Back in college, I took a class called “Baseball and American Culture” and it was wonderful. Of course, if you know me, it would be a perfect class for me. It’s a class for juniors and seniors, but since my undergrad advisor was awesome and knew I loved baseball and taught the class, he let me take it as a sophomore. I was one of five girls in the class, which I expected.
There was a ton of reading, and it helped add to all of the random information I know about baseball. One of those things is that Branch Rickey created the farm system (a.k.a. minor league system) back in the early 1900s while he was with the Cardinals. He invested in a few minor league teams to develop young players, and at the time, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was skeptical of Rickey’s minor league teams and released the players twice. In the end, though, the creation of the farm system saved minor league baseball.
So this brings us to today, when we still have the minor league system but the players aren’t being compensated for their work.
In a spending bill that was passed last week—to prevent a third government shutdown—there was a section about minor league players pay, because that totally makes sense to be included in a $1.3 trillion spending bill for the federal government. Cool.
As I touched upon in this post, the spending bill included an amendment that exempts Major League Baseball from terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act, ensuring that teams don’t have to pay minor leaguers for spring training, for offseason workouts, or for overtime during the season (USA Today).
There was a bill introduced in 2016 called the “Save America’s Pastime” act that claimed increased player pay would affect minor league team’s budgets and could lead to teams folding and losing players. This isn’t true, because MLB teams control what players are paid:
Players aren’t paid by minor league teams, they’re paid by the affiliated MLB clubs who are always searching for more ways to pay players less money. In the wake of unfair wage lawsuits taken up against the league by players — which the league has emerged victorious from so far — MLB is pushing harder than ever to make sure minor leaguers are not privy to the benefits of normal hourly workers, lobbying lawmakers constantly to push this into law. That lobbying led to the inclusion of a baseball wage provision in an otherwise unrelated and massive spending bill (SB Nation).
Minor leaguers aren’t part of a union and aren’t part of the MLB Players Association, which negotiates on behalf of the players. This might be different if minor league players were paid directly by the minor league team itself, but their pay is funneled down by the major league club that the team is associated with.
Let’s take my Red Sox, for example. Here are their minor league teams:
- Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA)
- Portland Sea Dogs (AA)
- Salem Red Sox (Advanced-A)
- Greenville Drive (A)
- Lowell Spinners (Short-season A)
- (Plus a Gulf Coast League team and two Dominican summer league teams.)
All of those players are essentially paid by the Red Sox, not the teams they play for. So that means, the Red Sox have those teams/players on their payroll in addition to the players at the major league level. Not shaming my team at all, but if they can afford to shell out $110 million for JD Martinez (and past five-year contract busts), they should be able to afford to pay minor leaguers a livable wage.
(ALSO SIDE NOTE: The Red Sox have the highest salary among Major League Baseball this season at $223 million. AND there are FOUR players who are receiving $100 million: David Price, JD Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, and Dustin Pedroia.)
According to USA Today, MLB’s revenue passed $10 billion in 2017 and the average MLB player’s salary was $4 million. Yet minor league players can’t get fair pay:
But the league and the industry at large continue to prevent any of that wealth from trickling into the hands of the minor leaguers that create its backbone. Major League Baseball maintains a political action committee that spends millions on lobbying and campaign donations.
In other professions, there are often different ways to break through, but the minor leagues are the only path to the majors.
In case you were wondering, here’s the breakdown of what minor league players get paid:
Minimum base pay for minor leaguers ranges from about $1,100 to $1,800 per month, depending on the level of play. That salary — stipend, really — is paid only for the months that the players are in-season, early April through Labor Day Weekend. They aren’t paid for Spring Training, when they are working every day. They aren’t paid in the offseason, when they are training nearly every day to get ready for the next season. We’re talking as low as $5,500 to $9,000 per year (WTOP).
That doesn’t include the $25 meal money they get for road games, but counter that with $5-$15 in clubhouse dues. I doubt this would fly in any other business setting, but in closed rooms, MLB has been lobbying for this with its own PAC and donations to congressmen and congresswomen.
This amendment was stuffed into a 2,000+ page spending bill that, realistically, no one read. That’s shady by MLB, but the league probably realized it wouldn’t pass on its own. That’s why the 2016 bill failed the first time.
I thought MLB was better than this. I guess that’s the magic they try to sell you. That suffering through the minor leagues will be worth it in the end when you get called up to the show.