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Majors Vs. Minors: Baseball Leagues Engaged In Battle

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here's something Bernie Sanders is fighting for right now - the future of baseball. Yesterday in Iowa, he took a few minutes to take a few swings.

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BERNIE SANDERS: There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, there you go.

SANDERS: All right.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: It wasn't just a Heartland photo op on the campaign trail. Baseball fans are worried about a new proposal. It would get rid of a significant number of the country's minor league teams, many of them in smaller cities and towns. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Before Bernie Sanders took his swings - and he did connect a couple of times - he met with a few people to discuss the proposed contraction. Major League Baseball reportedly wants to cut more than a quarter of the current 162 minor league teams that are affiliated with major league clubs. Attorney Garrett Broshuis, a former minor leaguer, was one of those who met with Sanders.

GARRETT BROSHUIS: You can imagine, since it's a personal issue to him as a former mayor of a minor league town, he finds it outrageous.

GOLDMAN: Sanders recently wrote to Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred, saying the proposal would, quote, "destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies." Not to mention, in many small towns, minor league baseball is what you do to have fun in the summertime.

MLB says contraction would be a way to streamline a minor league system where there are inferior, even unsafe stadiums and where major league owners pay too much for minor league operations. After a contraction, the argument goes, the remaining minor league players could be paid more. Broshuis' class-action lawsuit against MLB, filed in 2014, claims many minor leaguers aren't even paid minimum wage. The current contract between the majors and minors ends after next season. Last week, Commissioner Manfred said he's committed to resolving the issues through bargaining.

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ROB MANFRED: It is by no means a fait accompli as to what the agreement's going to look like. Major League Baseball has been and will remain flexible in its negotiating position.

GOLDMAN: He claims, though, that minor league leaders are not being flexible. And the two sides have been battling publicly - so much so that last Friday, MLB released a statement essentially threatening to scuttle the longstanding relationship between the majors and minors.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.