keyboard_arrow_uptop

Guilder Rodriguez played 14 years in organized baseball, and seven games in the major leagues. Nick Williams was just publicly humiliated by his manager for not showing whatever arbitrary amount of hustle was needed on an obvious out in a hum-drum game. The Frisco RoughRiders finished up a baseball game close to 11:00 PM CT, boarded a charter bus, and arrived in Midland, TX at 5:00 AM to play a game at 2:00 PM that afternoon.

Major League Baseball would have you believe that these are all well and good things for players who are, according to them, not actually “professionals,” but instead seasonal apprentices or interns, per their press release supporting the abomination that is H.B. 5580.

Let’s take a look at that press release, why don’t we? Nothing is more fun than breaking a piece of what one would assume is carefully constructed communication down line by line.

“There are approximately 7,500 players in Minor League Baseball.” True! Good, we’re off to a good start here. “MLB pays over a half a billion dollars to Minor League players in signing bonuses and salary each year.” Sure, that sounds about right. A lot of that is signing bonuses to the top five rounds or so, though, and there are 40 rounds of the draft. A lot of those guys get handed $5,000-$10,000 for six years of control. Some might get a plane ticket. “Minor League clubs could not afford these massive player costs.” Also true! However, minor league clubs have not been responsible in any way for these costs since Branch Rickey’s “farm system” strategy in the 1920s, and these costs are assumed as part of player development, something that is controlled completely by the big league club. As I said in 2014, the majority of baseball hasn’t been grassroots for a very long time, and this press release doesn’t mention anything about independent league ball.

“MLB heavily subsidizes Minor League Baseball by providing Minor League clubs with its players, allowing professional baseball to be played in many communities in the United States that cannot support a Major League franchise.” Here we run into the first sentence that really needs editing. Minor league clubs in small cities provide places for major league clubs to develop their players. Whether or not the community could support major league baseball doesn’t matter. No one goes to Arizona Rookie League games, and yet they still play them. Funny how that works. “Moreover, for the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.” Guilder Rodriguez spent 14 years as a “short-term seasonal apprentice.” Baseball Prospectus’ own Colin Young spent six years. The term “minor league career” appears on MLB’s own website about 30,200 times, something that MLB now suggests is an impossibility.

“Minor League Baseball players always have been salaried employees similar to artists, musicians and other creative professionals who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.” So baseball is a creative profession now? Baseball, where shooting an imaginary arrow into the air is decried as making the game about yourself, where having swag and individuality and cool hair and bat flips and fun and being a personality is seen as detrimental to the game? Everything we’ve seen from baseball so far is devoid of creativity. If baseball players were treated as creative professionals, then we wouldn’t have Bryce Harper wanting to make baseball fun again. Of course, this also neatly side steps the fact that maybe instead of arguing to pay minor leaguers less, we should pay creative professionals more. Or does baseball magically stop being creative the second you get a call-up, the second it becomes a “career” and a living wage is paid?

The last line in this release really deserves its own paragraph.

“Like those professionals, it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees whose pay may be determined by such things as how long their games last, when they choose to arrive at the ballpark, how much they practice or condition to stay in shape, and how many promotional or charitable appearances they make."

This is absolutely hilarious, so funny that it’s difficult to break it all down. The sheer audacity of this argument is astounding. Major League Baseball doesn’t want to pay players hourly due to the hours they put in, and yet, at the same time, they don’t deserve to make minimum wage, much less a living wage.

These players don’t have a choice in how long their games last. They don’t have a choice in when they arrive at the ballpark, they don’t have a choice in working out or conditioning, and sometimes, they don’t have a choice on promotional or charitable appearances.[1] Keeping their job is part of their job, and yet, getting paid somehow isn’t.

Then, there’s the word “professional.” In one sentence, baseball claims minor leaguers are “seasonal apprentices,” or someone still in training to be a professional. In the next, they say they’re “professionals,” but ones that don’t deserve to be compensated for their time and effort. Baseball loves to talk about acting “professionally,” and evaluate based on “being a professional,” and talk a big “professional” game, but at the same time claim that these players just aren’t just that, for all that they have to act like it.

That’s where the press release ends, an insipid two paragraphs of nonsense put out by a league that just made $1.16 billion dollars off selling part of itself to Disney. Two paragraphs that insult every one of the 7,500 players that toil away in anonymity. The 7,500 players that absolutely deserve better.



