Bernie Sanders meets with MLB over proposed minor league overhaul

US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders met on December 2 with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred in New York to discuss the league’s plan to overhaul the affiliated minor leagues that Sanders last week called “an absolute disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities throughout the country” and “everything to do with greed.”

MLB is seeking to cut the number of affiliated minor league teams by 25 per cent and geographically realign the remaining clubs in an effort to boost ballpark facility conditions and reduce travel for player prospects. The move, part of ongoing Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball, has been widely criticized by US Congress members. 

Sanders, also a US Senator from Vermont, joined in that criticism, saying the proposed reduction in affiliated clubs would do “irreparable harm to the game’s relationship with millions of Americans.” Following an in-person meeting with Manfred at the league’s headquarters, Sanders said he will continue to carefully monitor the ongoing MLB-MiLB talks. 

“I very much hope that Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball can resolve their differences in a way that maintains professional baseball in all of the communities that currently have it,” Sanders said. “Commissioner Manfred said that he is committed to a good faith negotiation with Minor League Baseball and is open to solutions that would maintain professional baseball in the 42 communities while addressing concerns about facilities, working conditions, and wages for minor league players.”

MLB similarly said the session with Sanders was a “productive meeting.”

“We remain confident that solutions can be reached that satisfy the interests of all stakeholders,” the league said in a statement.

Congress’ interest in the MiLB situation bears close watching as MLB relies on federal legislative support on a wide range of key issues, including the sport’s antitrust exemption and wage and overtime laws. Many of the facilities currently in use around MiLB also used at least in part on public funds for their construction and upkeep, and many of the ballparks are publicly owned.