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Bob Ryan: ‘Disgrace The Way Baseball Treats Minor Leaguers’

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Rob Manfred (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Rob Manfred (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Rob Manfred was elected commissioner of Major League Baseball on Thursday, but not without a little controversy. A candidate needs at least 75 percent of the owners – so 23 of 30 – to vote in his favor.

Well, Manfred only got 20 votes the first time around.

It appears that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf led a contingent of people who didn’t think Manfred was as tough on labor as a commissioner needs to be. While Manfred eventually won election, is it possible that the 20-10 split could be dangerous at the next labor negotiation two years from now?

“It does worry me,” Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said on The John Feinstein Show. “The alternative to electing Rob Manfred yesterday was to elect no one, and that’s just not a scenario they wanted to deal with at all. It does worry me a little bit. Reinsdorf does worry me in that regard. I mean, 1994 was – catastrophic might be too strong a word – but highly harmful, deleterious. It cost one franchise (Montreal) its very existence, and it sent a lot of people away from baseball and some of them have never returned. It also now looks foolish in light of the revenues that baseball produces under the system in which it now operates. It’s just hard to imagine that you would want to go back to the bad old days of eight work stoppages between 1972 and 1994.”

On the flipside, players and agents usually come away from labor negotiations unhappy, especially when they see how much money owners have. Steve Ballmer, for example, just bought the Clippers for $2 billion.

Think about that.

And yet, David Stern was crying poverty at the NBA’s labor negotiation in 2011.

“It’s always a two-edge sword they have to deal with in that regard in sports when they’re making the money but certain people are crying poverty,” Ryan said. “Baseball has a very, very elaborate, well-entrenched revenue sharing (system) that has helped the game, I think, a lot – as long as teams are using that money for the right purpose.”

Ryan, however, doesn’t understand how players could be unhappy in today’s game.

“Is there a major issue they (could) have?” he asked. “The minimum salary, the average salary, the working conditions – everything about it is pretty damn good.”

Unfortunately for MLB, fans view these disputes as greedy millionaires fighting greedy billionaires.

“Let’s go back to the basics here,” Ryan said. “This is where the public is always speaking: We live in a capitalistic society, the idea that there are bosses and there are laborers. The question of the balance between managers and laborers is one of the ongoing issues in this country ever since its foundation. It’s a very major issue in real life. But that’s the way it works. You got bosses and you got laborers, and the bosses are entitled to make their money.”

“The question is,” Ryan continued, “is there some kind of a moral limit over how much money (you can make) at the expense of the laborer? That’s the issue in real life. How can McDonald’s get away with paying people that ridiculously and unlivable wage with no benefits as a full-time job? Isn’t there some moral expediency for them to do better? And the same thing with the way with Walmart treats its people? These are issues that are out there in the real world. And now we get to baseball.”

Notice that Ryan said baseball, not Major League Baseball. No, the true financial crisis of baseball, Ryan said, is taking place in the minors. John Feinstein, who this year released Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, would probably agree.

“I’m throwing this out there,” Ryan said. “I did a book on minor league baseball 40 years ago, and you know as well as I do it is a shameful disgrace the way baseball treats all those minor league players, all the minor league managers, all their scouts; all the little people do not share in the pie. Baseball operates on a much larger system than just Major League Baseball for its very existence, and there’s the real scandal. The treatment and the salaries in the minors, the per diems, the travel conditions – there’s plenty of money they could invest to make their lives better when they are, in fact, part of the whole thing that makes baseball very special in this country.”

“That is never discussed. It was out there 40 years ago when I did my book, and I’ll bet you found it’s out there now when (you did) your book.”

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