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MLB and the Atlantic League Rule Changes

It’s been some time since any baseball news broke that I felt was worth running to my keyboard to cover for the site. Sure, cool stuff has happened as well as the typical baseball being shitty stuff. None of that jumped out at me though as something worth expounding and extrapolating on. Any sport that has Major League Baseball as its flagship organization is bound to do something stupid or malicious enough to grab my attention at some point though. Like last night, when this tweet passed across my timeline,

Let’s break down a few things first. 

Indy Ball Report is a great place to start because they aren’t just a random account. They have been covering the United States independent baseball, or unaffiliated as I refer to them, scene for some time now. They are a reputable source and if they post that something is happening that means they’ve heard it from more than enough people that one of the two hosts felt the need to go public with the information. This story can’t be squashed by going after the source.

The other important part of this story is to make sure everyone is up to date on what a Partner League is and why it matters in this context. There are three MLB Partner Leagues: the Atlantic League, American Association, and Frontier League. The Partner League system has been in existence since 2019 though all three leagues joined up at different times. On the surface, this system is meant to be a boon for baseball and is part of Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred’s One Baseball initiative. The basic gist of the deal was that the Partner Leagues would be freely allowed to use MLB branding, Partner League players would find a faster route to MLB affiliated ball, and one league, the ALPB, would be a breeding ground for baseball innovation as they would test out new rules for MLB.

What those who aren’t drinking the Manfred kool-aid have been yelling from the word go is that the Partner League system is a crock and it benefits no one but MLB. That is exactly what we have seen play out in the shifting of player contracts from unaffiliated Partner League teams to MLB affiliated teams. Sure, the players are being signed at a record pace, but they are being signed to awful contracts and the entire process is leaving the Partner League teams with massive player shortages at all times and has brought about a decline in overall skill level in every league. The branding is a complete non-starter because it has had zero to no effect on the standing of these leagues. The rule changes, well, that’s what we are actually here to talk about today.

The tweet above is referencing a massive rule change slated to go live in the ALPB as of August 3rd. This change will move the pitching mound back from the standard 60 feet and six inches to 61 feet and five inches. It is a rule change that MLB has been trying to implement for a couple of years now and it is finally set to happen. The whole time there have been questions from more astute observers about how this particular rule change will affect the ability of pitchers to get signed by MLB or other unaffiliated clubs, their health, and the general quality of the game. The general response from Manfred has been to show complete disdain for the health of the ALPB players. This has been further echoed by MLB employees like Mike Petriello who have voiced an “eh, where else are we supposed to test” mantra when faced with these legitimate questions.

The tweet from Indy Ball Report detailed that MLB is so hell-bent on testing out this rule change and cares so little about the future and health of any ALPB pitchers that there will be harsh penalties for any pitcher who opts out of their ALPB contract once the rule change goes into effect. What has been leaked so far lays out that any pitcher who opts out will be barred from playing for any MLB team, any of their affiliates, or in any Partner League (for the time being it is unclear where Liga Mexicana de Béisbol falls on this issue. They are not truly an MLB-affiliated league but MLB classifies them as one and if that pipeline is cut off for ALPB pitchers it will have a dire impact). From what I have been able to gather from talking to other people close to the situation it sounds like this will be a lifetime ban. Think about that for a second, MLB is telling pitchers who don’t want to be lab rats and possibly get hurt or damage their future paydays that they will either go along or they will essentially be banned from higher-level professional baseball in the United States/Canada for the rest of their lives.

I spent most of the night trying to think of a word to adequately describe what Manfred and company are doing to these players and to the game of baseball with this news. Sometimes the descriptor you are looking for is right in front of you, no gussied up words need apply. What Manfred and his cronies are doing to these players and to the game of baseball is simply put; monstrous. Their livelihoods are being threatened all for a rule change that has nothing to do with where they play baseball and everything to do with another organization not wanting to hurt their own players. That’s some real dark timeline-level stuff right there, but that’s the world of MLB and Rob Manfred.

Before we skedaddle don’t think that the ALPB or its President, Rick White, are absolved of any blame. They were a wholly independent league that did not need to partner with MLB. They made the decision to do that and they don’t get to skirt responsibility for their decision. They have put their players in a position where they have to either accept a rule that could damage them on many levels or they likely see their professional baseball careers end. No matter which way you slice it ALPB pitchers are going to see their careers destroyed whether they stay on and pitch or say no thank you and leave. White and the ALPB brought this circus to town of their own accord and they need to be held to the fire for what they are doing just as much as MLB and Manfred.

I wish I didn’t have to write this article. This isn’t the baseball I want to write or talk about. It is, however, the baseball that MLB brings to the world on a regular basis. I’ve said it before but with MLB it’s a case of how long can they go before they step on that next rake and smack themselves in the face. Only, there are never any serious repercussions for MLB. They can continue to harm the game, ruin the lives of players outside their organization, and they won’t even lose stride after stepping on that rake. MLB isn’t all there is to baseball but they are doing their darndest to make it where they are and are more than willing to damage the game and its players in the process. This isn’t just a dark timeline, it’s one from which I’m not sure the game can ever actually recover.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Sportsfield Specialties

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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