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How The Minor Leagues Got Organized, With Emma Baccellieri

Amarillo Sod Poodles infielder Jordan Lawlar is congratulated by his coach after scoring a run in minor league game in 2022.
John E. Moore III/Getty Images

There are many more miles to travel, and more to the point many more endless bargaining meetings to convene and adjourn and then reconvene, before Major League Baseball’s decision to voluntarily recognize the new Minor League Baseball players union will deliver long overdue benefits to one of the most luridly screwed-over workforces in professional sports. But the mere fact of that recognition, which came just 17 days after minor leaguers announced that they were seeking to form a union that would bargain as a unit within the Major League Baseball Players Association, was one of the most startling and momentous things to happen in the sport in decades. A sport that had, out of perverse principle and rote rich-guy habit, done everything it could to degrade and immiserate its minor league workforce, was being forced to confront, for the first time, the possibility of consequences for all that. Even if you’re not as inclined toward the classic “vile owner eats shit” genre of sports story as I am, it just doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.

A great deal of old-fashioned organizing work went into bringing this most scattered and parlous of workforces came together for this campaign, and for this week’s episode we brought in the writer who, for my money, wrote the single best story about that effortSports Illustrated reporter and Defector buddy Emma Baccellieri.

As Emma notes, a great deal of the work in creating the necessary solidarity among minor leaguers was done by the owners themselves, and their dedication to grinding those players into the dirt and then patting themselves on the back about it. But the rest of the story unfolds, weirdly or not, along the beats of a classic sports underdog story—a ragtag group of outgunned, overlooked, outwardly overmatched, forgotten men get it together to do something amazing. She knows a lot about it and talks about it very well, and for the first half of the podcast that was what we talked about—how the 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 once, to bite those cheesy grandees.

In the back half of the show, things got a bit lighter. Drew tried to get us to talk about Al Leiter, and Emma and I talked about R.A. Dickey instead. Alec Baldwin’s unconventional and frankly unsettling way of carrying a child, which I witnessed myself, came in for some critique. The Funbag turned out to be full of questions that seemed custom designed to elicit the stupidest possible answers from me, which is how I wound up saying “I think teeth are bones” as if that was the sort of thing that a person should be permitted to say. A question about whether we would be able to catch a NFL punt—the answer, all around, was “probably not”—became a shared gripe-fest about how They Are Making The Footballs Too Big These Days. I was accused, speciously, of “Oreo-shaming,” which is not something I would ever do. But as radicalizing indignities endured on the job go, it was far from the most dramatic addressed in the episode, and so easy enough to let go. I think it’s pretty clear how over it I am, just based on how I’m still typing about it.

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