Minor League Presidents
Sal Artiaga’s term as the ninth president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) was a time of considerable prosperity for Minor League Baseball and a time of considerable turmoil, as well. Which means, of course, that it was a time of change for the industry.
Attendance was growing dramatically, attaining levels that had not been approached in nearly 40 years. Franchise values were soaring and teams were being purchased for investment and profit rather than being taken over as a civic responsibility. But the rules of operation were being altered, and many of those in the game were not ready for the changes.
Like Minor League Baseball presidents before him, Sal was and is a baseball “lifer” who has devoted most of his life to the great game of baseball, in general, and Minor League Baseball, in particular. It began in the heat and dust of his native Albuquerque, watching the local team in action. He followed a progression in the game starting as assistant business manager of the El Paso Sun Kings in 1965, followed by two years with the Tampa Tarpons, first as business manager and then general manager.
Those jobs put him in regular contact with such respected baseball “heavyweights” as Roland Hemond, Bob Howsam and Chuck Tanner, which led to a job with the Cincinnati Reds (1967-82) as business coordinator for player development. That stint of working with all phases of baseball’s farm system and the people involved in it solidified what was to become Artiaga’s passion for Minor League Baseball -- a passion that still burned brightly. In 1983, he jumped at the chance to move into the NAPBL office as Administrator under president Johnny Johnson.
“Johnny brought me in to deal with baseball issues with a strong commitment toward player development,” recalled Artiaga. “It gave me the opportunity to use things I had learned on a much wider scale, involving the whole industry. I believed that Minor League Baseball was growing as an important institution, and I wanted to be a part of that growth.”
In that role, Artiaga helped draft the new rule involving free agency for Minor League players, the so-called “six-year free agent,” which keeps a veteran player from being stuck in one farm system. He was also instrumental in starting the Dominican Republic Summer League as a Rookie-level developmental league for Latin American players.
But then the unexpected happened. Johnson, who had been running Minor League Baseball for nearly a decade and, in fact, had recently been elected to his third term as NA president, contracted cancer. His untimely death in January 1988, left Minor League Baseball with a void to fill.
Artiaga was elected in April of that year in a close contest with Charles Eshbach, Eastern League president. Eshbach had served as interim president in his role as chairman of the NA’s executive committee.
Artiaga built a constituency with what he calls a “grassroots” approach. “I visited an average of 35 clubs every year I was in office,” he says, “and in all classifications. Every classification of Minor League Baseball is different and has its own interests and problems. I wanted to hear about those and try to deal with them, face to face. I wanted to talk to the fans, as well as the operators, and get a true feeling of what it was all about and how to apply it. On the other side, I wanted to make the Minor Leagues valuable, so that we would be a needed entity for Major League Baseball clubs -- a place where they wanted to be.”
But then he ran head on into PBA negotiations. The Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) is a contract between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball that defines the working relationship between the two entities. It comes up for renegotiation periodically.
“Prior to that, PBA renewal had generally been very routine, without major changes,” said Artiaga, “but now we were having a renaissance of growth. There was an upsurge of success with franchise values growing, and the relationship had to be redefined in economic terms. Some who had been in the game understood the evolution of change. Many of the new people, in for a short term, did not understand. That’s when the volatility surfaced. We were trying to reach an accord that had mutual benefit to both parties.”
A major split developed between Major League and Minor League Baseball. There were also splits within Minor League Baseball itself over the terms being negotiated, all of which were occurring when Artiaga’s term of office was nearing an end. He announced a few months in advance that he would not seek re-election.
“We were trying to reach an accord that would have mutual benefit to both parties,” said Artiaga, “and I think that we did. But I was caught in the middle as the negotiator. It would have been that way no matter who was in that seat.”
As is often the case, history has changed the way those negotiations are evaluated. Minor League Baseball owners/operators gave up a flow of money that had been coming their way from the Major Leagues, but there have been striking gains. The two most important were a guarantee by Major League Baseball regarding the number of working agreements that would be available, and the creation of facilities standards that has led to the incredible surge of new and renovated stadiums that have spurred the growth of Minor League Baseball.
When Artiaga bowed out of the race, his chief administrative officer, Mike Moore, stepped in and served as president until 2007.
Since he left the NA office, Artiaga focused on another part of Minor League Baseball that has long been a very special interest -- the young players coming out of Latin America to play professional baseball in the U.S. He spent five years in the Chicago White Sox system before joining the Philadelphia Phillies as director, Latin American operations.
Much of his time has been spent working with a program to teach youngsters from Latin American how to live in this country as well as play ball here. That was expanded to a role as consultant to Major League Baseball in developing manuals and handbooks of baseball terminology in England and Spanish, as well as to basic “survival” skills, such as day-to-day living, renting an apartment, ordering food, etc. It is now being used by nearly all Major League organizations. He also headed a committee that organized the Venezuelan Summer League, a Rookie co-op league on the order of the Dominican Republic League.
Artiaga served as the Kansas City Royals' Coordinator of Cultural Development for three years before retiring on Oct. 31, 2012 after 48 years of service in professional baseball. "Sal’s contributions to both the Royals and professional baseball are immeasurable,” said Royals Director of Player Development Scott Sharp. “He is the pioneer of cultural assimilation for Latin American players and his 48-year career has left an indelible mark on the game of baseball.”
A native of Los Luna, N.M., Artiaga and his wife, Marlene, reside in Palm Harbor, Fla.