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Shrinking Minor Leagues Could Affect Local Teams

File Photo
Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, pre-ferris wheel, circa 2009.

Major League Baseball is considering a plan that would eliminate 42 teams from the minor leagues: and some local teams are among them.

Zach Wilson reports.

The Clinton LumberKings and Burlington Bees are on the list, and the Quad Cities River Bandits could be added to it.

The MLB wants to totally realign its minor league system, but has not yet fully provided its reasoning to the public. The current contract with Minor League Baseball ends following the 2020 season, providing an opportunity to restructure at that time.

Jeff Lantz, Senior Director of Communications for Minor League Baseball, says he hopes the two sides can work something out.

"It's just hard to fathom what the problem is in some of those markets, for sure. We have yet to hear exactly why those 42 teams were selected, or been given real good reasons. But, hopefully that will take place in the next few weeks in the negotiation process, and eventually we can get a deal worked out that is benificial for both sides."

Credit File Photo
Quad Cities River Bandits teammates hanging out in the team's clubhouse at Modern Woodmen Park.

Quad Cities River Bandits Owner Dave Heller says there is no chance his team will be eliminated.

"It's 100% certain that Quad Cities will not get contracted. I will do whatever I have to do, spend whatever I have to spend, to make sure that the Quad Cities ballpark exceeds all Minor League standards, and provides a great opportunity for Major League teams to develop their players."

He says that the MLB sent out surveys to each team in the league asking them which of their minor league teams they would eliminate. These were sent out in June, while flooding was an issue up and down the Mississippi River as well as in some of the stadiums. So, naturally, teams in this area caught a bad break and were selected.

LumberKings General Manager Ted Tornow says he thinks the league is doing it largely to save money on payroll. But, they only pay each player $1,500 per month for teams at the LumberKings level, which pales in comparison to massive contracts in higher leagues.
"Player-wise you're looking at a payroll of about $200,000, Each club just got from the FOX $5.1 billion deal, $170 million split equally between 30 teams. And they're crying about $200,000?"

Tornow says these are teams that are deeply important, not just to the brand of baseball, but to their communities.

"We're community owned, so that in and of itself is probably the number one thing. I have 1,000 shareholders who purchase stock. So, since 1937, there's been shares of stock sold and baseball has been played here in the facility."

Credit File Photo
The Clinton LumberKings celebrating after a home run.

The River Bandits, on the other hand, are well-known for their charitable work throughout the area. Dave Heller says he wishes the MLB would recognize the value that these teams bring outside of just putting a product on the field.

"We pay out $85,000 worth of college scholarships every single year to students in the Quad Cities to go to schools in the Quad Cities. We pay for free flu shots for every child in the Quad Cities. We raised $101,000 in partnership with Genesis to help victims of this past year's horrific flood. The impact of getting rid of the Quad Cities River Bandits in the Quad Cities would be enormous."

In addition, Heller says the team employs around 200 people at Modern Woodmen Park throughout the entire season. And, per game, the LumberKings employ 35+ people to run the park.

The possibility of eliminating 42 minor league teams has gained such widespread attention that over 100 members of Congress have chimed in. An official letter signed by representatives from both parties was sent to the New York office of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, in firm opposition.

It states, "we want you to understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives."
High profile politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders have even tweeted about the issue.

Whatever new contract is signed between Major League and Minor League Baseball, it's going to be instrumental in which, if any, teams are eliminated. Dave Heller vehemently believes it would be catastrophic for the game.

"I've got to believe that Major League Baseball people are smarter than that... and will do something smart and intelligent and protect the River Bandits, and protect the Bees of Burlington, and protect the Clinton LumberKings, and stop this foolish, radical idea of contracting 42 teams."

The communications team at Major League Baseball did not respond to a request for comment.