Minor Leaguers Might Finally Get A Raise

We’ve written multiple times in these digital pages about the longstanding battle over minor league wages. More recently, it looked like the battle might be on the verge of ending with the passage by Congress of the Save America’s Pastime Act, a statute that had the dual effect of capping minor league players’ pay and threatening the existence of Independent Leagues. Then MLB moved on to state-level lobbying, working in Arizona to cap minor league wages there. In short, MLB seemed to be winning the right to pay minor leaguers far below minimum wage on a broad scale.

The issue of minor league pay is one that baseball writers have been raising in earnest for almost twenty years. Local newspapers detailed how the low wages impact minor leaguers in their towns. Dirk Hayhurst wrote multiple books about it. Russell Carleton has covered the issue extensively, including discussing how low minor league wages can impact minor leaguers’ health and nutrition for their entire lives.

When the body is malnourished (or tired), the brain begins playing a game of triage with cognitive functions. The first ones to go are the higher neurological functions, like attention, pattern recognition, and planning/decision-making centers, followed by fine motor control… things that might be helpful in playing baseball.

These are the hidden cognitive effects of poor nutrition. They’re hard to observe because a player will still show signs of development and will still perform, and it’s hard to make the argument that “well, he could be a little better.” It’s the slow creep of what might have been, but didn’t happen that’s the hardest to guard against. Over a day, it won’t be apparent. Over a few years…

Chris Mitchell talked about low wages disincentivizing baseball careers. ESPN and baseball blogs have weighed in. National news publications called minor league pay “poverty-level wages.” In the legal community, lawyers have been discussing  the issue even longer, with one 1996 law review article calling for unionization of minor leaguers and drily noting that “life in the minor leagues leaves much to be desired.”  And major leaguers have begun calling for increased wages too.

Most recently, Emily Waldon wrote a piece for The Athletic that explained that even discussing the low compensation in the minors is enough to end minor leaguers’ careers.

“You talk about this, you’re canned,” an AL West High-A player told The Athletic. “Nobody wants to have you in your organization anymore. You can’t talk about it.

“If you come up in arms about fair wage or just being able to put food on the table for yourself, you’ll get released,” he continued. “I know 100 guys that would wanna talk to you about this, but they won’t.”

“We can’t say anything,” one Class-A player shared. “Like, I don’t want that to be me. I just got picked, I want to see if I can make it.”

Years of work and diligent reporting from across baseball seem to have finally had some impact. Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that they were voluntarily introducing a 50% increase in their average compensation for minor league players. The Jays’ decision was lauded by many, and prompted praise from the MLB Players’ Association.

Union head Tony Clark lauded the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday for giving minor league players a 50 percent raise, and he hopes other clubs do the same.

Representatives from the players’ association visited the Blue Jays’ spring training camp a day after The Athletic reported the team planned to boost pay for all minor leaguers, with some making as little as $1,100 a month in recent seasons. The Cubs, too, are already discussing following suit.

At first, Major League Baseball was evidently “not thrilled with the Blue Jays’ decision,” and Maury Brown wrote that “the Commissioner’s Office has no plans to seek the pay increase across all 30 clubs.” But within days, the league had changed its tune, at least publicly, and revealed that it had raised the idea of minor league wage increases with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which operates and manages the minor leagues.

The decision represents the culmination of what ESPN’s Jeff Passan called “years of weathering criticism and lawsuits regarding minor league pay[.]” Major League Baseball, it seems, is no longer willing to consider the storm of negative press arising out of the poverty wages minor leaguers receive as part of the cost of doing business. And some industry observers have speculated that Kyler Murray chose football over baseball, at least in part, due to minor league pay and working conditions.

Ordinarily, paying minor leaguers more would be an unqualified good thing. That said, there are a couple of catches here. For one thing, the Jays’ decision itself didn’t really make that big of a practical difference for the players who stand to benefit. Fifty percent sounds like a big number, but the increase doesn’t even make Toronto’s farmhands the highest-paid in the minor leagues and the new average salary will still be under $12,000 annually. (It will be interesting to see if their decision prompts other clubs to raise their salaries, and thus, raises the average salary across the board, though given teams’ past resistance to increasing minor league compensation, we would be forgiven for being skeptical that such a trend will emerge.) Second, MLB’s proposal to pay minor leaguers more requires those salaries to be paid, at least in part, by the minor league teams themselves, instead of (as is the current setup) by their far wealthier major league parent teams.

