“It basically says if you’re not an elite athlete, we’re not even going to look at you, we’re not even going to come and watch you play,” said O’Conner, who grew up going to minor league games in Columbus, Ohio, where he watched the pint-size Freddie Patek, a 22nd-round pick who became a three-time All-Star. “They’re not going to miss out on No. 1s, but when they’re talking about cutting the draft from 20th on, they’re going to miss some players.”
They might miss future managers, too. The St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike Shildt, the National League manager of the year, grew up around the minors because his mother worked for a team in Charlotte, N.C. Shildt never played professional baseball, but started working at the Cardinals’ short-season teams and ascended to the majors.
“I feel strongly about it because I may not be where I’m at without it,” Shildt said. “I got to thankfully cut my teeth at a lower level where a lot of people, players and staff, do just that. So if you’re eliminating that opportunity, you’re taking away some people that could be difference-makers in our sport, on or off the field.”
That is part of why this issue stings. Much of baseball’s distinctive appeal is the sheer volume of opportunity it offers to connect to the game at the highest level. Every day, in nearly every corner of the country, you can find a game between players with direct ties to the majors.
If you were to start the system all over again, you might not schedule 162 games in the majors, and you might not have 160 affiliate teams in the minors. But inefficiency is part of baseball’s charm; it is eminently available. By pushing its proposal, M.L.B. risks hiding its product from people who are used to seeing it.
Baseball takes the same mentality in refusing to schedule a day game in the World Series for more than three decades and in allowing playoff games to be broadcast on FS1 instead of Fox. It seemingly has no qualms about alienating the fan in Iowa City who is prevented from watching six teams — Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, St. Louis and both Chicago teams — on its online streaming service because of arcane blackout rules.