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One week ago, I published an article stating that MLB should be subsidizing the housing of minor-league baseball players, especially given how awful the salaries of those players are. I brought it up then due to a rumor that MLB wasn’t allowing families to host MiLB players during a pandemic — understandable — but also wasn’t footing the bill or arranging for housing otherwise. While that was unconfirmed, we now have word from Advocates for Minor Leaguers that there are definitely MiLB players forced to pay for their own housing, even though they’re taking part at the alternate training sites that have them basically on call for MLB duty during its second COVID protocols season.
No specific teams were mentioned by the advocacy group in their tweet, likely to help protect the identities of the players that reached out: you can imagine how easily a team could identify which players are sending tips to Advocates when there are, at maximum, 28 players at an alternate training site.
MLB teams — whichever and however many of them this current issue applies to — don’t feel compelled to pay for these hotel rooms or to cover for meal money for the same reason players don’t feel like they can speak up in any way other than anonymously about these issues: there are no protections in place for the players. MiLB players are not unionized like their MLB cousins, so there is nothing stopping teams from stepping all over their workers. You see this with the hotel room and meal money issues, of course, but also last spring, when MiLB players were left hanging with no support, no pay, and no hope from MLB teams as spring training sites were evacuated with the start of the season pushed back.
You see it in the everyday behaviors, too, though, not just the special circumstance pandemic-related ones: again, we’re talking about players making poverty-level wages, and that’s what they earn after their salaries were nearly doubled from before. We’re talking about a group whose salaries were determined by Congress, because MLB lobbied politicians to ensure that the behaviors they were already engaging in would be legalized and therefore able to be continued. And they marketed it all as a positive for these players. We’re talking about an MLB that got rid of one-quarter of the minors’ teams and 1,000 of its players with no real pushback, simply because they could.
And despite the “necessary” cost savings and efficiency this supposedly brought MLB clubs, now they’ll probably tell us they can’t afford these hotel rooms and this meal money because of financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. That’s a blatant lie when teams are talking about whether they can afford a free agent or not: it is exponentially more ridiculous when you’re talking about a minor expense that probably doesn’t even get its own line in a budget spreadsheet.
Minor leaguers need a union, and they need it yesterday. If you’re tired of reading that sentiment, just know I’m tired of writing it. You cannot believe how much I’d rather be writing about whatever an MiLBPA and MLB would be fighting about in collective bargaining than about the need for an MiLBPA in the first place. If the players were unionized, MLB couldn’t just do what they wish with hotel rooms, with meal money, with pay, with the scheduling, with reorganizing the entire minors, with anything. And if they tried to, there would be protections in place for players to speak up, a method with which they could say they were released specifically because of their desire to be treated well and not because of their performance on the field, protections in place to keep MLB from just doing whatever the hell they feel like doing with these people and their lives whenever they want to.
As always, getting to a point where there is a minor-league union or unions won’t be easy, nor will it be quick. But if the last few years haven’t shown an increasing need for minor-league unionization and the protections it brings, then I’m not sure exactly how to convince you that it’s necessary.