Here’s hoping everyone had a wonderful Labor Day, which has been a federal holiday since 1894, given how long minor league baseball players have been earning poverty-level wages and living on hot dogs and popcorn. You can’t buy Cracker Jack.
Justin’s brother, Ben Verlander, played five minor league seasons before becoming a Fox Sports analyst. In the year He wrote this about life on the farm in 2021:
Once drafted, baseball becomes a business. It’s all about the bottom line and those at the top to make as much money as possible. It’s not about glamor or even a comfortable experience for those involved.
Unfortunately, over the years this has meant paying as little as possible at the minor league level and cutting corners: pay, meals, hotels, clubhouses, the list goes on.
The nonprofit group Minor Leaguers Advocates says minor league wages range from $400 to $700 a week and are paid only on a seasonal basis. Most minor league players earn less than $12,000 a year, which is below the US federal poverty level.
Ten hour bus ride, anyone? Pack a lunch.
Seven weeks ago, Major League Baseball agreed to pay $185 million to minor leaguers to settle a federal lawsuit alleging violations of minimum wage laws.
“We’re in the second year of a major overhaul of the 100-year-old player development system, and we’ve made great strides in improving the quality of life for minor league players,” MLB said in a statement.
MLB has agreed to waive any restrictions on paying minor league players in the offseason, meaning MLB will now allow pitchers to pay minor leaguers during spring training — if the teams choose.
MLB fought the lawsuit for eight years. In doing so, he took over the minor leagues (last year) and cut 43 teams from the system.
MLB Enhanced Conditions, Increasingly. More so, it improved the bottom line for the 30 owners who pay commissioner Rob Manfred’s $11-million salary.
Six weeks after MLB filed the aforementioned lawsuit — a week before Labor Day — the players union finally took action.
After decades of ignoring the plight of minor league players or trading them away in collective bargaining negotiations, the MLBPA sent out authorization cards to minor league players on August 28. It is the first step toward integrating a class of professional athletes that has been underrepresented for over 100 years.
The MLBPA aims to establish a separate bargaining unit under its umbrella, giving a voice to the 5,000 minor league players who live with host families, or in dormitories, and subsist on box lunches and second jobs.
“Minor league players need some leverage when dealing with multi-million (and multi-billion) owners, and a union can give them that,” said Columbus labor attorney Bob Handelman. “Otherwise they can be abused and taken advantage of. Almost all other professional athletes have unions. Minor league players should be paid enough to support themselves and their families year round.
On Tuesday, the MLBPA requested formal recognition of the minor league affiliate. If MLB does this, the union will not require 30% of employees to sign their authorization cards, leading to an official vote. It will be done.
On the other hand, if MLB doesn’t officially recognize it, the decision could be taken as a provocation. Manfred, at the command of the owners, said, “Well, let’s vote, and let’s see how many of the peasants have the courage to organize against the barrows that rope them to their dangerous work. How many of you campaigners think you still have a career?”
(See: Curt Flood.)
Presumably, if pushed, the minor leagues would go ahead and vote for a union. It fits the times: Young people fed up with substandard wages and/or poor working conditions have been forming mergers with Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, Chipotle, and the like. A recent Gallup poll found support for unity at its highest level since 1968.
This new generation does not consume sports in the same way. They were born with smartphones in hand, and they have high expectations for the entertainment they choose. They also stopped playing baseball when they played on a travel team in the fifth grade.
MLB has responded by doing little in the grand scheme of things to grow the game at the grassroots level — which is where future fans are most likely to be made. The owners are squeezing every nickel they can out of it was America’s pastime, and the show is the crux of minor league baseball — meaning it’s a movement on talent development and fan engagement.
With owners kicking and screaming to bring the game back to relevance, it could be the first step in a long journey to bring the game back to relevance.