Athletics Owner John Fisher's Decision to not Pay Minor Leaguers May Have Wide Impact--

Oakland Athletics' owner John Fisher suddenly has become a major player in getting baseball back. Players had been largely cast as greedy in the negotiations with owners, but now that perception could be reversed with Athletics minor leaguers no longer getting $400 per week as of June.
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In many ways John Fisher is Major League Baseball’s unknown owner.

The heir of Gap founder Donald Fisher, he is the majority owner of the Oakland A’s, but he’s never been the club’s public face. He’s been content to let the baseball speak for itself, which has led to 97-win seasons and the postseason each of the last two years.

That’s why it was significant that the Tuesday email to A’s season ticket holders and the entire A’s staff addressing staff furloughs and pay cuts went out under Fisher’s name. It may be that he’s ready to become a public face. It’s the first email to the fans under Fisher’s name.

Whether or not his face is out there, his name already is now that the A’s have become the first team to announce they will stop paying $400 per week stipends to minor league players as of May 31.

The internet, particularly Twitter, being what it is, it was just moments after the revelation that the team was cutting payments to its minor leaguers that Fisher’s name was out and about. His personal wealth (a little over $2 billion) was a frequent topic. His political contributions were out there, too, as were calculations that if the A’s were to have continued the $400 per week stipends for the rest of the season the cost would have been a little over $1 million or a little more than 1/200 of Fisher’s Forbes-estimated net worth.

There were numerous suggestions posted on Twitter that it was time for Fisher to sell the team.

Wednesday came with the information that the Padres and the Marlins were going to continue the $400 per week per minor league player for the rest of the season. The Marlins opting against following the A’s lead is significant if only because Miami might be the most money-strapped franchise in the game.

This move isn’t on A’s executive vice president Billy Beane or general manager David Forster, although the email that was sent to minor league players went out under Forst’s signature.

“This isn’t a decision that came from the baseball side,” one Major League source said Wednesday. “Then it comes out that the Marlins will pay the $400 per week. And the Marlins are a team that can’t afford to field a team.”

So for the moment at least, Fisher is the face of the A’s. And the face is taking some grief.

That may turn out to be bad news for his 29 compadres in the ownership clique. In the ongoing negotiations between owners and players, there was a narrative being spun that the players, having already agreed to salary cutbacks two months ago, are somehow greedy millionaires for not agreeing to further cutbacks that would, the players say, include baseball’s first salary cap.

If a billionaire owner isn’t willing to continue with the $400 per week stipends players had been getting in a season without baseball, however, the greed narrative could wind up being pinned on the owners.

Either way, that’s not good for baseball in a time when more than 20 million Americans have lost employment in the wake of the pandemic.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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