Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Nation & World

Bernie Sanders makes pitch to save minor-league teams

The Democratic presidential candidate is aggressively opposing a Major League Baseball plan to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hits in the batting cage during a meeting with minor league baseball players and officials at FunCity Turf, Sunday in Burlington, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) [CHARLIE NEIBERGALL  |  AP]
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hits in the batting cage during a meeting with minor league baseball players and officials at FunCity Turf, Sunday in Burlington, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) [CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP]
Published Dec. 15, 2019

BURLINGTON, Iowa — Take Bernie out to the ball game?

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, is aggressively opposing a Major League Baseball plan to cut 42 minor league teams across the country after 2020. Among the targeted are the Vermont Lake Monsters, the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics in his hometown, Burlington.

Defending low-profile ball clubs in far-flung places more fervently than anyone in the crowded Democratic presidential field allows Sanders to potentially win over a largely untapped 2020 constituency: baseball fans.

Sanders briefly took batting practice Sunday on an indoor turf field as representatives from three small-town Iowa teams looked on: the Quad City River Bandits, the Clinton LumberKings and the Burlington Bees, the local club in this town on the Mississippi River. In August, Sanders played softball with reporters on the state’s corn field-ringed “Field of Dreams,” the set of the Hollywood hit of the same name. And he has tapped a former Harvard second baseman, Faiz Shakir, to run his campaign.

Sanders shed his signature suit jacket to take swings in a sweater over a dress shirt. With a staff member slow-pitching, the senator dribbled a few grounders to his left, then lifted a ball in the air in the same direction, before joking that he was aiming another grounder off his bat at CNN reporter who should have dived to stop it. After about six hits, he dropped the bat and said “OK, that's it.”

“For all the major league scouts, if I don't make it to the presidency, I'm available," Sanders joked.

Taking the diamond demonstrated physical stamina for a 78-year-old who recently had a heart attack, while also letting Sanders press a larger political point about rich owners putting profits ahead of the national pastime. But it also shows off a softer side of someone most known to supporters and detractors alike for being a democratic socialist and backing progressive policy proposals such as “Medicare for All.”

“The guys who own the teams are billionaires,'' Sanders said told The Associated Press interview earlier this week, adding that baseball ``is not an institution that is hurting financially. And you can see that by, just in the last few weeks, seeing major league teams signing star baseball players for as much (as) $324 million.”

That refers to the New York Yankees recently signing free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole to a reported 9-year, $324 million contract.

MLB is negotiating a new agreement with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minors. The initial contraction proposal primarily would impact lower-level teams in short-season leagues. Sanders met last month with Commissioner Rob Manfred to decry the plan and the senator sent him a letter Saturday, arguing that baseball “has to be considered more than just the bottom line.”

“Baseball is not just another business,” Sanders said during the interview. “There’s a reason the president of the United States throws out the first pitch of the season, why baseball is considered a national pastime.”

After the initial Sanders-Manfred meeting, MLB issued a statement saying it “understands that we have an obligation to local communities to ensure that public money spent on minor league stadiums is done so prudently and for the benefit of all citizens."

But it added: “MLB also must ensure that minor league players have safe playing facilities suitable for the development of professional baseball players, are not subjected to unreasonable travel demands, are provided with compensation and working conditions appropriate for elite athletes, and have a realistic opportunity of making it to the major leagues.”

Some minor league players have filed a federal class-action suit charging that many players earn less than $7,500 per year, violating minimum wage laws.

More than 100 members of Congress from both parties have signed a separate letter to Manfred opposing shutting down minor league teams. So far, though, Sanders is alone among the Democratic presidential hopefuls loudly opposing the idea.

“He’s the only one I hear talking about it,” said J.D. Scholten, who pitched professionally in Canada and for Iowa’s independent Sioux City Explorers. Scholten challenged longtime Republican Rep. Steve King in 2018 and is trying again to unseat him.

“I think it kind of fits into his overall message of, right now, a lot of the way our lives are being shaped by wealthy people who are dictating a lot of these things at the top, and the people at the bottom are being left behind,” said Scholten, who also played basketball this past week with another White House hopeful, businessman Andrew Yang.

Sanders said before Sunday's batting practice that Congress could intervene if baseball goes through with its contraction plan. He noted the sport's antitrust exemption and the public dollars some teams have received to build stadiums, and cited lucrative television contracts that he said are “sometimes designed in unusual ways."

