First Pitch: What’s Really Happening in the MLB/MiLB Dispute?

This is only tangentially Pirates-related, but I continue to find the current, acrimonious bargaining between major league and minor league baseball interesting.  In case you haven’t been following it, the agreement that governs the relationship between MLB and MiLB expires at the end of next season.  MLB has proposed a host of changes to the agreement, most of which the two sides could probably work out.  The stumbling block is MLB’s proposal to eliminate 42 MiL teams, about a quarter of the existing minors.  The idea is to do away with all the short-season leagues except the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues, which are owned by the parent teams.

I find it hard to believe that the timing of MLB’s demands is a coincidence.  MLB has been under fire for its unwillingness to pay livable salaries to minor leaguers.  MLB lobbied hard to get Congress to exempt it from the labor laws, which Congress disgracefully did.  Toronto probably forced MLB’s hand, though, by substantially raising their own players’ salaries.  In ripping MiLB’s reluctance to eliminate 42 teams, MLB has cited player salaries as a “subsidy” it provides to MiLB, despite the fact that it was MLB itself that insisted several decades ago in switching to a system in which minor leaguers would be employed by the parent teams and not the affiliates.  So it seemed likely to me that MLB want to cut the affiliated minors by a quarter to offset the salary increases its going to have to provide to avoid an further, well deserved bad publicity.

Baseball America has an excellent article (sub. req’d) up now that suggests a larger motive for MLB’s belligerent stance.  As BA, chronicles, MiLB franchise values have skyrocketed in value in recent decades.  During its public diatribes against MiLB, MLB has petulantly pointed to these franchise values as something attributable to it and not MiLB owners.  As J.J. Cooper points out in the BA article, MLB sees MiLB franchise values as unsupported by the teams’ balance sheets and therefore “illegitimate.”

They see [the franchise values] as artificial, and they see it as something that would immediately evaporate without the support of MLB. In its place could spring a new system, one in which MLB owners also own their teams’ minor league affiliates and the corresponding millions of dollars in franchise values.

In other words, the MLB owners see MiLB franchise values as an uncaptured revenue stream, and they want to fix that.

It could certainly happen.  As Cooper points out, it’s quite possible that MLB could quickly rebuild the minor leagues in the event that it and MiLB fail to reach a new agreement.  They could do it with a combination of the 28 franchises that are already owned by the parent teams (the Pirates, for instance, own Bristol and Bradenton), any AAA and AA owners who will sign on once the current agreement expires, current independent league clubs, and new teams that could play in existing facilities such as college ballparks.

I honestly don’t think you can be too cynical where the MLB owners are concerned.  For all their posturing about poor facilities and travel conditions, the real hardship for minor leaguers has always been the pathetic pay.  That’s something that’s always been within MLB’s control, as Toronto showed.  Pretending that reasonable pay is reliant on the current negotiations, and that the owners are truly concerned about playing conditions to the point of provoking a break with MiLB, just isn’t plausible.  There has to be something more to it.


IMO, one of the great movie openings ever, despite being a flawed movie (mostly due to Marlon Brando).



By John Dreker

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note

On this date in 1960 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded three players to the Washington Senators for veteran pitcher Bobby Shantz. Just two days prior to the trade the Senators chose Shantz in the expansion draft off the Yankees roster. The Pirates sent pitcher Bennie Daniels, first baseman RC Stevens and utility fielder Harry Bright to Washington in the deal. The Pirates and Senators made a prearranged deal prior to the expansion draft that if Washington took Shantz, the Pirates would share their AL scouting reports with the Senators so they could be better prepared in the draft. After the trade Shantz lasted just one year in Pittsburgh before he was lost to the Houston Colt 45’s in the 1961 expansion draft. He went 6-3, 3.22 in 43 games for the Pirates, six as a starter. He won his fifth straight Gold Glove, handling all 31 chances he had that season without an error.

On this date in 1938 the Pirates traded catcher Al Todd and outfielder Johnny Dickshot along with cash to the Boston Bees for catcher Ray Mueller. Boston got the best of the deal, but not by much. Todd lasted one season and outperformed Mueller, while Dickshot was sold right away, so they got more cash out of the deal. Mueller hit .233 with 18 RBIs in 86 games for the Pirates in 1939. He played only four major league games in 1940, spending the rest of that season and the entire 1941 season in the minors before the Pirates sold him to the Cardinals.

Fred Crolius, right fielder for the 1902 Pirates. The 1902 Pirates were the best team in franchise history, finishing with a 103-36 record. They did that despite suffering a massive amount of injuries in August. Back when teams regularly kept 15-20 players active, the Pirates had seven players injured. Fred Crolius got his chance to play during this time and he didn’t do the team any favors in his first game. In the fourth inning of a doubleheader on August 22,1902, Crolius collided with second baseman Claude Ritchey and knocked him out of action. Crolius played a total of nine games over a nine-day period with the Pirates, hitting .263 with seven RBIs. After his last game on August 30th, he never played another MLB game. His only other big league action came during the 1901 season for the Boston Beaneaters, when he hit .240 in 49 games. After his big league career was over, he played three minor league seasons and hit .326+ each year.

Jeff Granger, lefty pitcher for the 1997 Pirates. Granger was a 1st round draft pick of the Royals in 1993 and made it to the majors that same season. After pitching parts of three years in the majors with no success, he was dealt to the Pirates in the six-player deal that sent Jeff King and Jay Bell to Kansas City. Granger made the Opening Day roster in 1997 and pitched a shutout inning of relief in his Pittsburgh debut, but things went downhill after that. He allowed at least one run in six of his last eight appearances. Granger was sent to the minors and never pitched in the majors again, finishing out his career in 2000 when he played for four different teams. In 27 games in the big leagues, he finished 0-1, 9.09 in 31.2 innings.

Bill Otey, lefty pitcher for the 1907 Pirates. In his pro debut with the Pirates on September 27, 1907, Otey came close to picking up a complete game win, but finished with a no-decision in a game that was called a tie after 11 innings due to darkness. Otey took a 5-1 lead into the 9th inning against the Boston Doves and couldn’t finish the game off, getting knocked around while picking up just one out. Howie Camnitz came on for the save, but Boston was able to tie the score off him and send it to extra innings. Otey got his only other start nine days later in the second game of a doubleheader, pitching a complete game in a 4-1 loss to the Reds that was called after seven innings. His only other appearance for the Pirates was a one inning relief appearance. Pittsburgh purchased Otey from Norfolk of the Virginia League in September of 1907, after he went 22-10 and threw 327 innings. He returned to the minors in 1908, and later pitched two seasons for the Washington Senators.