By: Seamus McAvoy; VT Digger
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ripped into Major League Baseball late Friday over the decision to eliminate the Vermont Lake Monsters as part of a reorganization of the minor leagues.
The new structure, built on a 120-team regional scheme, would drop 40 teams, including the Burlington-based franchise.
“Major League Baseball’s announcement to eliminate the Vermont Lake Monsters and 39 other Minor League teams has nothing to do with what is good for baseball and has everything to do with greed,” Sanders said in a statement.
“If the multibillionaire owners of Major League Baseball have enough money to pay hundreds of millions in compensation to a single superstar baseball player,” Sanders said, “they have enough money to prevent 40 minor league teams from shutting down in Vermont and all over this country.”
The Oakland A’s affiliate, which played home games at the University of Vermont’s Centennial Field, was inactive this past season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This is not the first time Sanders has brushed up with MLB — or commissioner Rob Manfred.
The league had been floating proposals to restructure the minor league system well before Covid-19 changed the economics of baseball and first introduced the new model in a statement released in October 2019. Sanders denounced that plan last January with nearly identical language to his statement Friday night.
“If the multibillionaire owners of Major League Baseball have enough money to pay hundreds of millions in compensation to one superstar ballplayer,” he said at the time, “they damn well have enough money to pay minor-league players a living wage and prevent 42 minor-league teams from shutting down.”
Sanders and Manfred reportedly met last year to discuss the changes. It wasn’t clear whether the two would meet again, but Sanders said in a tweet Friday that he would do “all I can to fight” the reorganization.
The writing had been on the wall for the Lake Monsters for some time. The coronavirus pandemic has devastated minor league sports, already a financially precarious industry, in which it’s common for teams to generate at least half of their annual revenue from ticket sales alone. Though MLB played an abridged, 60-game regular season last year, Minor League Baseball was shelved back in June.
In December, the Oakland A’s terminated a 10-year affiliation with the Lake Monsters, leaving the Burlington-based outfit without a league or a parent organization for the first time in 27 years.
The Lake Monsters have not yet made a formal announcement regarding the team’s future. As recently as last week, Lake Monster social media pages highlighted CHAMP, the team’s mascot, delivering more that 200 blankets to the UVM Children’s Hospital and the Committee on Temporary Shelter.