Major League Baseball is proposing eliminating 42 minor league teams when their contracts expire at the end of 2020. That has caused an uproar and concern among host communities including Burlington, Vermont — home of the minor league Lake Monsters.
The idea to eliminate minor league teams across the country has met with considerable pushback not only from host cities but from Congressional representatives. In November, New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer expressed concerns that four minor league teams in New York would be affected. “I’m urging the MLB to immediately step up to the plate, halt this plan and sit down with community leaders and local stakeholders on the ground and with minor league baseball, to hear them out on their potential concerns and try to rework the plan as soon as possible, so we can ensure that baseball remains in these communities for years to come.”
Three months later there’s been no decision, MLB is still negotiating and communities are still concerned. The Vermont Lake Monsters, who play in Burlington, are a New York Penn League affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The franchise faces elimination if the plan is implemented. This week Burlington city councilors passed a resolution condemning what sponsor Ward 4 Republican Kurt Wright calls an ill-conceived plan. “It is a sport that's not only baseball. It's an event every single game. There's baseball, but it's also family fun and entertainment. And it would be, I think, a huge mistake for MLB to implement this plan because losing these minor league franchises across the country will actually be bad for baseball, bad economics. I think this helps create new young fans.”
Wright calls the Lake Monsters one of the crown jewels and key attractions of Burlington and says the city needs to go on record in opposition to the plan. “The resolved clauses are saying that we urge Major League Baseball to abandon this ill-conceived plan and that if they don't we encourage our congressional delegation and all of Congress to do what they can to block them including considering revisiting their antitrust exemption.”
Resolution co-sponsor Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine recalled lessons learned when the minor league team had previously considered leaving the city. “Rewind about a decade, a little more than a decade ago, when the Lake Monsters were thinking of leaving, we looked at the economic impact of the Lake Monsters to see if there was a way to finance some improvements to the facility. And I think we determined that on an annual basis, it's not huge, but it was in the neighborhood of $300,000 of extra economic activity between the activity at the park in terms of what they sell and the people who come and the attraction that it is. The piece that I learned about after that, though, was that it was the place that dozens and dozens of Burlington kids got their first summer job. And it really continues to do that. Lots of kids in Burlington get their first job up there. So we should remember it's part of our economic development to have a team like this in our community.”
Ward 7 Democrat Ali Dieng had a question for sponsor Kurt Wright. “Why the MLB would like to eliminate 42 minor league and why Burlington is one of those 42?"
Kurt Wright: "The reason that the Lake Monsters’ on the list, there's a number of factors. One is that they look at how old the ballpark is. And it is literally the oldest ballpark in the country. Which we think is good because it's a really quaint great little ballpark. One of the other factors is how far away the parent team is and Oakland is obviously very far away on the other side of the country. I think there's a couple of other factors as well. But those are some of the reasons why we would be on the list for elimination.”
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has joined the Mayors’ Task Force to Save Minor League Baseball. Launched in Chattanooga in late January, it currently has more than 100 members from across the country.
The resolution passed unanimously and a copy will be sent to Major League Baseball, Vermont’s Congressional Delegation and the Vermont Lake Monsters.