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Minor Leaguers: Mistreated Before Covid-19 and After

Cancellation of MLB Season

Cancellation of MiLB season

 After months of anticipation and stress, Minor Leaguers have gotten the news that they likely knew was coming but didn’t want to face: Their season is officially canceled. The Minor League’s season has been a mess over the past season, and many players were stuck with nowhere to go. Many of the players reported to their respective spring training sites this year hoping to improve their prospect status and make this season their breakout year. Sadly, with Covid-19, their dreams have been put on hold.

As Covid-19 has allowed people to slow down and take a more critical look at things, it might be worthwhile to talk about how the current state of affairs in the Minor Leagues. When many people think of baseball, they think of players with huge $200 million contracts and luxury brand deals that make players uber-wealthy. However, for minor leaguers, this isn’t the case. With the extremely low salaries that the players get, that fall below the poverty level, many of these fine athletes are just struggling to get by.

What isn’t known about the Minor Leagues

While many MLB stars have been headlining the news as of late in regards to pay over the shortened season, the Minor League system has been vastly overlooked. The extreme economic inequality in baseball isn’t apparent at first sight, but rather something that takes place behind the glamour of the game. 

 It might be surprising to find out that minor leaguers struggle to make a living in their sport, and have no union to negotiate on their behalf. While players at the highest levels make enough money to have houses with elevators, bowling alleys, trophy rooms and swimming pools, there are other players at baseball’s lower levels that have to work for as little as $3 a day and use a kitchen as a bedroom, making only $1,180 a month (via Brandon Dawson, Pitcher in San Francisco Giants Organization)

For the first 31 days of baseball, commonly known as spring training, minor league baseball athletes aren’t paid. They receive only whatever housing, food and allowances, stipends and/or per diem their teams issue from the time they report to camp through the start of the minor league regular season, when they begin to draw their salaries. According to Baseball America, while some teams do house the players and may feed them, the stipend they receive varies on the team and can lie anywhere from $400 a month to $140 a month.

Once the season starts, it doesn’t get much better for minor leaguers. According to The Athletic (via fanbuzz) the average player salary for a minor league player was $6,000 in Single-A baseball, $9,350 in Double-A baseball and $15,000 in Triple-A in 2018. For context, the Single-A and Double-A salaries were below the federal poverty line of $12,240, and the median Triple-A salary is barely above the poverty levels in 2018 (And still hasn’t changed). This meager salary barely covers any of the expenses these players have like possible student loans and other expenses (Given that 60 percent of the 2018 draft class came from college and on average a baseball scholarship only covers about 25-55 percent of the cost of College, other money has to come in from an external source) and only 11.7 baseball scholarships are allotted per 35 man roster, leaving them to come up with the rest of the costs on their own). In comparison, fast food workers and janitors make more yearly than the average minor League Baseball player.

Furthermore, the majority of minor leaguers will not make it to the majors (statistics show that only about 10 percent of Minor Leaguers will make it to the majors) and instead will have to join the rest of the workforce, with precious years of their careers gone and probably no money saved to hold them over to their next career beyond baseball 

How Politics has hurt Minor Leaguers

The situation was already bad for the Minor league ballplayers and politics made the situation worse. Instead of moving the bar forward for Minor Leaguers, Congress has set the bar back, passing Save America’s Pastime Act in 2018 which exempts baseball teams from having to pay minor leaguers minimum wage and overtime. No matter how many hours they work or put in, the bill dictates that players can still be paid at a salary that is the equivalent of federal minimum wage of $7.25 for a 40-hour week, which comes out to about $1,160 per month. The bill also explicitly said players are only paid for 40 hours of work during the season  “irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball-related activities,” and that players don’t need to be paid for spring training or the offseason. This means that no matter how much training baseball players put in during the week, not on the field, they still won’t be paid.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t enough for the Major Leagues. After that bill was passed, in 2019 Arizona State Legislature member Rep. T. J. Shope, (R-Coolidge), introduced House Bill 2180, which proposed adjusting the Arizona state minimum wage laws to match the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The reason? To lock in the Save America’s Pastime Act law at the state level, since states may supersede federal minimum wage and labor protections (for example, this is the reason that California is allowed to have a $12 an hour salary, even though federal minimum wage is $7.25).

