Roe: 'Disappointed' by MLB proposal that would eliminate Appy League

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Nov 20, 2019 at 9:12 PM

In a letter addressed to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, 107 members of Congress expressed “firm opposition” to an MLB proposal that would eliminate more than 40 Minor League Baseball teams.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, was among those, saying in a statement he “could not more strongly oppose MLB’s plan as it stands because of the disproportionate impact it will have on our region.”

Under the current proposal, the entirety of the Appalachian League would be eliminated, with four of those teams — Greeneville, Johnson City, Elizabethton and Kingsport — located in Roe’s district.

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“I really was disappointed when I saw what Major League Baseball was doing,” Roe said Wednesday. “For our area, it’s hugely important (to keep their teams).

“I don’t know if there’s much we can do but to offer support for our minor league teams who are hugely important for our area,” Roe added.

The proposal, which was first reported by Baseball America in October, would drastically change the minor league system in an effort to improve facility standards and working conditions across the minors. If the plan is adopted, the number of minor league cities would be cut from 160 to about 120 -— with 42 teams getting axed.

“Hopefully things get worked out, and the drastic measures the (MLB) are talking about won’t be necessary,” Minor League Baseball Senior Communications Director Jeff Lantz told the Press last month. “It’s good that we have plenty of time to get working on this stuff to negotiate a deal where we can save as many of the 160 as we can — in our eyes, they’re all equally important.”

In a statement from Major League Baseball sent to the Johnson City Press and various media outlets in response to the congressional letter, Deputy Commissioner Daniel Halem said that MLB has “identified 40 Minor League stadiums that do not possess adequate training facilities, medical facilities, locker rooms, and, in some cases, playing fields, to satisfy the requirements of our clubs and our players.

Roe, however, took umbrage at the assertion Johnson City and other cities like Greeneville and Elizabethton have inadequate facilities.

“Our communities have made major investments (in their stadiums),”Roe said. “Teams came to them and told them to upgrade their facilities and they did — then, MLB decides to jerk the rug out from under them.”

‘In our view, the best way to address the challenges facing MLB and MiLB in our (Player Bargaining Agreement) negotiations is at the bargaining table,’’ the Major League Baseball statement said. “In this respect, we have had only one formal bargaining session with MiLB on the issues discussed in this letter, and anticipate many more to come.

‘I am optimistic that we can reach a favorable agreement for all concerned,’’ Halem said. 

Congress’ letter, though, featured a defacto warning to Major League Baseball if it eliminates any minor league teams, saying “we want you to fully understand the impact this could have, not only on the communities we represent, but on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded” to Major League Baseball.

Roe said that he and the other co-signers on the letter haven’t yet discussed any legislative action to try and push Major League Baseball to keep the minor league system how it is, but that he isn’t ruling it out.

“I think what that (letter) means is: Don’t come here with your hat in your hand and think that’ll help get a tax break when you want a new stadium or this or that,” Roe said.

With the current agreement between Minor League and Major League Baseball set to expire at the end of the 2020 season, there is still time for both sides to negotiate. In October, Lantz told the Press things likely will change between now and the start of the 2021 season, when a deal must be completed. 

MLB-Congress Re Minor League Baseball Negotiations by Jonathan Roberts on Scribd

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