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This is the second in a four part series on the challenges of working in baseball. Part 1 looked at where front office workers come from.

Do you love baseball and have a good understanding of analytics? More importantly, are you independently wealthy? Congratulations, you can afford to be an intern with a baseball team and not rack up debt!

Before we get any further, let’s make some things clear. This is not a condemnation of the internship process as a whole. Teams shouldn’t hire underqualified people, and we are not asking them to. This is simply an explanation for the hurdles that people must jump over to even get the chance to work in a major-league front office, hurdles that go a long way toward explaining the lack of diversity and homogeneity in the makeup of baseball’s current front offices.

Internships, Themselves
“An internship” used to be something one did in one’s last semester of college, or during a summer while still in school, when life was merry and grand and—if one was lucky—mostly funded by parents. Now, it simply means a low-to-no-paying job that young workers must take increasingly more of to be qualified for an entry-level job that may or may not have benefits.

This isn’t to say that (a) all internships are bad or (b) this is something isolated to the field of baseball. However, baseball’s reliance on front-office internships does merit further study.

The numbers presented in Part 1 of this series show that 33 percent of today’s front office employees entered baseball through an internship program, and that among those who graduated college in 2006 or later that number is higher than 70 percent. A good number of that group entered their internships without being previously employed by a baseball team. At face value, this simply says that the baseball establishment feels there is an additional level of preparation needed to be a valuable contributor to a front office, and that only baseball itself can provide that education. Here’s the question, though: Is it education, or simply cheap labor?

Hundreds and hundreds of job applicants travel to the Winter Meetings each year to try to find a job in baseball, though only a handful of Baseball Ops jobs are ever available. In order to even be at Winter Meetings, there are incredible hurdles. First, you have to travel to the site of the convention (it’s just outside Washington, DC this year) and pay for accommodations, all on your own dime. Before you can get in the room, you have to pay a $200 admission fee. Assuming you’re not currently unemployed, you have to find vacation days between (this year) December 4th and December 7th—and activities are on those days, so you'll be traveling on the 3rd and the 8th. Even with all this you are far from guaranteed from finding kind of job, or really even being able to network your way into higher prominence.

If you’re one of the lucky ones to get an internship, money comes roaring right back into the equation immediately. If you’re really lucky, you’ll land a spot that not only pays, but pays $15/hr, the highest wage we heard from various “friends.” If you’re unlucky, you’ll be paid either minimum wage (nationally, $7.25/hr) or in “experience.[1]” If you’re still in college, you might get paid in college credit. Most baseball interns, though, are not still in college. They’ve either just graduated college or are attempting to change careers (and some of the change-of-career people are still young enough to fall into the college graduate zone).

Sure, no one’s expecting to make $50,000 annually as an intern, or in any first job, whether they’re still in college or not. Being able to make rent, though, isn’t unreasonable.

Cost of Living
Using data gathered through word of mouth[2] we can estimate that most paid (non-collegiate) interns make between $7.25/hr ($1,160/mo) and $15.00/hr ($2,400/mo). Using these guesses, a paid intern can expect to make between $11,600 and $24,000 over a 10-month internship, before taxes. An intern's tax status would usually be figured as a 1099[3], which will put you at a tax rate of around 30 percent, at a minimum.

Using those estimates, we can look at the cost of living in an average sample of MLB cities—cities that interns will be asked to (a) already live in (limiting their potential new employers) or (b) move to for a short amount of time with no guarantee of a long-term position. The below chart breaks down these expenses over 10 months in four cities chosen as the average for cheap, mid-sized, expensive, and outrageous.

City

One BR Apt (per month)

Utilities[4] (per month)

Groceries+Transportation Expenses+Etc[5] (per month)

Total (10 months)

Arlington, TX

$777.60

$190.80

$200+$50+$100

$13,184.00

Saint Louis, MO

$874.93

$190.82

$200+$50+$125

$14,407.50

Chicago, IL

$1,041.48

$168.17

$200+$45+$150

$16,346.50

San Francisco, CA

$2,675.43

$167.33

$250+$50+200

$33,427.60

(Rent and utility numbers are from here)

Of course, rent can be lowered by living with a roommate, or three, which would also lower utilities. If you want to pay higher rent in someplace like Chicago (or New York, or San Francisco), you could live in a public-transportation accessible area, and pay less in gas and car costs. We’ve left health insurance costs off, but if you’re just getting your feet wet in baseball and you’re over 25, you’ll need to purchase your own insurance[6], as it’s possible that a 10-month internship won’t provide that. If you’re lucky enough to intern in a city where you have family or friends who will let you crash rent-free or for low rent, then you can cut costs, and suddenly things are looking a little bit better, but how many people just happen to have an aunt who lives in Phoenix? Even you are lucky enough to catch a break like that, the reality is still that if you want an internship with a major-league team, you’ll be paying several thousand dollars out of your pocket in travel and living expenses for the privilege.

Of course, all these numbers simply point to one thing: It is much easier to get the requisite experience necessary to break into a front office if you come from a position of financial privilege—whether this is family money, or individual savings, or being able to come out of college debt free. You will almost certainly be dipping into either savings or credit card land while interning, especially if you end up taking more than one internship, as some of the people we saw who now have full-time position with a team did. Not everyone has that sort of money, but given that many front office positions seem to require an internship, it results in a system where those who have access to wealth are the ones able to try out for the front office.

Statistically, we know that there is a sad connection between race and wealth in the United States, pervasive for reasons way beyond the scope of BP. On the whole, Caucasians are more likely to be financially well-off[7] -—the kind of financially well-off that you need to be to take an internship— than people of color[8]. A front office internship is the fantasy alternative to safer, more realistic career paths—the internship with a large company that offers a better chance of a full-time job to follow; the ability to live where housing is cheaper or family-based; maybe even a full-time job out of college. Having the choice between the two is a luxury of privilege. It's therefore no wonder that current front offices look the way they do. The “qualified candidate” pool has been limited from the beginning.

Part 3: The Rise of Ivy



[1] If you’re being paid in “experience,” make sure to check the Department of Labor’s regulations regarding unpaid internships, as they are many, and sometimes not followed.

[2] I know, but you go ask MLB teams how much they pay their interns.

[3] Many thanks to Robert Pike for his tax professional advice.

[4] “Utilities” include both physical utilities like electricity and water, and internet.

[5] Furniture rental, emergency medical, and extranea.

[6] Unless you’re married, and can use your spouse’s insurance.

[8] Women, and particularly women of color, may also be affected by the gender pay gap, along with the general discouragement of women in these kind of positions in the front office.

Thank you for reading

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JackCecil
6/21
Living the baseball intern life right now. It's rough.
zfinest2u
6/21
The 200 dollar admission to winter meetings is false, that may be true of the pbeo job fair but those aren't baseball ops positions. If you're looking for baseball ops positions, you've set up interviews beforehand and can just show up at the hotel and meet wherever the teams tell you to, without cost, other than travel expenses.
pizzacutter
6/22
That is accurate if you aren't going to the PEBO job fair, but it will certainly cost you airfare to wherever the meetings are (DC this year), and hotel and transit when you get there. That's a couple hundred bucks right there. You also need to have the ability to randomly take a couple days in December away from work. That's a lot of money to interview for a job that might not pay enough to cover your living expenses. (Or anything.)
zfinest2u
6/22
I'm not disputing those costs, nor the overall point being made, but what you're saying might give the wrong impression that Baseball ops depts are charging kids just for the opportunity to maybe get an interview, which is not the case and paints those departments in an unfair light