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  • Minor Leaguers Deserve Better

    I haven't written much lately. Honestly, I haven't even read much lately. Not about baseball, anyway. There just isn't much going on that I'm particularly interested in. Sure, spring training has started, but they haven't even started playing spring training games, yet, so there just isn't much going on to capture my interest.

    I'm pretty sure I'll get more interested when the Grapefruit League games get underway. I guarantee I'll be more than casually interested a month from now when I'll be actually on site at the Twins' training complex in Fort Myers.

    However, for the past couple of weeks, it's been really hard for anything baseball-related to capture my interest; difficult, but not impossible.

    The story that broke a couple of weeks ago about three former minor league ballplayers filing suit against MLB, the office of the Commissioner, Commissioner Bug Selig and the three MLB organizations that owned their rights interests me.

    (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com)

    There were several stories written about the filing, but if you didn't happen to see any of them, this article from BleacherReport was one of the more thorough articles and former ballplayer (and author) Dirk Hayhurst had a pretty blunt take on the topic, as well.



    I know it's hard for some of us to even fathom how guys who have the talent to play a game we love at a professional level... who have the opportunity to live a dream that so many of us can only imagine getting to live... could possibly not only complain about their working conditions, but even have the gall to file a lawsuit over those conditions.

    It's a cliché you hear often. “I loved baseball so much, I'd have played for free.” Given that so many fans feel that way, it's pretty tough for us to empathize with these players who dare to clog our court system with a lawsuit that seemingly has little chance of success.

    But saying you would have played the game for free and actually doing it for nearly exactly that amount of compensation are two very different things.

    The attention fans play to their favorite team's minor league organization seems to grow every season. Even so, the percentage of baseball fans who give minor leaguers even a casual thought during the summer is pretty small.

    Those that do follow the minor leagues focus most of their attention on the early round draft picks and the big money international free agent signings. Those players get signing bonuses in the millions of dollars, so it would be pretty easy for us to just assume that most minor league ballplayers are pretty comfortable financially.

    But we would be wrong.

    Yes, if you're among the first 50 or so players selected in the annual first year player draft, you're likely to pocket a signing bonus upwards of a million dollars. But that's not even the full first two rounds of a draft that goes on for a total of 40 rounds.

    It's pretty safe to say that most minor league ballplayers are not concerned about who is watching over their investment portfolios. Their “portfolio” can be stashed in to the trunk or back seat of a car they hope will keep running for another year.

    Last year, the first year minor league player salary was $1,150 a month and that's only for the handful of months during the year that they're actually playing minor league baseball. That's also before taxes, before food and housing costs. A player reaching AAA might double that salary. Whoopee, huh?

    Just to be clear, it's not the local minor league organization that pays the players, it's the parent MLB organization that is responsible for minor league payrolls. In fact, some minor league clubs (including the Twins' Class A affiliate in Cedar Rapids) arrange host families for players to live with to eliminate the cost of housing during their time with the local ballclub. But not every player across the country has that option.

    The players probably should splurge on some insurance, too, because they pretty much have no protection if they happen to incur an injury that precludes them from working. Good thing their work doesn't often result in that kind of injury, right?

    Obviously, they need to get other jobs during the offseason. Of course, for some of them, there is no offseason. Their teams want them playing winter baseball somewhere. They want them to show up for offseason workouts, “fanfests” and other events. At the very least, they have to work out daily to make sure they're ready to compete for a roster spot in spring training (which, by the way, they don't get paid for, either).

    It takes a pretty understanding employer to hire a guy that has that many demands on his time and will just be leaving in a few months, anyway. But I'm sure there are plenty of those jobs available.

    “But wait,” you say. “Don't those professional baseball players have a union?”

    Yes and no. For minor leaguers, it's mostly no and they'd be better off if it was totally no.

    There is a union; the Major League Baseball Players Association. However, the MLBPA's sole use for minor leaguers appears to be to screw them over any time they can do so as a part of trade-offs to get something better for Major League players.

