Bernie Sanders, a die-hard baseball fan, took a swing this week at Major League Baseball and its proposal to shutter 42 Minor League Baseball teams, three of which are in Iowa.
The proposal is far from finalized — the current Professional Baseball Agreement expires at the end of 2020 — but the initial report from the New York Times and an ensuing list of teams on the chopping block drove fans and politicians alike to speak out.
The Burlington Bees are my home baseball team. I read so many Harry Potter books at these games!
— Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey) November 20, 2019
That would probably do the trick. https://t.co/UJrUFRMsXT
— Andrew McGuire (@AndrewMcGuireIA) November 24, 2019
Burlington Bees, among the oldest minor league franchises. Would be a shame to see them go. Also, Burlington is one of smallest towns in US to have professional baseball
— Brett Nelson (@Brettsafety) November 20, 2019
“Shutting down 25 percent of Minor League Baseball teams, as you have proposed, would be an absolute disaster for baseball fans, workers and communities throughout the country,” Sanders wrote, Monday in a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. “Not only would your extreme proposal destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies, it would be terrible for baseball.”
In Iowa, the Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings and Quad City River Bandits face the possibility of losing their MLB affiliations. Of the teams in the Midwest League, Burlington, Clinton and the Quad Cities are home to the oldest stadiums.
The Burlington Bees, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, played its 95th season this year.
“I’ve been going to games here since I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and you remember a lot of the players you saw come through here,” said John Bohnenkamp, former sports editor at the Burlington Hawk Eye. “Like the 2015 [Kansas City] Royals team that won the World Series and how many of those guys played in Burlington, that’s a source of pride for this community.”
Bohnenkamp, who often covered the Bees during his decades at the newspaper, noted, as did Sanders, the “billion dollar industry” that is Major League Baseball.
In his letter to commissioner Manfred, Sanders said the 20 wealthiest MLB owners have a combined net worth of more than $50 billion, while minor league players make as little as $1,160 a month.
“Closing down Minor League teams like the River Bandits, the Bees and the LumberKings would be a disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities across Iowa,” Sanders said, in a Nov. 20 statement. “We must protect these teams from corporate greed.”
In a statement to the Des Moines Register, Burlington Bees General Manager Kim Parker said negotiations between the minor league and MLB “were ongoing.”
“Although MLB has stated publicly that their main concerns are facility standards, club travel and proximity to a MLB affiliate, the Burlington Bees have met and currently meet MLB’s facility standards,” Parker said, in a statement. “We have a strong hope that the Burlington Bees will be a part of this community for many more years to come.”
MLB also made threats in 1990 to restructure teams, using similar reasoning as the organization is now, telling reporters “we have identified more than 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 players.”
Those criticisms aren’t true of Burlington, Bohnenkamp said, or the other Iowa teams in jeopardy.
“If they were not up to standards, Major League Baseball would have gone after them a long time ago,” Bohnenkamp said. “To come out now and say, oh, you’re not up to standards, that’s just simply not true.”
MLB will reportedly spend $8 million to build a stadium for the Field of Dreams game next year between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.
“By threatening to rip baseball out of these communities, the billionaires who control America’s pastime are showing their true colors,” said Bill Neidhardt, Sanders’ 2020 deputy Iowa director, in a statement. “This isn’t about what’s good for baseball, it’s about greedy executives refusing to give even a tiny bit more of their massive wealth to the young people who keep their businesses booming.”
Three of Iowa’s four U.S. representatives issued a joint statement condemning the proposal, including Rep. Dave Loebsack, who represents Burlington and the Quad Cities.
“We view Major League Baseball’s proposal to eliminate some of Iowa’s teams as a bad call, and we urge the league to overturn it,” Reps. Abby Finkenauer, Loebsack and Cindy Axne, said in a statement. “We will continue to stand up for the fans, players, and employees of the Burlington Bees, the Clinton LumberKings, and the Quad Cities River Bandits.”
Bohnenkamp, who writes a blog on the Bees, said he was more worried about the fate of teams this time around than in the ’90s.
“I do think that they’re really serious,” Bohnenkamp said. “I think that this is little bit different than 1990. Back then, there was a lot of saber-rattling. I think they really want to swing the sword right now.”
By Elizabeth Meyer