If you believe that maintaining the status quo in minor league baseball is important, you aren’t going to like this article.
However, if you believe that some things – like simple human decency in the area of fair pay – are more important than whether or not the current minor league model is continued, I suspect you’ll be joining me in raising your voice in objection to what Major League Baseball (along with their weak sister organization, Minor League Baseball) are conspiring with members of the U.S. Congress to do as early as today.
The Washington Post is reporting that MLB lobbyists and a handful of Congressmen plan to attach an amendment to the $1.3 trillion spending bill that must become law this week in order to avoid another government shutdown. That amendment would specifically hand baseball an exemption to federal labor laws for their treatment of minor league ballplayers.
Congressmen in MLB/MiLB’s pockets introduced a separate bill to grant this exemption a couple of years ago, but it has gone nowhere. So, now, it’s apparently time to slip the provisions into a bill that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything related to baseball.
It’s what’s commonly called a “Christmas Tree Ornament” amendment that gets attached to a big “tree,” in this case the critical spending bill. And guess who’s getting the big present? Yes, 30 multi-billionaires who simply don’t want to share even a fraction of the enormous revenues that fans are giving them with the very poorest of their players.
And the amendment’s supporters aren’t even being up front with their intention to hang this ornament on the spending bill tree.
According to the Post report, the amendment has not been included in any of the drafts of the bill distributed thus far. The intent, clearly, was to hang this particular ornament on the tree at the last minute, when nobody was looking closely enough to even notice it.
Let me pose this question, for any of you who may still think there’s nothing wrong with 20 year old ballplayers working for far less than minimum wage. If giving MLB this exemption is the right thing to do, why hide it this way, even from other members of Congress?
Players at lower levels (such as with the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels) are making maybe $1,200 per month. That’s GROSS pay, by the way.
The players that will be sent to Cedar Rapids at the beginning of April aren’t getting paid that while they’re down in Ft. Myers for spring training, either. They get paid only for time spent on an active minor league roster. In the minor leagues, that’s five months… at most. Many players play in “short season” leagues that run only three months during the summer.
Just for reference, I made better money working for a fast food burger chain… in 1976.
MLB has obviously been threatening the minor league organization, along with those who own and operate affiliated minor league teams, with all manner of catastrophic consequences (up to and including contraction of teams/classes within the minor league system, no doubt) should MLB end up required to pay their minor leaguers anything remotely close to a livable wage.
You see, despite the millions of dollars MLB’s billionaires have paid their lobbyists, 30 wealth old white guys only can carry so much clout with Congress. But when you threaten the hundreds of minor league teams in Congressional districts across the country and get the front offices and fans of those teams involved with personal lobbying to save their local teams, now you’ve got yourself some effective lobbying. Lobbying that MLB didn’t even have to pay for, just use a little not-so-subtle coercion.
Don’t think this is what’s going on? Listen to this quote within the Post story from Pat O’Conner, the head of MiLB.
“We’re in 42 states, 160 cities. We’ve got over $3 billion of infrastructure, much of which is still being paid off by the clubs and the communities where they exist,” he said. “This is about constituents, this is about jobs at home, and this is about quality of life at home.”
So, obviously, the concern is for the, “quality of life at home,” for the local fans, rather than the quality of life for players, many of whom are from poor Latin American countries and most of whom did not receive anything close to the large signing bonuses that get all the media attention when they sign contracts with a MLB team.
The minimum wage in the big leagues is approaching $600,000. For the roughly price of one minimum wage big leaguer on each team, MLB could afford to pay an extra $1,200 per month to 100 of their minor league players (that’s four rosters worth of players). For under a million of their precious dollars per year, MLB owners could effectively make this issue go away.
The Twins reportedly will have an Opening Day big league payroll of $130,000,000 (and they are only in the middle of the pack among their MLB peers in payroll). Think about that for just a moment.
It’s not a coincidence that minor league pay is determined by negotiations with the MLB players’ union – a union that minor leaguers are not actually members of.
In effect, the billionaire owners are putting the screws to minor league operators and fans (not to mention the players) in order to save themselves from having to spend a small fraction of 1% of their annual revenues on additional minor league pay.
The contract between MLB and MiLB that sets the terms for how affiliates operate together is due to expire in 2020 and MLB isn’t going to renew it until this matter is resolved. They are obviously using the contract as leverage to get the minor league organizations to lobby Congress on their behalf.
It’s coercion, plain and simple, and it’s shameful.
Yet, because Congress is Congress, don’t be surprised if it’s also effective.