MLB, please say move to cut local francises isn’t so

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred is getting criticism from all sides over plans to eliminate 42 minor league franchises, including the Williamsport Crosscutters, after 2020.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has sent Manfred a letter warning of the harm that could result from the elimination of three franchises in the state. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, not happy with the proposal, has met with Manfred.

In our view, Manfred asked for the criticism.

For decades, the major league teams have used communities and their baseball facilities as the nesting ground of development of baseball players who may eventually make it to the major leagues. Facilities have been updated, some of it paid for with local tax dollars, to meet the standards set by Major League Baseball.

Communities, in return, have a family entertainment asset that provides jobs and fuels economy at least part of each year. As for the players who hit, run, field and pitch on the Bowman Field turf, the experience is practical. Several members of the current Philadelphia Philllies got their start playing for the Crosscutters and several others are advancing quickly through the Phillies minor league system.

We would call that a pretty good arrangement.

All the while, the major league teams building stadiums costing hundreds of millions of dollars, with much of the funding coming through government initiatives and taxpayer dollars.

We would call that a sweetheart deal.

In pushing to eliminate franchises, the major league teams say they spend $500 million annually in salary to support the minor leaguers but get back only $18 million.

Given that the teams have reached agreements in recent years paying star players more than $300 million for a decade of performance, we doubt that bit of ledger sheet whining will register with Gov. Wolf, Sen. Sanders or anyone going to a Crosscutters game next summer. If anything, it’s hypocritical of MLB.

The agreement between the major league organization and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minor leagues, expires after 2020. We find it hard to believe a divorce with 42 cities full of families that support both major and minor league baseball is a constructive building block for the next agreement.

In our view, eliminating the minor league franchises — and the one here at Bowman Field in particular — cannot happen. The tax dollars pumped into Bowman Field has not been done because local taxpayers were demanding it. Rather, it was the requirement of Major League for them to field a team here. And because local taxpayers have footed the bill, even when there were other pressing needs that the money could have funded, Major League should be obligated to support our local franchise.

Bowman Field is, after all, the second oldest minor league ballpark in the country. And Williamsport is the home of Little League Baseball. It seems like a no brainer to us, and we really question what Manfred was thinking when he proposed a measure that would shut it all down.


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