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These Questions 3: Rich Burk

My friend Rich Burk has been broadcasting Portland Beavers games for 10 seasons, and before that he called Portland Rockies games on the radio. Yesterday, on the eve of the Beavers' last game in Portland -- they're moving somewhere next year -- Rich was kind enough to answer a few questions ...

Rob: Rich, you sent me an e-mail enumerating in detail the games you've called over the years. Could you give us an executive summary?

Rich: Between Triple-A, A-ball and the major leagues, I’ve called 1747 games (including 893 at PGE Park in Portland). This includes games in 33 ballparks in 15 states, two Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico.

Rob: You're Commissioner for a Day and you've got time to change one thing about minor-league baseball. What is it?

Rich: I’d see to it that minor league players get paid a decent living wage. Guys in Triple-A who aren’t on the 40-man roster, and who aren’t six-year free agents, are making about $12,000 a year. Players at the lower levels are making even less. I’m not saying guys at this level should get rich like the guys in the big leagues—just make it so they don’t have to “pay to play.” (By the time most guys pay for rent and food and other expenses in their minor league city, they’ve used up a lot more than that 12 grand.) Use a simple scale: Rookie and Short season A-ball guys get $10,000 a year; regular A-ball, $15,000; Advanced A-ball, $20,000; Double-A, $30,000; and Triple-A, $40,000. Pro-rate it based on the number of days spent at each level. Quick math tells you that each big-league organization would have to pay an additional $2 million or so each season—about the cost of a run-of-the-mill set-up guy—for their minor leaguers to avoid approaching the poverty line. I keep waiting for the Players Association to stand up for these guys—after all, nearly every big-leaguer spent time in the minor leagues—but I guess, once they get there, they seem to forget where they came from.

Rob: You broadcast Portland Rockies games -- short-season Northwest League -- and that team was wildly popular. But the Triple-A Beavers, not so much. What do you think it would take for this relatively huge market to support a Triple-A team? Or is Portland simply a short-season city, due to the weather (or something else)?

Rich: It would take an appropriately sized Triple-A stadium in a great location, along the lines of what our ownership group envisioned. With our 19,000-seat stadium, people always know they can walk up and buy a ticket. With, say, an 8,000-seat stadium, there would be a sellout mentality. If suddenly, you can’t get tickets to the game you want to go to, next time you’re gonna buy your tickets sooner. Also… I disagree that the Rockies were more popular than the Beavers. During the final 2-1/2 months of the Triple-A season (when the weather is better) our crowds were equal to or better than those of the Rockies, who only played from mid-June until Labor Day.

Best of luck to Rich in whatever comes next. He's one of the truly good guys in the game.