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July 15, 2014

Baseball Therapy

Why Are We Playing Hunger Games with Minor Leaguers?

by Russell A. Carleton


I think the secret is out. Minor league players get paid very little. Not just a little bit compared to the millionaires they hope to become. They put in long hours and have a couple hundred dollars at the end of the month (plus some per diem) to show for it. In fact, there’s a lawsuit on the subject that’s been filed by some former minor leaguers, alleging that teams have broken federal minimum wage law. (I’ll leave the issue of legality to the courts.) Some end up eating poorly because they can’t afford nutritious food and have no means to cook it. They share small apartments with teammates. They sleep on the floor. Plenty retire because they can’t afford to chase the dream any more. I’m sure some retire because they get sick of living hand-to-mouth (which would be a balk).

Baseball can be cruel. Consider how hard a young man must work and how much he has to dream to get to a point where he’s one of the best 200 or so high school seniors in the country (because he’s number 193). He might get drafted in a single-digit round (maybe), but there are only 25 spots on the big league roster and draftees and international signings from so many other years who want them. His chances aren’t great for making the majors, but to him, it’s all he’s ever dreamed about. So, for him, it’s for the love of the game. He is a starving (sometimes literally?) artist for his craft. Until he gets cut.

That’s the romanticized notion. That players accept such poor living conditions because it’s part of “the hunger” (sometimes literally?) for the game. Teams accept these conditions for their players because, well, it’s cheap. Teams do hand out large bonuses to certain players, usually the high draftees and big-ticket international signings. Those are the guys the team brass believe will eventually make an impact on the MLB roster. Because of those bonuses, those guys have a cash reserve for supplementing that meager salary, and the rest of the team ... they’re really just there to fill out numbers, aren’t they? Oh sure, if one develops into something nice, then that’s well and good, but teams seem to be of the opinion that they shouldn’t bother wasting resources on players who probably aren’t going to make any sort of difference.

What I most commonly hear from fans when they hear the truth about minor league life boils down to “You’re going to be making millions in a few years anyway” (most minor leaguers never get even the proverbial cup of coffee, much less a million dollars) or “You’re getting paid to play baseball, please stop whining. Why, if I had a chance to, I totally would trade places with you.” It’s not polite to complain. In fact, when I reached out to a few minor leaguers, none of them wanted to talk, even anonymously, about the issue. The words “rock the boat” were used and no, we weren’t talking about Guys and Dolls. The therapist in me always perks up when people are afraid to talk about something.

I hope you all have life jackets on.

What baseball has is a system where teams keep costs down, and the players accept that this is just the natural order of things. It’s not even Stockholm Syndrome. After all, if the dream is to play Major League Baseball, what other options do they have?

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<< Previous Article
Skewed Left: What Is A... (07/15)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: What... (07/08)
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Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Trad... (07/29)
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The BP Wayback Machine... (07/16)

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