    See, the MLBPA limits its membership to Major League ballplayers. But, for reasons that nobody has ever been able to explain to me in any way that makes sense, the MLBPA is allowed, as part of the collective bargaining process, to negotiate the compensation and working conditions of minor league players, as well.

    Isn't that convenient?

    So, if the MLBPA can get a little bit more for the millionaires it represents by allowing teams to implement lower bonus allowances for new draft picks or control their minor leaguers an extra year before they are entitled to free agency, no problem.

    Even the drug testing program is uneven, at best. For example, once you're on a Big League roster, you can test positive for pot regularly and chances are nobody will ever know, because there are no real consequences. If you're a minor leaguer when you test positive twice, however, plan on sitting out a couple of months' worth of games... without even that meager minor league paycheck to buy those Pringles chips you have to live on.

    But if conditions are so bad, why have minor leaguers never unionized?

    The obvious reason is that minor league players all dream of being Major League players and doing anything to antagonize the people who decide which players will and won't become big leaguers is probably not a wise career move. And if players with U.S. high school and college educations fear challenging baseball's power, how likely is it that even younger men (boys, really) from impoverished regions of Latin America will do so?

    No, since even the Major League players that endured the same conditions on their way to the big leagues have long ago decided they have no interest in making life the least bit easier for the younger players coming up behind them to challenge for their jobs, there's almost no chance of minor leaguers ever benefiting from collective bargaining. The best they can hope for is for the courts to determine that they should at least not keep getting screwed over by someone else's collective bargaining.

    I'm not a labor lawyer (or a lawyer of any kind, for that matter), so I won't opine about the chances of success for the plaintiff ballplayers in the suit they've filed in a Northern California court.

    They claim teams are violating federal and state employment laws. I would imagine that players often work more than 50 hours a week and they are not paid overtime. At many minor league levels, the players are arguably being paid less than minimum wage on an hourly basis.

    Logically, I think most of us know that these players are being exploited unfairly. We know the system is wrong. But the people who would benefit from righting that wrong have no power to change things and the people who do have that power benefit the most from keeping the status quo. And unless MLB concludes it is in their own financial best interests to make changes, changes may not happen for a very long time, if ever.

    Things could be worse for these young men, though.

    What if remarkable athletes like these players got paid nothing at all? What if they weren't even allowed to accept help from host families and other fans? What if they weren't allowed to work other jobs to make ends meet?

    Those are silly questions, of course. If all of those things were true, these players wouldn't be working under the rules of minor league professional baseball.

    They'd be working under the rules of the NCAA.

    But that's another rant... and another legal matter(or matters)... for another day.

    Of course, given the rediculous NCAA restrictions college ballplayers lived under, maybe it's understandable if they think getting $5-6,000 a year to play minor league baseball is a good deal.

    It doesn't make it right, though.

    - JC
    This article was originally published in blog: Minor Leaguers Deserve Better started by Jim Crikket
    Comments 141 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I agree 100%. It isn't right what these guys get paid. As for the teams, I'm baffled they don't fund good nutrition for minor leaguers. These guys are an important business asset, yet they treat them like, well, I won't type how I feel.....just type that the lack of fairness and investment in minor leaguers is penny wise, pound foolish.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      I believe they get meal money, though it isn't much. It sort of amazes me that minor leaguers give fans any access at all. They don't get paid to give autographs or photos.

      It is wrong that they don't get paid for spring training. Any time they have to be on the field they should be getting paid.
    1. Jarends703's Avatar
      Jarends703 -
      At $1,150 a month these players are eligible for food stamps. There's your nutrition program.

      Who would think that a professional baseball player in America would need to be on food stamps?
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Meal money is $25/day, I believe, but only when the team is on the road. $25 doesn't sound like much, but then when you consider that first year players are making less than $40 a day in salary, that extra $25 probably seems like a lot to some of these guys. I would imagine many of them pocket as much of their meal money as they can, at the expense of eating decent meals on the road. I'm sure I would.

