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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 DJL44 View Post
      On 3 - I know why there are restrictions. I think they are too heavy handed. They should be able to find a way to allow some outside work without banning all of it.

      On 4 - Do you believe in the free market or not? There are most certainly players who could make the big leagues that turn it down because they can't afford to be poor for 5 years. Are you asserting that supply and demand is baloney?

      MLB is oversupplied with teenagers who can still live at home in the offseason and Dominicans with no other options. That doesn't mean it has cornered the market on athletes. You contradict yourself with your example - the only way to get a talented multisport athlete to play baseball is to give them a huge bonus. There are players almost, but not quite, as good as Stewart every year who turn down a 3rd round signing bonus to play football or basketball. I want to see guys like Kenny Lofton playing baseball, not going to Europe to play basketball.
      1. With multi-sport athletes there is considerable competition between the sports. If major league baseball thought they were good they would offer them a bigger bonus. The minor league salary plays little part in this determination. It is essentially trivial when you are player that is in this competitive situation.

      2. You simply cannot ignore the bonuses as part of the baseball compensation scheme and pretend that the minor league stipend (which is what it really is) is the competitve price. The Twins 6th round draft pick last year catcher Brian Navarretto got a $262,500 signing bonus. Prorate that over the next 5 or 6 years and he is making more than an adequate income.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      It doesnt matter what I think, nor what you think. I might even think such a situation is unfair. The problem is that is the law. For example see Wood v. NBA. Unionized labor has enormous power to distort the free market place.
      Wood v. NBA has absolutely nothing to do with the point most of the people on this site are making. True, in both cases a union or league is setting salaries for players. However, Mr. Wood sued the NBA because his 1 year, $75,000 contract was not a market value offer. He wanted more money and sued that he was being harmed because he was not paid enough.

      This lawsuit was in 1984. In 1984 you could buy a gigantic house for $75,000. Certainly that was hundreds of multiples above minimum wage. The point most have made here is that $1,150 a month, given the hours these guys put in playing, practicing, training, and traveling is below minimum wage.

      http://www.leagle.com/decision/19841...FSupp525_11023
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      So, if they are not in it for the money they cannot be underpaid. That is a contradiction that you are creating yourself. Hence, my comment to you that they are paid "just fine".
      This is not charity work. This check is the livelihood of thoustands of people. A big difference. Many illegal immigrants farm for $2-3 dollars an hour, which is illegal. It happens though, so given no shortage of people willing to do it, I guess they are paid fine?
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      2. You simply cannot ignore the bonuses as part of the baseball compensation scheme and pretend that the minor league stipend (which is what it really is) is the competitve price. The Twins 6th round draft pick last year catcher Brian Navarretto got a $262,500 signing bonus. Prorate that over the next 5 or 6 years and he is making more than an adequate income.
      You simply can't ignore that the majority of players don't get bonuses anywhere near that figure.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Wood v. NBA has absolutely nothing to do with the point most of the people on this site are making. True, in both cases a union or league is setting salaries for players. However, Mr. Wood sued the NBA because his 1 year, $75,000 contract was not a market value offer. He wanted more money and sued that he was being harmed because he was not paid enough.

      This lawsuit was in 1984. In 1984 you could buy a gigantic house for $75,000. Certainly that was hundreds of multiples above minimum wage. The point most have made here is that $1,150 a month, given the hours these guys put in playing, practicing, training, and traveling is below minimum wage.

      http://www.leagle.com/decision/19841...FSupp525_11023
      He sued the NBA because he claimed the CBA prevented him from negotiating with other teams and it's scale lowered his earnings, and that he was NOT a member of the union that made the agreement.

      / edited by ashburyjohn to remove disrespectful and antagonistic phrasing
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      This is not charity work. This check is the livelihood of thoustands of people. A big difference. Many illegal immigrants farm for $2-3 dollars an hour, which is illegal. It happens though, so given no shortage of people willing to do it, I guess they are paid fine?
      Yes. If they were not paid just fine there would not be illegal immigrants.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I think a more lucrative minor league wage is probably your best best for increasing the percentage of African-Americans in the game as well. The path to baseball takes awhile and without the financial incentive to be patient I think that potential group of players is the one hurt most.

      If baseball negotiated these payments directly with the minor leaguers, that would be something and the free market arguments would be valid. (They are valid, to a degree) But baseball has an anti-trust exception and that muddies the waters significantly.

      I disagree with this racial way of looking at it. Should the NBA be looking at increasing the number of white players in the league?

      Even if that was a worthwhile goal, minor league salaries are unimportant. What percent of the population knows what the minor league salary scales are? The choices of what sport to play are made long before such a concept would enter into an individual's thinking.

