The Very Future of Baseball is Not Considered

Yesterday, news broke that the Oakland A’s had decided they will not continue to pay MiLB players after May 31st. I don’t know who exactly broke the story but I read about it here from Stephanie Apstein at SI.

Much of what I’ve seen since has been the expected excoriation of the A’s and I completely understand that thinking. Some have even done the math showing paying them the $400.00 bucks a week they were receiving would only cost the organization roughly 1 million dollars. Then came the abundance of “Billionaire, won’t spend XX to do the right thing” or “Hey, why should they be paid to do nothing”.

Look, I’m not here to say anyone SHOULD do anything, it isn’t my money and I’m about 99% positive the A’s won’t be the only one. Unless MLB steps in to say all teams must continue with these payments it will be the same slow-motion landslide that paying administrative employees and in-stadium staff was.

It’s a bad look to say the least and I’m sure it wasn’t done without some kind of conversation with league officials. If not, the A’s have really picked a terrible thing to trailblaze on, I can’t see this being met with the same enthusiasm as Moneyball, which is horribly ironic.

I’m much more concerned with the future of baseball. Not that I don’t care about MiLB players being left in the cold, I do feel for them and have been pretty vocal about the fact they were scarcely considered in any negotiations regarding restarting MLB. I’ve dumbed it down to “screwed”, and I still find it an accurate description of what has gone on here. This is just the latest opportunity to show them how little they matter to the parent organization and the ramifications could be dire.

Last year we saw Kyler Murray choose a career in the NFL as opposed to MLB. This was before all the faceplants of this godforsaken extended off-season and even at the time he was wise beyond his years. Now, Kyler is a special athlete, one who could quite literally play any number of sports and no doubt experience success. He’s also a sorely missed component in the game, a young black man. If Bobby Bonilla were starting his career today, is there any way he chooses baseball?

Specialization of sports at the high school level is a fairly new predicament. It used to be typical for some to play 2,3, even 4 sports as athletic ability at that age translates well to other sports, today it’s rather becoming a rarity to see a kid play more than 1 let alone 4. Now, if you’re a top tier athlete do you look at baseball? Sure, love of the game will be very real for some and we’ll still have people choose the sport, but we don’t base long term health on outliers, we base it on the masses.

Chiding the minor league players seems harmless to many who don’t really see the game beyond the major league roster. And make no mistake, that’s most fans realistically speaking. I’m not here to shame anyone for that, I’m a huge hockey fan too and I could maybe name 5 players in the minor league system for the Penguins and have no clue how or even if they’re being paid right now, I get it.

Here’s the thing though, the players today who seem so greedy as I hear constantly, went through much of what happens today. In other words, when they finally get what they have been working toward, a big contract, it is the culmination of 10 to 15 years of faith. They’ve probably had family members openly question if they should give up and get a “real” job, they’ve in some cases started a family, a family they aren’t quite sure how to provide for yet. No, I’m not talking about Bryce Harper or Gerrit Cole, but Kolten Wong, or Jose Osuna.

Put another way, most of the players that constitute the membership of the union have all been through the ringer on the way to MLB, now why again should we expect them to have a soft spot for the owners?

The path to getting paid in MLB is quite literally a gauntlet, just as I’m sure amassing wealth was for many of the owners, but the long term health of the game needs to start with enticing kids to pursue baseball as their chosen path, and the constant shelfing of concern for how MiLB players will survive let alone thrive is at the heart of the issue. On top of this popularity of the sport is at an all time low, and yes before you ask, I was alive in 1994.

I’ve constantly referred to MLB as a coastal sport and it certainly has become apparent over the past couple decades. People often confuse the overall revenue figures (at least the figures we get reported to us) with a league that is doing just fine and as an overall entity, yeah, MLB is rich. Attendance, not so much. Ratings, again, not so much. Youth participation, you guessed it, not so much.

Baseball already had a problem getting kids interested and they’ve gone into overdrive adding to it, here are a few fairly recent self-inflicted wounds.

  • Athletics announce ending of payments for MiLB players
  • Shortened draft with signing bonus restructure will send players running for college

MiLB is represented by only an advocacy group rather than a union, and only players on the 40-man roster are represented by the MLBPA. Here is a quote from the Advocates for Minor Leagues directed to MLB as they decipher how or if they will pay the players at all beyond the initial stipend “You and your teams are better positioned to absorb the impact of this cost than the Minor League players. Paying the salaries of the Minor League players will likely cost each MLB team less than $300,000 per month. We hope that the MLB teams can use some of their record profits from last year to continue to invest in players this year. After all, they are your employees, and they are the future face of this game.”

Can you imagine being a professional yet your very ability to stay afloat is reliant on little more than a charity? If you’ve listened to the podcast lately you heard Craig Toth talk about tossing his hat into the “Adopt a Minor Leaguer” program. I applaud him for doing it, really, it’s truly putting your money where your mouth is, but it’s disgusting anyone felt the need to create a program such as this.

Part of me does desperately feel terrible for the plight of minor league players, truly, but a larger part recognizes first and foremost creating a damn near guaranteed 4 or 5 year beat down where some days are spent worrying more about what you’re going to eat instead of what’s wrong with your delivery or swing is a foolish way to entice players to want in, let alone actually achieve the stated goal of developing talent.

Know what, I’d have a chip on my shoulder by the time I made it too. I wouldn’t give you one red cent back willingly, and I’d probably have a hard time shedding a tear because you might for the first time in countless years not make money.

When I really think about this whole situation one thing is clear, MLB is its own worst enemy. They’ll have the convenience of blaming a virus right now, but rest assured the disease killing baseball started long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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