It has seemed likely ever since the novel coronavirus pandemic began, but Tuesday it was made official: Minor League Baseball has officially cancelled its 2020 season.
What happens now?
First, teams must unravel as much as they can from this season. There will undoubtedly be a flood of fans and advertisers calling and asking for refunds for tickets or deals they’d purchased for games that had merely been suspended and not officially canceled.
Some of those fans and advertisers will choose to roll their dollars toward 2021, but others will want to replenish their own cash flow as best as possible. The stagnation of the economy has negatively affected nearly every industry, and some people and businesses will want to reclaim as much as they can to help themselves stay afloat.
This is even more problematic because of Major League Baseball’s stated desire to eliminate up to 40 affiliated teams, possibly beginning as early as next year. That would be one-quarter of all the affiliated minor-league teams, affecting cities large and small across the country. This isn’t just baseball players affected, either; there are hundreds of full-time jobs involved in management, sales, broadcasting and other areas that a baseball team has to cover. Affiliated Minor League Baseball franchises provide jobs in all these areas; the only personnel provided by MLB teams are players and coaches.
The agreement between the major leagues and minor leagues was suspended by Commissioner Rob Manfred when the pandemic began. He has that power because a national emergency was declared. The agreement was scheduled to end after this year anyway and it’s anyone’s guess whether it will continue, or in what form.
In the meantime, some minor-league teams are doing whatever they can to try to bring some money in:
For weeks and months, teams have been using their stadiums to bring in as many people as possible while staying within their municipality’s social distancing guidelines.
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes have turned their ballparks into Airbnb properties for fans to rent out overnight. Others have begun hosting in-park restaurants, farmers markets, drive-in movies and anything else teams can dream up to get a few drops of revenue in an otherwise arid season.
The South Bend Cubs were doing curbside food service for a while, and are planning a movie night and fireworks show on July 10. They’ll also be the “alternate” training site for the big-league Cubs during “summer camp” and the 60-game season, presuming it lasts that long. Other minor-league cities, including Altoona (PA), Toledo (OH) and Port Charlotte (FL) will be doing the same, and in Nashville, there are plans to host a “free agent league” from which MLB teams could sign players.
But Minor League Baseball as we knew it before 2020 is probably gone forever. When (I was going to write “if,” but it almost has to come back in some form) it returns it will not look the same. There will be fewer teams, fewer players, fewer non-player employees trying to make their way by working in the game, fewer chances for amateur players to chase a major-league dream.
This is a sad day for baseball.