The complexity of such fundamental changes to the system could complicate bargaining, particularly with regard to the cost and how much each side is responsible for. MLB’s position on progressive policy for minor leaguers has strong support among major league owners, an owner familiar with the discussions told ESPN, but the expectation is that minor league affiliates would pick up at least some of the burden of the various improvements. Minor league teams, which lack the resources of a major league team, may well be unable or unwilling to shoulder those additional costs. And MLB likely knows this, which means that their proposal may be nothing more than an attempt to seek good public relations and shift the blame for low salaries elsewhere. After all, major league teams could afford to address the issue now, and on their own, if they were motivated to do so.

At the same time, the mere discussion of increasing minor league salaries is a significant step forward that cannot be understated. And MLB isn’t saying that minor league affiliates must pay all of the salary increases, which means that the league may well be open to funding pay raises on some level. This isn’t going to solve the minor league salary problem and lift minor leaguers out of poverty. But the league and some teams participating in the discussion about why these raises are needed is, in and of itself, a substantial shift in the public conversation about the issue.

We hoped you liked reading Minor Leaguers Might Finally Get A Raise by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

Some pay increase is clearly warranted, but teams would probably be smarter to make the bulk of the improvement in living situation by providing housing and food for players, rather than by paying the players a lot more and hoping the money is wisely spent. I think teams want their minor leaguers to be “hungry”, and there’s probably some value in that, but that doesn’t mean they need to be literally hungry!

CC AFC
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CC AFC

They could do both things.

Also seems awfully infantalizing to suggest players can’t be trusted to spend money. I suspect a lot of players in the minors would invest in better nutrition and other items or services that would improve their performance since they are trying to make the majors. It may also help someone make the majors if they can buy a car to get around more easily (say, to workout facilities or home for some sleep) or whatever. I’d imagine even paying some other bills might just make it easier to stop worrying and focus on baseball.

Ron Baugh
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Ron Baugh

I don’t think it is infantalizing players to suggest the team provide for them. I think if it is true about how much time they spend at the ballpark, which I believe it is, that teams should provide these things because players don’t have time to wisely spend. It is easier to find bargains if you have time to shop but players who are moved at a moments notice or on the road more than half the time, don’t have time to get good deals on food or lodging. You can’t cook up meals in advance or find a good value place to stay if you are only renting for 5 months and hopefully less.

CC AFC
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CC AFC

I agree teams should provide things like nutritionists and chefs. I think they provide those for major league players, right? At least in some cases? That seems like a really good way to help improve performance. What I don’t like is the suggestion that they do that IN LIEU OF, rather than in addition to, directly paying them more money because they can’t make smart decisions with money.

For one thing, I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest they can’t spend wisely or that people who work long hours are incapable of making smart decisions with money. For another thing, I’m not really a fan of a suggestion that an employer gets to determine what constitutes a smart use of an employee’s money. Or that the employer can basically keep the wages and spend them on items that will improve the player’s performance or that constitute a smart investment in the team’s judgement. I’d be awfully pissed if my employer told me, “hey dude, instead of giving you a raise this year, we’re hiring a salad catering company to bring you lunch every day. We have research showing that will improve your health and therefore your productivity. And now you don’t need to pack a lunch again! We think it’s a smarter investment than letting you decide how to spend a raise.”

bjsguess
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bjsguess

I just want to be clear – did you just say “I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest they can’t spend wisely”?

I mean, sure, SOME will spend wisely. But do the majority of 18-22 years spend their limited resources in ways that improve their future? Take a tour of any college campus and I think you’ll get the answer. Beer, bongs, electronics, clothes … young adults aren’t often making the best long-term decisions.

CC AFC
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CC AFC

This is a bullshit stereotype characterization of young people in general applied to baseball players. There is no basis for suggesting that minor leaguers blow what little money they have on beer and weed. In fact, they can be suspended for positive drug tests and that rarely happens. You are just dealing in asshole depictions of young people you want to get off your lawn. In no way does that support an argument that the olds should keep all the money away from the youngs until they’re smart enough to spend it (based on the exclusive judgement of the olds).

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

Between your profanity and your inability to make a cogent point, you’re providing evidence that undermines your point about young people.

CC AFC
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CC AFC

I’m not young. Like Bob Dylan, I just don’t like it when old people belittle young people for no reason.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

So you’re not young, but you conduct yourself like a child in public? Yeah, you should be proud of that.

rounders
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rounders

It is obvious you obviously have no experience whatever with professional ballplayers, especially but not only teenage players. But pontificate away.
The Dodgers may have been the first to see the stupidity of letting their own seed corn rot and to take steps to improve the care of this level of players.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

I suggested that they do both things.

