The Tri-City ValleyCats are suing the Houston Astros and Major League Baseball arising out of this offseason’s contraction of minor-league baseball, reports Daniel Kaplan of the Athletic. They become the second affiliate known to pursue legal action against their former parent club and the league; the Staten Island Yankees did the same in December.
The ValleyCats are seeking at least $15MM in damages, Kaplan reports. The crux of the team’s claims is that they relied upon the now-expired affiliation agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball in selling tickets and advertisement sponsorships, which lost value when the club lost its affiliation with Major League Baseball. The ValleyCats remain operational as a member of the MLB-partnered Frontier League but will no longer serve as a traditional minor-league affiliate.
Tri-City’s complaint (more of which is available in Kaplan’s full piece) harshly criticizes MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. “MLB’s intimidation tactics, which it used to pit MiLB teams against each other for the ‘privilege’ of not having their businesses destroyed, has gone on for years but was most vividly demonstrated by a May 2020 email in which Commissioner Rob Manfred emailed the ValleyCats’ owner condolences on the passing of his father, and then in the very same email, issued a veiled threat that any public statement made about MLB’s contraction efforts would be ‘unwise,” the ValleyCats alleged.
Tri-City’s previous owner, Bill Gladstone, passed away due to complications from COVID-19 last spring, Kaplan notes, with Gladstone’s son Doug on the receiving end of the alleged correspondence from Manfred.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see more teams that lost their affiliation follow the (Staten Island) Yankees’ and ValleyCats’ lead in bringing suit against their former parent clubs and MLB. The minor-league restructuring resulted in 40 teams losing their affiliation with Major League Baseball.