Yesterday more than 100 members of Congress, many of them representing cities that would lose minor-league teams under MLB’s minor-league contraction plan, issued an open letter to MLB expressing their “firm opposition” to the plan and urging the league to “strongly reconsider” it. And as NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra notes, the letter includes an implicit threat:
The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs. We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.
For over a century, Congress has taken numerous actions specifically designed to protect, preserve, and sustain a system and structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.
That’s not an outright “We’re gonna hold hearings on rescinding your antitrust exemption if you go through with this,” and in any event even 100+ members of Congress isn’t anywhere near a majority. Still, MLB clearly got Congress’s attention with this, which makes the contraction gambit an even weirder strategy: Is it really worth risking the league’s nearly 100-year-old antitrust exemption just to save a few hundred thousand dollars per franchise in minor-league salaries? Maybe MLB figures it can negotiate a compromise (read: buy off representatives who are leading the charge by sparing their teams) or that Congress will have bigger fish to fry in 2020 and won’t bother with them — trying to understand the motivations of a roomful of rich dudes is always a tough call, especially when they often turn out to be thinking with the wrong parts of their anatomy.