Also, we’re talking about mostly college-aged young men here. Some are even younger than that–under 18 years old. It’s not outrageous to suggest that teams put some of the expenditure into looking out for them, rather than just throwing the entire increase at them and hoping they adequately look out for themselves.

And it’s instructive to remember the purpose of affiliated ball. These players are not supposed to be there to stay. They need to move up or move out. Putting the entire pay increase directly into their pockets may very well be at odds with the goal of making them hungry to move up, or otherwise motivated to move out.

CC AFC
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CC AFC

I’m not sure there’s any evidence to support the motivation point. A lot of really talented players who are drafted highly or signed in the J2 period are paid millions up front and they do fine. For the others, the new average salary for the Jays’ minor leaguers is $12,000. The current MLB minimum is over $500,000. I think there’s plenty of room for raising the minimum without compromising motivation.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

This really isn’t about “evidence”. There is no peer-reviewed study that will settle the question either way. It’s about common sense.

It is simple common sense that if you pay *everyone* in the minors more than they can earn at other endeavors at the same age, then playing in the minor leagues would become a desired end, rather than the means to reach the desired end (the majors), for a lot of minor league players who are non-prospects. In that sense, it affects motivation.

Top prospects, who receive the large bonuses, are a different issue. They come in with expectations of getting to the majors, rather than just a hope and a prayer. A middle-class salary is probably not going to affect their motivation in the same way.

Philo
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Philo

There is so much wrong with what you are saying that I wonder if you are just trolling…
Players don’t just stick around earning money. There are new draft classes every year. If you are not hungry and/or do not love the game there is always going to be someone to take your spot. Always.
If you are a great athlete deciding deciding what sport to concentrate on/commit to this is a very real aspect of the decision making process. As a league, if you are losing out on top talent because of a self-inflicted and senseless wound, that is poor decision making. It is not like there is isn’t plenty of money available.
If I am making carp money, I can always quit and go somewhere else. Low paying jobs are literally EVERYWHERE. But I am not a baseball player with elite skills. it is not like they can just take their skills and go play ball at another employer.
How often we forget that these players are top athletes who have years of hard work behind them and hope to have years of playing time in front of them. To generalize them and thus marginalize them, is not at all common sense.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

It’s funny how people throw “troll” around when they simply don’t understand the point that’s being made.

Also, the whole “losing out on top talent” thing is a canard. Nobody is deciding to play other sports, rather than baseball, because of minor league pay. Especially “top talent” athletes, who get big signing bonuses.

Frankly, if any athlete wants to try to take up basketball, football, or hockey because they don’t like minor league salaries, then baseball is better off without them. Good luck with that!

Bip
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Bip

It is simple common sense that if you pay *everyone* in the minors more than they can earn at other endeavors at the same age, then playing in the minor leagues would become a desired end, rather than the means to reach the desired end (the majors), for a lot of minor league players who are non-prospects.

If you pay everyone in the minors more than they earn elsewhere, they will play in the minors rather than work elsewhere, which is exactly what teams want. They want to lose talented kids to Trader Joe’s? No.

On the other hand, the incentive to make the majors from the minors, for a million reasons, will not be in danger.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

See, this is where you don’t get it. Teams aren’t losing any actual prospects to Trader Joe’s. Teams might lose org guys to Trader Joe’s, and frankly that’s in the teams’ best interest.

Jay Dee
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Jay Dee

This is all new… how would there be evidence in any way? I feel your seeking an agenda here that even you don’t even quite fully understand-

You can do both Like Kev’s suggesting and its probably the most efficient method- Or you can chose to live in imaginary land and act like these kids are going to run out to Whole foods and cook themselves these wonderful healthy meals while donating the change on their way out the door to feed healthy children abroad. Yes its common sense and it benefits everyone except the 25% of whacked out liberals in thia nation that want to control every thing about someone’s life but their own

Have the minor league players resented the thought of being feed 4 cource healthy meals on the daily?

HappyFunBall
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HappyFunBall

If chatter is to be believed, the post game buffet was a significant part of the last round of CBA negotiations. For the MAJOR LEAGUERS.

