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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. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post

      As for minor league players.....they are underpaid, if you consider them assets you are investing in....
      And that is true although the problem with these "assets" is that the median expected value is essentially a negative value because so few players actually become assets to their major league team. "Investing" in a minor league nutrition program means not just spending the money on Byron Buxton but the 50 other prospects taht will never reach the major leagues.

      Further, the major league teams "invests" significant money in the signing bonuses paid to the minor league players before they even play a game. This is how the economics of baseball works. The palyers taht are valuable assets, like Buxton and Sano, are given millions of dollars. The later round draft picks or the unknown players in the foreign leagues don't get anything.

      This is how markets work.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Madre Dos View Post
      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.

      But you are their second mother by choice. If you were in it for the money you would not be a host mom. That is my whole point about the minor league players. They make the choice of playing baseball as a professional. In many ways they are really, really lucky and should never complain.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      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 salary.
      Yes and no

      The Federal minimum wage of $7.25 overrides and is the floor of State minimum wage. States can set the minimum wage higher than that and be the effective minimum wage for employees at that state. Here is a current list of state minimum wages. The Twins are conducting minor league business in: Connecticut ($8.70), Florida ($7.93), Iowa ($7.25), New York ($8.00) and Tennessee ($7.25). Minnesota is $7.25 also. The minimum minor league salary of $1,150 (/4.25*40) translates to around $6.25 an hour.

      Unless the Twins are running a family farming business, there are issues here

      It is the big picture and perspective and ethics too: MLB teams are throwing senseless money left and right, while they are treating their minor leaguers like undocumented seasonal workers. It will take about a $1M dollars to double each and every minor leaguer's salary in an organization. $1M is usually the buyout of a bad option. How much did the Twins play Blackburn not to play in 2013 again?

      MLB cannot call themselves good corporate citizens, unless they fix this...
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      1. You are forgetting the per diem, which if the minor league teams had to they woudl simply convert into "wages". This eliminates the "minimum" wage problem. I also doubt that the minor league players are under their "employers" control 40 hours per week but even at that level their compensation should have no problem meeting minimum wage level.

      2. What you are forgetting about the $1 million chump change is that the Twins had to pay it to buy Blackburn out.......in other words, spending another $1 million does not save you the Blackburn buyout.

      3. Players that earn the right to be bought out for $1 million to not play demonstrate that they are at least marginal MLB players. That is the ultimate reward for any and every minor league player, and that needs to be factored in.

      4. MLB is not a good corporate citizen. They are a profit maximizing activity that worries first and foremost about their bottom lines. All the "good citizen" talk is just rhetoric.

      5. Again, since you are replying to my post, you are missing the point. MLB does not have to DOUBLE each and every minor leaguers current salary. LET ME REPEAT: THEY DO NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING WITH MINOR LEAGUE SALARIES. If the salaries were too low then they would not have enough qualified "employees" to fill their roster spots for the minor league teams. The reality is, and this is demonstrated every year, they have TOO MANY employees and they have to release players.
    1. shimrod's Avatar
      shimrod -
      MLB doesn't want anybody on their minor league team who's looking for a "living wage". They don't want anyone there because baseball's a little more fun than bagging groceries, or flipping burgers. The system is designed to filter out anyone who doesn't absolutely love the game, or is at least ambitious enough to fake it.

      The entire minor league system should be compared to an apprenticeship program, or an internship. Until you make the major league club you're a financial liability. You haven't learned how to do your job and you're not worth paying. I'm no fan of the way the MLB does business, they've been screwing taxpayers around the country for years, but the minor league players can quit and find better paying jobs anytime they like. Most should.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Let me just say that I commiserate with the MiLB players. As a full time public education employee that brings home $1244 per month, it is extremely hard to make ends meet. Anyone that thinks this is a "livable wage" needs to think again. The idea that it is OK for a billion dollar industry to pay those kinds of wages is absurd.

