Congress to Minor Leaguers : Drop Dead

Maybe you heard about this, but with Brexit, Trump, Turkey’s airport, the nothingburger Benghazi report, and binging on Orange is the New Black and Rick and Morty, you may have missed it.

Here’s the link: I’ll wait.

If that was TL:DR, then basically, this is a bi-partisan bill introduced in the House to exempt minor league baseball players from the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Garrett Broshuis, a former minor league player turned lawyer, has led an effort that is up to 10,000 strong to get minimum wage and overtime for their work playing baseball in exciting locales such as Pawtucket, Altoona, Beloit and Idaho Falls.

In a nutshell, instead of paying these players as little as $1,100 a month for a five-month season, and subjecting them to the wonders of bus travel, staying in Days Inns at least two to a room, and post-game tuna fish sandwiches, Broshuis wants to treat minor leaguers like, well, regular folks.

What’s wrong with that?

According to these elected officials, if this effort succeeds, then minor league teams would go out of business. There would be chaos and anarchy in the streets, and Jackson, Tennessee would have no place to watch dizzy bat races or dugout dance-offs.

Horse hockey!

Yes, this is not major league baseball. That’s clear. But if you read Dirk Hayhurst’s fantastic books, you know that even in AAA, players have to scrimp to make ends week, especially if they have families. Hot plates, canned soup and sub-Goodwill furniture are sometimes all these players can afford if they weren’t blessed with a big signing bonus. Teams try to drill into players to eat sensibly with proper nutrition, but eating healthy costs a lot more money, while a can of Dinty Moore is cheap and has protein and vegetables (and a delicious brown goo, too).

There are a select few minor leaguers that get a big-time bonus to sign. If you’ve played in the bigs before, you probably make a semi-decent wage in AAA. The rank-and-file players, the organizational players, the players minor league teams need to fill out a roster, they get barely nothing and like it.

Before money got big in baseball, low level major leaguers didn’t make that much, either. But major league players have a union that’s very effective in taking advantage of the owners’ idiocy. Also, the farther back in baseball history you go, minor league players sometimes made as much or more than many big leaguers because they were free to negotiate with some teams – especially when teams didn’t have an affiliation. Those days? Long gone.

Before money got big, some teams only had four minor league franchises (amazing, but true). Now, they have at least six, maybe more, and teams in the Dominican. They send players to fall leagues. They also could also spend a little more than half-million dollars per team in salary to make sure players made at least $25,000 per season.

What these members of Congress want to do is treat minor league baseball like an ‘internship’ instead of a job. Yes, some 18-year old kid playing in the Gulf Coast League is interning for major league baseball, never mind it may be four or five years before he even gets on a 40-man roster, much less on a big league team. Before then, he’s probably played on at least four or five different teams, and sometimes he’s moved three times in a season. That’s some internship.

These players are still among the very best in their profession. I would think that a mop-up reliever for the Greensboro Grasshoppers could make any one of us mortals look like idiots if we batted against him.

Take a look at a Class A or Rookie League roster from six to 10 years ago. How many players made the bigs? Heck, how many of those players made it to AAA for more than a danish and coffee? They put their lives and earning potentials on hold for years to chase the big leagues. If they wash out at, say, 25, they’ve got to hurriedly catch up to their peers, who may have already gotten one promotion in their real, straight jobs.

Many of the younger players are either eschewing college to chase their dream, or going to classes in the winter and on-line while trying to stay in shape. Players have to make choices whether to get off-season jobs to supplement their incomes, or work out during the winter to stay sharp and improve their skills.

These players are assets – maybe not as valuable as the big league assets – but assets nonetheless. Paying players below poverty wages for long workdays is just nuts, no matter how enjoyable the job is.

I know that there are just as many former players in high school and college that would trade places with the minor league players in a heartbeat. I would have given anything to be a backup infielder in the Gulf Coast League. That’s not the point. The point is that these players deserve to make some sort of living wage, where they can support themselves without having to work at Staples, live in an actual apartment with furniture, eat fresh fruit and vegetables instead of frozen pot pies, and take the time to improve at the thing they’re supposed to be doing.

I sincerely doubt these members of Congress would live like that while they’re in Washington DC. I know some sleep in their offices, but they have nice salaries, staff, perks and are certainly not eating 7-11 burritos.

So let’s hope this bill goes nowhere, and minor league baseball players actually get their due. A year-round equivalent minimum wage at the minimum, with overtime, paid by the clubs, would be fair and just. If it does, then maybe you can help a minor leaguer by taking them to Applebee’s or Red Robin. That may be the best meal they have had in months.

 

 

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