It’s also a good way to control expenses. A club contracting with a catering service, for example, is far more cost efficient than giving a pay raise to an entire squad of players and hoping they make wise dining decisions.

tpotter1975
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tpotter1975

Not infantalizing at all. In the last CBA the major league player gave massive concessions for things like per diem and better clubhouse meal choices. If millionaires can acknowledge that they dont make the greatest food consumption choices, than what do we expect of younger, lesser paid players to do? For them, the Mac’s Steakhouse Dollar Menu is a veritable smorgasbord of bad culinary decisions……You take care of housing, we will feed you isn’t a bad as it sounds……

docgooden85
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Member
docgooden85

Maybe they could have a Company Store at the park, where the workers can redeem items to be deducted from their pay directly, all provided by the generous and benevolent employer. It would save the players the confusing indignity of having actual money in their pockets and ensure the teams get a lot of that money back they didn’t want to part with in the first place.
P.S. I hope you never have to work for a boss who thinks it’s fine to say they want you to be “hungry” by which they mean underpaid.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

I’m not going to make the mistake of equating working a regular 9-to-5 job with playing minor league baseball.

tpotter1975
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tpotter1975

Good Choice, the average minor leaguer puts more than 40 hours a week into his craft……

Brewtown_Kev
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Member
Brewtown_Kev

Yes, and he’s also playing a game for a living. It’s another form of entertainment. Actors who are trying to make it don’t even make as much as minor league baseball players, but where are the tears for them?

deathtothedh
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deathtothedh

They can play better and make more money. They knew what they were signing up for. I waited tables to pay my way through college.

bjsguess
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bjsguess

Isn’t this typical for many high reward jobs?

Look at a doctor going through residency. They are getting paid peanuts while working insane hours. Or a junior attorney at a large firm. Or a young kid cutting their teeth in banking. Brand new CPA … the list goes on and on. There is an “apprentice” period where the producer is underpaid, often criminally.

CC AFC
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Member
CC AFC

Except all of the firms in those industries compete with each other for talent and are subject to anti trust laws if they attempt to fix wages. Big difference

Glixie
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Glixie

Nope, not really. Entry-level i-banking analysts at Goldman are up to $140k per year. Similar for big-law associates, and MBB consultants, and Big 4 accountants, and those working at FAANG tech firms. Wages are of course lower for those at less prestigious firms, but even the bottom firms in those industries pay significantly above the national median. (Residents, yes, get screwed, relative to the earnings potential of similarly educated peers, at least until they’re finally done with residencies and specialization years.)

This is tangential to the core arguments for MLB teams paying MiLBers—it’s against labor/minimum wage laws (sans MLB’s ludicrous exemptions), probably harmful to their long-term development, and the morality of the owners profiting in the face of poverty. But no, it’s not normal to pay entry-level workers in prestige industries unlivable wages.

Paul22
Member
Paul22

The average resident salary in 2017 was $57,200. The average pay for a Junior Associate Attorney is $62,350 per year.
Average Entry-Level Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Salary
$56,189

Brewtown_Kev
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Member
Brewtown_Kev

We’re comparing minor league ballplayers to CPAs and graduates of medical and law schools? On what planet does that comparison make sense? Certainly not on this one.

If we’re going to use that comparison, then the ballplayers you could *maybe* compare to graduated lawyers, doctors and CPAs should be rookie *major league* players who have “graduated” from the minors, not minor leaguers who may or may not ever make it. Rookie major leaguers make more than half a million dollars a year.

Minor leaguers are more aptly compared to medical school students or law students who are still learning the craft. How do these groups compare? Oh wait… med school students and law school students aren’t paid at all?? They actually pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to be there? Huh. I guess minor leaguers are horribly underpaid though.

But, of course, we really shouldn’t use that comparison. Playing a sport is really in no way comparable to any regular “full time” job–even the higher salaried ones. Sports are entertainment. Minor league players are providing something with their labor–they provide the entertainment product that sells tickets to minor league games. That’s certainly worth something. The question is how much.

In almost any other form of entertainment–e.g., music, acting, comedy, art–the folks who are still trying to make it earn next to nothing, even while they provide entertainment somewhere, like at an open mic or a community theater. In fact, it’s common for them to have other jobs, like waiting tables, while they pursue their big break.

For the good of the product, it behooves baseball teams to allow their minor league players the luxury of single-minded dedication to the craft, and for that reason, it would be wise to compensate the players enough so that they don’t need to worry about getting other jobs. I think the folks in this comment section agree, for the most part, on that. We just disagree on how that should be accomplished.

I think teams would be wise to accomplish this largely by covering the players’ needs directly, rather than just increasing salaries and still seeing at least some of them (probably many of them) struggle nonetheless. Provision of good food and housing would do the trick. Then the teams can add a modest direct pay increase to that, and those dollars would go a whole lot further, because the needs are already covered. I don’t see how that doesn’t sound like a good deal for everyone.