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The minor leagues are brutal

May 14, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 10.33.05 AM

Dirk Hayhurst continues his winning streak of great stories about the less-publicized parts of baseball. Today he talks about something with which he’s extremely familiar: how rough a go minor leaguers have it.

Hayhurst, who famously slept on an air mattress on the floor of his grandmother’s spare room in the offseason because he simply couldn’t afford anything else, notes the biggest problem with the painfully low wages and extreme physical and psychological demands of being a minor leaguer: no one wants to hear you complain about it:

Being a minor league player is a brutal experience—a brutal experience you, dear minor league player, can never speak of. If you ever decide to tell the general public of your disgust with professional baseball, that it’s paying you in stale beer and day-old hot dogs for the honor of playing among its chosen immortals, expect your words to echo off into the endless vacuum . . . at its lowest levels, professional baseball is exploitation. It has been for years—decades. So long, in fact, that it has become a victim of its own belief system: that a player must sacrifice and succumb to unfair treatment as part of “chasing the dream.”

You can look no further than the news of the past couple of months for evidence of this. Specifically, the reaction to a lawsuit filed over unfair labor practices filed by several former minor leaguers back in March. A suit which quite accurately notes that most minor leaguers earn less than $7,500 for an entire season — well below minimum wage — and are required to work mandatory overtime. A suit which notes that, though players are only paid during the season, they are required to perform duties such as training, meetings and the like all year long, making finding paying jobs in the offseason difficult. Most of the people I saw responding to that gave a yawn at best and chastised the players for being ungrateful at the opportunities they’ve been given at worst. Very few people actually considered what it might be like to spend several years trying to scrape by like that.

And, yes, playing professional baseball is a great opportunity. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t real problems with how minor leaguers are treated and compensated. Hayhurst is probably the person in the best position to point this out, and his words on it are well worth your time.

  1. Old Gator - May 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    Time to get Hayhurst together with Ron Shelton and Kevin Costner. There is a classic film waiting to be made.

  2. DelawarePhilliesFan - May 14, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Yes, it is rough. I know a few people who host Wilmington Blue Rocks players (Single A). For every Johnny Damon or Clay Bucholtz who came through, there are 50 guys who never made it past Double A. And beyond the pay – these guys are treated like dirt. The rules they throw on guys for road trips make 8th grade field trips sound relaxed

    • emdash01 - May 14, 2014 at 12:02 PM

      I’ve always felt the host family arrangement has to be one of the weirdest things about being a minor leaguer, and a total crapshoot – you might get some great people, or you might be in an awful situation. A high school friend’s father hosted three minor league guys, and he was kind of a drunk who hosted loud parties lasting ’til 3 in the morning or so on weekends. Every time the minor league guys – long-sufferingly, clearly wanting to sigh heavily – would have to kick the partiers out so they could sleep for the next day’s game. It added an extra layer of irritation those guys didn’t need.

      • Bob Loblaw - May 14, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        and then you have Annie Savoy…..

    • shanabartels - May 14, 2014 at 3:06 PM

      I didn’t know about the bed check and curfew thing on minor league road trips until very recently and I was pretty shocked to find that out. These are ADULTS. I absolutely had less supervision on two different 8th grade field trips out of the country that involved stays in hotels and with host families. It’s shocking what these guys put up with just because “that’s the way it is” instead of fighting the stupid rules and dismal conditions.

  3. TheMorningStar - May 14, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Please, these young guys are banging hot ladies non-stop…that alone is more than makes up for their low pay.

    • lifer124 - May 14, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      This is sarcasm right? Please?

      • TheMorningStar - May 14, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        No sarcasm at all. The guys that are good enough to make it to MLB will make a ton of $$$…the guys who aren’t good enough will NEVER get this many ladies ever again.

        Both make out in the end.

    • jimeejohnson - May 14, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      WRONG!

      • TheMorningStar - May 14, 2014 at 12:09 PM

        Right!!

      • Old Gator - May 14, 2014 at 1:30 PM

        Especially for Jimee….

        http://static.squarespace.com/static/507dba43c4aabcfd2216a447/t/5213b751e4b01103f36a72dc/1377023828737/Never%20Eat%20Anything%20Bigger%20Than%20Your%20Head%202

    • sportsdrenched - May 14, 2014 at 11:39 AM

      “Hey, want to come back to my bedroom at my host families house?”

