“Baseball is a business.”
We hear it every time something tough to swallow happens in this game. A superstar player gets traded so their billionaire team can avoid the luxury tax. A fan-favorite doesn’t get a new contract because someone with similar stats is available for cheaper. The old guard get pushed out for young blood, sacrificing leadership and experience for years of club control. Players are kept in the dark while the media gets the scoop about their careers first.
This weekend, under the cover of election chaos, the New York Yankees took to social media to announce that they were dumping multiple affiliates. The catch? They had not previously informed said affiliates. The teams from Staten Island (NY), Trenton (NJ), Charleston (SC), and Pulaski (VA) found out their futures, or lack thereof, on social media.
Regardless of the fact that all teams knew that the minor leagues would be downsizing from 160 clubs to 120, the Yankees did not need to break the news to their affiliates in such a callous and cowardly manner. So, unsurprisingly, Staten Island’s response, also on social media, did not mince words. They condemned their former parent club for refusing to communicate with the club about the lofty upgrades minor league teams were told they needed in order to remain affiliated, and for terminating their relationship publicly on social media. As they should.
Trenton owner Joseph Plumeri was equally outraged, and critical of the Yankees. His statement on social media blasted the Yanks for hurting the people of Trenton financially, and for handling the situation in a “calculated and ungracious” way, calling the Yankees’ “actions nothing short of despicable” for apparently ‘betraying’ them “at the 11th hour to go to the “wealthier, higher socioeconomic area” of Somerset. Not pulling any punches, he went so far as to bring up the team’s popular bat dogs, a popular fixture at the ballpark and on social media, and a reminder of the uniqueness and character minor league affiliates possess that is absent at the big-league level.
This is not the first time a minor league team has been affected by callous moves at the top-level. Today, the New York Mets announced they would no longer be affiliated with the Kingsport Mets and Columbia Fireflies. And at the end of May, in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mets cut 39 minor leaguers. At the time, the minor league season had already been canceled, and its players were only being paid a $400-per-week stipend. Other teams had committed to not releasing any minor leaguers and paying them through the end of their season, but the Mets, valued by Forbes at $2.4 billion in August, decided that it was more important to pocket the $15,600 per week they’d save by cutting those players. That’s pocket change they would never have missed, an unnecessary move for them, but immensely impactful on the lives of those players and their loved ones.
Baseball is a business, but how someone conducts their business says a lot about them. Because ultimately, like most things in life, it comes down to a choice. How you treat employees, especially during stressful times like these, is a choice. How you let people find out about their futures is a choice. How you spend or scrimp is a choice. How you avoid the difficult situations or face them head on speaks volumes. Because above all, your choices affect others. With every passing day, it seems as though baseball leadership has no intention of making kinder choices that show even basic regard for the people who make the game happen, and it’s hard to see how baseball comes back without remembering that they should choose to care about something other than money.