MLB is telling rural Iowa it doesn’t matter

Photo by Jon Eckert via Unsplash

Major League Baseball keeps making me angrier.
The players and owners continue to squabble about money while Americans suffer through a necessary-but-excruciatingly painful national confrontation with racism, the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Baseball ceases being fun when sports writers become labor negotiation writers. No one cares about this. They just want to watch some games.

MLB was already on my turd list even before the pandemic. They plan to gut the minor leagues, a move that would destroy 42 teams — including three Iowa clubs.

The Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings and Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, all Class A affiliates, die under the plan and it looks like nothing can save them. The Cedar Rapids Kernels are exempted from extermination as are the Class AAA Iowa Cubs in Des Moines.

Some teams, like the urban Staten Island Yankees, a short-season club owned by the New York Yankees, might be saved by their MLB partners.

But good luck to clubs in communities like Burlington, Clinton and Davenport. Burlington and Clinton are cities of about 26,000 each, midsized by Iowa standards but small compared to the big cities MLB clubs make their home.

Davenport, with a population nearly 100,000, is Iowa’s third-largest city. Davenport is one of five cities in the Quad Cities that combine for a population of about 385,000. One would think MLB could squeeze a few bucks out of baseball fans in these communities, but it’s chump change compared to the big cities.

Make no mistake, because the message is clear, MLB doesn’t give a good goddamn about fans outside the big TV market cities. This is a poke in the eye to every lover of baseball in rural America or in a city less than 1 or 2 million people.

Actually, it’s far more than a poke — it’s a stab right in the heart of the identities of these communities.

“The implied message, intended or not, is you’re not viable, you’re not important,” said Paul Lasley, Iowa State University professor of sociology who focuses on rural American life. “They’ve crunched the numbers and said the return on investment is not paying off and they’re willing to lose fan loyalty and community support to get rid of it.”

Rural Iowa has faced consolidation in a slow march to extinction for almost 100 years. Schools close and consolidate. All but a handful of the state’s 99 counties continue to shrink each year. Post offices close. Iowans feel their identity, their way of life fading away.

Now big corporate America, the billionaires who own MLB teams, are coming for minor league clubs.

No sport trades on its history as much as baseball. MLB doesn’t care. If they did, they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to wipe out the Quad Cities River Bandits. In 1858, the first baseball game west of the Mississippi was played in Davenport, home of the River Bandits who are in a very real way a descendant of baseball’s early expeditions into the Midwest and beyond.

Each of those doomed clubs boasts great players who’ve travelled through their ranks: Matt Williams, Orel Hershiser, Mike Scoscia, Dave Stewart, Grady Sizemore, Denny McClain and Steve Sax all played ball — and that’s just the Burlington Bees.

MLB’s argument is they want to streamline the minors to improve the development of players. That’s a worthy goal. There has to be a way to do that without trashing rural America.

MLB doesn’t seem to care that at every one of those soon-to-be-expunged minor league games, somebody sees a baseball game for the first time.

A kid gets a ball autographed by a bonus baby on his way to stardom. 

They buy a hat and a soft-serve ice cream in an upside-down helmet. Parents teach their kids to keep score.

Someone falls in love with this beautiful, complicated, wonderful game for the first time.

Bonds are made. Stories are told. Memories minted.

But this kind of thing isn’t worth much to MLB. They’re a money machine. Their job is to make a handful of rich, white people fractionally richer. I guess that’s almost everybody’s job in post-middle class America.

Iowa, MLB is telling you that you don’t matter.

Don’t buy it. Even if they take your teams, remember this: These people are so greedy they can’t figure out how to play baseball in one of the worst periods in American history.

Maybe it’s Major League Baseball that doesn’t matter.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Dear MLB players and owners: 2020 stinks and you’re making it worse

Photo: Ben Hershey via Unsplash

Dear Major League Baseball,
This year is awful enough and you’re making it worse.
Play ball already.

I get it. The coronavirus pandemic is a brutal bummer that’s fouled up just about everything in this country.

Whatever you do, someone is going to complain about it. That’s the nature of American discourse at this point.

That’s also the nature of baseball. We are fans who worry about the kind of chalk used to mark the first- and third-base lines. We don’t take well to new things.

But the thing we take to even less well is no baseball.

Remember 1994? 

Surely it takes more than 26 years for you to forget the strike that cancelled the World Series and bred a year’s worth of some of the most visceral anger ever seen outside of an MMA cage.

You screwed over the Montreal Expos’ one great chance to make the World Series. 

You may have ripped Don Mattingly’s best chance of winning the pennant out of the hands of the longtime New York Yankees first baseman. 

Both teams had the best records in their leagues when the strike wrecked the summer.

That was pain you brought on yourselves. No true fan really cares how much the owners and players make. They care about the game. 

They want to root, root, root for the home team, eat popcorn and ice cream, maybe throw 41 mph on the pitching machine under the stands.

They want to teach their kids how to keep score and why the outfielders and infielders move around when the big sluggers come up to bat.

They want to smell fresh-cut grass and stale domestic beer.

So in the pandemic, the fans can’t go to the parks. That stinks, but you better believe we would watch on TV.

Hell, we’ve been watching Korean baseball at 4 a.m.

Yesterday, we caught ourselves watching a video game competition on the internet.

Please, please, please play some games.

Nobody really cares how many games: 82, 114, 76 or 89.

Just play.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Derrick Gould, who covers the Cardinals, tweeted this: “There are more reasons for there to be baseball than reasons for there not to be. I see more ways for MLB to return and play than ways it does not happen.”

That sounds positive. Derrick is a smart guy, even-handed, not the kind of guy who goes around throwing his opinions about like a lunatic. That’s what I do.

I started to feel a little swell in my chest that things were going to finally be OK.

But the old journalistic maxim is: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” (This kind of talk is probably why most of America hates us.)

Against my better judgement, I texted Michael Gartner, owner of the Iowa Cubs. I asked if he thought they would get any games in at Principal Park this season.

“I don’t know,” he wrote back. “I don’t think anyone knows.”

Damnit.

Look, baseball is entertainment. Of the problems this country faces right now from the pandemic to confronting racism, baseball should be low on the list.

That said, everybody — even the most ardent protester, even the most socially distanced first responder, even the most unemployed independent newsman — needs a break.

And baseball is the break we need.

No, I don’t want owners to go broke for short-term good tidings. 

And, yes, I want players to be compensated for the risks they take playing in the middle of a pandemic.

I don’t know what the right number is for either of those problems.

What both players and owners should aim for is a July 4 start. It’s a Saturday. It’s the middle of summer. Fireworks at every stadium. 

Everybody understands 2020 is screwed. It won’t be like other summers, especially if there’s only a few or no fans at the park.

Noted and accepted.

Now, play ball.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.