      High level players that play multiple sports are competitively bid on. I used the Kohl Stewart example. The guaranteed 7 figure signing bonus for a high school player is something other sports cannot even come close to and you would need to be one hell of a football/basketball/hockey (maybe) to turn that offer down.

      Baseball also has several other financial advantages other sports cannot compte against. Football has significant injury risk and their contracts are not guaranteed. Football also does not have a minor league or foreign league system were players just below the "major league" level can earn significnat incomes by playing minor league football.

      Another aspect of the football and basketball player economics is that to make the professional levels you have to go to college for what essentially is your minor league seasons. Baseball is allowed to draft players directly from the high schools.

      So there are competitive advantages to baseball just as there are some to other sports.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      If major league baseball thought they were good they would offer them a bigger bonus.
      That only works if you think the baseball draft is made with perfect knowledge of the future potential of the draftees. That clearly isn't the case. High round picks bust often and low round picks make the majors.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      Yes. If they were not paid just fine there would not be illegal immigrants.
      Just a philosophical difference then.

      The immigrants from latin america that illegally make $2 an hour are not underpaid. What if we smuggled immigrants from Ethiopia and paid them 20 cents an hour? Some would be willing. 1.60 a day sounds reasonable with your line of reasoning. Can we find anyone to go lower? What about a child from Ethiopia? This is really fun and not at all morally objectionable.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      That only works if you think the baseball draft is made with perfect knowledge of the future potential of the draftees. That clearly isn't the case. High round picks bust often and low round picks make the majors.
      Nope.........perfect knowledge is not required. Value in economics is a subjective opinion, not objective. So, the Twins thought BJ Garbe was worthy of the 6th overall pick in the draft and a 7 figure signing bonus. They also thought that Justin Morneau was worthy of a 3rd round pick. Not perfect knowledge, but that is how the valuation of the players are given their expectations.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      Lol!!!!!!!! You clearly have zero understanding of the case. He sued the NBA because he claimed the CBA prevented him from negotiating with other teams and it's scale lowered his earnings, and that he was NOT a member of the union that made the agreement. These were the points you made. Woods refutes your points.
      Let me explain, again why almost everyone else on this thread thinks they are underpaid.

      $1,150 a month / 8 hours a day / 30 days a month = $4.79 an hour. It is illegal to pay someone $4.79 in this country.

      Mr. Wood, in 1984 dollars was paid seven times more than todays minimim wage.

      It really is not that complicated.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Just a philosophical difference then.

      The immigrants from latin america that illegally make $2 an hour are not underpaid. What if we smuggled immigrants from Ethiopia and paid them 20 cents an hour? Some would be willing. 1.60 a day sounds reasonable with your line of reasoning. Can we find anyone to go lower? This is really fun and not at all morally objectionable.
      Nope. If the wages paid to illegal immigrants were higher, MORE illegal immigrants would cross the border. If wages paid were lower, FEWER illegal immigrants would cross the border. That isn't just a philosophy, it is the law.

      Next, it doesn't matter what wage rate I THINK is "reasonable". It only matters what the person ACCEPTING the wage believes is "reasonable". I wouldn't poop for $2/hour but to some people given what their alternatives are, $2/hour might be an economic windfall. It is a subjective measure of the value of your labor, time, and alternatives.

      Next, if there were peope that willingly and knowlingly wanted to work for $0.20/hour who are you to decide if that is right or not? Clearly, if they are doing it willingly and knowingly then the $0.20/hour might be significantly more than what they can earn otherwise and starvation might be their other real alternative.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Let me explain, again why almost everyone else on this thread thinks they are underpaid.

      $1,150 a month / 8 hours a day / 30 days a month = $4.79 an hour. It is illegal to pay someone $4.79 in this country.

      Mr. Wood, in 1984 dollars was paid seven times more than todays minimim wage.

      It really is not that complicated.

      You are changing your argument know. Your argument was that the draft and other issues with respect to the labor agreement with the baseball union was wrong, and that players taht were not part of the union when it such agreements were made should not be subject to that agreement. Wood v NBA and many other court cases disproves your assertion.

      Next, the minimum wage law is pretty much dead. There are lots of ways that a minor (notice the employer is a minor not major) league team will almost certainly be able to demonstrate that the players are not under their control for more than 40 hours per week for one and second, that the pay is based more on a "game" than hours worked. All kinds of compensation is based on this such as on-call work. In that case, overtime and minimum wages do not matter as long as the parties agreed to the compensation (check), that the compensation has some rational basis (check), and that the wages are competitive (check).
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      players just below the "major league" level can earn significant incomes by playing minor league football.
      Except the CFL.

      One point I just remembered is the two groups at the bargaining table just negotiated those amateur signing bonuses downward and that savings is enough to boost minor league wages significantly.

