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Must-Click Link: Phil Coke the janitor, Phil Coke the chimney repairman

Oct 22, 2012, 3:30 PM EDT

Tigers reliever Phil Coke carries his baby on his shoulder as he celebrates after his team advanced to the World Series by defeating the New York Yankees in Game 4 of their MLB ALCS baseball playoff series in Detroit

Jonah Keri has a great story up about Phil Coke’s long strange trip through the minors. A trip that included weird odd jobs and no small amount of determination.

The big takeaway here, as Jonah mentions, is just how criminally underpaid most minor league players are. We hear about the big bonuses, but that’s only a handful of guys in the bush leagues. The rest make do on extremely small wages which force most of them to find odd jobs, all the while being expected to keep themselves in top physical condition and to work on their craft.

Coke notes, correctly I assume, that such hardship focuses the mind and drive and helps teams figure out who really wants it bad enough.  But it’s also worth noting that major league teams’ primary motivation here is so save some meager bucks because they can.

  1. deeznutz3d - Oct 22, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Bitch i’m Phil COKE!

    • dtownbeatdown - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:12 PM

      What a boss!

  2. scareduck - Oct 22, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    But it’s also worth noting that major league teams’ primary motivation here is so [sic] save some meager bucks because they can.

    Sure, they can, but it’s also worth mentioning that at the lowest levels, you are dealing with raw high schoolers, and at the lowest of the low levels, i.e. the complex leagues, you have guys playing pro ball in spring training facilities in front of system scouts and coaches — and nobody else. There’s a reason why they have to save money there, and why salaries go up as you advance: it provides incentive, at least.

  3. Liam - Oct 22, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Penny wise/pound foolish, no? In one of the links in the Keri article one minor leaguer said he couldn’t afford a gym membership in the offseason. Wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run to just make sure they had food and exercise needs taken care of considering they’re professional athletes?

    • Detroit Michael - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:05 PM

      I agree that not providing nourishing food and training facilities seems penny wise and pound foolish to me too.

      For an entertaining look at what it’s like living as a minor leaguer as of about five years ago, I recommend both of Dirk Hayhurst’s books.

      • Detroit Michael - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:09 PM

        Oops, I see that Jonah Keri’s article already mentioned the Dirk Hayhurst books.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:21 PM

      Russell Carlton (pizzacutter on twitter) who has worked with Baseball Prospectus and a Major League team, wondered what the ROI would be if teams actually developed a decent food budget for the minors. Instead of players buying strictly fast food (as it’s all they can afford) and ballooning up 20-35lbs, what if the teams spent a couple of thousand on better food alternatives.

      And echoing the above comments, Dirk Hayhurst’s books are a must read if you want to know more about the minor league lifestyle.

      • hk62 - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:44 PM

        I live in a minor league city (Lo-A in the MWL), before the bus leaves after a 2,3, or 4 game series – I always see the kids in Wal-mart buying food. Have seen them calculating the cost of fruit, so at least some of them are spending the right way.

      • Liam - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:23 PM

        Back of the envelope stuff here, but let’s say each team has 200 minor leaguers at a time. Assuming they all have access to a gym during the season, you’re looking at paying for about 1200 months worth of gym memberships in the offseason. Even assuming $100/month, which in my experience would get you a top of the line/personal training included type membership, we’re looking at $120,000 a year on this. Double that for overhead costs and we’re still at a level that seems like it would pay for itself if it helps teams produce one extra viable major league player every few years.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:49 PM

        Double that for overhead costs and we’re still at a level that seems like it would pay for itself if it helps teams produce one extra viable major league player every few years.

        Even if you dont produce a major leaguer, gym memberships and better food would probably lead to healthier players, thus giving a more accurate picture of their ability.

        Also, if they do produce one or two more viable major leaguers, the ROI would pay for these programs 10x over.

  4. jgraening - Oct 22, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    Phil Coke the breakfast cereal… Phil Coke the flamethrower, the kids love it.

    • number42is1 - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:14 PM

      May the Schwartz be with you!

  5. stabonerichard - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Damn right I’d be using PEDs to try to bust thru to the bigs.

    • frank433 - Oct 22, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      You better get it on credit, not going to pay for it on that salary.

  6. mississippimusicman - Oct 22, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    Reminds me of Chuck James (remember that guy?) going back to his off-season job at Lowe’s after winning 12 games his first season in the majors, and the Atlanta front office taking exception to it. It apparently didn’t bother them to have a minor-league pitcher installing storm windows, but once you’re on the 25-man roster, look out!

    • Francisco (FC) - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:04 PM

      Well, in all fairness, what would have happened if he injured himself installing storm windows?

      • mississippimusicman - Oct 22, 2012 at 6:18 PM

        Exactly. Some people blame Chuck James falling off the map on spending the winter working on houses instead of his command. What id Phil Coke had fallen down a chimney, or cut his pitching hand on some sheet metal? It’s not a good idea to let guys your team has invested bonus money, a draft pick, and the time and cost of minor league training in put themselves at risk doing manual labor. The union regularly throws minor leaguers under the bus in negotiations, but it’s plain to see that the current minor league compensation system isn’t working.

  7. indaburg - Oct 22, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Great article. The more I learn about this guy, the more I like him. He also does a mean Miggy impersonation.

    It’s ridiculous how little these guys get paid. At least give them a living wage so they can buy nutritious food.

  8. mississippimusicman - Oct 22, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    Quick and dirty math:
    There are ~246 minor league teams in affiliated ball, each with (usually) a 25-man active roster. Call it close enough to 6,250 roster spots. Adding an average of an extra $10k per year to all those salaries means spending an extra $62.5 million across all levels, total. That’s just over $2 million per team in extra payroll – a drop in the bucket for teams, but a life-changer for the players.

    Rookies make under $500k per year until they’re arb-eligible. Veteran bench bats, backup catchers and bullpen filler tend to make at least $1-2 million. Even if paying the minor-leaguers more only produces one or two replacement-level pre-arb seasons per year, it’s just about a wash financially for the clubs, and if it saves the career of even one everyday player per decade, it’s a bargain. Why the owners can’t see the sense in this is beyond me.

    I want more instant replay. I want the wild card game to become a wild card series. More than any of that, though, I want minor leaguers to be able to focus on baseball instead of scrambling to make the rent.

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