Owners of minor-league baseball teams in Washington state warned their elected representatives that many of the game’s farm teams will disappear if Congress does away with major-league baseball’s antitrust exemption.
Bobby Brett, owner of the Spokane Indians and brother of former major leaguers George and Ken, predicted Wednesday as many as half of the nation’s 170 minor-league teams would be eliminated if the exemption were repealed.
That’s because without the exemption, many major-league teams would end their affiliation with the minors, he said.
“If that happened, I think you’d see minor leagues completely change the way you do business,” Brett told reporters after a meeting with Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.
“Rather than free parking in Spokane and $1 hot dogs and $3 tickets for children, I think you’d see prices double or even triple because the price of doing business would be so much more,” he said.
Currently, major-league teams secure the rights to a young prospect for six years after signing him out of high school. Altering the exemption could limit that to one or two years, he said.
“Most 18-year-old kids you sign out of high school aren’t ready (for the big leagues) for five or six years,” Brett said.
“What is the value of making an investment in a minor-league player if he is going to be free in two years to go sign with somebody else?” he asked.
Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., also met with Brett on Wednesday and shares his concerns.
“It’s a threat to minor-league ball,” said Nethercutt, who represents the Spokane area and is part owner of minor-league baseball teams in Greensboro, N.C., and Grand Rapids, Mich.
“If they can’t affiliate with a major-league club, they may have to raise prices,” Nethercutt said.
Gorton met with Brett and representatives of three other minorleague teams in his state - Jerry Walker of the Bellingham Giants, Dave Connell of the Yakima Bears and Bob and Margaret Bavasi of the Everett Aquasox.
Gorton said Congress and Presi dent Clinton should “butt out” of the major-league baseball strike and stop talk of ending the sport’s exemption from antitrust laws.
But the White House is calling for the sides to speed up negotiations.
Moments after Thursday’s talks in Washington began, mediator W.J. Usery was summoned from the negotiating table.
When he returned from meeting with Labor Secretary Robert Reich and other administration officials, Usery did not say whether he had spoken directly to Clinton. But he made it altogether clear Clinton wanted more action, and soon.
“He emphasized in extremely strong language that the president expects this to be resolved,” union head Donald Fehr said.
Clinton has set a Monday deadline for making substantial progress. He has threatened to ask that Usery propose terms of a settlement.