PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Major League Baseball is looking to make some major changes to the Minor Leagues.
Major League Baseball currently proposes to cut 42 teams from the Minor Leagues.
The Peoria Chiefs are not one of them, but some of their rivals are.
The Chiefs spend $2 million in the Peoria area each year on local services, according to General Manager Jason Mott. He adds more than $300,000 is given to local charities. Those are just two ways the Peoria Chiefs benefit central Illinois.
“It comes back to just when fans come to town. Maybe they’re coming in for games, hotels, eating here,” Mott said.
“Our stance from Minor League Baseball is that we want all 160. It’s important to have all those teams here. All the communities have done a lot. A lot of communities have really funded those teams in a lot of those markets. That’s important to keep them in those communities because they do have a big impact,” Mott added.
Mott says two of the Chiefs’ rival teams, the Burlington Bees and the Clinton Lumber Kings are set to be cut, according to the current proposal.
He believes that will change the dynamic of Single-A Minor League Baseball.
Not only do seats fill up at Dozer Park, but Pat Sullivan says his restaurant, Kelleher’s, gets a lot of business from Chiefs games.
“It’s been an anchor for all the businesses around. It got the people to feel that they’re comfortable down in an area that 20 something years ago, wasn’t very comfortable,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan says development around Dozer Park in the Warehouse District is really coming along well, making the area very attractive for local businesses and events. He adds all central Illinois local sports are vital to the community.
Chiefs General Manager Jason Mott says seven central Illinois mayors are showing support for Minor League Baseball. As is Congressman Darin LaHood.
Rep. LaHood spoke with WMBD Friday about how he’s joining a bipartisan effort to stop the cuts of MILB teams.
“I know the integral role the Chiefs and Minor League Baseball plays in communities such as Peoria and across the country. Really what it does, it brings jobs, economic opportunity, and tourism,” Rep. LaHood said.
LaHood joins around 100 other federal lawmakers in signing a resolution to stop these cuts.
“Major League Baseball has a number of lobbyists they have in Washington D.C. We’ve been working with them on this. I would go back to the resolution I’m a co-sponsor of, basically what the resolution says is we support the preservation of Minor League Baseball in 160 American communities across the country,” Rep. LaHood said.
In 1922, Major League Baseball was granted an exemption by an appeals court and then the U.S. Supreme Court, from the Sherman Antitrust Act. LaHood says it was because they argued at the time it didn’t constitute interstate commerce.
“Which today, is really crazy. Because they do. Our part of interstate across the country, they’re engaged across state lines. That still remains in place and Major League Baseball wants to keep that. Arguably, the Sherman Antitrust Act was put in place, not just for baseball, but for all entities, prevents companies from conspiring to fix markets and potentially hurt customers. But, because they have that exemption, it doesn’t apply to Major League Baseball. What we’re saying is, they should be subject to that. However, we want to work with them when it relates to Minor League Baseball,” Rep. LaHood said.
“Because it was a state-centric business and not subject to federal commerce laws. The exemption has been whittled away a little over the years, but in general the Supreme Court has consistently held that it still stands, and indeed Congress effectively upheld it as well in 1998 while granting more freedom to players. It could be overturned by Congress — and, indeed, that threat is made whenever a member of Congress is dissatisfied with MLB,” Kevin Reichard of Ballpark Digest wrote back in June 2018.
Congressman LaHood says President Trump is keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops.
Although the Chiefs aren’t on the chopping block right now, Mott says he wants the uncertainty to be behind him.
“People ask me all the time, I tell them ‘lists change.’ I’ll never feel comfortable until the deal’s done. Their list has changed from time to time. Our focus this year is to really have a big year. We want fans to come out, we want to have fun at the ballpark, working on sponsorships and all that. It’s a big year to continue to show Major League Baseball we are a great market and they should be a part of for a long time,” Mott said.
Mott says next week Major League Baseball is meeting again to discuss the issue.
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill) echoes Rep. LaHood’s sentiment, supporting all of her area baseball teams.
The Chiefs home opener is on Monday, April 13.
A PR firm working with Major League Baseball sent WMBD the following response.
“MLB is confident that we can modernize our minor league system, improve development and playing conditions for our players, and protect baseball in the communities where it is currently being played. No decisions have been made at this point in negotiations but MLB is committed to solutions that involve professional baseball continuing in all of its current locations,” Morgan Sword, Executive Vice President of Baseball Economics & Operations for MLB.
Mott says he’s just focused on providing fans with a fun atmosphere at games.
The Chiefs have job fairs Feb. 19 from 4:00-7:00 p.m. and Feb. 29 from 10:00 a.m. to noon.