The dirty little, not-so-secret, standard operating procedure of major league baseball teams paying minor league players less than peanuts has found it way to the halls of the U.S. Congress.
The salary dispute has actually been lurking in smoke-filled back rooms for the past couple of years. Highly paid lobbyists have been working on Congress to keep minor league ballplayers from ever being highly paid as well. A lurking lawsuit from minor league players demanding minimum wages and overtime pay has pushed everything to this end.
In a victory for MLB, legislation about minor league salaries has been included in the massive omnibus funding bill that Congress will vote on this coming Friday, which will then be sent to the president to be signed. The Orwellian-named law is called the “Saving America’s Pastime Act”. It will dictate pay for minor league ballplayers at the federal minimum wage for 40 hours a week, and exempt them from overtime pay. It also prohibits them from being paid during Spring Training, just like the current system. That’s right, all those minor leaguers you’ve been watching try to find a spot on the big clubs have been entertaining you for free.
You might find yourself saying, “I don’t care what these guys earn. They’re chasing a dream very few of us ever get a shot at – that magical life-changing money that major leaguers get”. That’s exactly the point. These players are taking a chance with their careers, and for the 90% of them who never get a crack at The Show, they’re taking a chance with their lives.
Perhaps you heard the story of Andrew Toles. When the Dodgers offered Toles a second chance at baseball, they found him working in a grocery store. It makes for a warm and fuzzy story, but it’s also a grim reality. Toles spent his youth doing pretty much nothing but practicing and playing baseball. Like countless others who find themselves out of the game with no marketable skills beyond hitting a cut-off man, he was probably lucky to even land that job.
A few will go on to play under the bright lights for the big bucks, but the overwhelming majority will never get there. Far too many become career minor leaguers. Some spend a decade chasing a carrot that will forever be just out of their reach. They give their prime years living and breathing baseball, because there’s just no other way to make it to the major leagues.
Trouble is, they’ve always had to make it on poverty wages. The average AAA player makes $2,150 a month – and that’s just for the season. The rest of the year, he gets nothing. How about a minimum stipend to stay in shape and keep his skills sharp in the offseason? For that, he gets zilch. That all comes down to less than $11,000 a year. Try that with a wife and young child or two, as many career minor leaguers do.
According to MiLB President Pat O’ Conner, paying minor league players more would hurt smaller teams and put some out of business. Keep in mind minor league salaries aren’t paid by the minor league teams. The parent teams pay those salaries. MLB overall has seen ridiculous profits in the billions over the past several years. Gross revenue for 2017 across the league is estimated at $12 billion. The Dodgers charge double-digit premiums for ticket prices on nights that corporate sponsors pay to provide hand-out goodies like bobbleheads. New stadiums are built with public subsidies. The money is coming in hand over fist. Yet Big Baseball won’t pay higher wages or offer offseason stipends to help their prospects make ends meet.
The “Save America’s Pastime Act”? They should have named it the “Preserve Profits Over Players Provision”