  4. blabidibla - May 14, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Like trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles. People can complain all they want about the abusive nature of the industry, but there will ALWAYS be someone else ready to take your place should you walk away.

    • ditto65 - May 14, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      Except the young actor in LA is LOOKING for work, hoping to sign a contract. Minor leaguers have contracts that exploit them to the nth degree.

      • 18thstreet - May 14, 2014 at 1:11 PM

        Still better than college sports.

      • davidpom50 - May 14, 2014 at 2:12 PM

        1. Whoops. I accidentally hit “report comment” instead of “reply,” so I’m sorry for that.

        2. blabidibla still has an excellent point. There will always be kids fresh out of high school with big league dreams willing to accept that abuse. It’s shameful that MLBPA hasn’t stepped in to protect them at all. They seem to have a really, really strong case in their lawsuit, and they should not have to go it alone.

  5. Bob Loblaw - May 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    I read Dirk’s article and it is definitely interesting. I’m not going to say anything negative about those guys complaining. That’s their right and I am sure if I were going through it, I would complain about it as well. But the fact is that it is their choice. Also, if the lawsuit has merit, it will win, and minor leaguers will get more money and more benefits. I do have faith in the justice system when it comes to correcting unfair labor practices in the US, and in this case, I think they should prevail.

    But the fact is that the owners of minor leagues are only going to put into it what they get out of it. I am only guessing here, but I doubt very much that the owners are lining their pockets with profits from the minor leagues. Yeah, you can say they are building their MLB product with it, but realistically, when the most important thing isn’t necessarily winning, then how much are they going to care about keeping those guys happy?

    The minor leagues are what they are…a place where major leaguers are taught the fundamentals, a place where injured major leaguers go to rehab, and a place where some out of the way cities, like Reading, etc. can go to watch a cheap baseball game and maybe say “I saw [so and so Major Leaguer] play before he made the majors”. That’s really it.

    • ditto65 - May 14, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      Perhaps it is time the parent team contribute more to the minors. After all, they turn record profits year after year.

      • Bob Loblaw - May 14, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        Why? Because it’s the “right thing to do”? When has any owner ever put that in front of making more money? Dirk talks about charities, but the fact is that charities are not employees of the team. And they are all 100% tax wirte-offs. Do you think the owners would donate so much if they weren’t getting some type of benefit? Puh-leeze.

        If the courts decide that they should contribute more, then they will contribute more. As long as there are lines of people to play in the minor leagues, the owners have zero incentive to contribute more to operations, that for the most part, are money losers.

      • ditto65 - May 14, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        They certainly reap the benefits of the affiliated minor league teams. Even if zero minor leaguers are promoted to the bigs, it serves as a rehab system for players coming back from injury and need to get up to speed.

      • eshine76 - May 14, 2014 at 11:47 AM

        Minor leaguers receive their paychecks from the parent club.

      • emdash01 - May 14, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        Because it’s probably an advantage to the players’ development if they provide healthier food and a living wage, so that they can devote themselves to conditioning rather than making ends meet in the offseason and keep them from being distracted by it during the season? Some team should try it for a few seasons, if only to see if it has an impact on performance.

      • ditto65 - May 14, 2014 at 1:24 PM

        Perhaps the parent organization should pay them more.

    • paperlions - May 14, 2014 at 12:54 PM

      Your faith in the law and our legal system are baffling to me. Since when does the law (as a system) accurately reflect right and wrong? The next time that happens will be the first time in history.

      • Bob Loblaw - May 14, 2014 at 1:13 PM

        Paperbag, maybe you should read up on US Labor Law and understand that we don’t have 8 year old kids working in sweatshops making 6 cents an hour to make Nike sneakers before you talk about our legal system. Or better yet, stay misinformed.

      • paperlions - May 14, 2014 at 1:58 PM

        Yeah, that is exactly what I meant. My comment was referring to your dismissive “if the courts say they should pay more, they will” as if somehow what the courts deem has anything to do with what should be done.

      • Bob Loblaw - May 14, 2014 at 2:28 PM

        I see…sorry. So all the US laws put in place by Congress and the courts that basically do “what should be done” are just ignored by you when you write “The nxt time that happens will be the first time in history”? I see.

