Legends On Deck

MiLB Opening Day 2021: A New Era for Developmental Baseball

Over the past year, I have written several articles about the fragile state of Minor League Baseball.  Prior to 2020, the talk among baseball writers online was about minor league player pay and conditions.  I largely stayed out of that argument for a number of reasons, but the topic largely disappeared after COVID hit.  The shutdowns of 2020 mirrored the beginning of baseball season.  Spring Training was canceled and MLB and the players association created a mess that delayed the season start until July 23rd.  Lost in the shuffle, Minor League Baseball never even played a 2020 season.

The Lost Season

Looking back, there was absolutely no reason that MiLB shouldn’t (or couldn’t) have played last season.  There were many options available.  As I wrote in my November 2020 article, Why was the MiLB Season Canceled Again?:

It would have been simple for most leagues.  Take the Florida State League, for example.  Every franchise in the FSL plays in the state of Florida and in the open air stadiums where their MLB franchise hosts Spring Training.  Other leagues may not have the resources to accommodate inter-state travel, but could have made different accommodations.  Take the International League, where most teams are located in the Rust Belt or Mid-South.  They could have chosen a state, say Ohio or North Carolina, both of which have two teams in the league.  Teams could have been divided into two bubbles: Toledo and Columbus or Charlotte and Durham.

The decision not to play in 2020 was a serious mistake.   Struggling franchises in mid-sized towns lost a whole summer of games and revenue.  Players, eager to catapult their careers were sidelined (or at least confined to practice squads).

Now that MLB has imposed it’s new consolidated farm system, the autonomy of MiLB clubs have been curtailed.  As Minor League Baseball eliminated forty three teams from it’s ranks, they also reorganized the entire structure of things.  Gone are the traditional, longstanding leagues such as the International League, Eastern League and Florida State League.  The leagues have been renamed to fit their regions.  Rather than having independent operating governing bodies, there’s now five regional supervisors assigned to oversee the leagues.  See below for a closer look at the newly restructured MiLB system:

A New Era

As MLB tightens it’s grip on the farm system, many traditional ties have been broken.  On the flip side, the players have received anywhere from a 38-72% salary increase.  Minor League Baseball has undergone a number of reorganizations in the past and will likely do so again in the future.  As I’ve written, there are certainly beneficiaries of this, including College Baseball and independent leagues.  Nevertheless, the minor league franchises themselves need our support.  Despite some support from MLB, these franchises are essentially small businesses.  They are located primarily in mid-sized and small towns in every pocket of middle America.  Like so many small businesses,  the past year has nearly wiped them out.

Minor League Baseball needs a strong recovery this season.  For the future of the game, MiLB Opening Day 2021 is worth celebrating!

*Photo from Dribble.com

Brian Koss
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