Just one more reason to pay minor leaguers during spring training

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At the end of last week, Minor League Baseball Players received their first paychecks since October of 2021. Minor leaguers aren’t paid year round, and they aren’t paid for spring training or fall leagues, either, not unless teams are making some kind of exception for extended seasons and instructionals, as they did during 2020, when there was no regular season at all. And since the first paychecks weren’t even for a full work schedule, as far as paid time goes, they were meager, even for minor-league pay.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers shared a few screenshots on Saturday of these direct deposits: one for $50.44, another for $62.96, a third for $54.98, and the largest of the bunch, a whopping $79.16. That’s it. The players have bills to pay, they have food to purchase and eat, and they’re getting basically nothing from their first paychecks from MLB in six months.

Now, I understand how prorated pay works, so don’t waste your time trying to lecture me about how things are not as bad as they seem if you take the reduced workload into account, but the problem is that there is the opportunity for prorated checks at all. The workload hasn’t been reduced: it’s just that the amount of work the teams are paying for is minimal. These minor-league players were in spring training, where they only had stipends to help them get through — stipends that are traditionally not enough on their own, which is how you end up with players becoming Uber drivers and taking on gig work in between their spring training responsibilities and schedule. They no longer have to pay for their own housing, which is a positive for their bank accounts, but there is no replacement for better pay. Paying for housing while being paid poverty-level wages is horrid, but receiving housing while still being paid poverty-level wages is still a problem — especially when the pay isn’t even coming to the players year-round.

Back in November, I wrote about the need to “pay MiLB players more, and more often,” so let’s revisit that for a moment:

Trying to sort out how to budget the low-end salary in MLB is a whole different experience than figuring out how to stretch $400 per week, which is only paid for a few months, throughout an entire year. It’s an entirely different experience than even the kind of budgeting that the NBA’s G League players need to solve: those guys are getting $7,000 per month, which is $35,000 per year. MiLB’s players, meanwhile, sit on or under the poverty line, and that meager sum is paid out over just a fraction of the year, since there is no pay in the offseason, in spring training, or during the postseason. The MiLB season — the long version of it, for the higher levels — lasts from mid-April or so to late-August or early September. You only need one hand to count the months they’re paid in, and that’s the players on the high-end of the scale.

Further, the contracts of Minor League Baseball players stipulate that they are required to work unpaid hours, even in the offseason. They aren’t on the field, no, but they’re required to not just stay in game shape, but to send progress reports to their teams all offseason long to prove that they’re putting in the work and staying in peak physical condition. You know, through the use of facilities they are required to pay for the access to themselves. Players are still responsible for their own on-field equipment — bats, gloves, cleats, and so on. Imagine your housing is taken care of, but you break a couple of bats your first week back, and you get paid $50 that you now need to stretch out until the next check. They likely stocked up on new equipment while working their offseason job, but that’s an issue now, too, isn’t it? That these professional athletes are forced to work an unpaid training job in their “free” time, after spending their day working a second job so they can afford to live through the offseason.

MLB has behaved in such a way of late that you can tell they’re terrified of any further organizing or protest from their minor-league players. Providing housing for them shortly after increasing their pay is basically the best evidence we have of this, but it’s also clear they’re still not doing enough. Not for outside observers like myself, no, but more importantly, not for the players, either, who still feel they need to report the goings on of their career to groups like Advocates for Minor Leaguers, in order to bring attention to the conditions they toil under.

A union is probably the only way they fully get everything they need from MLB — the only way to fully break the league’s last vestige of the feudal system they built their kingdom upon — but in the meantime, what they have are advocates. Groups pointing out that the issues still persist, to say that sure, there was basically a 50 percent bump in pay between 2019 and 2021, but that still left players making sub-poverty-level wages. That they now have housing provided to them, but teams are doing basically the minimum there, and furthermore, all of the decisions regarding housing were made without any input from the players themselves. Or even to point out that the clubhouse dues that players aren’t supposed to be paying anymore suddenly resurfaced, for some still unexplained reason.

It’s not everything the players need, but it’s still enough to completely spook MLB and force them into action. Imagine what could be won if the organizing became more, well, organized?

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