The Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988.
That’s it. That is the only good thing that occurred in this miserable year in which over 345 thousand Americans lost their lives to a pandemic, nearly 20 million Americans have been infected with the virus, and the amazing speed with which vaccines were designed, tested and rolled out was not matched by actual shots in people’s arms. Only some 3 million Americans have been vaccinated in the two weeks since Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna started shipping vials of the product.
On the baseball front the Padres have been loading up in an effort to catch the Dodgers. In three days in December the team acquired “Blake Snell from Tampa Bay. By Monday morning, they had a four-year agreement with top Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim. Several hours later, they ended a weeks-long pursuit by scoring Yu Darvish and his personal catcher, Victor Caratini, in a trade with the Cubs.”
In labor news MLB showed that it believes profit should always come before people, destroying the minor league baseball structure as it had been for decades because it didn’t want to pay so many employees.
There will be 40 fewer minor leagues farm teams next year than there were in 2019. Those cutbacks hit hardest in the South and Midwest. West Virginia lost all four of its minor-league franchises. The entire Appalachian League got the boot. (It has been reconstituted as a summer league for unpaid college athletes.) The minor leagues—which rely on in-person interactions like concessions and ticket sales—were hit hard when the pandemic forced the cancellation of their 2020 seasons, but that’s not why these franchises got kicked to the curb. Plans to dramatically reduce the number of minor league franchises and players were in the works long before that, because Major League Baseball is filled with insufferable ghouls.
You don’t have to speculate about why big-league clubs decided to reduce their minor-league affiliates by 25 percent. They brag about it. In a 2019 piece at FiveThirtyEight titled “Do We Even Need Minor League Baseball?” baseball insiders argued that the minors were an inefficient way of grooming players to become major leaguers. There were more effective ways to, say, add velocity to a teenager’s fastball or improve a hitter’s launch angle than playing games—this kind of work could be done at closed-door facilities, and any time of year. And there were just so many minor leaguers. Why pay all those prospects, when only 10 percent of them will ever get to Chicago?
Paying lots of people to play baseball was a problem, in developmental and financial terms, to be solved by paying substantially fewer people to play less baseball, in substantially fewer places. It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.
What little leverage minor league franchises might have had disappeared with their 2020 seasons, although some, like the Staten Island Yankees, are pursuing their options in court. This month, after the realignment became official, the league offered a tepid helping hand to the franchises it had consigned to the scrap heap. Some of them will be absorbed into MLB-sanctioned summer leagues for college baseball players or “draft leagues” for players looking to showcase their wares for scouts—which is to say, they will be replacing rosters of low-paid workers with unpaid amateur volunteers. Others are abandoning the farm system entirely to try their luck in the independent leagues. Nearly two dozen franchises are still figuring out what, if anything, they’ll do next.
Thanks to WBBsAs for the pointer to the minor league story.