McCague: MLB shrinking MiLB is a microcosm of the nation’s deepening divide

From Allison McCague at Baseball Prospectus on November 25, 2019:

Somewhat lost among the frenzy of sign stealing, Major League Baseball’s continued ineptitude when it comes to domestic violence, juiced (and unjuiced) baseballs, and various other scandals, was the league’s plan to contract 42 minor-league franchises, slashing baseball’s minor-league system by a quarter in 2021. Others have discussed the myriad negative consequences this will have on the game, from the Mike Piazzas and Jose Altuves of the world never getting their shot to the effect this bold-faced refusal to simply pay minor-league players a living wage will have on already tense labor relations. However, the most impactful consequence of eliminating so many minor-league teams will ultimately be the effect it has on the communities those teams call home, the reverberations of which will be felt across the country. 

“This is the only way people in these towns can see baseball. They can’t afford to drive 1,000 miles to Seattle. And you’re talking about young fans. You take their teams away and baseball has lost them forever,” said an official from one of the Pioneer League teams to Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. The lion’s share of the teams on the chopping block are from the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues, which serve regions of the country where access to Major League Baseball is scarce. Even prior to the current proposed restructuring of the minor leagues, there has been a push from ownership groups for more urban stadiums, which has resulted in several smaller towns seeing their franchises relocate to larger cities and suburbs.

I took a closer look at the demographics of the home towns and cities for the 42 soon-to-be-eliminated minor-league franchises and the data support the Pioneer League official’s point. The average population in these cities is 81,819 people, and the median population is 56,476. For comparative purposes, the smallest metropolitan area with a major league baseball franchise is Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a “Metropolitan Statistical Area” containing 1.57 million inhabitants.

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Originally published: November 25, 2019. Last Updated: November 25, 2019.