By John Manuel
August 29, 2002
No matter what happens with baseball’s labor situation, the minor leagues will remain unaffected, at least in the short term.
Minor leaguers on 40-man rosters technically are members of the union, but they would not be asked to go on strike, said Greg Bouris, director of communications for the players association.
“Only union members on 25-man rosters would be affected,” said Bouris, who said the same holds true for players assigned to the Arizona Fall League.
That follows the precedent set in 1994, when major leaguers went on strike Aug. 11. No minor leaguers walked out during that season, and all minor league seasons end within a week of the planned strike day anyway.
Bouris would not comment on ramifications for such players, however, should a strike bleed over into the next season, as was the case in 1994-95. At that time, many minor leaguers were asked to cross picket lines and play in replacement games in spring training. “We’d rather not speculate about that,” he said.
MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, in a chat on MLB.com Wednesday, wrote, “We will continue to operate the minor leagues and continue to support the minor leagues because we think it’s important to have minor league baseball for our fans. So we’ll continue to provide economic and moral support for the minor leagues. The other issues we will face as we move on. No determination has been made on anything other than the minor leagues. We will continue our support of the minor leagues.”
Following the ’94 precedent as well, Arizona Fall League executive vice president Steve Cobb said he did not anticipate any disruption in the league’s plans.
“The majority of our players are not on 40-man rosters,” said Cobb, in his 10th year with the AFL. “If the union chose to hold out 40-man players, it wouldn’t affect us too much, and they didn’t do so in ’94. We have had no indication given by the union they plan to change things.”
Cobb said the labor problems and the malaise of the American economy had led to belt-tightening in every facet of MLB, including the AFL. “But we’re not going to cut corners,” he said. “We’re taking the same approach to providing players a first-class environment as we always have.”
The AFL actually had its best year in 1994, with a class of players including future stars like Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter. Plus, the presence of Michael Jordan during his dalliance with baseball set AFL attendance records.
“We got a bump in ’94, though it took a strike to do it,” Cobb said. “What happened is, people discovered the Fall League for the first time. There were newspaper reports, and games on TV. Within the industry, the Fall League became more known, kind of a focal point that year. From that standpoint, our staff is looking at it as an opportunity to put on the best show we possibly can.”
No one has approached the AFL about broadcasting games should the major league postseason be wiped out, Cobb said.