      Every CEO should try living on their lowest paid employee's salary so they can understand the hardships people go through. I don't believe that the executives at corporations that pay very little are heartless people but rather that it is too easy to become caught up in the financial bottom line and insulated from your fellow employees since you only see them at work. Then when you think about them in your mind you see the healthy, smiling "Jim" that comes to work everyday with a smile on his face trying to work hard. What you don't see is that "Jim" has to choose between repairing his vehicle so he can get to work or paying for his child's medications. I think if some of these very wealthy people actually came face to face with the poverty their corporations create things might change. At least I hope they would.

      Sorry for the rant.

      BTW, just because a player can "walk away" it doesn't make the wages OK.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by shimrod View Post
      The entire minor league system should be compared to an apprenticeship program, or an internship. .
      Certainly. I totally agree. Established above that the current MiLB minimum equates to $6.25 and hour.

      Trade apprentices get paid. Here is the current average for plumber apprentice wage data. $9-$19 mean $13. Minor leaguers would love that.

      As far as internships go, they get paid at least minimum wage. There are free internships, but here are the government criteria that allow to not pay minimum wage. And all have to be satisfied:

      1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
      2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
      3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
      4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
      5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
      6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

      Very hard for a MiLB player situation to satisfy the bold terms.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      I understand that MLB doesn't "have to" do anything different unless/until a court determines that they must do so.

      I simply don't believe that makes it right.

      But then, there are many things baseball does that I don't believe are right. Maybe, one day, Congress will wake up and take away MLB's anti-trust exemption and we'll see what kind of business they can run when they have to live by the same rules pretty much every other business in the country has to work within.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      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
      5,000x20=100,000, not 1M. There are close to 200 minor league players per team if you disregard the foreign rookie leagues.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      I also doubt that the minor league players are under their "employers" control 40 hours per week
      On home game days they're working at least 6 hours. If they play 6 games a week that's 36 hours. On a road trip you should count any time spent on the bus as work time.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      There are so many points here to bring up.

      1.) Part of the concern is that they can't unionize. Some minor leaguers have tried to in the past and got just blacklisted by baseball. What gives me hope on this one is that it's being led by former minor leaguers. The reality is that minor leaguers fall under the MLB players union, but the MLB Players Union has done nothing for the minor leaguers. Hopefully that can change.

      2.) Realize that players are to get paid for travel time, in the minors, that means time on a bus. Look at New Britain. Imagine a time when in a week, they travel from New Britain, CT, to Reading, PA, to Akron, Ohio. They're going to be traveling for a good 25 hours in that week. Plus, they will likely be at the ballpark from 1 p.m. until after a game concludes, maybe 11 p.m. That's That's 10 hour days, 6 days a week... plus maybe a 2 hour practice if they have an offday in that week. That's 62 hour weeks, plus 25 hours of travel... that could be 85-90 hour weeks. Even when they're at home, you're looking at the 60-65 hours. Doing the math, in AA, that MAY equate to about $5.50 per hour... Go down to the Florida State League, where the travel may not be as much, but they make less, so they may be at $5 per hour. In the Midwest League League, it's probably $4.50. And it goes down from there.

      3.) I did the math... if each pre-free agency minor leaguer (and non-40 man roster) received another $1,500 per month (times approximately 120 players), it would be $180,000 per month. Take that times 5 months (for April, May, June, July, and August, and we'll add September in case they all go to the playoffs), and it would cost each team just $1,080,000 more per year. Let's remember that the Twins just offered Matt Garza $14 million and he turned it down, so I'd love to see them decide to do this for their minor leaguers.

      4.) People can say that the minor leaguers know what they are getting into, and that's fair, because it's true. That doesn't make it right, so that argument doesn't hold much for me.

      5.) I don't think the minor leaguers would be greedy and ask for the world. But the reality is that their wages have gone up so little over the last 30 years, and that's just not right.

      6.) Remember that few players get the big signing bonuses. Anyone taken after about the first 2 rounds isn't getting a huge bonus. Most after the 10th round won't get much more than a thousand dollars or so and a flight. Players from international countries that aren't the big dollar guys don't get much either.

