While Major League Baseball prepares this week to return, the farm teams that funnel players to the big leagues shut their doors Tuesday as Minor League Baseball announced that its 2020 season was canceled.
The cancellation of the season seemed inevitable as nearly all of a minor-league team’s revenue is dependent on fans being in the ballpark. But it was made official on Tuesday, Minor League Baseball said, when Major League Baseball informed minor-league teams that they would not be providing players this season. MLB was allowed to suspend its contract — known as the Professional Baseball Agreement — with Minor League Baseball due to the national emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O’Conner said in a statement. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”
There will not be baseball this summer in towns like Reading and Williamsport, communities that build their summers around their minor-league teams. Wide-eyed prospects will not play in Lakewood or Clearwater. And the ballpark in Allentown won’t be used to sizzle bacon, but instead it will be where the Phillies taxi-squad players train during the shortened 60-game major-league season.
The Phillies told their minor-leaguers this week that they will pay them their $400 salary through September 7, but the loss of a season is a crushing blow. There are players who are hanging on, giving themselves one more year to try and reach their dreams. There are prospects who will lose a year of crucial development, fans who will miss the way they spend their summers, and team employees who make a living working in the minor leagues.
“It is hard to find the exact words to use at a time like this,” IronPigs president and general manager Kurt Landes wrote in a letter to fans. “The easiest ones are usually the best: Thank You. We will be back, and IronPigs baseball will be better than ever.”
The news may soon get even grimmer for minor-league baseball as it negotiates a new agreement with MLB, which is set to expire after this season.
MLB is pushing to trim the minor-league affiliates, reportedly cutting the total number of teams from 160 to 120. The move would eliminate entire leagues, including the New York-Penn League, which is home to the Phillies’ short-season Class A affiliate in Williamsport.
Jobs were lost on Tuesday, careers were altered, and traditions were broken, but baseball might not return next season to many small towns that were hit hard this summer. A loss season could become even worse.
“This official announcement comes with great sadness, as we know how much R-Phils baseball means to you, and to us,” Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker wrote to fans. “We miss seeing all of our Phillies Double A players — working hard toward their dream of making the big leagues. We know how much those players are missing baseball right now and we are excited to see them play again next season. And most of all, we miss all of you, our fans, for you are the reason that we all love working here — throwing 70 baseball parties for our fans each season is what drives us to be great. But we will work through this together and focus on better days ahead when we can all return to America’s Classic Ballpark for an R-Phils ball game.”