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Minor leaguers are practically starving

Mar 31, 2010, 7:04 PM EDT

Think minor leaguers don’t have every incentive to do whatever they can to make the big leagues? Check out Garrett Broshuis’ latest story in Baseball America about living on the verge of poverty in the minor leagues. I’d normally blockquote something here, but this is better if read in full and in context. The details are pretty hard to believe given baseball’s $6 billion+ revenue.

The big driver on these salaries, of course, is supply and demand: there is no shortage of guys who would kill for the chance to play pro ball, and when that happens, it’s easy to see how a team can pay a guy $3000 for a seven month commitment.

But it doesn’t justify it. Supply and demand is what led to kids working in coal mines, and there’s a reason why someone has stepped in to stop that. I’m not suggesting that the government get involved in minor league baseball of course, but Major League Baseball and the player’s association — two entities which derive no small amount of benefit from the existence of the minor leagues and which essentially dictate policies to the minor leagues without any actual minor leaguer input — can and should do better than simply saying “that’s the market” while their brothers in the bushes are killing themselves for nearly nothing.

  1. JayT - Mar 31, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    I guess I would feel worse for them if I didn’t basically live the same way when I was in college.
    I had to work my way up through six years of higher learning to get the job I wanted, and I had to pay for the privilege.
    I’m guessing it wasn’t all caviar and Cristal for you during law school either…

  2. Anon! Mice! - Mar 31, 2010 at 7:46 PM

    Its not communist when you shame people into honoring the responsibility that comes with freedom. Its communism when you write, “there oughta be a law….”
    And, at in college and law school they offer loans to enhance your lifestyle based on future earning potential. A guy tried to sell his future baseball income, but got shot down I seem to recall. I’m starting a clothing company to build around the slogan, “Just securitize!”.

  3. t ball - Mar 31, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    I agree with JayT, I just can’t feel sorry for 18-22 yr. olds who are basically in the same financial state as every other 18-22 yr. old. Interns who haven’t earned jobs yet don’t get paid, I just don’t see the problem. I agree that if I was a player I’d expect the players union to be looking out for the players a bit better. But frankly, people between high school and jobs generally don’t make much money while they’re in training.

  4. Rays fan - Mar 31, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    Yes, I lived hand-to-mouth in med school, but I knew there was an end in sight and could get loans based on my future income, guaranteed by the gov’t. Minor leaguers get no such breaks.
    They really should have a union, but it’d be tough to get them to pay more of what little money they have left toward dues.
    Is it really any wonder some of them might be tempted to try PEDs hoping to get to that $400K MINIMUM pay in MLB?

  5. Mark in San Diego - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    The difference is, you had every reason to expect that after 6 years of college, you’d end up with a good paying job and security. For most of these kids, it’s like playing the lottery. I’m the son of a former career minor league player, and when you consider they have to move at least 3 times per year (home to spring, spring to regular season, back home…more if you include winter ball), it really is at the poverty level. And unless they hit the big time, they get to look forward to being 30, with no job and no job skills. What fun.
    At the very least, they should count minor league seasons toward retirement…2 for 1 or similar. Now that the Negro League players, who never contributed to the fund, are eligible, minor league players, who DO contribute, should be as well.

  6. Oggmonster - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Maybe they should be expected to consider the risk/reward of chasing their dreams and living with the consequences of their actions like the other 99% of adults in this country who aren’t extremely wealthy and politically connected.

  7. Joe - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:45 PM

    I completely agree with this article. These athletes are not student athletes. They are working full time, they are giving up significant freedoms because they are essentially owned by the parent club, they are subject to drug testing, and they are being paid less than minimum wage. Comparing them to student interns is inaccurate and unfair. I am a lawyer and I have huge student loans. Sure I lived a more moderate lifestyle in law school (still do actually), but my law degree is marketable. A minor leaguer who fails to make it to the majors, doesn’t have anything to fall back on except lost time. In a $6 billion industry there is no excuse for exploiting individuals who play a huge part in the enterprise’s success. i also want to point out that CC is not saying the government should intervene, he is merely saying that the minor leaguers should be part of the bargaining unit and the Players Association should protect their interests as well.

