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Bernie Sanders Goes to Bat for Baseball Players as MLB Proposes Terminating Minor League Teams

"Not only would your extreme proposal destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies, it would be terrible for baseball."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shares a laugh as he warms up before his baseball game against the Leaders Believers Achievers Foundation at the Field of Dreams Baseball field on August 19, 2019 in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

White House hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday implored Major League Baseball commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. to reconsider a recently announced proposal to eliminate 42 minor league teams.

"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 (I-Vt.) wrote 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 proposal, first reported by Baseball America last month, is part of Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) negotiations between Major League Baseball and minor league teams. The current agreement is set to expire after the 2020 season.

"MLB contends that the reorganization is necessary to make the minor leagues more efficient and to improve conditions and facilities, but many officials associated with the teams see it as an existential crisis for their organizations," explained The New York Times, which published the list of teams facing termination earlier this month.

Sanders, a longtime defender of workers' rights, warned in his letter that MLB's proposal would not only "do irreparable harm to the game's relationship with millions of Americans," but also negatively impact the lives of players who have long fought for higher pay and better working conditions.

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Noting that the league "is making record-breaking profits and the owners of MLB teams have never had it so good," Sanders wrote:

While Minor League Baseball players make as little as $1,160 a month (less than the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage) and are denied overtime pay, the 20 wealthiest Major League Baseball owners have a combined net worth of more than $50 billion. The average Major League Baseball team is now worth nearly $1.8 billion and made $40 million in profits last year alone, a 38 percent increase from the previous year.

Let's be clear. Your proposal to slash the number of minor league teams has nothing to do with what is good for baseball, but it has everything to do with greed. Your proposal to throw about 1,000 ball players out of work comes less than three months after an appeals court ruled that Minor League Baseball players could move forward with a class action lawsuit seeking higher wages.

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. If this is the type of attitude that Major League Baseball and its owners have then I think it's time for Congress and the executive branch to seriously rethink and reconsider all of the benefits it has bestowed to the league including, but not limited to, its anti-trust exemption.

Given all the potential consequences for athletes, fans, and local economies, Sanders urged Manfred and team owners to "pay the minor league players a living wage and make it easier for them to join a union."

Sanders' letter followed a similar letter to the commissioner on Nov. 19, which was spearheaded by Reps. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and backed by 104 of their colleagues in the U.S. House. 

MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a response to lawmakers that "we have identified more than 40 minor league stadiums that do not possess adequate training facilities, medical facilities, locker rooms, and, in some cases, playing fields," according to The Associated Press. Halem claimed that minor leagues "communicated to us that it is unrealistic for us to expect lower-level minor league affiliates to meet our facility standards because of the costs involved in upgrading the facilities."

In a joint statement responding to the league, Trahan and McKinley expressed disappointment with "commissioner Manfred's dismissive tone toward ongoing negotiations." The lawmakers said that they sent the bipartisan letter "on behalf of communities that stand to lose out on the deal—not as a public relations ploy."

"Minor league teams provide an enormous cultural and economic benefit to the communities they call home," Trahan and McKinley added. "Their abandonment by Major League Baseball would devastate them, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these teams. We believe it is appropriate that the MLB fully understands the real impact their plans could have on the communities we represent. Congress has long been a partner with the MLB in preserving and growing our national pastime, and we expect our concerns to be taken seriously as negotiations continue."

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