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It’s pretty clear at this point in the Minor League Baseball season that a number of MLB teams simply do not care that there are minor leaguers losing money, or sleeping in the clubhouse, or in cars. It’s nearly September — the season will go on a little longer than usual, instead of it ending in a few days, due to the coronavirus-related delay at the start of the year — and these teams have done nothing to ease these burdens, even though they could. Given the date on the calendar, it’s fair to assume that these teams are just hoping the problem goes away when the 2021 season does, so they’ve got their fingers in their ears and are pretending they can’t hear a thing.
They could provide retroactive back pay and housing stipends for players, as the Washington Nationals did for their minor-league players one week ago, as the San Francisco Giants did before then. Advocates for Minor Leaguers have been pushing for year-round pay throughout the season, for teams to pay players for time spent in extended spring training, for stipends to help pay for housing, and for more significant meal coverage. Some teams, like the Nats and Giants, have conceded that these are necessary measures, and deployed them. Others, like the Oakland A’s, have said nothing, except for when they had a chance to pretend that actually, the meals problem had already been fixed. (It had not.)
And others still have said they’ll make “comprehensive” changes, like the Mets, or have acted like they’re already doing all that can be done, like the Padres. The Mets have begun to make changes, yes, but they’re limited ones compared to what other clubs that are making changes are doing, with a lower housing stipend of just $300 per month, and just for their Triple-A players, for instance. The Padres, meanwhile, still do not offer any kind of housing assistance, and in fact charge Single-A players a fee to house them.
Why would teams try to wait out these problems, rather than fixing them, especially when the cost is as low as it is? The coronavirus pandemic and the new housing rules teams implemented are part of why there has been such a spike in minor-league housing issues in 2021. So, the thinking goes, if these teams can simply wait out the 2021 season rather than commit to anything, maybe situations will be better by the time 2022 rolls around, and then there will be no need to spend extra money on players.
Players aren’t allowed to group up six at a time to a three-bedroom apartment thanks to coronavirus protocols, which has meant that housing is more expensive for players since there are fewer splitting these costs in a single apartment. Long-term stays at hotels mean a discount, but you’re still talking about paying hotel prices, so, players for a number of teams, as has been discussed in this space before, are actually losing money to play home games because of the hotel and food costs. Some teams decided to do something about this to help players out — the Astros at the start of the season, others like the Giants, Red Sox, and Nats afterward — but there are still clubs out there like the A’s, Padres, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and more that are simply counting down the days until the 2021 MiLB season is over, and so to, in their minds, the questions about what is to be done about the players’ housing crisis.
Considering that people are shitting out their intestinal linings after taking horse medication rather than simply getting a vaccine for coronavirus, and that America hoards their vaccine research while the rest of the world suffers without, I have to say that the optimism behind “this will all be behind us soon” is unwarranted. Chances are pretty good that there will still be coronavirus protocols in place for the 2022 season, because there will still be coronavirus. This means that you’re still not going to be seeing minor-league players matching up in larger groups to help lessen the individual cost of staying in an apartment or hotel, which means there will still be a housing crisis in Minor League Baseball next season, too.
And, really, even if there weren’t coronavirus protocols in place that limited how many players could split an apartment and its costs, there would still be a housing crisis. Players would still be making wages well below the poverty threshold, they would still be responsible for housing costs — sometimes for more than one apartment, if they end up promoted to a new affiliate and their old apartment isn’t rented elsewhere or successfully subletted — and they still wouldn’t have much of a take home to speak of, if any, once they finished paying for their housing and meals and equipment. This is inescapable, pandemic or no, and needs to be solved.
The teams refusing to help even during a pandemic, though, are showing you how interested they are in helping after the pandemic. God forbid they set some kind of precedent that means the new normal is paying for player housing in the minors, or that they always need to pay for extended spring training. Why do these things when not doing them has worked so well for so long? For the MLB owners who don’t bother to share their wealth at all, I mean. Obviously things haven’t been working out for the minor-league players who are forced to sign a uniform contract that basically says they have no rights, and if you don’t like it, don’t sign.
Luckily, groups like Advocates for Minor Leaguers can continue to be a resource for players who want to share their housing crisises, and there are journalists out there who will continue to do the work of pointing out these major issues that could be very easily solved by signing some checks every MLB team can easily afford to sign. In the meantime, though, that doesn’t change the situation for players in organizations like those in St. Louis, Oakland, or Toronto. Those clubs should be ashamed of their behavior, but at this point you can say they might not be capable of feeling that particular way.
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