  8. D-Luxxx - Mar 31, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    One would think a union would start with a lawsuit. Wouldn’t you be able to figure out how many hours each week you spend training, traveling, and playing baseball and consider those your “on the clock” hours? Figure out the minimum wage, and then sue your employer for not paying you what is required by federal law. Of course the player would be cut, but if you have to cut half of your minor league system, then tht’s a big drain of talent. It couldn’t be just one or two players, you’d need to get a class action suit going, reperesenting all of MiLB. If the union sued, then you would think that they wouldn’t be able to just cut players, but they’d have to fight the union. Isn’t that how it works?
    Hmmm, D-Luxxx the union boss? I like the sound of that. Anybody in?

  9. Ron Rollins - Apr 1, 2010 at 3:01 AM

    The minor leaguers do deserve more pay, but I say we get the young soldiers in the military off of foodstamps before we worry too much about them.

  10. Big Harold - Apr 1, 2010 at 3:09 AM

    As a father, I spent well over $75,000 sending my daughter to a very good SUNY school to be an English teacher. After more than two years of looking for a teaching job, subbing, working nights and beginning her Masters program, she just landed her first long term replacement position that she hopes will eventually lead to a permanent position. None of these minor leaguers worked harder than my daughter. It was school in the Fall and Spring and then she came home and broke her ass ALL Summer working as many hours as her employer(s) would give her so that she had spending money during school. There were no Spring breaks in Daytona or Cabo. No Christmas skiing trips with her friends. So, frankly I do not feel very sorry for these guys. They are essentially chasing a dream and they knew it when they started. They also knew that it’s a long shot at best. I don’t begrudge them their dream, I wish I were in their predicament. The fact that they made it to the minors and somebody is paying them is an accomplishment in itself. In the end, anything worth doing is worth sacrificing for.
    On the other hand seeing to it players are properly fed and housed, I would think the MLB teams would want to do that if only to maximize their investment. However, if there is a villain in all this it’s really the players union. I would think that they should be looking out for these, (in most cases), young players. They should be looking out for these guys as they too are players. But, hey why drag ethics, logic or morality into it. We are already living in a world where the worst player on the worst team in the majors makes $400,000 a season, .. about 10 times more than my daughter will get to teach kids how to read and write.

  11. Dan W - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    I really think you have to side with the Minor League players here for multiple reasons.
    First, I do not think that anybody is actually advocating that this Minor League players should be making a lot of money, but should at least be making the equivalent of minimum wage. Which, they don’t when you consider the time invested.
    I don’t think you can make the comparison to college either. In college, you have a stable enviroment, you know you have 4 years, you know that your going to live there for 9 months, you know what your expenses are.
    In the Minors, you don’t know if you have a job day-to-day, you can be traded and have to move across the country at any time, you can’t get a 2nd job to help pay for things, so there are some many more options a college kid has over the minor league ball player.
    I am not saying they should be payed hundred of thousands of dollars, but I see no reason why a minimum salary of say at least 30,000 shouldn’t be established.

  12. ThatGuy - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    Members of the military get paid just fine, as well as have the option to live on base for basically free(espiecially if they are single) Its only the ones that blow their money on stupid stuff that need help. You would be surprised how many of those young soldiers on food stamps are driving $30,000 cars…

  13. Old Gator - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    The Player’s Union consists largely of guys who came up that route so their indifference to it – “don’t talk to me ’bout no ‘hood man, ’cause I ain’t there no mo and you still is” – is pretty pathetic. Aside from the bonus babies, the blue collar players really have it rough – degrading, actually. With a give-a-shit attitude like that about their own, is it any wonder that so many ballplayers are conservatives? You can understand why so many of those kids decided to say “fuck you” and play as replacements during the ’94 strike. I don’t particularly like scabs but what those guys did, I really do understand.
    And I have to agree with Ron about taking better care of our troops. A minor leaguer isn’t at risk of getting his legs blown off on a routine day at the ballpark, and he’s not exactly protecting us from anything either. And while we’re at it, we might clean up the Veteran’s Administration and take better care of the guys who come home in several pieces – psychologically as well as physically. Our treatment of our veterans is pretty disgraceful too.

