All About Baseball
Why was the MiLB Season Canceled Again?
In early August, a large portion of Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. The sports media immediately called for the cancellation of the 2020 season. A week later, a COVID outbreak hit St. Louis Cardinals. Much to his credit, Commissioner Rob Manfred remained steadfast that the season would continue. Both the Marlins and Cardinals made the postseason.
Major League Baseball really led the way in terms of sports during the pandemic. Yes, the NBA and NHL found ways to finish their seasons using the “bubble” approach. MLB would use the same approach in the postseason. But, the MLB 60 game regular season included regional travel with teams in their home ballparks. The MLB approach, though heavily criticized, would pave the way for the NFL and College Football this Fall. Is it perfect? No. But, it allowed for players, teams and fans to have some sense of normalcy. It allowed for games to be televised and revenue to be made (although it less than previous seasons). In short, playing a shortened season in 2020 was a much better option than cancelling the season.
What Happened to MiLB?
Prior to the start of Spring Training, MLB announced there would be a contraction of MiLB affiliates in 2021. The estimated number of franchises that would be eliminated was said to be around 40. This move prompted outrage among many baseball writers and advocates for MiLB and the players. Congress even weighed in on the matter, creating a bipartisan Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, and passed a resolution stating opposition to MLB’s plans. They cited concerns over the economic impact it would have on the communities that host franchises. The movement to save MiLB was gaining traction.
Then, the pandemic hit. Contract issues persisted between the league and the players association, but they found a way to play the season. Forgotten in the debate, was Minor League Baseball. Not one MLB affiliated team would play in 2020. Independent leagues like the United Shore Professional Baseball League (Michigan) played their season. College wood bat leagues like the Florida Collegiate Summer League and Coastal Plain League (Georgia) played as well. It’s hard to think of one good reason why MiLB couldn’t have played an abridged season.
Ways They Could Have Played
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. They could have played a shortened season, but a season nonetheless. If some of the leagues couldn’t figure it out, so be it. Some should have played anyway.
The Coming MiLB Meltdown
In May, the cover of Sports Illustrated read Minor League Baseball is in Crisis. Six months ago, MiLB front office personnel were expressing deep concern over the future of their franchises. There is no question today, after a lost season, conditions are much worse. If MLB was already planning to eliminate 40 MiLB franchises, how many will be eliminated now? The outrage from baseball writers over MLB’s proposal might have been justified, but where were those voices when they decided not to play a season at all? How could we have expected the teams to be saved from pre-COVID MLB cuts, but then we are largely silent over the lost season? Sure, the pandemic has been devastating for America (and the world) from a health perspective, but often understated is the disastrous economic impact it has had as well.
Minor League Baseball franchises are small businesses and no sector of the economy has been more hurt by pandemic related policies than small businesses. Most of us are concerned, rightfully so, about the local impact of folding MiLB franchises in small and mid-sized towns across America. The decision not to play in 2020 might have made the coming cuts to MiLB even deeper and cemented the futures of many franchises. The profound changes in Minor League Baseball have already begun, many are surely to follow. Some of it might have been avoided if they would have just played the season.