BILLINGS — Black Friday is all about spending, stimulating the economy to find the best deals of the year. But Major League Baseball isn't apparently in the holiday spirit.
The biggest issue on the table at the upcoming Winter Meetings is a proposal to eliminate 42 minor league teams after next season, including the Billings Mustangs and the rest of the Pioneer League. According to the MLB, two issues are at the core of the argument - which is where Mustangs owner Dave Heller has a problem.
"In Billings, Montana, we not only meet, we exceed every single facility standard there is," Heller said, "and if they come up with new ones, we'll meet those too."
The issue at the center of the argument is poor facilities at many low-level clubs. But anyone who's been to Dehler Park knows it's one of the best stadiums not just in the league, but around the country. So instead of lumping the Mustangs in with the offenders, Heller has a counter proposal.
"If you, Major League Baseball, have genuine concerns, and in some instances I believe, merited concerns, then you ought to say, 'Here are the facility standards that we are going to insist upon, and it's up to you Minor League Baseball clubs - 160 of you - to meet those facility standards, and if you can't, we are going to contract you.'"
But here's the problem - Major League Baseball has never done that.
"They have never said, 'Here are the objective criteria that we are going to judge you on,'" said Heller. "If they do, Billings is fine."
Heller also says Billings would pass secondary concerns with flying colors - issues over proper lodging for visiting players and umpires.
"They don't want the players or the umpires to stay in sub-standard hotels, and apparently that's been a real thing," Heller said. "But don't take that out on Billings, Montana that has three first-rate hotels within half a mile of the ballpark. If that's your criteria, again, Billings, Montana meets or exceeds it every single time."
Many believe the MLB hasn't publicly divulged all their reasons for the eliminations. Heller points to an interesting case in a state with three teams on the contraction list.
"Major League Baseball is currently spending somewhere between $15-20 million to build a ballpark in Dyresville, Iowa on the Field of Dreams site for one night so that the White Sox and Yankees can play one game there, and they're doing that ostensibly to grow the game there," Heller said. "If you really want to grow the game, don't eliminate three teams in the state of Iowa. If you really want to grow the game, don't eliminate three teams in the state of Montana after a fourth just moved out last year."