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US city mayors align against MiLB contraction plan

Dozens of mayors from US cities are looking to become part of ongoing negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, calling MLB’s contraction plan for the affiliated minors a “major league error.”

The group of mayors, as had been tipped earlier this week, on January 22 announced a new task force aiming at fighting the league’s efforts to remove the affiliations of 42 minor league franchises. 

That contraction is part of ongoing Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) negotiations between MLB and MiLB, with those talks having grown hostile in recent weeks.

After a bipartisan group of Congress members and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have already pilloried the MLB effort, the city mayors are now weighing in, venting their frustration after having been left out of the process. 

“We feel like there are plenty of opportunities for us to change the course of these discussions,” said Andy Berke, mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Berke is one three chairs of the new task force, along with Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, and Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina. 

The Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts are one of the 42 teams being targeted for contraction, and Berke said the radical realignment of the affiliated minors being proposed would quickly disincentivize many cities from making public-sector investments in their local minor league ballparks, either for large-scale projects or smaller efforts such as extended protective netting. And it is alleged substandard facility conditions that was a key reason cited by MLB as a reason for their plan.

“When you build something of this size, you need decades of return to see it make sense,” Berke said of public-sector facility investments. “Right now, all of us I think have very little confidence in what the future holds [for Minor League Baseball], which is a recipe for disinvestment.”

The mayors group intended to work closely with a Congressional-level effort that also is fighting MLB’s plan. And while the mayors do not have federal-level powers on issues such as baseball’s antitrust exemption and the sport’s exposure to minimum wage laws, they are pressing on other levels.

“We don’t have those powers, but we do have, honestly, the power of the people,” said Andy Schor, the mayor of Lansing, Michigan.