Arizona State Representative T.J Shope (R-Coolidge), Courtesy of Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

 The bill, lobbied for on behalf of no other than Major league Baseball, was also an attempt to pre-emptively put in place legislation that will not only prevent minor leaguers from taking legal action to acquire better pay going forward. Also, encapsulated within the bill was a retroactivity clause that would have protected the MLB from current and future lawsuits in the state of Arizona that they faced of being in violation of the state’s minimum wage laws. (which ironically, happened to be the case as the MLB was facing minimum wage lawsuits in Arizona and Florida) Instead of coughing up the money and paying it’s players a measly minimum wage (even though they should be paid more), Major League Baseball is pressuring state legislatures to cover their tails.

While this bill died in the Arizona Legislature (meaning that the bill wasn’t able to progress in the Legislative chambers and ultimately become law) and cannot be introduced to the current Arizona state congress, legal rules mandate that the bill can be introduced in the next state congress in the state of Arizona. This means that this bill could be introduced when the next congress is placed in power, which would be in January 2021 at the earliest.  The bill is also free to be introduced to any other state, at any other given time.  

How much would it cost to maybe give these players a raise?

In a sport that grossed a record $10.7 billion in the year 2019, it isn’t a matter of financial circumstance to pay Minor League players- it’s a matter of greed. Even if it was a matter of financial circumstance, it’s a head-turner how sports that make less money than the MLB pay their players a respective salary. In 2019, the NHL “only” grossed $5.09 million yet the players in the AHL, their development league earn a starting salary of $45,000. The G-League, the NBA’s development league “only” grosses 4.8 billion but managed to pay their players $19,000 but recently raised the minimum salary to $35,000. The MLB could do the same, and with the amount of money that they bring in, the cost to the average franchise would be a drop in the bucket. With the average Major League Franchise valued at $1.645 billion, major league organization with 250 players in its Minor League system could give every single player a $30,000 annual pay spike for a total of $7.5 million, or 0.004% of the average MLB franchise value.

Why it’s actually a good thing the MiLB Canceled their season? 

With the cancellation of the MiLB season, instead of worrying about the action of the sport, people can take a closer look at other issues plaguing the organization, one of which being the piss-poor wages. The MLB should do better. Each major league organization shouldn’t have a problem digging in its pockets and paying its players, but their stinginess just shows the greediness of Major League Baseball and its franchises. It’s disgusting, corrupting and will cause the Major Leagues to lose vast amounts of talent because of it. Refusing to pay them even a minimum wage salary while these players train and practice in the offseason (for no pay) is incredulous. Minor League athletes devote their entire cause to the sport they love and cherish, yet receive little in return. Like a dog fighting for scraps, their goal is to accept meager wages in the anticipation that one day they will make it to the Major Leagues. While it’s great to fight to make it to the big stage, the unfortunate reality is that over 90 percent of the players in the Minor Leagues will never make it to the grand stage, and their biggest stage will be the minor leagues. In the light of the closer look at social justice and fair wages, that have been displayed throughout our country as of late someone needs to look at the Minor Leagues. 

In the meantime, while Minor League players aren’t being compensated for the lost season, they have an amazing opportunity to finally make some real wages. Robbie Tenerowicz must be happy!  With the cancellation of his season, he now works at a local Walmart in the Seattle area (where minimum wages are 13.50 an hour, and on an eight-hour work-shift working six days a week he can make up to $3,000 a month with no state income tax). At least can he get compensated better in a minimum-wage grocery store job than he can playing semi-professional baseball. 

 

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