R.I.P. to Sal Artiaga, whose 48-year career in professional baseball included a stint as the ninth president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (Minor League Baseball) from 1988-1991. He died on February 16 at the age of 72.
MiLB, on behalf of President/CEO Pat O’Conner, released the following statement: “It is with great sadness that the Minor League Baseball family mourns the passing of former President Salvatore B. “Sal” Artiaga, who passed away last night in Palm Harbor, Florida. Sal joined the Minor League Baseball office in 1983 and became President in 1988. His time as President was the catalyst for the future prosperity across Minor League Baseball and he was a valued member of the professional baseball family who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his wife, Marlene, and the entire Artiaga family during this difficult time.”
Artiaga was born on August 4, 1946 in Los Lunas, N.M. His first job in professional baseball was as the assistant business manager of the El Paso Sun Kings in 1965. He then moved to the Tampa Tarpons as business manager and then as general manager. He joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1967, originally as an assistant to the team’s minor league and scouting department. He would stay with the Reds until 1983, becoming the business coordinator in the player development department. As part of that job, he worked with all aspects of the Reds’ farm system.
Artiaga joined the staff of Minor League Baseball in 1983, working as Administrator under then-President Johnny Johnson.
“Johnny brought me in to deal with baseball issues with a strong commitment toward player development,” he told MiLB following his retirement. “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.”
Artiaga helped draft the “six-year free agent” rule that prevents veteran minor-leaguers from getting stuck in one system. He was also instrumental for starting the Dominican Republic Summer League, as a development league for Latin players. Johnson died from cancer in 1988, and Artiaga was elected as his successor.
During his time in office, Artiaga saw a tremendous attendance boom in minor-league baseball, as minor-league teams across the country enjoyed a surge in popularity. On the other hand, he was put in the difficult task of re-negotiating the PBA — the Professional Baseball Agreement that joins Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. He fought for changes to be made to the agreement to bring some of the economic aspects of it to the modern day. There were concessions made on both sides, and the MiLB won two things: a guarantee from MLB about the number of working agreements that would be made available (no fewer than 160 minor-league teams), and the creation of facilities standards for minor-league stadiums.
The latter change has had a massive impact on minor-league baseball as a whole, as 131 new ballparks have been constructed since 1990.
Artiaga did not seek re-election once his term was up. He served in player development roles for the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. He worked as the Coordinator of Cultural Development for the Kansas City Royals until his retirement on October 31, 2012.
“Sal’s contributions to both the Royals and professional baseball are immeasurable,” said Royals Director of Player Development Scott Sharp upon Artiaga’s retirement. “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.”
Artiaga also dedicated his time in his later years to improving the lives of Latin players trying to make it in the minor leagues. He wrote manuals that explained not only baseball terminology in English in Spanish, but also basic survival skills, such as ordering food, renting apartments and more. His work is used by many MLB teams today.