  14. JayT - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    That article seemed to indicate that AAA players make a decent living, so the main problem here is with A and AA players, and I’d say if you are 30 years old and still in A ball, you probably made the wrong career choice.
    Also, you say after six years in college that you end up with “a good paying job and security”. Well, I’d like you to tell that to all my friends that became teachers after college. If they aren’t unemployed, then they’re probably make less then $50K, and here in the San Francisco area, that just isn’t all that much.
    Sure, I made a choice to go into a field that pays well and is rather stable, but I had to make a lot of sacrafices to get where I am.

  15. Rays fan - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    Enlisted troops in their first two years of service make $19-$21K per year. It is enough, if they do stay single and live in the dorms. It’s not the car. It’s that many do not want to wiat to get married. If they do get married, they get a housing allowance if they do not live on base (most bases do not have enough family housing for everyone) that is

  16. Ben R - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    Craig, you say that this is a result of supply and demand. While perhaps not inaccurate, this is a gross oversimplification.
    All of the minor leagues (save the independent leagues) exist simply to provide a set level of competition for prospects. They are subsidized by major league baseball so that prospects can play at a level commensurate with their skill level until maximum value can be extracted from them during their six year indentured servitude to the major league club. (Sure, some lottery tickets pay off and they factor in as well, but the prospects drive the system). Increasing the salary of the average minor league player will reduce the number of teams (not that this is a bad thing).
    Remove the six year period of club control, then we will see what supply and demand looks like for minor league baseball. I suspect teams would be: 1) fewer in number 2) in different locations and 3) much, much more entertaining.
    Think about the minor league business model for a second. They have zero control over their primary product (the baseball team). I can’t think of an analogy in any other business. Who really wants to pay to watch minor league baseball, when competitiveness is (at best) a secondary concern.

  17. Rays fan - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Huh, last sentence of my first paragraph got cut off. Probably a senior moment & I forgot to finish typing…anyway, the housing allowance for junior enlisted is

  18. Rays fan - Apr 1, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    …less than 500 dollars. Okay, I know I typed it that time.

  19. IdahoMariner - Apr 1, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    I don’t see why the fact that some people are screwed over or under-compensated means that minor-leaguers should be screwed over and undercompensated. And I don’t see why everyone assumes you are proposing they suddenly be given ridiculous salaries. We should be guilting/demanding/supporting any effort to pay good teachers better salaries and to make sure our soldiers and veterans get good medical and mental health care. And yeah, it was a bummer always being broke in college and law school and I didn’t like paying back my student loans. And I worked my ass off in the summer. I just don’t know how any of that translates to “these guys should suffer because they get to play baseball.”
    I think that it wouldn’t kill MLB to pay them a more livable wage (maybe $8000 or $9000 for the 7-month commitment) without going nut. Because yeah, it’s not going into battle, and yeah, teachers get screwed and then some by a system that doesn’t value what they contribute to all of us…but that doesn’t justify totally screwing over a class of people who are pursuing a dream and getting paid less than minimum wage. They could stand to pump some money into the system for interpreters and housing, and maybe spend a little less on signing bonuses for the top tier guys (or just make room in their budgets for treating people decently — just selling off one of the McCourt houses could probably cover a raise for everyone in their farm system, plus interpreters and housing).

  20. Old Gator - Apr 1, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    Okay, that’s a fair distinction. But I would say, then, that for a guy or woman coming home from a combat zone (or even just coming home from serving, period), there isn’t enough we can do to say thanks for their gift and their sacrifice. There shouldn’t be any goddamned rules for what is or isn’t covered, especially, but not only, for a combat vet. And no vet should ever have to sleep under a bridge – not that anyone should, but really, a vet has earned better from us.
    I should also add that I favor universal national service – not necessarily military, because everyone isn’t cut out for it. But there’s plenty of domestic and government work that still needs to be done, and plenty of logistical work to back up the services and our aid programs as well. My reasoning is multi-tiered but it includes the awareness that a citizen military, as opposed to a professional one, will be far more resistant to military misadventures like the one recently undertaken by our former unlamented mass murdering simian clown of a President.

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