Minor League Baseball has received quite a bit of attention in recent weeks, mainly due to the implementation of new rules regarding pace of play and extra innings. But fans should be discussing something unrelated to the rules, something that has to do with the livelihood of the average minor league player: pay.
Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reported on March 18 that a potential government spending bill considered by Congress may include a provision that exempts minor league players from Federal labor laws. DeBonis reports that this exemption has been lobbied for by the MLB for more than two years in order to stall lawsuits filed by minor leaguers who allege they were underpaid illegally.
As it stands, the league pays players a monthly rate well below minimum wage; this is especially troubling considering that these players work overtime outside of game days in practice sessions and off-season workouts. The Washington Post reports that clubs pay these minor leaguers as little as $1,100 per month.
As if that number is not alarmingly low, consider who is receiving these paychecks. Nearly every minor leaguer is trying to make it to the Majors, and most are in their early 20s. These players often miss out on a college experience – both on the field and in the classroom – in order to play professional baseball. Many minor league players are sacrificing their ability to receive an education just to have a chance to make it big, but all the while they are barely compensated for their efforts.
Pat O’Conner, president of Minor League Baseball, commented on the litigation on behalf of the MLB. According to the Washington Post, O’Conner believes it will be too difficult to apply regulated federal labor laws to these players. O’Conner said that minor league baseball is “not like work where you can punch a time clock.” He added that he would hate to imagine a minor leaguer being told to leave the practice field because he reached a cap on his hours.
While this is a nice sentiment, it is a fundamentally flawed concept and disingenuous notion. Minor leaguers are already working more than what they are being paid for. The scenario brought forward by O’Conner shows that MLB is more concerned with possibly paying overtime than properly developing its players.
If MLB was genuinely concerned about an hour cap, it would be working to enact an exemption from Congress for that specific issue. Instead, it is lobbying to completely exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws, which will ensure that players below the majors continue to get grossly underpaid.
It is somewhat ironic that MLB is willing to go to such lengths to assure that minor league players are not adequately paid. It is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for an exemption from federal labor laws to avoid properly compensating minor leaguers, when that same money could have been used to compensate those same minor leaguers.
Minor leaguers are not requesting the six-figure salaries that NFL practice squad players make – they are simply asking for pay that is comparable to what the average fast food employee will make.
If this exemption passes in Congress, it could seriously deter players from pursuing professional baseball at the minor league level. Why opt for a low salary when one can at least get a degree playing college ball? Why struggle to get by in a farm system when one can travel overseas and play where the competition level is not as high?
This is a crisis for MLB, and the solution is simple: pay these players what they deserve.
Matt Lapolla is a broadcasting major from Union, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.