      Is a team allowed to double the pay of their minor league players? It would be a creative way to get around international bonus pool limits if they offered more pay instead of a large signing bonus. From a quick google search it appears that teams can negotiate pay after the first year which is set by contract. The Twins could make themselves very attractive to international free agents if they're known as the team that pays double.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Just a small point here, but this system isn't a free market. We can talk about free market economics here, but the reality is that it doesn't exist in baseball.

      MLB has an anti-trust exemption based on the fact that they are essentially a trust. The draft, by its very nature, is anti-competitive as the 30 organizations essentially decide who potential labor pays for and sets their wage. That's illegal in every industry unless they get an exemption, and the reason why MLB is allowed to do it is because they have a collectively bargained agreement with the union. The problem though is that while the union "represents" minor leaguers, they aren't actually voting members of the union and so their interests are not being represented.

      This one, in the eyes of the law, is pretty clear. Minor leaguers will either get to unionize, or they will be granted membership in the MLBPA. Their current wage, bonuses, etc. are all immaterial to this, other than proof that MLB and the MLBPA have been ignoring the interests of minor leaguers because quite frankly no one has forced them to do otherwise.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      [QUOTE=mlhouse;199607]You are changing your argument know. Your argument was that the draft and other issues with respect to the labor agreement with the baseball union was wrong, and that players taht were not part of the union when it such agreements were made should not be subject to that agreement. Wood v NBA and many other court cases disproves your assertion. QUOTE]

      Maybe you are confusing me with someone else. Here is my quote from the first post I made on this thread, two days ago:

      "The monthly check has to be below minimum wage if you view "work" like a business would, the time at the ball-park, practice, and travel time would all need to be paid"


      It sounds to me like you have an argument with the logic of minimum wage.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      Just a small point here, but this system isn't a free market. We can talk about free market economics here, but the reality is that it doesn't exist in baseball.

      MLB has an anti-trust exemption based on the fact that they are essentially a trust. The draft, by its very nature, is anti-competitive as the 30 organizations essentially decide who potential labor pays for and sets their wage. That's illegal in every industry unless they get an exemption, and the reason why MLB is allowed to do it is because they have a collectively bargained agreement with the union. The problem though is that while the union "represents" minor leaguers, they aren't actually voting members of the union and so their interests are not being represented.

      This one, in the eyes of the law, is pretty clear. Minor leaguers will either get to unionize, or they will be granted membership in the MLBPA. Their current wage, bonuses, etc. are all immaterial to this, other than proof that MLB and the MLBPA have been ignoring the interests of minor leaguers because quite frankly no one has forced them to do otherwise.

      Agreed. This is not a free market. I would expect this to change in the next few years, and minor leaguers to be paid above minimum wage at a minimum and possibly receive representation.
    1. shimrod's Avatar
      shimrod -
      Originally Posted by tobi0040 Let me explain, again why almost everyone else on this thread thinks they are underpaid.

      $1,150 a month / 8 hours a day / 30 days a month = $4.79 an hour. It is illegal to pay someone $4.79 in this country.


      Let me point out that the minimum wage is not an all-encompassing law. Many people are exempt, most of whom are also compensated in some other manner. You've got your wait staff working for less than minimum plus tips. You can get sales jobs that don't pay a stinking dime, straight commission. I would argue the minor league players compare well with the commission example. They earn a stipend with the opportunity to make a tremendous amount more if they perform well enough to make the MLB team, which is also the first time they generate any positive revenue for their employer.

      You just cannot disregard the potential riches these guys all have a legitimate shot at. The chance to strive for a major league contract or even stardom is compensation of a sort. The fact many fall short doesn't change the fact they still had a shot most people never get. That shot has more value than another 3 or four bucks an hour.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      It seems to me that the biggest problem with pure capitalism is that it ignores any concept of fairness. Capitalism is an economic theory that is designed to maximize production. Before there were unions and before there was a minimum wage, millions of people lived in extreme poverty so that a relative handful of people could live in extreme luxury.

      Obviously, if given the choice between 20 cents an hour or starving, most people would pick 20 cents an hour. But who wants to live in a country where anyone is faced with such choices?

      I hate the idea of someone working 40+ hours a week and not being able to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter and health care for his or her family. To me, that seems fundamentally unfair.

      Is the CEO of General Motors really worth $20 million per year while a janitor is worth $20,000. Was it the janitors who caused General Motors to go bankrupt a few years ago? Was it really a good thing for the CEO to be able to be able to spend $2 million per year on a private jet while janitors' children died from lack of health care?
    1. shimrod's Avatar
      shimrod -
      You've never seen "pure" capitalism, and the US is getting farther away from it every day. Please remember the regulatory regime is priced into everything you buy, which is why $10/day is a living wage in some countries and $10/hour won't cut it in the US without gov't support.
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