MLB should be paying for MiLB player housing

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In 2021, Minor League Baseball players will see a raise from their previous poverty-level wages to… well, higher poverty-level wages. Every level in the minors, outside of those repeating the Triple-A level, will still have a salary below the poverty line, and the ones above it will be so just barely. There are some little qualify of life changes MLB has put into place for 2021 and beyond, like getting rid of clubhouse dues so that players were no longer the ones responsible for paying a club employee, and paying for meals before and after games, but still: in the end, we’re talking about players making poverty-level wages.

Bill Thompson, who you’ve likely seen published in various baseball outlets, tweeted on Wednesday that it turns out, “MLB is not allowing host families for minor leaguers this year due to COVID. Understandable, but there’s no indication they are then footing the bill for these players to get their own housing. That means the raises they enacted will be canceled out paying for housing.”

I’ve been looking since seeing that tweet for confirmation of it, but I can’t find any news story or report on the matter, so, I’m going to leave the specifics of it alone for now. However, there is an idea there that doesn’t need a report in order to be discussed, and that’s how MLB expects its minor leaguers to find a living space for themselves. MLB teams, owned by billionaires, raking in millions and millions and millions in profit each year, should just be paying for the housing of minor-league players. Who, again, they pay basically nothing to.

It is wild that minor-league players are responsible for figuring out their own living situation and paying for it, when they make poverty-level wages and can be moved up or down a level at the whim of the teams. They might not even know which city they’re starting their season in until they already need to be there. Recall this conversation I had with former player Ty Kelly, who is also one of the founders of Advocates for Minor Leaguers:

For Kelly, his living situation from 2010 stuck out. “That year there was a whole situation where it looked like we were going to get hooked up with a hotel for cheap, and we ended up driving all the way up from Florida to Maryland. We were going to do a move in, move out situation every home stand and road trip for the season. The day we got up there, we didn’t even stay the night: my teammate got called up to High-A before the season started. I basically had two days to figure out on my own where I was gonna live. I got hooked up with a few other guys on the team, and convinced them to stay in a bigger place so that I could join in. I played for the entire 2010 season sleeping on an air mattress in the middle of a living room with no furniture.  No blinds or curtains on the windows, either, and I was just sort of at the mercy of whoever else was moving around in the apartment.”

Things got a little better for Kelly in 2011, at least. “I was in a place with six guys in a three bedroom apartment. But, you know, at least they had a real bed, and we had some furniture that year.”

Two days before the season began, and Kelly was without lodging. Two days!

Players can’t eat any food that actually costs money or might be good for them if they’re spending their salary on rent, which is only “cheap” if six dudes get together to share a space meant for half that many people, like Kelly did, so the quality of life issues that forcing players to pay for living arrangements creates go beyond just where their bed is.

Teams should be paying for these living spaces. Teams should, of course, be paying players far more than they are, but they should also be paying for where these players live, and this is not just a “during a pandemic” thought. That players rely on packing as many of them as they can into a small apartment to get by, or the generosity of some host family, is unforgivable. Every single team should be doing what the San Francisco Giants are doing. The Giants, as you might remember, are subsidizing housing for minor-league players:

At both the Triple-A and Double-A levels, minor-league players will receive a $500 per month subsidy to pay for housing. It likely won’t stop players from having to room together, but it will let a few players combine subsidies and rent a place without having to take much or anything from their still-lacking paychecks. Maybe some of them will even have a real mattress now! It’s not nothing, which [carries the one] is something.

However — oh like you didn’t know that was coming — the Giants’ plan, while ambitious compared to the nonexistent housing plan of the other 29 teams, is still severely lacking. You might have noticed there was no mention of Single-A players receiving a subsidy for housing, and that’s because most of them won’t.

Okay, yeah, they shouldn’t be doing exactly what the Giants are doing: they should be doing that, and more, subsidizing housing for all minor-league players instead of just some of them. If the teams want the players to still have to figure out where they are going to live and with which players they’re going to live with, fine, whatever: cut them monthly checks specifically for housing. That’s probably preferable to MLB forcing mid-sized cities to build campuses for MiLB players to live on in-season, anyway, on land that probably should be going to things like affordable housing instead of whatever taxpayer-subsidized scheme MLB’s owners can concoct. Cities don’t really need more apartments and homes sitting there unused for large chunks of the year.

Anyway, that’s what Thompson’s tweet reminded me of. If MLB isn’t allowing host families — again, fine during a pandemic — they better be subsidizing housing for the players somehow. And they should be doing that all the time, at every level, for every player, anyway, especially given the horrid wages the teams are paying out to them.

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