Congress keeps controversial baseball contraction plan in spotlight
Norwich — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, joined more than 60 House members co-sponsoring a resolution Tuesday urging Major League Baseball to abandon a plan to eliminate affiliations with 42 minor league teams, including the Norwich Sea Unicorns.
Courtney, a founding member of the Congressional Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, said Tuesday the resolution shows that Congress has not forgotten about the issue. The task force was formed in December and sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to oppose the contraction plan.
“We’ve attracted an impressive amount of bipartisan joint support," Courtney said Tuesday. "That we raised it again and are seeking a vote shows we are not satisfied by the response by Major League Baseball, and to reinforce that the letter was not a one-off throw away. People are still watching this like a hawk.”
The plan, which would take effect after the upcoming 2020 season, calls for eliminating major league affiliations with 42 minor league teams, including the Norwich Sea Unicorns, as well as eliminating the New York-Penn league the team plays in and cutting the amateur baseball draft that feeds those teams in half, from 40 to 20 rounds. The short-season Single-A Sea Unicorns are affiliated with the Detroit Tigers.
Major League Baseball officials have said the teams would not be eliminated but would be invited to participate in a low-level, unaffiliated league for nondrafted players hoping to catch the attention of scouts. Opponents argue the so-called Dream League would have little economic value or fan interest.
The congressional resolution highlighted the economic value of teams to their regions and cited $45 million in charitable donations made by the teams.
The resolution stated the House “supports the preservation of Minor League Baseball in 160 American communities; recognizes the unique social, economic and historic contributions that Minor League Baseball has made to American life and culture; and encourages continuation of the 117-year foundation of the Minor Leagues in 160 communities through continued affiliations with Major League Baseball.”
In response to the congressional resolution, Major League Baseball issued a statement Tuesday saying it is confident it can "modernize the minor league system, improve playing conditions and protect baseball in communities across America," but criticized the minor league for not cooperating in the negotiations.
"The most constructive role Congress can play to achieve these goals is to encourage Minor League Baseball to return to the bargaining table so we can work together to address the real issues impacting minor league players and communities all across the country," the Major League Baseball statement said.
In a news release by the congressional task force accompanying the resolution Tuesday, several members of Congress expressed support of the resolution and their specific teams.
“The value that Minor League Baseball adds to our communities goes so far beyond entertainment,” said U.S. Rep. Max Rose, whose district includes Staten Island, N.Y. “Teams like the Staten Island Yankees offer youth clinics for our kids, donate to local schools and charities, and volunteer countless hours to help those in need. This resolution sends a clear message that we recognize those contributions, and that I’m going to do everything in my power to protect the Staten Island Yankees.”
Courtney will host a public event at 3:30 p.m. Monday at the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in Norwich, inviting Sea Unicorns’ officials, city leaders, business vendors, team sponsors, civic groups and fans to show how the contraction plan would have a far-reaching effects in the region.
“This is to bring together a lot of the stakeholders in eastern Connecticut who would be impacted economically if baseball’s plan went through,” Courtney said. “The ripple effect of a minor league team is more than just the roster of players. It’s the summer jobs, concession business it creates. It’s an event to really spotlight that message.”
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, a member of the newly formed Mayoral Task Force to Save Minor League Baseball, said he plans to highlight the high-quality facilities at Dodd Stadium, countering Major League Baseball’s argument that teams selected for contraction have inferior facilities.
Nystrom said participants Monday can tour the indoor batting and pitching facilities and the clubhouses — slated for upgrades as part of the $800,000 in capital improvements funded by the city before the contraction plan became known.
Central to Nystrom's argument against the contraction plan are the quality of Dodd Stadium as a professional baseball facility and Major League Baseball's approval of the city's new 10-year lease, signed in August, two months before the contraction plan became public.
In a letter he sent Jan. 24 to Major League Baseball Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, Nystrom outlined the $800,000 the city has committed to Dodd Stadium, including funds for new lighting to meet Major League Baseball standards. In addition, the city has budgeted $100,000 for other capital improvements to the stadium, Nystrom wrote.
“Player safety is of paramount importance to all of us,” Nystrom wrote to the deputy commissioner. “Our field is maintained by the same company that maintains Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. It has won numerous awards for player safety. We are sharing this information with you requesting that this plan to eliminate our minor league team be withdrawn. Our ten-year contract is fully in effect. Our ten-year contract provides rights and redress if necessary for the City of Norwich. We look forward to your response, we remain available for a conversation with you about this issue.”
What: U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney invites businesses, city leaders, team representatives and supporters of the Norwich Sea Unicorns to discuss potential impact of losing the team.
When: Monday, Feb. 3, at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, 14 Stott Ave., Norwich.
For information: Call Norwich mayor's office, (860) 823-3743.