After a significant backlash greeted his decision to end stipends to minor-leaguers, A’s owner John Fisher is reversing course, he said in a conversation with The Chronicle on Friday.
“I changed my mind after spending a lot of time talking to our team,” Fisher said, mentioning team president Dave Kaval, vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst in particular. “I concluded I’d made a mistake.”
Fisher, who is worth $2.2 billion according to Forbes, apologized for halting the $400-a-week payments and pledged to continue the stipends through the rest of what would have been the minor-league season. The players will also be paid retroactively for this week.
“I’ve listened to our fans and others, and there is no question that this is the right thing to do,” Fisher said. “We clearly got this decision wrong. These players represent our future and we will immediately begin paying our minor-league players. I take responsibility and I’m making it right.”
The A’s minor-leaguers — many of whom had been vocal about how poorly treated they felt when the team announced it was suspending payments — were relieved that Fisher changed his mind.
“That’s awesome news,” said catcher J.J. Schwarz, who played at Class A Beloit last year. “I have a lot of respect for John Fisher — to admit you’re wrong, you made a mistake, that’s not easy to do. I think the backlash was enough to make him realize that, and the fact that all 29 other teams were committed to paying their players.”
Fisher, who has not addressed the media throughout the entirety of his 15-year ownership until speaking with The Chronicle on Friday, also said that the team is establishing an emergency assistance fund for furloughed employees. On Monday, the A’s furloughed more than half of their employees through Oct. 31, including 90-plus people in baseball operations.
“We have a lot of employees who have been incredibly loyal for many, many, many years,” Fisher said. “It felt like the right thing to do was to set up a fund to support them.”
Numerous executives had told The Chronicle that the A’s decision to end minor-league stipends would adversely impact them after next week’s draft when Oakland tries to sign free-agent minor-league players to supplement the five-round draft. Several agents said that Oakland was eliminating any shot at the top remaining amateur players once the shortened draft is over.
“Certainly we want to go into that with people feeling as positively about playing for the A’s as possible,” Fisher said, while emphasizing that Friday’s reversal was about trying to be as fair as possible to the team’s minor-league players and to the furloughed employees.
Some clubs — including the Giants — have released dozens of players instead of eliminating stipends. Fisher said the A’s have not discussed releasing minor-leaguers.
“I think it’s awesome, it’s the right decision,” Triple-A outfielder Jason Krizan said of the reinstated stipends. “Now the question is: Are they going to keep everyone? But it’s good to see the owner come around — it’s great to see.”
Krizan said he’d been looking into unemployment benefits and had planned to apply before learning the A’s will begin payments again. Garrett Broshius, a lawyer with expertise in minor-league employment issues, said he believes minor-leaguers will still qualify for unemployment and COVID-19 relief even with the stipend payments resuming. “I’m encouraging all minor-leaguers to apply,” he said.
The A’s received a great deal of negative attention for halting the stipends. On the flip side, there are teams such as the Royals, who last Friday committed to retaining and paying all their minor-leaguers through the end of August, the conclusion of the scheduled minor-league season. Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore and new owner John Sherman drew praise for the announcement and for pledging not to furlough any members of the Royals’ 218-member baseball operations department.
“Props to John Fisher for saying he made a mistake,” said Aiden McIntyre, who was drafted out of Holy Names University in Oakland and pitched for Class A Stockton last year. “I’m definitely surprised, but I think he listened to the fans and players and media, and I’m grateful he did. That shows us that the organization is supporting us when they’re preaching about family.”
Most minor-leaguers are unlikely to play this year because of the coronavirus shutdown, though a few might be part of taxi squads at teams’ minor-league facilities if the major-league season gets up and running at some point. McIntrye noted that with the stipend payments, many A’s minor-leaguers will not have to get jobs to supplement their income and can maintain their full training schedules to stay ready for this season, if there is one, and next year.