      In Cedar Rapids, there's food for the players in the clubhouse after the game and I'm sure many can and do get some meals with their host families. But the CR host family program is better than most.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Wow, this was a good read, Jim. I find it weird that "assets" like these players have to often scrounge around life while in the minors. I think the *lucky* ones find jobs like substitute teaching which can be fairly easy, with time to think about baseball. If I owned an organization, I would not want my players worried about housing and offseason employment, and eating cheap, processed garbage food.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Baseball is lucky they can find people to give their players free room and board.

      I did some back of the envelope calculations and MLB could give everyone in the minors an extra $5000 for a total cost of about $1M per team. They're saving at least that much in minor league signing bonuses due to the more effective slot system.
    1. wabene's Avatar
      wabene -
      In a way you could say it just mirrors society. A very small percentage of baseball players above, say, age 16, that percentage say 1%, make say 80 some percent of the money. Totally guessing on the figures, but there are a large amount of people in this country working jobs at large companies that make huge profits that are paid so little we have to subsidise their income. Obviously there are enough men willing to work under those conditions for the chance at the jackpot. Makes me think of the experience of RA Dicky from the documentary. His wife stuck with him and I'm sure helped him through all those years.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      It is a great -- and under reported -- story.

      Given the sheer amount of money in mlb, their failure to pay minor leaguers a living wage is a travesty.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Yeah, I remember reading about this a while back... Kind of disturbing really. If you aren't drafted in the first few rounds or get a nice signing bonus, you are making next to nothing. If I remember right, a guy on the 40 man roster is making around 50k/year... You can live off of that in some cities, but not many.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Then don't sign a contract and play minor league baseball. Go do something else with your life. The odds are that in a few years you will fail in your baseball career and have to anyways. No one is forcing the players to play baseball. This is a free society and whatever is unfair about the draft system of baseball is part of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a union.

      Minor league teams are not a huge revenue generators. The Ft Myers Miracle get a reasonable crowd to start the season, but as the season (and summer) drones on the crowds dwindle. It is a fun and cheap game to go to, but most people can care less.

      As far as college baseball players and the NCAA, the scholarships they receive are way more valuable than the financial considerations that colleges and universities get from a non-revenue program like baseball. Further, I would argue that most of the "brand value" of college athletics is owned by the college. Lets put it this way. Consider the University of Minnesota football, basketball, hockey or baseball teams. People pay big dollars to go to these events. Now, take those very same players, remove the University of Minnesota logo, and put them on a semi-pro or minor league sports team. Such teams would draw a pittance for attendance with even nominal ticket fees. Very few people would have interest.
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      The game is rich enough to pay these players a lot more. Just think how much the taxpayer pays for teams stadiums. Hard to believe the taxpayer doesn't pay something for the ones who don't get a big payday. Mandate % of MLB salaries to go the minors. This isn't going to bankrupt anyone.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Meal money is nice, but it's not a nutrition program. You'd think a team would want it's most important assets to be the best they can be......I could't disagree more strongly with every word mlhouse posted, frankly. The NCAA is robbing these guys blind. And MLB teams are not doing anything to help themselves or minor league players.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      This is a free society and whatever is unfair about the draft system of baseball is part of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a union.
      There are also labor laws and a union can't negotiate that some of it's non-members make less than minimum wage. Minor leaguers don't vote on the contract.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      There are also labor laws and a union can't negotiate that some of it's non-members make less than minimum wage. Minor leaguers don't vote on the contract.

      I did not mention the contract at all. I only mentioned the draft provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

      As far as minimum wage laws, I doubt that there are any violations. Adding in their per diem and even assuming that they are under their employers control 40 hours a week, they are essentially paid minimum wage. That is 40*4.25*7.25 is $1,232/month which is about hte minimum minor league salry.

      Again, if these players do not want to essentially earn minimum wage they can opt out of a baseball career. About half of the drafted players already do just that.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      The NCAA is robbing these guys blind. And MLB teams are not doing anything to help themselves or minor league players.
      Seriously? Based on NCAA data the average NCAA Division I baseball team loses $665,000 a year. The median revenues are $337,000 which means that Division I colleges spend over a million per year so some "students" get the chance to play baseball and perhaps have a professional baseball career......Robbing these guys blind??? Seriously?

