Say it ain’t so, Mr. Commissioner. Please say that Major League Baseball is not going to implement the latest effort to drive away fans from the game — eliminating 42 minor league franchises in the process.
If Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB goes for this stupid idea, then the Idaho Falls Chukars and the Pioneer (rookie) league would be among the casualties. The future of the Boise Hawks could hinge on voter approval of a new stadium if MLB is serious about wanting its future stars to play in better facilities.
None of this is happening without a fight. This month, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and two colleagues announced the formation of a bipartisan Save Minor League Baseball Task Force aimed at convincing MLB to scrap this plan.
Yes, friends, we’re finally seeing a group of Washington politicians doing something constructive. And Simpson and his two colleagues are not alone. More than 100 House members have hopped aboard this train, along with two Democratic presidential candidates — Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I didn’t think I’d see the day when Simpson would side with Sanders and Warren on anything politically. But partisan lines disappear when it comes to saving minor league baseball.
Professional baseball has been a cornerstone in Idaho Falls since 1926, and the Chukars — who won the Pioneer League championship this year — are wildly popular. The Chukars play their games at Melaleuca Field, which is an outstanding place to watch a ballgame. The stadium in Boise is not nearly as nice, but that will change if Boise voters approve a proposed downtown stadium. In the meantime, the Hawks are drawing impressive crowds. Simpson wants both franchises to continue thriving.
“Baseball is America’s pastime, and that pastime should not be exclusive to a select number of cities,” Simpson said. “Minor league baseball is at the heart of many small and rural cities in our country. To deprive those communities of baseball would not only deny them access to our national heritage, but it would also harm local economies that depend on minor league baseball organizations. I am proud to join my colleagues in starting this task force to ensure baseball stays vibrant in communities like Idaho Falls and Boise.”
Gov. Brad Little, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (who lives in Idaho Falls) and Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper have joined the fray. Good for them.
Granted, only a small number of players in the lower levels make it to the majors, but the quality of play is quite good in the Pioneer and Northwest leagues. I have been a minor league baseball junkie for most of my life. Growing up in North Idaho, my dad and I had a lot of quality father-son time attending games at the Spokane Indians park, and I think about those times just about every time I go to a game. I practically was a fixture at old McDermott Field when I lived in Idaho Falls, and I get the same enjoyment at Hawks Stadium.
MLB apparently is taking notice of the task force’s efforts, saying in a statement, “While it is our hope to negotiate a fair agreement with MLB, the overwhelming support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, has been tremendous and shows that baseball helps to unite our nation.”
You may ask, why is Congress which can’t ever seem to do anything right — getting involved with minor league baseball? But Congress has reason for interest, as the task force’s letter to Manfred explains:
“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. Reducing the number of Minor League Baseball clubs and overhauling a century-old system that has been consistently safeguarded by Congress is not in the best interest of the overall game of baseball, especially when Major League’s Baseball’s revenues are at all-time highs.”
The task force includes some sharp people who can come up with creative ways to make life miserable for the baseball executives. For one thing, MLB’s long-standing anti-trust exemption for the minor leagues could suddenly go away.
So it would not be wise for baseball gods to mess with Congress, along with two leading presidential candidates who are itching for a good mainstream campaign issue.
Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly, where this column first appeared. He may be reached at email@example.com.