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Minor League Baseball Players Shouldn’t Be Paid Less Than Walmart Greeters


#1

Minor League Baseball Players Shouldn’t Be Paid Less Than Walmart Greeters

Ken Reed

Major League Baseball (MLB) owners are pushing Congress to allow them to continue paying minor league baseball players less than a McDonald’s worker or Walmart greeter.

The reality for most minor league players today is that the hot dog vendor in the stands is making more money than they are.


#2

there you have it.

all the talk of market making the salary of the player is baloney.
True, there is little to no tv coverage of sport at this level, but why not?


#3

I believe some players get big signing bonuses so their salary means virtually nothing. And many will be making over a half million a year in a year or two which is a different situation than your average Walmart employee. Probably the majority will pursue their dreams in futility putting up the long bus rides and other inconveniences of minor league baseball. Many have college degrees so their employment opportunities are pretty good should they fail to make the bigs. I don’t think society’s biggest concern is the life of minor league baseball players but would it would seem reasonable to pay them a little more. There might be one or two low payroll teams that would have trouble paying the extra #4 million but I think for most major league teams it would not be much of a burden.


#4

What is interesting here is that, as Yogi Berra might put it, we’ve got deja vu all over again: What is happening in the minor leagues is what the Major Leagues had to go through starting in the late 19th century, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that MLB began to see salary increases for players, many of whom worked second jobs in the off-season just to make ends meet.

Given the frankly unimaginable salaries that top MLB players command today, it may be hard to muster sympathy for this issue, but I think that the minors are going through the same situation that MLB faced for nearly a century–and it was very much a labor versus management/ownership struggle even if the “good guys” don’t resemble Cesar Chavez or Mother Jones.

Starting in 1879, owners of baseball teams began writing contracts for players’ services that included a Reserve Clause, or a stipulation that the team retained ownership of the player even after the contract expired, in essence making the player the team’s property in perpetuity.

Opposition began almost immediately, from the formation of rival leagues that inevitably folded to court decisions. In 1922, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision that ruled that the Reserve Clause did not violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because baseball was not involved in interstate commerce.

It was very much a semantical contortion–players indeed crossed state lines to play other teams–but the Supreme Court determined that the essence of the team remained within the state. Yes, mull that one over, and also mull over that the Chief Justice was baseball-loving William Howard Taft, who as President instituted the tradition of throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season. (Ah, the old Washington Senators. As the saying went, “Washington: First in peace, first in war–and last in the American League.”)

By 1948, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned a lower-court decision that had denied one player’s right to sue MLB; the Second Circuit Court excoriated the Reserve Clause, which it called “shockingly repugnant to moral principles that . . . have been basic in America . . . [since] the Thirteenth Amendment” (which abolished slavery in 1865), and it likened the Reserve Clause to involuntary servitude that “results in something resembling peonage of the baseball player.”

Fearing the abolition of the Reserve Clause, baseball owners fought back, even stooping to Red Scare tactics by declaring “that the Reserve Clause was opposed by people with avowed Communist tendencies.” By the way, that quote is from Branch Rickey, who as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers had integrated baseball by hiring Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in MLB in the 20th century.

In other words, black or white are welcome to play baseball–just don’t complain about the pay scale because that makes you a commie. This brings us to Curt Flood. A fine center fielder of the 1960s, Flood had begun feuding with his employer, the St. Louis Cardinals, over his salary, and reputedly in retaliation, the Cardinals traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season. This was the fiat afforded the team because of the Reserve Clause.

Flood opposed the trade. He wrote a letter to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stating that he would field offers from teams willing to bid on his services for the 1970 season while stating that he, Flood, did not consider himself to be “property”—and as Flood was African-American, that term had deep and painful historical resonance, as Flood articulated in his letter: “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.”

Flood took his case all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 1972 had ruled against Flood in a 5-to-3 decision. The majority opinion was written by Justice Harry Blackmun, who prefaced his opinion with a glowing hosanna to baseball that would make Ken Burns blush. Dissenters included Justices Thurgood Marshall, who faulted the courts for allowing the anti-trust exemption to persevere, and William O. Douglas, who agreed with Flood that the Reserve Clause unlawfully benefited owners at the players’ expense while scoffing at Blackmun’s flowery defense of baseball history: “This is not a romantic history baseball enjoys as a business. It is a sordid history.”

