Sen. Smith strikes out as MLB rejects plea not to close Minnesota bat and helmet factory

Just weeks ago, Sen. Tina Smith, (D-Minn.) and her Democratic colleagues were cheerleading their big win in collaborating with Major League Baseball’s controversial decision to politicize the All Star game by interfering in Georgia politics in moving the event from Atlanta to Denver over newly enacted voting reforms.

But now MLB has pulled the rug out from under Sen. Smith and the southern Minnesota town of Caledonia as callously as on Atlanta, announcing the closure of the local Miken Sports factory that manufactures bats and helmets.

Smith wrote a blistering letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred begging him to reconsider shuttering the league-owned plant that produces bats and helmets, as well as other softball and baseball bats.  

I write to express my outrage and concern about the impending closure of Miken Sports’s Caledonia, Minnesota facility.

…The closure of the Miken manufacturing plant will leave the Caledonia community without a key employer and economic contributor. Further, it will erase a key point of pride for the local community, who are proud of Miken’s role producing the helmets that have been used by MLB players to stay safe for years.

From the junior Minnesota senator’s response, you’d think Smith was on the same team as Georgia Republicans in her sudden disdain for the woke league’s unexpected betrayal.

The shutdown means the loss of some 80 jobs for the small community, including dozens that will be moved off-shore to China. Though the stakes are much smaller than the estimated $100 million in tourism revenue lost to Georgians by scrapping the All Star game, you’d never know it by Smith’s “outrage.”

Adding to my outrage is the fact that you will reportedly be moving Miken’s bat production to China, which flies in the face of MLB’s status as an iconic American sports league. I strongly urge you to reverse the planned closure of the Miken Sports production facility in Caledonia and instead commit to making long-term investments in the plant.

In her letter Smith hints at an unspoken quid pro quo that she evidently feels commands the league’s loyalty and cooperation in recognition of what she discreetly calls “taxpayer-funded benefits” like stadiums and other special interest breaks for professional baseball over the years.

Major League Baseball and its teams, including the San Diego Padres, have benefitted from billions of dollars in state and local stadium subsidies, as well as federal tax breaks on stadium bonds. Further, MLB has long benefitted from an exemption from federal anti-trust law, and recently lobbied for a special carve-out from federal overtime rules that was ultimately tucked in a 2018 government funding bill. In exchange for these taxpayer-funded benefits and special exemptions, Americans should be able to count on MLB to, at a minimum, avoid being complicit in the offshoring of U.S. jobs to China.

But for all the bluster, spokesman Mike Thompson told the Post Bulletin it’s just business.

“These kinds of decisions are really never easy, especially when you’ve got really great employees like we do in Caledonia,” said Thompson. “And everybody in the company really liked the operation there.”

“(But) you’ve got a worldwide leader that you just acquired with world-class manufacturing, and you wrestle with all of these decisions. And unfortunately, it just made better sense for us to utilize the factory (in China),” Thompson said.

Smith and her colleagues played hardball in pressuring MLB to move the All Star game out of Atlanta. But so far she’s struck out in Caledonia. There’s apparently no room in the league’s newfound social activism for the plight of dozens of laid off workers and their families in a small Minnesota town far from the major media markets and national spotlight.