting that attendance at Minor League Baseball games grew to more than 41 million fans last year. The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate noted that the teams, including the Vermont Lake Monsters from Sanders’ home state, will shut down even as the average MLB franchise generated $40 million in profits in 2018.
“Shutting down 25 percent of Minor League Baseball teams, as you have proposed, would be an absolute disaster for baseball fans, workers and communities throughout the country,” Sanders said in a letter to Manfred. “Not only would your extreme proposal destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies, it would be terrible for baseball.”
The plan championed by Manfred would eliminate roughly 26 percent of the 160 active minor league teams after the 2020 season, when the current Professional Baseball Agreement between the major and minor leagues expires. Most of the eliminated teams are active in low-level rookie or Single-A leagues.
Representatives for Sanders did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
At present, the current Minor League Baseball system amassed a collective profit of roughly 100 million in 2018, MLB deputy commissioner Daniel Halem said in a letter to members of Congress. However, the league argues that low-level teams rely heavily on direct subsidies from MLB team owners in order to survive.
If the plan to eliminate 42 teams were to move forward, MLB has committed to making renewed investments in the remaining minor league teams. These investments would take the form of enhanced facilities, improved pay for players and a geographic restructuring that would reduce the amount of travel per season.
In his letter to Manfred, Sanders notes that Minor League Baseball players earn as little as $1,160 per month. He added that MLB’s proposed elimination of the 42 teams would “throw about 1,000 ball players out of work.”
“In other words, instead of paying Minor League Baseball players a living wage, it appears that the multi-millionaire and billionaire owners of Major League Baseball would rather throw them out on the street no matter how many fans, communities and workers get hurt in the process,” Sanders wrote.