MLB putting the screws to MiLB players: While We're Waiting...

A young ballplayer dreams of the day of "making it." That dream becomes a nightmare when the 24-7-365 minor league job pays less than a McDonald's cashier. Welcome to the life of the minor league baseball player.

Mornin' y'all. Hope this Wednesday finds you in the highest of spirits with the wind forever at your back. Of course, if it is, then you are probably not a minor league baseball player outside the handful who received big signing bonuses. Or, you're living in denial. So, if you are a minor leaguer who is living in denial about your economic and general living conditions, then now is the time to click on a different page. WFNY has lots to offer there, so I might suggest one on the Indians catcher situation or bullpen. For everyone else though, it is time to ensure the light continues to be shone on the situation in MiLB.

How much do MiLB players make?

Minor League baseball players make very, very little money. Outside the first few rounds in the MLB Amateur Draft and a scant few international signings, most players in MiLB are playing for the minimum with the hopes of someday making it into majors where they can make a living playing baseball. The way baseball is set up, even the best prospects tend to spend anywhere from four-to-seven years in MiLB (depending on if they enter before or after college). So the marginal players that need even more development can be looking at spending a decade in a team's system.

So, how much do they make? According to Jeff Blank at Sports Law Blog:

Until a minor league player is placed on a 40-man roster, monthly salaries are $1150 for the short season teams, $1300 for low A and $1500 for high A. For players repeating a year at the same level, the salary goes up $50 each year. For AA, the monthly salary is $1700 and it goes up $100 per month for subsequent years. For AAA, the monthly salary is $2150 per month and it goes up to $2400 the second year and $2700 the third year.

Once a player makes the 40-man, he will make roughly $40,000 per season until the player makes the jump to MLB. Also, all players are entitled to $25 per day for food money on road trips (in addition to the $37 per day in salary for those short season team players).

Oh, and all of those monthly salaries are only allocated during the portion of the season where they have to report to the team. So, the offseason months where each player is expected to train, eat right, and develop themselves for the upcoming season have to be done on their own dime.

OK, but why do we care?

Well, for one, a multi-billion dollar league is completely ignoring a large portion of its workforce and paying them a pittance. In fact, the players within the league are claiming collusion on the league's part. From a common sense point of view, they have a slam dunk case. Those salaries above are done throughout the league, yet MiLB players have no voice in collective bargaining (more below). And, the salaries are well below minimum wage. Yes, players would make more money as a fast food cashier than playing baseball.

But, these types of cases do not get decided by common sense, they get decided by politicians and lawyers. MLB teams' hands were forced when 20 MiLB players filed a suit against 17 teams and MLB in 2014. Baseball America has covered the lawsuit well and here is an excerpt of the initial filing:

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claims that major league teams have suppressed minor league player salaries in violation of federal and state labor laws, and calls for minor leaguers to be paid a salary that meets minimum wage requirements. It does not seek to turn minor leaguers into millionaires, the plaintiffs contend in their complaint, but rather to make working in minor league baseball less of a financial burden for players.
The problem, the lawsuit contends, is that minor leaguers like [former MiLB player Tim] Pahuta “are powerless to combat the collusive power” of major league teams that are exempt from antitrust laws.

So, MLB countered by working their political connections in order to attempt to enact a secondary exemption outside of their current exemption from antitrust laws. MLB has backed the congressional bill Save America's Pastime Act. Quite literally, MLB is backing Congress to specifically amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in order to win the above cited MiLB court case and ensure they can continue to not pay MiLB players minimum wage or overtime. Here is the amendment:



—Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 213) is amended—

(1) in subsection (a)—(A) in paragraph (18), by striking the period and inserting ‘‘; or’’; and

(B) by adding at the end the following: ‘‘(19) any employee who has entered into a contract to play baseball at the minor league level.’’; and

(2) by adding at the end the following:

‘‘(k) Subsection (a)(19) shall not be construed to require the provisions of section to apply to any employee who has entered into a contract to play baseball at the major league level.’’.

What is MLB and MLBPA saying about it?

MLB released an initial statement upon the announcement of the Congressional Act noting how MiLB cities should feel ingratiated towards MLB for subsidizing the minors and how unsustainable tracking actual hours worked would be for what essentially can be considered a non-stop job. Then, in the same statement, said "for the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship." An impressive bit of lawyer-speak especially for employment that requires year-round training.

And, being perfectly fair, considering MLB teams can require near 24-7-365 training from players, it is impossible to break down where the line of punching in the clock should begin and end. Nutrition, sleep, and even movement tracking devices are becoming more popular and the line is hazy about where a MLB team might step over the line into a player's privacy and when the employee is working. However, that argument of constantly being on the job is exactly why MLB teams should pay them a liveable salary in the first place.

Nathaniel Grow did a terrific job cutting through the prepared statements by Rob Manfred (MLB) and the Tony Clark (MLBPA) for Fangraphs. First, Grow demonstrated the contradiction in Manfred's statement.

If MLB were really concerned simply with resolving how to calculate players’ “working hours,” and not with paying minor-league players a living wage, then the league could instead seek legislation specifying that so long as minor-league players receive a certain minimum annual salary, then they are not entitled to additional minimum-wage or overtime compensation.

Then, the MLBPA has been all about rhetoric, but without any action to actually help the players of MiLB. Grow makes perfect note to show that Clark is hiding behind empty wording.

Moreover, if Clark and the MLBPA truly wanted to to go to bat for minor-league players on the wage issue, they could easily decide to expand the union’s membership to include all minor leaguers, thereby giving the MLBPA the legal power to demand higher wages for at the minor-league level.

Can MLB really afford it?

Paying all 7500 MiLB players $40,000 per year would cost each team $10 million. Paying each $50,000 would cost each MLB team $12.5 million. Of course, one would have to subtract out the amounts already being paid and the fact that at least a portion of those salaries would come out of the MLB player portions of the revenue. Or, one could point to the fact that the $13 billion valued digital rights of MLB do not even feed into the CBA for the MLBPA (whoops).

What should be done about MiLB pay?

Unions are not always the best option for a workforce. However, when the employers have a monopoly in the field and/or are willing to collude with each other to tamper down salaries to the point that they are below minimum wage employees despite the revenue base feeding into a system that makes billions each year, then yeah, unions and CBAs are necessary.

And, since MLB is willing to literally change the working laws in their favor to defeat presented lawsuits, the MiLB players should work rather quickly on it too. It's a shame the MLBPA refuses to acknowledge their existance with actions, but that tune might change quickly if a MiLBPA was formed and started arguing as a third seat at the upcoming CBA negotiations.

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