Solomon upbeat on future Minor League deal

Solomon upbeat on future Minor League deal

Solomon upbeat on future Minor League deal
In the 20 years since he began working for Major League Baseball, Jimmie Lee Solomon has experienced the bitter and the sweet of negotiations.

Solomon clearly remembers the bitter: In 1991, MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (the Minors) were barely on speaking terms and on the verge of separating due to contract disputes.

That, in turn, has made him appreciate the sweet: In March of this year, he and Minor League Baseball President Patrick O'Conner announced the quick and quiet completion of a new Professional Baseball Agreement through 2020, three years before their current deal would expire.

At a time when other professional sports leagues are experiencing labor strife, the Major and Minor Leagues are arguably in their greatest era of harmony -- which many see as a sign of peace throughout the entire industry during a crucial time.

"We had a system that we both felt we could live with, and we did not want to get caught up with some of the petty back-and-forth that seemed to be the culture of Collective Bargaining Agreements," Solomon said. "So, Pat and I got together and we talked, and we noticed that we had many more similarities than we had differences. And so the thing that we wanted to do was set a tone for peace among the entities."

Whether or not that leads to what many expect to be peaceful negotiations for a new CBA -- before the current one expires in December -- remains to be seen.

But it was a good start.

The current extension, announced on March 8 but essentially done by last year's Winter Meetings, is the second one MLB and MiLB have agreed upon since the two sides hammered out a 10-year deal in 1997 -- with Mike Moore serving as MiLB president and O'Conner working directly below him.

Ever since the heavy lifting was done 14 years ago, each extension has become easier.

The current one ensures the 30 Major League teams will field at least 160 Minor League affiliates throughout the life of the contract. The only major difference is that MLB will keep its Minor League ticket tax at 6.5 percent through the first two years, in order to give the Minors a break during a tough economic time, then increase it up to 8 percent by the deal's end.

O'Connor and Solomon -- who have become very good friends -- decided to come together on their new extension in October. Three months later, they had essentially agreed to terms. And three months after that, it was approved.

That simple.

"It was very much under the radar, not acrimonious, and the fact we had 15 years of history with each other, we now have a much better understanding of each other's business and policies," said O'Conner, who was elected MiLB president in '07 after 15 years as chief operating officer. "We reached out quietly, checked with constituents, came to an understanding, cleared it with my committee, and we just decided it was good for baseball, so let's do it."

When Solomon joined MLB as director of Minor League operations after about 10 years in a law firm, he was given a simple, yet intricate task: Establish peace with the Minor Leagues.

During that time, the two sides were in what many called "Civil War."

There were problems with Player Development Contracts, travel conditions, safety, health and, most of all, facility conditions for prospects Major League clubs were investing more and more money in.

"There were many types of issues that Major League Baseball felt would hamper their ability to develop Minor League players as quickly as possible to get them to the Majors," Solomon said. "At the same time, the Minor Leagues felt that the Major Leagues were detached from the real world and what they really saw as some issues, and the economics of the Minor Leagues did not make sense for some of the requests that Major League Baseball was making."

The two sides were essentially treading water while trying to agree on a more beneficial extension.

During that time, Solomon pored over the current agreement and hit the road, spending his entire first year traveling from one Minor League complex to the next, getting face time with the major players throughout the 170 MiLB teams he was now responsible for getting on track with.

After being delayed by the 1994 strike, the two sides got back to work on a new deal. Three years later, they agreed on one out that would eventually make MiLB more profitable than ever.

Solomon now identifies that as a watershed moment -- in much of the same way many hope the '94 strike was for Major League owners and the MLB Players Association.

"When we had the work stoppage, I tell you, it created all kinds of angst among the players, among the fans, among our industry, and it took us a long time to recapture that spirit of baseball family," Solomon said. "And so I think now our commissioner [Bud Selig] is very bent on making sure that we have now gotten to a point where we are all one happy family. And as such, I think that stepping out with the PBA was a great first step in making sure we focus our familial view towards each other. And I think that sense will go on through the labor deal."

One can only hope.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.