[1] Some of these appearances will be extra cash for the players, anywhere from an extra $20 to $100.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
BeltwayTraffic
7/01
one of the co-sponsors has already pulled her support https://bustos.house.gov/press-and-media/press-releases/congresswoman-bustos-and-congressman-guthrie-introduce-bill-to Would this bill effect Independent League Baseball? I could see how those teams and leagues that ARE NOT subsidized by MLB could plead a hardship case. Those leagues and teams have a difficult time already making ends meet...
unlikelyfanatic
7/01
The specific wording of the bill "any employee who has entered into a contract to play baseball at the minor league level" doesn't make this clear at all, which is just one of the many problems with this abysmal piece of proposed legislation. Technically, independent ball is "minor league" but I don't think you'd find anyone who casually referred to it as anything other than independent or "indy" league ball. Real indy ball is an entirely different subject than this bill and the MLB support of it, as MLB has nothing to do with indy ball. I saw that Bustos pulled her support yesterday, which is a start, but there's always the possibility that this gets hung onto some other bill as an amendment, quietly, and minor leaguers (pardon me, "short-term seasonal apprentices") get royally screwed.
Phillies113
7/01
Matt Imhof just lost his eye while pursuing one of these "apprenticeships"
unlikelyfanatic
7/01
That whole story is really sad.
poorlittlefool
7/01
Outstanding dissection - much appreciated!
unlikelyfanatic
7/01
Thank you!
varmintito
7/02
The fucking balls on those fuckers.
brentdaily
7/02
Thank you for the great read, Kate. Let's say each of these players now makes 50k/yr. on average (from 25k in complex ball to 100k in AAA), that's $12.5MM/yr/team. This is likely 'only' a $10-11MM net increase. That's a WAR and a half. The owner's new investment has to yield 1.5 WAR/yr. - likely less since MiLB salaries won't keep up with WAR inflation. A 2013 BA look found that 20% of all signed players in rounds 11+ went on to make the MLB. 5.2% spent at least the equivalent of 3 years in the MLB (assumed that was a MLB regular). But only half of the kids in those rounds sign. If you're able to lure 5 more away from 'real professional' jobs or college per year you wind up with 1 add'l major leaguer and 1 MLB regular every four years. Assuming 2WAR is a regular that's 6WAR in three years which equals the same 6WAR investment over the four years it took to produce this guy. All this is a wash just by getting a couple guys a year to defer grad school or the allure of working at All State. It doesn't even include marginal improvements from the other 250 guys in your system The draft is still a dark art. Nobody is quite sure which of the 7,500 man-servants will go on to contribute real value. If year round training, eating real food, and alleviating injury risk from off-season jobs (construction is the most popular route), then marginal increases in value will produce real results when wins cost $7-8MM. (Disclosure: I haven't factored in how much leaving players, literally, hungry increases TWTW.)
sinjin0366
7/03
Good point...plus take into account how almost all teams (including the low budget teams like Tampa Bay) just throw money away (dead money.) James Loney for example, he was due $9,666,667 according to Baseball Reference. They released him because they just didn't want him on the roster, now the Met's have him for the minimum at a prorated salary. I would like to know how much "dead money" each team is paying out. I bet you could pay a lot of starving minor league players the money each team walks away from.
brentdaily
7/03
Also a good point. 2016 dead money comes to $136M but, as the first commenter points out, that fails to include zombie contacts like Howard, Crawford, Panda, etc. I'd guess a little crowd sourcing could easily find 200M in zombies. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-teams-with-the-most-dead-money-in-mlb/ No team will eliminate signing mistakes completely but the owners (save Are Moreno) don't seem to cry over these wasted dollars either. If they can afford to light this money on fire surely they can afford to spend similar amounts that will provide a return.
sinjin0366
7/03
After I wrote that reply, players who are getting paid to play for other clubs or to even sit home in Jose Reyes (22 mil) and Nick Swisher (15 mil) who is getting paid by the Indians and decided to stay home the rest of the year...albeit, a good reason (spend time with the family and new baby), but he saw the writing on the wall with the Yankees. Your point is correct though, signing mistakes are never going to be completely eliminated. If owners are willing to walk away from 15 million here and 18 million there, what's 11 or 12 million for each team to put into a minor league salary pool for their players.
sinjin0366
7/04
Brent, this was an excellent point that I missed the first time around: "That's a WAR and a half. The owner's new investment has to yield 1.5 WAR/yr. - likely less since MiLB salaries won't keep up with WAR inflation." If MLB owners would just pay the MiLB players, I think they would see a far greater return on their investment.
jeff4sf
7/08
