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One of the planks of Major League Baseball’s plan slash threat to disaffiliate 42 Minor League Baseball clubs involved facilities. MLB believed too many facilities at too many parks were out-of-date, unsafe, unproductive, and unhelpful. There’s some truth to that, too: some stadiums do have old facilities that could use upgrading, and it would have been good of the MiLB owners, who don’t have to pay the players in their employ, the same players who help them make a profit, to work on upgrading those facilities with those revenues.
At the same time, MLB teams can certainly afford to do it themselves: sure, MLB signs some minor-league players to significant bonuses, and they do pay the player salaries, but those salaries are poverty-level wages — scratch that, poverty-level wages would be an improvement on what most of the players are taking home. The “surplus” value, the profits generated by these players, are more than enough for MLB to be able to reinvest back into not just the players, but the places they are playing.
There are players themselves who believe this should change, as well, not just angry newsletter writers on the internet, including one who spoke to me off-the-record in 2019 about MLB’s plan to shutter dozens of teams. “These MiLB teams are massively profitable in many cases for their owners, and they sink very little of that money back into facilities for players. There ought to be accountability for an organization to give back to the players that earn them their money.”
Paying for anything related to a stadium themselves is not the way of an MLB owner, of course. And that, in conjunction with this call for upgraded facilities or disaffiliation, is what brings us to the Mets, and their recent facility upgrades at the stadium of their St. Lucie affiliate, which also happens to be their spring training complex. The Mets spent $57 million renovating the complex, and that money was spent, in part, on the players’ clubhouse. It looks great — spacious, comfy seating, televisions everywhere. It’s also only going to be used during the spring: minor-league players don’t get to use that clubhouse, as the Mets have a separate — and lesser — one for them.
In isolation, this is some weird annoyance. The Mets, according to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, though, have of course made it worse than that. The reason there are separate and unequal clubhouses? “To give minor leaguers a reminder of the status they’re working to earn.” Apparently, the horrific wages, forcing players to pay for their own equipment, not paying them during spring training at all, and having five roommates who all sleep on air mattresses in a small apartment wasn’t enough motivation to be treated more like a person.
Former Met Ty Kelly spoke up about this issue on Twitter, focusing on another issue minor-league players have to deal with: their meals. “Tough to forget you’re in A-Ball when you’re rationing 2 plates of spaghetti for 25 guys after games but, sure, leather couches will go to their heads.” Kelly then shared a photo of one of the team-provided lunches for road games during spring training:
Actual lunch on the road at MiLB Spring Training. One slice of deli meat and cheese, an apple, a Gogurt, and a Nature Valley bar. When we tried to make salads at our home complex before getting on the bus, we were told it was not allowed because lunch was already provided. pic.twitter.com/KEfTjro3SK
— Ty Kelly (@tykelly11) February 11, 2020
It’s a tossup whether the most galling part of that is the pathetic not-quite-a-sandwich on white bread that lacks mayo, mustard, or any other condiment you might want to include, or if it’s that the Mets’ minor-league players weren’t allowed to eat the salads they had prepared beforehand. Neither is great, both are humiliating. About the only thing that could make this fit even more into my understanding of how MLB treats minor-league players is if the team had charged those players for that pathetic lunch.
In-season, players receive a $25 per diem in order to feed themselves. That amount is paltry when you consider there are multiple meals to be eaten in a single day, and it’s even worse when you consider that it’s only for road games: at home, players have to fend for themselves, and given their horrid salaries, it’s real ramen, blue box mac and cheese, and value menu hours all the time. It’s not the diet of champions, and it’s certainly not going to build character despite what some lying-to-themselves former minor leaguers might have told themselves to get by. How lacking the sum really is, even outside of your having to imagine subsisting on McChickens or whatever, is shown by what other leagues do for their players. In the American Hockey League (AHL), the players are unionized, represented by the Pro Hockey Players Association. The PHPA, in collective bargaining, won the players a $75 per day per diem: about 30 years ago, in the playing days of the current executive director, Larry Landon, the AHL’s per diem for players was $25 — the same as it is in 2020 for MiLB’s players.
This explains to some degree the responses of Ty Kelly’s coaches, which was just to tell their players that hey, in their day, they only got soup. If it’s soup or that sandwich, give me the soup.
Don’t worry, though, as this all gets even worse: the Mets paid $2 million of the $57 million used to renovate this facility. The rest was taxpayer money. If taxpayers hadn’t had $55 million removed from their coffers, the Mets wouldn’t have upgraded a thing. MLB teams love spending money, so long as it isn’t their own. And that’s part of why this MLB vs. MiLB battle isn’t going to end any time soon. And the lunches, like player wages, aren’t going to improve without some major concessions… or a little bit of unionizing. As a treat.
I had some more Mookie Betts/Red Sox thoughts to get out, so I did, over at Baseball Prospectus. This one is on the subject of can’t vs. won’t, and how the language of fans and media help provide cover for teams that can do something, but would prefer to lie and say they can’t.
MLB’s plan to bury as much of the sign-stealing scandal as possible at every turn sure is blowing up in their face with every new reported feature on the subject. Here’s The Washington Post discussing how the Astros’ cheating was an “open secret for years,” to the point other teams in the league were helping the Nationals prepare before the World Series to counter them.
The Athletic reports that Carlos Beltrán was the ringleader among the players, as he was the veteran in the clubhouse, and the hierarchy of the clubhouse earned him a larger voice and vote on the matter. This report is a bit in contrast with the latest from Jared Diamond and the Wall Street Journal, which includes items like Alex Bregman basically showing up to the majors and almost immediately saying the Astros needed to cheat even harder.
Marwin González, now with the Twins, expressed regret for participating in the Astros’ sign-stealing, and the attention it has now drawn to his teammates in Minnesota.
MLB is proposing a new postseason format with a postseason selection show that the partner networks are dying to pay to show. I have… many thoughts on this, but I’ll save them. For now, I’ll just say that I think further lowering the barriers to postseason entry will mostly serve to further disincentivize competition: it’ll let, say, Cleveland continue with its low-effort grift without punishing them for it.
Here’s Kim McCauley, with “Dwyane Wade’s support for his daughter Zaya is an important example for queer kids and their parents”
- The XFL sure received a whole lot of material support in its second go-round. Why aren’t women sports getting the same kind of benefit-of-the-doubt financial support and backing?