      I'm sure I have more thoughts too. Ha! Again, I like that it's former players doing the work. The current minor leaguers don't have much voice, so I'm glad others are doing it, and I'm happy to support it in any way I can!
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Pretty good model for the rest of our economy. A handful of billionaires horde all the money while treating the rest of us like peasants. Isn't this what the Founding Fathers intended? Isn't this the American Way?
    1. wabene's Avatar
      wabene -
      [QUOTE=mlhouse;198913

      4. MLB is not a good corporate citizen. They are a profit maximizing activity that worries first and foremost about their bottom lines. All the "good citizen" talk is just rhetoric.

      Where has just relying on the market and profits gotten us? Wages have been falling for the VAST majority of Americans while going way up for the few. Income disparity is worse than the Gilded Age when kids were working in coal mines 6 days a week for 12 hrs a day before labor reform. Since post WW2 till approximately the early 80s CEOs were judged by more than the bottom line. Job creation and being a good corporate citizen weren't considered just rhetoric. These were times of great prosperity.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by shimrod View Post
      MLB doesn't want anybody on their minor league team who's looking for a "living wage". They don't want anyone there because baseball's a little more fun than bagging groceries, or flipping burgers. The system is designed to filter out anyone who doesn't absolutely love the game, or is at least ambitious enough to fake it.

      The entire minor league system should be compared to an apprenticeship program, or an internship. Until you make the major league club you're a financial liability. You haven't learned how to do your job and you're not worth paying. I'm no fan of the way the MLB does business, they've been screwing taxpayers around the country for years, but the minor league players can quit and find better paying jobs anytime they like. Most should.
      Even apprenticeships are required to pay minimum wage....1 Job I worked was a sweet heart( 70% of the normal) low scale job,as an apprentis I was earning 40%of scale, each week I went to the union hall and they cut me a check to bring my payment up to minimum....

      also look at all thos hours they sit on a bus , its part of the job discription , with about 175 (-minus 15 who are on the 40 man roster) players in our minor leaques , it would cost the Twins 160,000 a month to increase every player 1,000 a month ... and if you think 2,200 a month would have players playing for the big bucks , mmm you maybe need to look around , 15 years ago I turned down jobs if they didnt pay 10,000 a month....
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      5,000x20=100,000, not 1M. There are close to 200 minor league players per team if you disregard the foreign rookie leagues.
      me bad , thanks for correcting me
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      The problem as I see it comes down to a union that really doesn't represent them. That's a problem MLB may be forced to change, especially where labor laws are violated. The entire concept of a draft is a violation of labor laws, which means that the sport needs to take really really really good care of its people.

      Truthfully, I don't get some of this. These guys are important assets to the team. I'd want to make sure they are housed in good housing and that they eat the right kinds of food. Honestly if food and housing were taken care of for the players, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
    1. Ex minor leaguer's Avatar
      Ex minor leaguer -
      We are forgetting about clubhouse dues, which range from $4-5 per day in rookie ball to $12-15 per day in AAA. That's well over $1000 per year directly out of the players' pockets. The clubs don't pay the clubhouse managers - the players and coaches do. Granted, the AA and AAA players get fed after games, but it's usually not very healthy food. So basically, all the players' meal money goes directly to the clubbies.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      I can see why playing college baseball looks so appealing, especially since those players will usually play summer ball.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Comparing MLB to a free market makes no sense:

      1. Players are drafted, and stuck with that team for 8-12 years, like it or not.
      2. Players can be traded to another city/team, no say.
      3. Wages are capped, though this is not really that different than other big companies

      There is no way one can argue that MLB is a free market for the players.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Players can be traded to another city/team, no say.
      I forgot about this one. Housing is more expensive when you're looking for monthly or weekly housing. Minor leaguers are moving around constantly.

      If the lawsuit starts gaining traction expect to see a settlement that doesn't cost much more than that $1M per team number. Lawyers get paid a lot more than minor league ballplayers.
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