Pat O’Conner’s Retirement Signals MiLB’s Likely End As Independent Entity

Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt)

After 13 years as Minor League Baseball president, Pat O’Conner announced on Tuesday that he is retiring effective at the end of the year. O’Conner had been elected to a four-year term as MiLB president in 2019.

The announcement means the tenure of one of the most significant figures in the history of MiLB is coming to an end. O’Conner joined MiLB as its chief operating officer in 1993 and has served as president since 2007. His 28-year tenure at MiLB has coincided with one of the most successful stretches in the nearly 120 years of the “organized” minors.

His announcement also likely signifies the end of MiLB as a separate, independent entity. Major League Baseball has laid out a proposal to MiLB that would see MLB take over as the governing body, handling the functions that MiLB’s offices have fulfilled.

In MiLB’s talks with MLB on a new agreement to replace the Professional Baseball Agreement that expires on Sept. 30, O’Conner has staunchly defended the independence of MiLB. Numerous minor league owners have said they would prefer their negotiations focus on long-term stability and franchise valuations.

Multiple minor league owners and leagues have shared with the MiLB Board of Trustees their concerns that O’Conner’s push to retain MiLB’s independence out of its offices in St. Petersburg, Fla., could stand in the way of a deal that would be acceptable to minor league owners.

In the letter he sent to the Board of Trustees informing them of his decision, O’Conner signified that the current negotiations played a part in his decision.

“It is clear my vision for the organization, and the path to achieve that vision, is not adequately aligned with the Board of Trustees,” he said. “I feel it is in the best interests of the organization that I retire and allow the Board of Trustees to pursue its vision in the manner they chose.”

What O’Conner’s announcement means for the talks between MLB and MiLB is not yet clear. The two sides have been talking since MLB laid out a proposal for an MLB-run minors during an Aug. 27 negotiating session. Numerous sources have indicated over the past six months that MLB did not want to deal directly with O’Conner, and O’Conner has not held an in-person role in the negotiations in many months.

But O’Conner has retained a significant role because MiLB’s structure ensured that he was the one with authority to appoint and direct MiLB’s negotiating team. As such, he retained the power to disband the negotiating team if it failed to carry out his directions. O’Conner did just that on Aug. 3 before appointing a new negotiating team that sent MLB its own proposal. That group was then replaced by a third negotiating team selected by the MiLB Board of Trustees that O’Conner then approved with a couple of tweaks.

At this point, it is clear that either in a negotiated agreement with MiLB’s negotiating committee or in a system that MLB sets up itself after the current PBA expires, MLB will take over the operations and responsibilities of MiLB’s offices in St. Petersburg.

On Tuesday morning, before the announcement of O’Conner’s retirement went public, MiLB informed many of its employees in St. Petersburg that their jobs will be eliminated and they should look to find other employment.

“It has been a privilege to serve in Minor League Baseball leadership for the past 28 years and I will be forever indebted to all of the staff who worked with me in St. Petersburg over the years,” O’Conner said in a statement released by MiLB. “It was an honor to work alongside the owners, executives, players, umpires, fans and communities that have made our organization so successful.”

That same statement said O’Conner will not be conducting interviews to further discuss his retirement.

MiLB’s release announcing O’Conner’s departure did not mention anything about a search for a successor. The reason is clear: O’Conner will depart as MiLB’s 11th and final president.

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