Rob Manfred finished the job of turning baseball’s minor leagues into nameless corporate divisions of Major League Baseball last week, stripping the historic names of nearly all of them and replacing them with names that sound like profit centers on a multinational organizational chart.
In addition to the dropping of some teams’ major league affiliation agreements with almost no advance notice last month, now the old leagues will carry names like “Double-A Central” and “Low-A West.”
“Triple-A East” is mostly comprised of teams that were part of the International League until now. “Triple-A West” used to be the Pacific Coast League. The IL was founded in 1886 and, with a few ups and downs due to the economy and wars, continued through 2019 (the minor leagues didn’t play in 2020 due to COVID-19). The PCL was founded in 1903, and for a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it aspired to be the third major league, since the farthest west either the AL or NL was located at that time was St. Louis. It even had an “Open” classification for a time; not quite a major league, but a step above AAA. After the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1957, the PCL settled into its role as a top rung on baseball’s development ladder, providing decades of memories to fans in the Western United States. While the teams remain, the PCL is now gone.
The old Midwest League, where the Tigers’ A ball affiliate West Michigan Whitecaps play, is now the “High-A Central.” The Florida State League, home of the Lakeland Flying Tigers, is now the “Low-A Southeast.”
Manfred is commissioner of baseball and, as such, represents the wishes and desires of MLB ownership. Apparently the overarching belief is that there’s little to interest the younger North American audience about baseball, so it needs to be sped up, simplified, and pre-packaged. At the same time, major league clubs are allowed to basically tank entire seasons, refuse to actually pay for major league talent, hoping to become competitive by drafting new players that they don’t have to pay as much and can have control over for several seasons thanks to the current collective bargaining agreement.
Frankly, I’m losing patience with this nonsense. I love baseball. It’s far and away my favorite sport to watch and it always has been. And I love minor league baseball, having gone on several trips around the midwest to watch games from Low-A to AAA over the past several years.
These moves to strip history from the game are ill-advised at best and pretty damn stupid at worst. MLB has spun the changes as if they will benefit players and MiLB teams. But if MLB was really concerned about minor league salaries, they could have raised them at any time and they didn’t. If they were worried about travel time, they could have worked with MiLB to make adjustments, but they didn’t. Instead they forced a new “Professional Development League” (PDL) license on minor league franchisees that in effect gives MLB complete control over the entire hierarchy of professional baseball in North America. It’s strictly about money and power and has nothing do to with the actual game or its history.
MLB owns baseball, now more than ever. As owners, they’re within their rights to do what they want with their property. However, if that’s true, then it’s long past time for Congress to do something about the historical accident that is baseball’s Sherman Anti-Trust law exemption. Perhaps if baseball had to play by at least some of the rules of business that every other professional sports league and business in the United States has to play by, they’d be less cavalier about their behavior.