Lack of Development in the Minor Leagues
By: Eli Geha
Minor league baseball players today make an average of $3,000 to $7,500 a year, which is below the individual federal poverty limit of $11,490. Minor leaguers are also given per diem of fifteen dollars for food and are expected by their organization to develop as prospects. It is very difficult to expect someone to maintain a healthy lifestyle and receive nutrients from meals when they only have fifteen dollars a day to spend on food. Major league clubs should rethink investing their money solely on free agents and create a platform to reinvest back into their minor league systems; the return on investment would be much greater.
I understand that minor league baseball tickets are cheap because of the low wages of minor leaguer players as the major league clubs determine these wages. These players are considered the working poor, and make $8,000 less than the average fast food worker. These players are forced to hold other jobs in the offseason and in some cases even during the season. Not all minor leaguer players are poor though, first round draft picks receive seven figure signing bonuses, but those are the select few – the average signing bonus for a minor leaguer is $2,500. Since 1976 major league salaries have increased over two thousand percent while minor league salaries have only increased seventy-five percent during that time. When taking into account inflation, minor leaguers are currently making less than they did in 1976. As well as their low salaries they also have no say on drug testing, disciplinary rules, or other employment restrictions.
Baseball is able to pay minor leaguers low wages partly because of a historical exemption from antitrust law. The exemption allows baseball organizations to set salaries and working conditions for minor leaguers. Without this exemption the players would theoretically be able to sue the MLB under the Sherman Act if they said that big league and minor league owners have conspired to unreasonably limit salaries. This still remains in effect in Minor League Baseball today.
Minor Leaguers are also prohibited from forming a union, seeing as it could advocate for higher player salaries and hold leverage through the power to strike. The only minor leaguer players that are allowed to be a part of the MLB union are players that are on the 40-man roster. MiLB has been found guilty of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act when three former minor leaguers (Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle) sued the MLB, previous commissioner Bud Selig, and the Royals, Marlins, and Giants baseball clubs for violations of wage and overtime laws. The FSLA requires that employees pay cannot fall below minimum wage and that employees are owed overtime pay for one-and-a-half times the regular pay rate when working in excess of 40 hours per week. The three minor leaguers that sued claimed that they were exploited and said it starts at the beginning of a player’s career. Teams agree to not negotiate salaries or inform players of salary data even though they earn wages while working 60-70 hours per week including six or seven games each week. In addition, the players condition and have to keep their body in shape to give them the chance to play in the show. Players are also unpaid for playing in winter instructional leagues and spring training, adding to the injustice of their work to pay ratio.
Major League Baseball claims that minor leaguer players voluntarily agree to the terms of their employment, so they knew what they were getting into. Also, professional athletes are not entitled to overtime pay since the life of a professional athlete commands atypical hours and a difficult work schedule. There are also economic arguments stating that increasing the pay would lead to higher ticket prices for fans and possibly some minor league teams folding. Major League Baseball and the owners do not seem to understand what these players are asking for. They are not asking for their wages to increase by increasing ticket prices, they are asking owners to stop paying so much for free agents but instead to reinvest their money back into the prospects of the organization to help them develop, and provide them with the proper coaching and nutrition that allows them to succeed.
There have been many accounts of players being cut and tossed to the side when their swing only needed one mechanical change. Some minor league teams do not have the proper coaching to help fix these small mechanical deficiencies, which is why organizations need to reinvest their money in development.
There is a huge difference in nutrition between minor and major leaguer players. It has commonly been a tradition when big league players go to the minor leagues for rehab assignments that they buy the food for the team, usually consisting of steak or ribs. A typical day of food without big leaguers in rehab would consist of pizza and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On the road they stop at the convenience store and they use their meal money to buy whatever they can get. Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez said in his minor league experience the food mostly consisted of cheeseburgers or in some cases, “Thank God for the $5 footlong at Subway.” Los Angeles Dodgers infielder, Enrique Hernandez said, “In the minors you might have a sandwich or something, and you’re not making good money, so you can’t go eat somewhere, like good food, before the game, and you still have to save money for other things. That’s the important thing that a lot of people don’t realize. You get $15 a day, so you get ten bucks to eat lunch, you can’t even go to Chili’s for that, it’s tough, you just live off fast food and peanut butter.” New York Mets pitcher Dillon Gee stated, “The food difference is really big, some days you are not even eating, other days there’s no choices so were stuck eating the dollar menu at McDonalds. Then you get up to the big leagues and there is a lot of really good healthy food.” At the major league level teams have chefs, so they do a great job keeping guys in shape. This way they do not have to eat McDonalds on a regular basis, they leave their nutrition up to the chef.
As soon as an MLB organization starts to realize that this is a market inefficiency, they will prosper from their new rich prospect depth. This in my opinion is the new money ball.
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