This past week a video circulated of St. Louis Cardinals owner William DeWitt Jr. fielding a question about Major League Baseball’s Houston Plan. This wasn’t an ambush, rather the question was offered up as part of a scheduled press conference covering a number of Cardinals related topics.
That someone would bring up a plan whereby MLB wants to contract 42 Minor League Baseball teams shouldn’t have surprised DeWitt in the slightest. Two things became abundantly clear listening to DeWitt’s response. MLB, and its owners, have no idea what their relationship is with MiLB and they are counting on the common fan not knowing this either.
This is the actual video:
Mr DeWitt, discussing minor league contraction, but this time with video because the guy running the account today is a moron pic.twitter.com/DbIOCp7lgm
— Birds on the Black (@birdsontheblack) January 20, 2020
The first MLB talking point DeWitt staggers through is the idea of MiLB stadiums not being up to snuff facility wise. This is a point that has been easily countered by MiLB officials who have provided proof that MiLB facilities either meet or exceed the current standards MLB has in place as part of the Professional Baseball Agreement with MiLB.
Pat O’Connor, MiLB President, has gone on the record that minor league teams would work to improve facilities even further if that is what MLB wants in a new PBA. MLB has stayed away from any direct response. To offer one would be to admit they don’t really care about the state of the facilities but rather about exercising more control over the minor leagues in general. Instead, we get an answer like the one provided by DeWitt where there’s a lot of rambling and not much in the way of facts or actual demands.
Next on the docket is the concept of player compensation. DeWitt trots out the idea that contracting teams is necessary due to some teams not drawing in enough attendance revenue to afford to pay minor leaguers a livable wage. This is a statement that is maddeningly incorrect and misleading. Minor league teams do not pay the players; MLB does. Every single player on a minor league roster is paid for exclusively by their respective MLB team. The number of fans who attend a minor league game does not in any way affect the ability of an MLB team to pay their employee a livable wage.
The attendance claim is then doubled down on when DeWitt starts babbling about fans simply not showing up to watch the teams under consideration for contraction play baseball. It is true that these teams aren’t lighting the world on fire with their attendance numbers. However, it’s also true that MiLB, on the whole, saw increased attendance in 2019—a 2.6% increase over the numbers in 2018 to be exact. The 42 teams on the chopping block helped contribute to what is a very healthy minor league system as far as attendance goes.
DeWitt pivots next to rewarding minor league teams willing to invest in their franchise. If this is the case then why are teams like the Ogden Raptors, Lexington Legends, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, and Burlington Bees on the chopping block? These teams, and others, have invested millions in MLB-demanded renovations to team facilities. MLB’s decision to reward these teams for their willingness to improve facilities to meet MLB’s nebulous standards is to tell these teams they are no longer wanted.
Lastly, the Cardinals owner talks about how contracting teams would give prospects who maybe don’t profile as major leaguers more of a chance of reaching the major leagues. The complete opposite of this is what will take place if the minors lose 42 teams. The reality is that it will be 42 teams this time, then next time a few more, then a few more, until eventually there are either only a very small number of teams left standing or MLB has moved all their minor leaguers into the equivalent of unorganized backfields leagues.
How, in this process of contraction will fringe prospects have more of a chance to be noticed and succeed? The enacting of The Houston Plan means fewer minor league roster spots and fewer roster spots not taken up by high round draft picks. There won’t be fringe prospects becoming great major leaguers because they won’t even be playing in the minor leagues.
The clip from the press conference lasts a shade over two minutes. In two minutes MLB tells on itself in a number of ways. DeWitt manages to sound completely clueless, MLB comes across like an organization with no idea how a close business partner operates, and most damning of all it is made all too clear that MLB thinks fans are stupid. They want to prey on that supposed stupidity to further their monopoly and ax a vital part of communities across America.
Fans shouldn’t need to be told this over and over again, but MLB cares not for you or the community you call home. MLB and the owners know that The Houston Plan will save them money, make them more money, and result in them having even more control of baseball in North America. This is the reality of MLB’s existence. The Houston Plan will lead to shattered communities and fatter pocketbooks for MLB owners.