Flood effectively ended his career in a losing cause, but his effort was not in vain. He enjoyed the support of Marvin Miller, who as the director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, the players’ union, had begun to chip away at the Reserve Clause through arbitration and free agency, which by the mid-1970s had made it possible for players to negotiate with teams directly for their services, with a corresponding increase in salaries across all of MLB as teams were now willing to pay players better wages simply to retain their services and not have them look elsewhere.

With respect to salaries, one can argue that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, but it is important to note, as this article does, that this applies to MLB only. Minor-league salaries are pittance wages, and although some players get a substantial signing bonus, most only get a nominal bonus. And with 150 or so minor-league teams, across three minor league levels (single A to triple A), compared to 30 MLB teams, only about 10 percent of minor leaguers are going to make “the Show,” using the phrase popularized by the Kevin Costner film Bull Durham, written and directed by Ron Shelton, who spent five years in the Baltimore Orioles farm system without ever making it to the Show.

Can the minor leagues unionize, or achieve some sort of labor victory? That is going to be a harder job than what had happened in MLB–and look how long that took. Still, if this article from 2014 from, appropriately enough, Mother Jones magazine is any indication, similar rumblings are occurring:

Minor League Players Make Poverty-Level Wages

Again, this might not be the textbook labor struggle progressives typically embrace, but sometimes you have to swing at the pitch you’re thrown to keep from striking out.


#5

No mention of the injuries, some serious and life-long, suffered by these minor league players. That’s a serious omission. And, the contract discrepancy and overall treatment of foreign-born players versus American is a big deal, too.
As to pay, it was better in the old days. The " regulatory framework " set up was/is a canard. The parents or wives of most of these players get the privilege of supporting the players’ dreams, in fact. 6-7 months a year, anyway.
The bonus babies are the exception to all this since they get 7 figure deals, but only 200 recipients out of 3800-4200 players are not great odds, generally. And, why the walking around $$$ isn’t better for these gifted, and still growing, players isn’t more generous seems shortsighted.
$4 million isn’t chump change but it’s no great shakes when we’re talking billions, either.
MLB, why do you treat your youngsters mean?


#6

This guy is a fair weather fan or a swing-and-miss artist. He needs to re-read a stats book.


#7

Another way to look at this is that in football and basketball there are no minor leagues as the colleges function as minor leagues. However, unlike in minor baseball there is big money in college football and basketball although the players themselves don’t get paid and are not employees of the colleges. Some people have argued that the players should get paid but the NCAA has refused to allow it. What is unique in a way about minor league baseball is nobody will willing much to pay to see it and there are no big TV contracts so there is no revenue stream for paying the players. The money has to come from the money made by the major league teams. Even though many players play college ball it does not prepare them to go directly into the big leagues and football and basketball players can. A few players seem to go through the minor leagues quickly before reaching the big leagues but that seems to be the exception and often it depends on the needs of the big league club, not the ability of the player. A lot of players in the big leagues don’t really belong there but their clubs had to fill out there rosters so they often use players with minor league skills until a trade can be made or someone brought up from the minors is good enough.


#8

Sounds like an impressive comment but what does it mean?


#9

What people fail to realize is that, even at the top levels of every sport, the majority of the money is made by a relative few, while the majority make the league minimum.
Kind of reflects society, doesn’t It?


#10

" and many will be making " is nonsense. Many, as in 150-175 or so? Do you even know the difference between a 3, 4 or 5 tool player? Or, the difference among center fielders in AAA and utility outfielders ( sometime starters ) in the American League as compared to the Sr. Circuit?


#11

Many as in whomever makes it to the majors will be paid the minimum salary which I think is slightly more than a half million a year. I don’t know the average number of players a year that refers to or the salary of many players who are brought up and then sent down on one or more occasions. I think the main point is that there are a number of players in the minors who unlike Walmart greeters have a good chance of making a lot of money in the next year or two if things work in their favor.


#12

You make a lot of sweeping statements. What do you mean, “a lot of players in the big leagues don’t really belong there”? Do you actually follow MLB baseball? The talent compression at the top level is very high. It is very hard to keep a job in the majors because there are so many replacements waiting in the wings, a result of the ever-growing talent pool, particularly the huge influx of players from Latin America in the last few decades.

