Staff Columnist

Iowa's sports-booster-in-chief

Led by presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, politicians are taking on Major League Baseball

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warms up before a softball game at the Field of Dream
Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warms up before a softball game at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, on Monday, August 19, 2019. (Jessica Reilly / Telegraph Herald)

Leftists running for president have never seen a problem they don’t think the federal government can fix.

The latest crisis in their sights is Major League Baseball’s recently announced intentions to cut ties with 42 minor league teams, including Iowa’s Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings and Quad Cities River Bandits. A few presidential candidates have used their status to speak out against the plan.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination, last month sent a letter to Major League Baseball to say the decision “has nothing to do with what is good for baseball, but it has everything to do with greed.”

Some of Sanders’ statements on the issue specifically mentioned the three Eastern Iowa baseball teams and the Iowa-centric film “Field of Dreams,” but left out his hometown Vermont Lake Monsters, as the hometown Burlington Free Press pointed out. A little bit of shameless Iowa caucuses pandering is to be expected this time of year.

Sanders is leading the charge, but nobody will be surprised to learn there is a bipartisan and self-appointed Save Minor League Baseball Task Force. For most, it’s a classic bring-home-the-bacon issue — minor league teams are economic stimulus in some congressional districts, and baseball has a storied cultural significance.

One good point members of the task force bring up is that governments have a habit of supporting sports organizations through favorable tax policy, direct subsidies for facilities and nearby infrastructure investments. If you let the government pay some of your bills, don’t be surprised when politicians come creeping into your business.

“[F]unny thing is that they’re going to come to us next year asking for something, and I want all of them to know that we got long memories,” said U.S. Rep. Max Rose, a New York Democrat, according to Roll Call.


It seems plausible that politicians can get what they want through informal negotiation, without using the force of law to compel the league into submission. You can be sure the arrangement will come with a tacit understanding that compliance will be rewarded with more subsidies.

The sports guys know the stakes. After a meeting with Sanders this week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement to say he understands the “obligation” to ensure public money is spent “for the benefit of all citizens.”

Quid pro quo? Hard to say.

Putting baseball aside, what underlies all this is the pervasive notion that almost every perceived problem has a government solution — not just any government solution, but a federal one, with the president or would-be president directly involved in deal-making.

Presidents are no longer just leaders of one branch in a limited federal government. Some Americans want to look to the president as our moral leader, and apparently our sports-booster-in-chief.

In their great wisdom, the authors of the U.S. Constitution did not list baseball management among the executive branch’s powers, even though early Americans were playing primitive versions of the game.

Leave foreign policy for the president and Congress. Baseball is too important to be swept up in politics.

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