“So I think there is a lot Congress can do to protect baseball for ordinary Americans and I think that is what you're going to see being done in a bipartisan matter," Sanders said. “I hope it doesn't have to come to that."

Scholten said he tells crowds at town halls while campaigning that he’ll answer questions about anything, including baseball.

“My baseball background gets talked about quite a lot. I’m actually kind of surprised. I haven’t played in 10 years, was a paralegal for a decade and nobody talks about that,” Scholten joked.

Sanders’ baseball ties predate his 2020 campaign. He visited with the Los Angeles Dodgers during spring training in 2018 and, as he was recovering at home following his Oct. 1 heart attack, Sanders' campaign released video of the candidate batting balls around his backyard.

The senator grew up loving the Brooklyn Dodgers until they moved to Los Angeles when he was 16. He now roots for the Boston Red Sox, like a lot of New Englanders.

While running for the first elected office he won, mayor of Burlington in 1981, Sanders says he thinks he remembers campaigning on landing a minor league team. He says “we worked extremely hard” to accomplish just that.- bringing a Cincinnati Reds affiliate to town three years later.

“Everybody found it amusing because the name was the Vermont Reds,” Sanders, noting his proud leftist streak, chuckled.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. In this Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, speaks to reporters outside the West Wing in Washington. President Donald Trump's legal team will include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, former Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who led the Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton, according to a person familiar with the matter. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    The former Florida attorney general reportedly will join former Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.
  2. In this image from video, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., escort Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts into the Senate chamber in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. [AP]
    The U.S. Senate opened the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump Thursday.
  3. This July 9, 2019, file photo taken from video, shows an aerial view of Little Saint James Island, in the U. S. Virgin Islands, a property purchased by Jeffery Epstein more than two decades ago. A lawsuit filed Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, by prosecutors in the Virgin Islands says multimillionaire sex offender Jeffery Epstein used two private islands, including Little Saint James, in the U.S. territory to engage in a nearly two-decade conspiracy to traffic and abuse girls. (AP Photo/Gianfranco Gaglione, File) [GIANFRANCO GAGLIONE  |  AP]
    A lawsuit seeks forfeiture of the private islands, valued by managers of Epstein’s estate at more than $86 million, because of their use in alleged crimes.
  4. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined at left by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., meets with reporters as the House prepares to send the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    Lev Parnas made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
  5. In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks after the Senate received the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump from the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday. (Senate Television via AP) [AP]
    The President complained anew Wednesday that it was all a “hoax,” even as fresh details emerged about his efforts in Ukraine.
  6. The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. (Times | 2014)
    The chief justice dropped an ‘Okay, Boomer’ reference during oral arguments in the case of a pharmacist who accused the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System of age discrimination.
  7. An Equal Rights Amendment supporters yell encouragement to two legislators as they walk down a hallway inside the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday. A House committee approved a resolution Tuesday,  to ratify the state's Equal Rights Amendment, which advocates hope will become the next amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 13-9 vote split along party lines, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposing it.(Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) [BOB BROWN  |  AP]
    It is seen as a momentous victory by women’s rights advocates even though it is far from certain the measure will ever be added to the U.S. Constitution.
  8. Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev talk to each other prior to a cabinet meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday. The Tass news agency reports Wednesday that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev submitted his resignation to President Vladimir Putin. Russian news agencies said Putin thanked Medvedev for his service but noted that the prime minister's Cabinet failed to fulfill all the objectives set for it. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP) [DMITRY ASTAKHOV                |  AP]
    Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned his post after Putin announced the proposed constitutional amendments.
  9. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, flanked by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., left, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference to announce impeachment managers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday. The U.S. House is set to vote Wednesday to send the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate for a landmark trial on whether the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are grounds for removal.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) [SUSAN WALSH  |  AP]
    “Today is an important day,” the House Speaker said. “This is about the Constitution of the United States.”’
  10. In this Dec. 21, 2019, file photo, NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire as it impacts a structure at Bilpin, Australia. The decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever measured on Earth, capped off by the second-warmest year on record, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Images via AP, File) [DAN HIMBRECHTS  |  AP]
    Scientists said they see no end to the way man-made climate change keeps shattering records.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement