How the minor leagues were organized, with Emma Baccellieri

There are still many more miles to travel, and most importantly, many endless negotiating meetings to be called and adjourned and then reconvened before Major League Baseball’s decision to voluntarily recognize Minor League Baseball’s new players’ union yields one of its long-overdue benefits becomes the most luridly screwed up workforce in professional sports. But the mere fact of that recognition, coming just 17 days after the minor leagues announced they would form a union that would negotiate as a unit within the Major League Baseball Players Association, was one of the most astounding and momentous events in the sport in decades. A sport that, out of perverse principles and out of routine rich-guy habits, had done everything it could to degrade and impoverish its minor-league workforce was forced, for the first time, to confront the possibility of consequences for all of it . Even if you’re not as drawn to the classic “disgusting owner eats shit” sports story genre as I am, it doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.

A lot of old-fashioned organizing went into bringing these most dispersed and distressed workforces together for this campaign, and for this week’s episode we brought in the writer who has written the best story I’ve ever spent on this effort –sports illustrated Reporter and defector pal Emma Baccellieri.

As Emma notes, much of the work to create the necessary solidarity among the smaller leagues has been done by the owners themselves, and by their commitment to drag these players in the dirt and then pat themselves on the back for it. But the rest of the story unfolds, oddly or not, to the rhythm of a classic sports underdog tale – a ragtag group of underdog, overlooked, outclassed, forgotten men banding together to accomplish something amazing. She knows a lot about it and talks about it very well, and for the first half of the podcast we talked about it — how Union became necessary and then became possible and finally became a reality and how the familiar cynical excesses of baseball’s ruling class came back, just this one time to bite those cheesy grandees.

It got a little lighter towards the back half of the show. Drew tried to get us to talk about Al Leiter and Emma and I talked about RA Dickey instead. Alec Baldwin’s unconventional and frankly unsettling way of carrying a child, which I witnessed myself, has been criticized. As it turned out, the funbag was full of questions that seemed specifically designed to elicit the dumbest answers out of me, so I ended up saying “I think teeth are bones” as if that were something a person is allowed to do should be say. A question about whether we’d be able to catch an NFL punt — the answer everywhere was “probably not” — turned into a shared bitch-fest about how they’re making footballs too big these days. I’ve been accused of flimsy “Oreo-shaming,” which I wouldn’t do ever do. But when radicalizing humiliation was endured while at work, it wasn’t nearly the most dramatic thing addressed in the episode, and it was so easy to let go. I think it’s pretty clear how over this I am just based on how I still write about it.

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John Verrall

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