Minor League Baseball: Time to Pay Up

The iPhone X advertisement boasts that your face is now your password. It sure makes life faster and easier, except on those bad hair days when even your cellphone screen doesn’t recognize your image…scary. Then one must rely on traditional access to the world… the password.

It’s been a five-month long wait since November 1 … the last game of the 113th edition of the World Series and the end to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2017 season. Some of us survived multiple Nor’easters by following timestamps of the departure of the equipment truck, the reporting to camp of pitchers and catchers, and baseball fixes via glimpses of the Grapefruit League on TV. Major League play is now in full swing.

Another important date that may fly under the radar is April 6. Opening Day for Minor League Baseball (MiLB); The Leigh Valley Iron Pigs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium. There are two hundred forty teams who will soon play and are part of nineteen affiliated baseball leagues operating throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. It is an important and powerful venture!

For fans, minor league baseball provides opportunities to spend a relatively affordable family day at the park, experiencing baseball up close and personal. A $25 all-inclusive package may include: a ticket, hotdog, chips, a small soda, and a PawSox cap. One never knows if we will witness the next Fisk, Clemens, Boggs, Lynn, Eckersley, Lyons, or Lester. On the other hand, a typical ticket price-tag for Opening Day at Fenway ranges between $83 and $195; hold the mustard.

But the MilB has not been kind to its players. In 1981 players were paid minimum wage for a forty-hour work week during the season, earning $600 per month plus $11 per day for meals. There were no provisions for additional hours for spring training, the offseason, or overtime. When players retired, they left with no benefits, healthcare, pensions, and many pre-existing conditions. Often that left them managing a plethora of sports’ injuries, limited access to healthcare, and a trail of social and personal challenges.

The average MLB salary is $4 million dollars per year, but Minor League salaries haven’t even kept up with inflation. Minimum salaries for six thousand Minor League players recently increased from $1,100 to $1,160 per month for a forty-hour work week…basically the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Players often fall below the poverty line; their devotion to the game is the choice they make between a dream and flipping burgers.

Finally, a group of forty-five Minor League players sued the MLB stating that MLB is paying players illegally low wages. They argued that players work between fifty and seventy hours per week with no overtime pay. The players claimed state wage and hour laws were being violated and underscored the disparate pay scale. While they earned as little as $3,000 during a five-month season, Major League players’ salaries started at $507,500.

Recently with bipartisan support, Congress passed a $1.3T government funding bill. Embedded in the bill on page 1,967 one finds a provision called the Save America’s Pastime Act that exempts professional baseball players, including minor league teams, from federal labor laws, minimum wage, and overtime rules. Only some Minor League players would receive signing bonuses, health and life insurance benefits, and twenty-five-dollar per diem for food on road trips. These are not acceptable terms for any workplace. It is reported that paying minor league players a living wage l would cost owners approximately $7.5M a year. That doesn’t sound like a lot for an industry valued between ten and 12 billion dollars. The lobbyists clearly won this round!

The baseball season provides us with some of the most exciting and frustrating one hundred sixty-two games in the regular season. We have long counted on baseball, America’s pastime, to slowly change the face of our culture and society in terms of race and ethnicity; there is now a new dimension to equity for players. The new bill passed by Congress undermines the well-being of the players about whom we care and respect, and the integrity of game itself. There is a cloud over the MiLB.

Facial recognition technology merely reflects our image; passwords gain us access to information. Owners should face themselves, rather than relying on politicians, and consider the lives of Minor League players. Do the right thing: pay players a living wage. It is owedto players, families, fans, and to the league itself!