        It’s one thing to think the justice system sucks…it’s quite another to apply what happens in the justice system to US Labor laws…they are apples and oranges. Fact is, if they really are circumventing labor laws the courts will strike them down and do it pretty hard. If they aren’t then MiLB players lose the lawsuit and they don’t have a leg to stand on. If they can’t beat the man in the US on labor issues, then they are likely just wrong.

        The next time a class action lawsuit where a group of employees are being treated abusively is found in favor of the corporation will be the first time in history. There.

  6. sdelmonte - May 14, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    I know it will never happen. But there really should be a minor leaguers union. In an ideal world, the MLBPA gets involved, and looks after its future.

    But that ain’t gonna happen, is it?

    • paperlions - May 14, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      It could actually happen quite easily if players that are organizational guys (i.e. non-prospects) were to…..well…organize it. Real prospects need guys to play against, and such non-prospects make up the vast majority of every MiLB roster. If those guys unionized and chose to go on strike, it would have a huge immediate effect on MLB teams.

    • Old Gator - May 14, 2014 at 8:39 PM

      It ain’t gonna happen ’cause the MLBPA members’ attitude is something along the lines of “I ain’t there no more but you still is.”

  7. deep64blue - May 14, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    The next advantage a smart front office is going to get is transforming their Minor Leagues, pay them properly make sure they are getting the food they they need, good travel arrangements etc.

    It would be a long term investment but probably cost about half a decent Major Leaguer!

  8. eshine76 - May 14, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    You think pay for minor league players is bad? Talk to minor league front office employees. Better yet, talk to a minor league front office “intern.”

    • paperlions - May 14, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      or a major league front office intern….a 9 billion dollar industry forcing young employees to work for free…nice business model.

  9. ud1951 - May 14, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Yes and only baseball players and other pro athletes have to toil long and hard and endure the depredations for a shot at the best jobs in their chosen industry. –eyes rolling–

  10. nfieldr - May 14, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    How about comparing these guys to young military guys? Both are teenagers or early 20s, both work long hours for low pay. But military guys not only work in brutal conditions, they could be deadly conditions. And for the military guys, there is never a potential pot of gold at the end.

    • paperlions - May 14, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      That is all 100% true, but that isn’t an argument for MiLB players to shut up and be grateful, it is an argument for the compensation of military personnel to be increased to a respectable level….especially considering how many billions of dollars are spend on “defense”, with so much of that money going directly into CEO pockets rather than the people that actually do the work.

      In fact, since we don’t live in a country, but in a business as the US government’s primary mission is to defend business interests and to expand such interests locally and globall rather than the stewardship of the citizens, it would be nice to see the corporations that reap billions of dollars in benefits from military actions actually pay some taxes to support the troops that are defending their interests. Hell, I pay more taxes than some huge US businesses do.

    • clemente2 - May 14, 2014 at 1:49 PM

      The vast majority of minor league players are in the same position as the military, except for the getting shot part.

      Except the military are paid better, get education benefits when they are out, can stay in and develop a life-long career, get medical paid for, and are fed like no one’s business.

      Minor leaguers are treated like hell; I understand lots of people put up with it to see if they can make it big, but few do. Let’s say there are 5000 minor leaguers (probably high). Giving each of them $10,000 more a year would cost MLB $50,000,000 or about $1.6 million a team. Not an economic issue to the teams, but a godsend to the players. The amount should probably be two or three times that, though.

      And then we get to staff pay and the ‘intern’ issue.

  11. mikhelb - May 14, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    Thankfully is Hayhurst who wrote the book, had it been an hispanic former player, nobody would have taken the time to listen, as it had happened before.

  12. bh192012 - May 14, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    Lets see, the Class A Advanced, Cal league averages around 1.6 million visitors per year, at say 10$ a pop per ticket…… is 16 million in just ticket sales (no concession fees.) Divided by 10 teams is 1.6 million per team.

    Even if you figure 300k on debts per year related to the facility and transportation…… 1,300,000 divided by 30 BB players, 5 managers, 5 front office staff and 10 misc custodians and security etc….. is still 26k per person per year…. (total compensation, doesn’t include benefits) Seems like we should be able to give these guys a pay raise even w/o MLB teams support…. and these teams should be paying the minor leage teams to train their future stars.

    I’m guessing like usual, the people who own the minor league teams are getting a massive cut of the profits and the staff get shafted.

    • DJ MC - May 14, 2014 at 10:20 PM

      I don’t work in a minor-league front office, but I’m pretty sure all of your numbers are WAY off.

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