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MLB commissioner responds to Gov. Lamont on baseball contraction plan

In a two-page letter responding to Gov. Ned Lamont’s criticism of Major League Baseball’s plan to eliminate team affiliations of 42 Minor League Baseball teams, including the Norwich Sea Unicorns, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred blasted minor league officials for releasing confidential negotiations and spreading an “inaccurate and distorted account” of the plan to contract the minor league system.

Manfred outlined several points to “clear up the misconceptions” and assured the governor that all clubs slated to lose Major League affiliations would be able to continue operating “with some level of support from Major League Baseball,” Manfred wrote.

Manfred also urged Lamont to tell officials from the state’s minor league teams “to cease the unproductive campaign of misinformation and commit to negotiating in good faith. Such encouragement will help protect Minor League Baseball in Connecticut.”

The proposal by MLB to eliminate 42 minor league teams and reduce the amateur draft from 40 rounds to 20 rounds became public in October and would be part of a new professional agreement between MLB and MiLB starting after the 2020 baseball season. MLB has proposed offering that teams and cities losing their major league team affiliations field lower-level teams with undrafted players hopeful of attracting attention of major league scouts.

Public outrage has ranged from the local level, with Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom sending letters to his counterparts in the 41 other cities slated to lose their teams, to state legislators and governors and Congress. Critics have questioned the financial viability of lower-level independent teams.

In his Dec. 2 letter to Manfred, Lamont said Norwich has proven its commitment to providing a top-quality facility by investing $800,000 in capital improvements to the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, including installing new LED stadium field lights.

“I am a lifelong baseball fan myself, and it is apparent how beneficial a robust minor league system has been for the game,” Lamont’s letter continued. “These organizations provide the foundation for the outstanding on-field product we see in major league ballparks across the country. The elimination of this team would prevent thousands of fans in this region from attending professional baseball games and enjoying this great American pastime, which many of us have grown up with and valued throughout our lives.”

Norwich and the newly named Norwich Sea Unicorns signed a new 10-year lease last summer — approved by both minor and major leagues — just two months before the contraction plan was revealed.

“It is not Major League Baseball’s goal to eliminate any club in these negotiations,” Manfred wrote to Lamont. “We have made clear to Minor League Baseball that we have a plan for every Minor League club to continue operations with some level of support from Major League Baseball.”

Manfred said MLB has provided “hundreds of millions of dollars per year” in subsidies to minor league teams, with major league clubs paying salaries, training and travel costs. The proposed changes would improve salaries, better health and nutrition services for the remaining minor league contracted players, reduce travel times and ensure adequate minor league facilities.

Negotiations have become increasingly contentious between the major and minor leagues, including a late-night meeting Friday, Dec. 13, that resulted in dueling statements by the two parties, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

In its four-page statement, Minor League Baseball accused Major League Baseball of issuing of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing its stance on the big issues, and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to eliminate the entire affiliated minor league system and allowing teams to affiliate with “any minor league team or potential team in the United States,” the LA Times quoted the statement as saying.

“I want to emphasize that I remain committed to a good faith negotiation with Minor League Baseball,” Manfred wrote to Lamont, “that addresses the serious concerns mentioned (in the letter). I am more than open to solutions that involve professional baseball continuing in all of its current locations. To achieve such a result, however, Minor League Baseball must return to the negotiating table and make a similar good faith commitment.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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