Something doesn’t add up in A’s apology for dismal minor-league meals

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Not that any of us wants to relive any part of 2020, but take a moment to put yourself back in mid-November of that year. That’s when MLB made a positive change to the minor leagues, by no longer making it the players’ responsibility to pay and tip a clubhouse attendant using their already meager earnings. This was a small but necessary step toward improving minor-league pay, since it actually let the players keep some of the little they earned, and took the onus off of them for ensuring that the clubhouse attendants were compensated.

Part of that deal was supposed to include meals provided by the teams more regularly than they had been doing: no longer would the clubbie be going out to pick up food using player funds, for instance, with the team handling that sort of thing themselves, both financially and in planning. At the time, I wrote that, “The quality of the meals themselves remains a question — [Baseball America’s] J.J. Cooper believes the provided meals will be healthier ones, but that’s a guess.” In some instances, maybe the meals are healthier than what former MiLB player Ty Kelly once shared on his Twitter account — a single slice of ham and cheese between two pieces of white bread, with no condiments or vegetables to be found — but in at least two cases we know of, that’s not how it’s been working. Remember, kids, it’s not cynicism if it turns out you were right.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers shared a pair of photos from two different Oakland A’s affiliates earlier this week. The first was a cheese sandwich with a single tomato slice and a minimal amount of lettuce that looks like it belongs in a salad, once again on white bread with nothing in the way of condiments or the like. At least there was some coleslaw on this plate, you know, to dress things up. The other was a “taco” that looks like someone spilled out most of its innards: some bell pepper and two tiny pieces of chicken remain.

Now, A’s president Dave Kaval took to Twitter the same day to respond, and not in an aggressive way. He was apologetic, and even quote-tweeted the original photos, which is certainly a different approach than the Myrtle Beach Pelicans simply referring to a “rumor” days before in order to pretend they had no idea what was being scrutinized. Kaval said that, “This was totally unacceptable. When we found out several weeks ago we terminated the third party vendor. We apologize to our players, staff, and coaches. We will redouble our efforts to provide the best options for our team at every level.”

That’s good for the A’s, to see a problem and take care of a problem, but Kaval is either confused or being at least a little dishonest here, too. As Alex Schultz reports, the photos are not only from two different A’s affiliates, but from two entirely different meals, 10 days apart. Kaval’s statement, that the vendor has been terminated and the problem resolved, doesn’t match up with that report. The sandwich was from May 18, which must be the vendor Kaval was referring to, but the taco-shaped meal is from May 28: just days before Advocates for Minor Leaguers tweeted out the photo and Kaval responded to it, not “several weeks ago.”

So, the vendor might have been taken care of, but in that case, the new one isn’t doing any better. The A’s might have some more terminating to do.

It’s good that we haven’t been seeing constant photos like this throughout the season’s first month — maybe the A’s are an exception, one that went extraordinarily cheap with regard to providing player meals. We are talking about a team that attempted to stop paying their minor-league players a stipend after the initial May 31 date that MLB had agreed upon for doling them out, mid-pandemic, while the MiLB season was canceled and no checks were coming in for the players. At least, until they received such backlash for the decision that they decided that the $400 per week rate everyone else was paying was working out just fine after all. Until a single player, the Dodgers’ David Price, decided he was going to do more for minor-league players with his personal funds than an entire team was set to do. They’re cheap, is what I’m getting at. But that cheapness isn’t necessarily an A’s-exclusive thing.

We’re one month into the MiLB season: it is possible other players on other minor-league teams are going to be fed up with the dismal meals they’re being served, and decide to start sharing photos with social media and Advocates for Minor Leaguers and such sooner than later. Remember, some teams aren’t even bothering to provide meals or hotels for the players at their alternate sites, because MLB never said they were required to: it doesn’t take very much for an MLB team to decide to be as cheap as the A’s have obviously been about their provided meals, so the evidence and history suggests the chance that it’s just the A’s feeding their players garbage is low.