This year, we’ll get to see Shohei Ohtani, the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” so-named because in Nippon Professional Baseball he excelled at both pitching and hitting. Ohtani might have raked in NPB as a two-way player, but he’s already been roughed up in MLB spring training both as a hitter and especially as a pitcher, and the Los Angeles Angels have already hinted that he will start the season in the minors at their Salt Lake City Triple A affiliate for additional seasoning.

Ohtani has to make the inevitable adjustment to MLB, and I really hope he does, but he might just become what you call one of those players “who don’t really belong” in MLB because there are already so many players who do belong–with others in the lower leagues hoping for that chance to belong but who might never get that chance, or if they do, they might not get to stay. The talent compression is too high, and far from “having to fill their rosters with minor-league players,” as you say, teams have too few roster spots to offer.

Ichiro Suzuki, the one Japanese position player (as opposed to pitchers) to excel in MLB, has stated that he wants to keep playing until he’s 50 years old. That’s not going to happen. Already the window is closing further on everybody–a common expression these days is saying that a player is on the “wrong side of 30,” meaning that once you’ve hit 30, you’re already in your decline phase and everyone knows it. (That brings up an unsettling allusion to the 1970s sci-fi film Logan’s Run, but I digress.)

This has a follow-on effect in the minors, because if a player–and there are many of them–has not made the big-league club in his first few years, he needs to decide whether he wants to be a minor-league lifer at low pay or go sell insurance. (And you’ve mentioned that players have college degrees to fall back on–you might want to ask a coffee-house barista how that degree is working for him or her.) If you’re a left-handed pitcher, your odds of making a big-league roster may be a bit better. And this is all a result of talent compression–everybody is good now, and there are lots of good replacements waiting in the wings. That’s the reason why it’s been 76 years since any MLB hitter has batted .400 over an entire season.

You’re right that the revenue stream in the minors does not, and cannot, mirror the majors. Huge television contracts in the cable and satellite era changed the financial equation fundamentally, but those contracts only work in markets that can support an MLB franchise in the first place–hardly in places like Burlington, Vermont, Billings, Montana, and Lake Elsinore, California, that host minor-league teams. And the business of baseball is just that: Insiders talk in terms of “markets,” “the industry,” and “putting the best possible product on the field.” Which I think is why, unfortunately, MLB teams do not invest in their farm teams–the demand of players willing to compete for an MLB roster spot far exceeds the supply of roster spots available. It took a concerted effort by labor in MLB to raise salaries, and the same would need to happen in the minors.


#13

You’re absolutely right. Professional athletics in many respects is the glorification of elitism in both, I think, a concrete and abstract manner. Abstract in that the endeavor–baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and so on–is a ritualized form of combat in which one side (for team sports) must defeat the other side, and concrete in that we see the fame and fortune that accrues to the “warriors” of that sport. This is especially true, as you note, for the very best “warriors,” the elite among the elite, who do get a disproportionate share of the “spoils.” This is why talking about an “average” salary in a pro sport is tricky because a mean average can be skewed by those outliers while a median average may be more accurate.

And, yes, in mirroring society as a whole, there are those .01 percent of superstars among the 1 percent of the elites while 99 percent aren’t even in the conversation.

But I think you’re showing that very elitism by stating “what people fail to realize.” I have been a baseball fan since I was a kid, and the fundamental contradiction–you can call it hypocrisy if you like–I have faced for much of my adult life is devoting time and energy to an endeavor that is not essential to the fundamental operation of society except as entertainment, and one that does lionize the sport’s inherent elitism.

So, while economists can state that within the hermetic system of MLB, it is “rational” to pay a man $2 million to pitch 60 innings a year as a middle reliever, an average teacher, who may provide more value to a society, might not even make that in a lifetime. And although a reliever may get “shelled” by hitters during a bad outing, a teacher, as we have seen lately, can face actual shells being fired in a classroom simply while doing his or her job.


#14

Why not, indeed! It seems that MLB owners are determined to keep the “old Plantation” system
going. It has made them very wealthy.

Minor League players should strike, but won’t. They can’t afford it!