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Inside Baseball

Minors have lost most of their leverage in talks for new agreement with big leagues

Minor League Baseball is in quite a spot thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

It's hard to see a path for its teams to play this season, because they need fans in the ballpark for revenue. With no big-money TV contracts, there's no point in opening the gates if you can't have the paying customers inside. And when is that going to be allowed in the current environment?

On top of that, Major League Baseball is forging ahead with its hard-line negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement. The minors were interested in a one-year extension of the current deal, but the majors said no and negotiations continued in recent days.

At stake is the fate of 42 teams, most in Class A, that would be jettisoned from affiliated status as the majors look for better facilities and better travel arrangements for their prospects. Batavia of the New York-Penn League and Double-A teams in Binghamton and Erie, Pa., would be on the chopping block for extinction.

Baseball America and the Associated Press reported the minors were going to cave to those demands at a session Wednesday, but the minors quickly issued a statement that the stories were "largely inaccurate."

MLB and MiLB issued a joint statement after the meeting that said, "The respective negotiating teams of Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball held a constructive meeting on Wednesday. The parties are continuing their discussions, with the goal of concluding a mutually beneficial long-term agreement in the near future.”

What is accurate is that the minors will undoubtedly look different when all this shakes out, even if nothing comes to pass until a 2021 season. The pandemic may mean some teams may not survive at lower levels.

In Triple-A, it's expected there will be some realignment of leagues as well as the addition of St. Paul, Minn., and Sugar Land, Texas, from the independent leagues. One rumor says there's been talk of going back to three leagues so several Midwestern teams could play in a form of the old American Association.

The Major Leagues are no longer interested in Pacific Coast League teams like Memphis and Nashville having to fly to places like Tacoma and Sacramento. And the big leagues also want to see an end to those bus trips at lower levels that could last 12 to 14 hours.

So MLB is looking to assert much more control in a new deal. Eliminating individual league offices is one possibility to centralize operations. There also could be more joint marketing and media opportunities for the minor-league clubs under that scenario.

The minors had worked hard to get members of Congress to lobby on their behalf against the elimination of teams, especially those in small cities that had become fabric-of-the-community institutions.

But with the economy falling apart due to the pandemic and the attention of officials on much bigger matters, the minors no longer have the leverage they did a few months ago. They're going to be forced to make a deal here soon, while their current franchises are in sit-around mode waiting to see if they'll get a chance to open their gates at all this summer.

Umps will talk to fans, viewers

Sportsnet did a replay and accompanying Zoom call of the "Bat Flip Game" from the 2015 American League Division Series last week and it was great fun to relive the iconic decisive game of the Jays-Rangers series through the eyes of many who were there, including home run hero Jose Bautista.

Home plate umpire Dale Scott was one of the guests and he actually dropped a pretty big news nugget in the middle of the conversation: MLB and the umpires were planning to unveil in-stadium replay announcements this season in a similar manner used by the NFL and NHL.

Scott, who is now retired, said crew chiefs had been undergoing training during spring training about how to explain rulings to fans and television audiences.

"It’s happening," Scott said. "In fact, the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because of this virus.”

It's now uncertain if the system will be used this year with MLB looking at the potential of playing much of its season in spring training parks, which don't have the technology setup of big-league stadiums.

Scott could have used the system during Game 5 in 2015. In the top of the seventh, he mistakenly called time and ruled the ball dead when Russell Martin's throw to the mound accidentally hit the bat of Texas hitter Shin-Soo Choo. The ball rolled away and Rougned Odor raced home to score the tiebreaking run. The play was initially wiped out before umpires convened and correctly allowed the run to stand.

Irate fans pelted the Rogers Centre field with bottles and other debris, frustrated by the call and the lack of information surrounding it. Reporters in the press box were scrambling to find the rule on a play few had seen before and fans in the stadium were left mostly in the dark about the situation.

Hall pondering its induction day

All indications are that the Baseball Hall of Fame is closing in on a decision about its induction ceremony scheduled for July 26. Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller are slated to be enshrined and the long-held theory was that the crowd in Cooperstown might approach the 2007 record of 82,000 that saw Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. enter the Hall.

If the July date is too soon – and who really thinks 80,000 people outdoors on a hill in Central New York is going to be a good idea in three months? – the ceremony could get pushed back or delayed to 2021. The Hall is not going to do any sort of virtual induction.

"It was discussed, but ultimately it wasn’t deemed as an appropriate direction to take,” Hall VP of Communications Jon Shestakofsky told the Utica Observer-Dispatch, a paper 50 miles from Cooperstown. “The local community is such a big part of what the induction experience is, it just doesn’t make sense to take that away.”

Herd voices Zoom through years

If you want to sit and listen to great baseball talk for an hour, the Bisons did a Zoom roundtable Thursday with their roster of broadcasters from their modern era. You can find it at Bisons.com or the team's YouTube channel.

Hosted by Rich Baseball Operations President Mike Buczkowski and current play-by-play man Pat Malacaro, the guest list included Pete Weber (1985-95), Greg Brown (1989-93), Jim Rosenhaus (1996-2006), Ben Wagner (2007-17) and longtime analyst Duke McGuire, who has been on the air with the Herd since the franchise returned to Double-A in 1979.

Weber did the call from his home in Nashville wearing a jersey of the New York Knights, the fictional team from "The Natural." Malacaro reminisced about his stint as a Bisons batboy from 1999-2002. Brown, the voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1994, had a large Bucs flag and blanket behind him.

Rosenhaus talked about the three Bisons championships he called, while Wagner, who never got to call a playoff game in his 11 seasons, recalled the 2012 Triple-A All-Star Game and the team's trip to Fenway Park later that summer to play Pawtucket.

Wagner and Weber also talked about the club's infamous 1991 playoff loss in Denver, when an eight-run ninth left the team one run shy of a colossal comeback as the final out was made at the plate on a relay throw by current Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo.

Around the horn

* The Esports craze is going national as baseball's broadcast partners will be televising playoff games from the "MLB The Show Players League." MLB Network will be showing a regular season recap and select matchups from games Sunday night from 7-9. FS1, ESPN and ESPN2 will air the playoffs of the online league, featuring one player from each team participating in three-inning contests of the popular baseball video game.

The best-of-three quarterfinals begin Friday, May 1, on FS1 and continue Saturday, May 2, on ESPN 2. The semifinals air that night on ESPN2 and FS1. The best-of-five Championship Series is Sunday, May 3, on ESPN.

Blue Jays shortstop and former Bison Bo Bichette is one of the top players in the league's early stages with a 9-3 record, good for fourth place. Texas' Joey Gallo opened 17-3 to grab first place. The league benefits Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Canada and $5,000 donations are being jointly made by MLB and the Players Association to organizations in each city. The league champion earns an additional $25,000 to the Boys and Girls Club in his community.

* Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez looking to buy the Mets? There's a way to knock the Yankees off the back page if it ever comes to pass. And imagine the rivalry A-Rod would want to forge with his estranged pal Jeter when the Mets would meet the Marlins.

* A big blow for summer baseball came Friday afternoon as the Cape Cod League canceled its 2020 season. Dating to 1885, the 10-team group forms the nation's premier wood bat league for college players and boasts that one in every six big leaguers is an alum.

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