Hi, I'm not against the overall thrust of your argument (pay minor leaguers appropriately/fairly) but I feel your argument here relies on only one team doing so. If all 30 teams invest 12.5 million dollars, then wouldn't the ROI for all the teams net out to 0? You can't increase a relative stat like WAR if everyone does it equally, no? What you'd see is that "replacement level" would go up as baseball steals people from football/soccer/hockey/basketball/wall street. There's probably value in that. But I do wonder if it's as much value as we think. I'm going to go to MLB games whether the level of play is X or 1.2x or .8X. I mean I guess I wouldn't go if it was .5X and started to really get sloppy, but I'm not convinced my eye could tell that. That said, Thomas agrees with you, so maybe I'm missing something in your argument
sunsshagger
7/04
In the mid-90's during the DUI trial of Boston's Mo Vaughn, his attorney referred to him as a "seasonal migrant worker". Future press releases could add some pop by not forgetting the migratory aspect of the seasonal apprenticeships.
SChandler
7/04
If I may play Devil's Advocate here, if they (minor league players) don't like it they are welcome to go into a different profession. We are still a semi-free country after all. Not to get all political on you, but this article has a very Liberal slant to it. The author states that the league just made 1.16 billion dollars selling off part of itself to Disney. The problem with that argument is that Disney didn't pay that because of minor league players.
unlikelyfanatic
7/04
Disney did pay because of minor leaguers. There is no major league baseball without minor league baseball. There is no development of BAM without major league baseball.
sinjin0366
7/04
First off, you should have just left off "If I may play Devil's Advocate here;" you went from presenting another side to presenting your side. That's fine, as long as you present it that way. As far as your "they are welcome to go into a different profession" and "We are still a semi-free country" is concerned, you are right in theory and principle. That is no different then telling the guy complaining about his job at Taco Bell to just get another job and he's free to move where he likes. However, the guy at Taco Bell gets paid hourly, his pay is governed by labor laws. He receives a minimum wage, possibly a raise after 30 or so days for being a good employee, and makes overtime and holiday pay if he works above and beyond. This article doesn't have a "liberal slant," it's about being fairly compensated for the hours they put in and required to put in during the off-season. I know a lot people are going to point out the MLB players make an outrageous league minimum and many players make eight figures, but that doesn't make it okay to pay the "apprentices" far, far less than the minimum wage. Minor league players work all year and then go six months with less than six days off and pray for a rain just they can play a doubleheader the next day. I guess you can say the minor leagues are aptly named the Farm System due to the fact they are payed like illegal migrant workers.
SChandler
7/05
Thomas, I have a couple problems with your response. You say the article is about fair compensation for the minor leaguers, but who is to determine what is fair. I suggest that the players and their organization negotiate that figure. Also there is a huge difference between minor league players and illegal migrant workers. Minor leaguers are chasing a dream with a huge potential payoff. Migrant workers don't have that potential payoff. I would also argue that it is OK to pay minor leaguers what they re being paid because, as I said earlier, they don't have to do it. They aren't slaves. That we disagree is perfectly fine, but I do disagree with the premise of this article, and it's not at all surprising that my initial comment has a negative rating. I'm sure this one will too.
yibberat
7/05
In economic terms, 'fair' (and 'free' for that matter) requires competition on both sides. MLB has a monopoly and that monopoly is propped up by the government. Without that monopoly, they couldn't negotiate the media contract that they do get. That media contract exclusivity is also what kills off possible baseball competition from arising since baseball (like most sports) at any level can't survive on gate receipts. For you to ignore that market distortion and then turn around and dismiss the other side is simply silly (at best). No the US is NOT a free country when it comes to baseball. We are a CRONYIST country. Personally, I would much prefer that we get rid of the obscenity called the antitrust exemption rather than compound one market distortion with a second market distortion. But if there is ONE situation which legally does fit a mandated minimum wage, it is precisely minors baseball because it is the only nationwide monopoly - with fully indentured servitude.
brentdaily
7/04
It is true that if they don't like it then they can find another profession. Half of all draftees after the 10th round don't sign. So many are making the decision you're suggesting. From a capitalist's standpoint though, if I'm looking for new ways to invest a dollar and find a path that allows me to earn a dollar twenty I sure as hell take that (see my POV above). Yes, as Thomas and Kate pointed out, it's about fairly compensating people for work done on their employer's behalf. But it's also about employer's making a more optimal investment decision since the employer can't confidently say which of their employees will go on to play in the MLB.