Cardinals Minor Leaguers: Making Ends Meet

A small increase in minor league per diem helps low-paid players get by financially.

Two weeks ago at the Major League Baseball owners meeting, minor league baseball players received a surprise as they were granted an increase of their per diem from $20 to $25, reports the Wall Street Journal. This came on the heels of reports of earlier reports of ownership opposition for economic reasons that were roundly criticized in the media. For the Cardinals, with seven minor league clubs of 25 players each averaging 50 road games, we are talking about less than $50,000 for the season.

For the players, the extra $5 isn't going to be a game-changer either, but anything can help. Out of that money come clubhouse dues and tips that can eat up as much of half or more, depending on the level of play. By the way, they only receive $12 per day during spring training, since the team provides breakfast and lunch.

Compare that to the $89.50 major leaguers receive daily on top of their princely salaries and one can appreciate the disparity. According to one baseball official, 95 percent of players who sign a professional contract never reach the major leagues – even for one day.

Speaking of disparity, the major league minimum salary last season was $400,000, with a huge gap to the highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez at $32 million. In 2009, the average MLB player was paid exactly one-tenth of that, $3.2 million, according to the AP.

Minor leaguers, on the other hand, are paid at approximately the following scale.

• First-year players: $1,100 per month
• First-year A-ball players: $1,300 per month
• Double-A players: $1.600 per month
• Triple-A players: $2,150 per month
• Minor league veterans may make as much as $12,000 to $13,000 per month.

Before you get too excited with your calculators, don't bother multiplying by 12. You see, these monthly salaries are only paid for the five months during the season. Players are on their own the rest of the year. In fact, in some ways, they are on their own during the season, too.

Minor leaguers are responsible for their own accommodations in their minor league outposts, which eat further into their limited funds. Many players have multiple roommates, often with a rotating system as players drift in and out as they are moved up and down levels during the season.

In some towns of the lower-level affiliates, local families still host players. That is gradually falling by the wayside, however. I know of one situation where the program was ended during the season because several players racked up thousands of dollars of long distance calls on their hosts' phones.

During the off-season, players take on a variety of activities. Some are like rehabbing pitcher David Kopp, who calls his daily rehab sessions his "job" as he works to get ready for spring training coming off shoulder surgery. Kopp has the luxury of living within commuting distance of the Cardinals Jupiter, Florida complex. With only a December break for the holidays, he has been joined by others all winter long, including rehabbing Kyle Mura.

Some, like Matt Arburr, are working in paying jobs, but remain close to the game. The slugger has taken on a common player avocation, giving hitting lessons to little leaguers. While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico this year, Casey Mulligan spent a couple of past winters in the jewelry department of a JC Penney and another at Christmas tree lots.

P.J. Walters is one who did pick up that major league meal money for a time last season. In winters, he works in his father's business, which is to rebuild diesel fuel injectors. The pitcher doesn't man a wrench though, as he runs their website and manages their ebay ads and listings.

Suffice it to say that while these young men would rather be playing baseball 12 months a year, they can't, nor would their bodies let them. Given what precious little they make in the game and the low odds of reaching the big money of the majors, they can use all the help they can get.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories