Baseball’s only coronavirus certainty is the destruction of the minor leagues

As baseball sits idle, we still don’t know if there will be any MLB season at all, or what it will look like if there is one. The most prevalent scenario is an 82-game schedule with a July 4-5-6 start-up and teams playing in their own ballparks, at first with no fans. But any projected restart is subject to change, just like the coronavirus models. With so many uncertainties, nobody — not the scientists, the politicians or the MLB poohbahs — can predict what the pandemic landscape will be two months from now.

About all we do know is that there is almost certainly going to be no minor league baseball at all this year. That’s an even bigger tragedy than the cancellation of the major league season would be. At least the major league owners will have the benefit of TV money to help recoup some of their losses whenever play resumes. Many minor league owners are not independently wealthy and rely on their teams for their livelihood; they’re totally screwed.

That’s why the minor leagues finally capitulated to MLB’s contraction plan to cut the number of their teams from 160 to 120: The number of minor league teams going out of business may well be far greater than the designated 40 on MLB’s hit list. Even before a single game is played, minor league owners are responsible for the rent payments and maintenance on their ballparks. Those costs are considerable and they are not refundable if there is no baseball all summer in those stadiums. In addition, the minor league operators spend their entire off-seasons lining up sponsorships, ballpark signage and promotional events. All of that money they will now have to refund unless they can work out deals to transfer it to the 2021 season. Regardless, it’s lost revenue. And when it comes to the teams being contracted, or simply going out of business, there are no deals to be made.

The Staten Island Yankees might be in serious trouble.
The Staten Island Yankees might be in serious trouble.(Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

Early on, there had been talk about the minor leagues following the major leagues’ lead of having abbreviated seasons without fans in the ballpark. But as one minor league owner told me last week: “As bad as it will be to have no season this year, an even worse case scenario for us would be to have a season with no fans. What would be the point? There would still be no revenue and we would still have to pay all our employees.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on everything, MLB and MiLB had tentatively agreed on a revised minor league system in which all four of the short-season leagues — New York-Penn, Appalachian, Northwest and Pioneer – would be eliminated. Each of the 30 major league teams would have only four minor league affiliates — AAA, AA, High-A and Low-A. They would also be allowed to maintain teams in the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer League if they so choose.

Most but not all of the short-season teams would disappear. Many of the New York-Penn League teams, including Brooklyn, Hudson Valley, Lowell, MA, State College, Mahoning Valley and possibly Staten Island, would be merged into the Low-A South Atlantic League as its newly-created northern division.

In the initial “120 Plan” proposed by MLB, the Mets-owned Brooklyn team was to go to the Double AA Eastern League. The Yankees were adamantly opposed to that, especially since their NY-Penn League affiliate in Staten Island was designated for the chopping block. I’m told the Yankees have no problem with Brooklyn moving up to Low-A, and nobody seems to care if Staten Island gets contracted because the terrible ownership group there has run the franchise into the ground with the third-lowest attendance (1,848) in the league last year.

Another aspect of the MLB-MiLB tentative agreement is that the minor leagues, which have always operated independently of the majors, will have their offices moved from St. Petersburg to MLB headquarters at 1271 Avenue of the Americas. One big happy family all under Commissioner’s Rob Manfred’s domain. Of course no one is going to know just how big the minor league family is until we see how many white flags of surrender are flying over empty minor league parks around the country at the end of the summer.

Or to paraphrase our old friend, longtime New York sportscaster Warner Wolf: “If you paid $10 million for a minor league baseball franchise last year…YOU LOST!"


So A-Rod and J-Lo aren’t buying the Mets after all. You gotta hand it to them, though. Got them a lot of positive pub in New York at a time when they were taking a beating nationally after that picture surfaced of them coming out of a closed-for-everyone-else Miami fitness club after private workout. They never had the money and, unlike Derek Jeter, who found wealth management magnate Bruce Sherman to bankroll his purchase of the Marlins, they couldn’t get any money bags folk to step up to the plate for them. It was never gonna happen but it was fun media fodder while it lasted.

In order for there to be a baseball season this year, three things have to happen: (1) The go-ahead from President Trump’s task force, (2) the approval of all the governors, and (3) an agreement from the players to take further pay cuts if the games are played with no fans. It’s the latter that could be the biggest stumbling block, if you believe all the rhetoric coming from Scott Boras and the other agents. But from a public relations standpoint, the players do not figure to generate a whole lot of sympathy if they refuse to take pay cuts when millions of Americans are being laid off or taking severe salary cuts...Recommended reading in this season so far without baseball: “24”, Willie Mays’ autobiography with San Francisco Chronicle baseball columnist John Shea. There’ve been at least four previous biographies of Mays, but this is the only one on which he fully collaborated and it’s chock full of revelations and great anecdotes from the Say Hey Kid’s career. Shea conduced over 100 hours of interviews with Mays over the past couple of years. Great read. Important book.

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