      And, as I stated, even the revenue sports are not. While there are a handful of NCAA players in basketball and football that might be worth more than their scholarships, the vast majority are not.

      I will again repeat my example of brand value. Remember the Minnesota Gopher basketball team that made it to the Final Four (1997). Bobby Jackson, Sam Jacobson, Quincy Lewis, etc? Put all of those players on a minor league basketball team and who pays to watch them? The answer is obviously many times fewer people that pay a much higher ticket price to watch a college basketball team that has the same, or even lesser, players.

      The vast majority of the brand value that creates college sports revenues is "owned" by the universities and colleges and most of the scholarship players are being paid more than they are worth with their athletic scholarships, which in most cases are valued at over $25,000/year. (The fact that these academic scholarships are probably not worth that much to the actual player is exactly why college athletics are ethically challenged).
    1. zenser's Avatar
      zenser -
      A good friend of mine was fortunate to play minor league baseball. He was a 50th round pick of the Pirates but made it to AAA. He told me once that basically all the guys pocket their meal money since they had food in the clubhouse after the games. I think at one time he said it was $50 a day when they were at home and it was slightly higher when they were on the road. At the time he was in AAA, Pat Mahomes was also on the roster and would take a bunch of guys out to eat and pick up the tab.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      Baseball is lucky they can find people to give their players free room and board.

      I did some back of the envelope calculations and MLB could give everyone in the minors an extra $5000 for a total cost of about $1M per team. They're saving at least that much in minor league signing bonuses due to the more effective slot system.
      5,000 x 20 = 1million, just saying,
      to me they need to pay single A and lower 20,000 per season and AA and above 36,000 per season
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      We disagree. When coaches make $5mM per year, and schools and the NCAA itself pocket millions from revenue sports, the players are underpaid, imo. You disagree. that's fine with me.

      As for minor league players.....they are underpaid, if you consider them assets you are investing in, not only how much money the minor league teams make.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      We disagree. When coaches make $5mM per year, and schools and the NCAA itself pocket millions from revenue sports, the players are underpaid, imo. You disagree. that's fine with me.

      As for minor league players.....they are underpaid, if you consider them assets you are investing in, not only how much money the minor league teams make.
      If college athletes and minor league players were "UNDERPAID" then no one would become a college athlete or minor league player. This proves you are wrong.

      You can argue all you want about who is paid what and what is paid to who, that millions of dollars are made and spent lavishly by universities. I agree that this unethical behavior by the leadership of these colleges and universities is disgusting. But it still does not change the facts. Again, the vast bulk of the college brand value is owned by the university itself. Put the M on your helmet and your value as entertainment is multiplied significantly. These guys are paid significant amounts of money by receiving athletic scholarships.

      While I oppose the straight out paying of college athletes (how do you negotiate a contract?), I believe that the NCAA can make a half way step by allowing a certain number of athletic scholarships to include stipends and have these stipends have differing values. For example, 5 of the football teams scholarships could have $1,000/month stipends. Another 10 could have $750/month. ANd maybe anohter 15 $500/month. Then if you are a college athlete being recruited by Florida St, Alabama, Texas A&M, Ohio St. and your local University of Minnesota, you might want to go to the U of M because those other big schools already used their $1,000 scholarship on some other recruit.

      Of course, the NCAA does not want this because that would erase the super team conferences that generate all of their television revenues. It is a totally unethical system all the way.

      My son plays Division III college football and is an academic all conference player. He plays for free. Every player that plays athletics for a college/university should play for free too.
    1. Madre Dos's Avatar
      Madre Dos -
      As a host mom for the Elizabethton Twins, I charge each player $100.00 per week. That doesn't even cover the groceries and my water and electric bills double while they are here. The boys each lunch here, take food to the park with them and then eat dinner here at 11:00 following the ballgame. I send food on the road with them too.
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