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Co-Owner of Minor League Baseball Team Says Rob Manfred Plans to Eliminate More Teams Than Reported

SUN VALLEY, ID - JULY 12: Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB), attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 12, 2019 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Every July, some of the world's most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, and technology spheres converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Allen & Co. Holds Its Annual Sun Valley Conference In Idaho | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The proposed gutting of minor league baseball from inside the house has rocked the community this week.

But according to one executive who's unexpectedly found himself in the crosshairs of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, this isn't going to be finished in one fell swoop.

In fact, Daytona Tortugas co-owner Rick French told 12up that the proposed elimination of 42 minor league franchises is just phase one of a two-part plan to streamline the system and get it under MLB's control.

"The thing that's not being talked about, but has been communicated to us by Minor League Baseball, is that this is the first wave of contraction," French told 12up. "160 teams to 118, 118 to 90 [in the next five years]. They want a clean Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A with nothing in between. MLB's five-year plan involves cutting baseball from 70 cities and towns across the country that have supported the game."

The cities in the first wave include some of the most historic small-town baseball franchises our nation has, including Daytona, the city where Jackie Robinson initially debuted on his road toward breaking the color barrier, and Double-A Chattanooga, a city that's had pro-level baseball since 1885.

"This is our pastime," French continued. "You cultivate a fanbase in the smaller towns, through the little leagues and so on growing up. Many of these communities, this is their only touchpoint to Major League Baseball. They develop their fandom, they develop their affinity for the game through it being played in these communities all through America. That's what makes professional baseball so unique and has allowed it to have its legacy as our national pastime. That same development system doesn't take place in any other sport. We love being with the Reds, though we do find it strange that four of their minor-league affiliates are part of this conversation."

"Daytona stands with the other 41 communities, and there will be more," he confirmed.

This fight has been long brewing, with the battle for increased player and coach salaries, as well as cost of living wages, becoming a burden that's been pushed back and forth between MLB teams and their affiliates. Major League Baseball has repeatedly tried to get their minor-league equivalents to foot the bill for any increases themselves.

"These are your employees. You draft them. We have no control over the players," French retorts. "MLB's retaliation was contraction. That's what this is about, and anything else they throw out there is pure rhetoric to cover for the retaliation tactic they've put in place."

The heart of the matter here is that, whatever streamlining MLB would ultimately achieve via this calculated realignment will have long ago lost the plot. No Minor League Baseball team is insignificant to its community, and mass exodus is no way to build trust.

"One thing they haven't felt yet that they will if this plan goes through is that we've already been contacted by grassroots activists, and politicians have made it clear they'll be risking their antitrust exemption," French told us. "Secondly, they're beginning to assemble a list of MLB corporate partners, and asking one simple question: Do you stand with people in communities across this country, or do you stand with the corporate interest and greed of Major League Baseball?

"Chevy sells trucks throughout these small towns in America, Bank of America banks these people, Budweiser sells to Middle America. And you're going to tell Middle America that they're no longer important to baseball? Let's see how that plays when the consumer activists get involved and they begin to fight back."

Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story reported the timeline for Manfred's further franchise elimination as two years, by the 2021 CBA. It's been clarified to us that this is a five-year plan.