Public Awareness of Minor League Players’ Vulnerability is Growing

In March of 2019, The Athletic’s Emily Waldon penned an explosive piece detailing Major League Baseball’s labor exploitation of minor league players. The evidence of such abhorrent practices were publicly available prior to this piece, to be sure, but as with most injustice, hiding in plain sight was the surest way for MLB to maintain the status quo. 

(Waldon’s article is currently unlocked and free for all to read. It is highly recommended.)

The article in part explores what’s dubiously titled ‘Save America’s Pastime Act’. The outcome of MLB’s lobbying efforts, the act allows the league to deprive minor league players of overtime pay — a direct assault on worker’s rights. Minor leaguers already face impossible financial insecurity, a result of being considered ‘independent contractors’ while receiving no pay (aside from a per diem) during spring training and fending for themselves during the offseason. Waldon’s article above sheds light on how little minor league players make, as does Levi Weaver’s interview with Commissioner Rob Manfred last season. 

MLB has leveraged Washington, allowing their profits to skyrocket while denying their lowest-level workers from earning a livable income. This is immoral at face value, and has proven to be especially heinous when a counterpart such as the NBA offers developmental league players livable wages along with housing stipends.

MLB can argue that minor leaguers are seasonal employees, or that they have signing bonuses to buttress their salaries, but those claims are misleading and lack context. Consider that minor leaguers are under contract with the team that drafted them for over six years, without a say in their salary or assignment each season. Also consider that roughly 40 percent of drafted players receive a signing bonus of less than $10,000. That money dries up quickly when you’re only paid a handful of months each season, and MLB has shown little by means of sympathy. 

Rob Manfred may trumpet the league as labor friendly and caring, but ownership in baseball has proven just as greedy and selfish as they were with the advent of the Reserve Clause. And should you need more proof that minor league players are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out, remember that those speaking with Waldon in the article above insisted on doing so anonymously. 

To be fair, minor league compensation has recently increased, but no one can say with a straight face that $4,800 over a three month span is a ‘livable wage’. Extrapolated over a calendar year, that number registers at just $19,200. Throw in the fact that baseball wants to restructure the minor leagues altogether, and you have the perfect storm for minor leaguers to be at the forefront of financial pain when a global crisis hits.

Major League Baseball recently announced they would be paying minor leaguers their spring training stipend through April 8, and such a gesture isn’t entirely empty. Coupled with housing, minor leaguers will be receiving roughly $400 per week at minimum (roughly $57 per day). Still, this is the minimum the league should be doing for its players, and yet it took considerable public pressure for the league to even half-heartedly respond to its shortcomings.

In short, baseball needs to do more for the players that help develop eventual big league talent, provide entertainment for small markets, and install a friendly baseball environment for families across America. Minor leaguers are fundamental to the game’s success; they should be compensated appropriately.

How COVID-19 is Impacting Minor Leaguers

Imagine having to travel cross-country for work without receiving actual payment for doing so, laboring until the official start of the minor league season. Now imagine that start — and actual income — being delayed because of a pandemic that has left the world in chaos. With no known timetable for spring training to resume (let alone the regular season, and with that, paychecks) minor leaguers are left without much hope.

Emily Waldon, among others, has stepped up for minor leaguers, using her platform to raise awareness of their dire financial situations. Emily’s Twitter feed is a constant stream of thoughtfulness with regard to minor leaguers, and it is laudable that the community of followers have responded in-kind by donating what they can. Rightfully so, her efforts have made national headlines, though as she so humbly states: “I’m not doing this to say, ‘Look at what I’ve done,’ I’m doing it because it’s not being done.”

Beyond donations, job openings across the country have been discovered for minor leaguers in the interim, providing hope and an opportunity to make ends meet in one of the darkest economic times in recent memory.  

There’s much work to be done, but the progress is at a baseline refreshing.  

Ways You Can Help

If you are fortunate enough to still be earning an income, whether while working from home or forced to carry out your profession in the world, there are several ways to provide assistance to minor leaguers. Aside from following Waldon’s Twitter account, an organization called More Than Baseball (founded by former minor leaguer Jeremy Wolf) assists players with much needed resources as they scrape their way through the minors. Other avenues exist as well, such as adopting a minor league player.

Sure enough, resources are becoming more readily available as this story continues to enter public consciousness. It’s important to read about the malnutrition, the lack of a livable income, and the basic disregard for humanity the MLB’s lens is toward minor leaguers, because as fans we are responsible to holding the league accountable in making change.

The Conversation is Just Beginning

One may ask why, at a time as critical as we’re living in right now, the plight of the minor leaguer has taken such a foothold. To me, the answer is quite simple: minor league players have long faced undue economic hardships, and their lack of income and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic is an absolute emergency. 

For those of us that follow baseball with such passion and ferocity, the integrity of the game extends beyond how it is played, beyond even the preservation of its history. With infinite resources, the league could truly express care and concern by ensuring all of its employees the opportunity to live with dignity. When MLB rakes in $10.7 billion annually but refuses to pay minor leaguers appropriately, integrity becomes a laughable term.  

This crusade strikes a personal note for me, as well, not the least of which is empathy borne out of being a former college and amateur ball player. I also maintain a non-profit background, and I’m currently facing unemployment as a service industry worker, with Illinois restaurants closed until at least April. Needless to say, my solidarity is particularly attuned to those also facing financial hardships. Minor leaguers are not likely to be immunocompromised or generally of the vulnerable sects of society as it relates to COVID-19, but they are vulnerable as it pertains to economic stability, especially during this crisis.

Perhaps this crisis will allow humanity to rediscover its true nature, its true self. A sense of community, of belonging, of empathy, of selflessness still exists. Expressing that notion — whenever and wherever we feel a need — isn’t noble, but a basic act of human decency.

Whether it is your neighbor, family, a hurting coworker, or some random minor league player, alleviating the suffering of others, however you can, will go a long way in restoring faith in humanity. 

Follow Austin Bloomberg on Twitter for the latest Cubs news, rumors, and opinion.

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