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How are minor-league players that aren’t being paid to do their job supposed to be able to afford food, exactly? The A’s, Brewers, Angels, Marlins, and Reds have decided it’s simply not their problem to solve, according to Advocates for Minor Leaguers and this report from The Athletic’s Evan Drellich. Those five clubs are the ones still refusing to pay their minor leaguers in extended spring training, and the result of that is it costing these players money to work.
Like with last year’s issue — players spending more than they were making in order to have a place to sleep at night, a list which included A’s minor leaguers who couldn’t afford to play home games since the per diem was only for road trips — this is a matter of these teams just not preparing their players for the condition the world is in. With last year’s housing crisis, the central issue — outside of players not being paid a living wage and needing to acquire their own housing, I mean — was that new conditions had emerged that various clubs had not taken into account. The Astros, seeing how COVID-19 restrictions were going to complicate player housing, since minor leaguers who had once gone six to an apartment in order to afford it were now forced to isolate during a pandemic, decided to provide housing. Clubs like the A’s and Cardinals, however, failed to adjust to the conditions of the day, and caused players to spend more money per day than they were making on hotel rooms.
Now, you’ve got players in extended spring training not being paid during their time there — it’s how things used to be, but now, 25 of 30 clubs have changed their policy there, and do pay these players even when they aren’t “in-season” by the traditional meaning, which means they no longer go from September until the start of short-season leagues in the summer without a paycheck. They do receive a per diem, but it’s actually less than the $25 per day minor leaguers receive during road trips, and that figure itself is pathetic: minor-league hockey players in the American Hockey League had a $12 per day per diem 40 years ago, back when the current executive director of the Pro Hockey Players Association was still on the ice himself. But, under Larry Landon’s leadership, the PHPA negotiated a $74 per day per diem for its AHL members as of 2018. These extended spring training players in Drellich’s story? They get $20 per day.
What can you feed yourself with for $20 per day? Less than you used to be able to, considering the cost of groceries keeps going up up up while wages do not:
“It was $20 a day,” said the same player, who did not receive a salary during his time in extended. “The $20 was to eat dinner because they (the team) would give you breakfast and then lunch. But like sometimes, their lunch was a sandwich. So whenever you get back from the game and then by 8 or 9 p.m., you’ll be hungry again. … You don’t even have a car, so you have to go over it. Every meal on UberEats and Doordash is like $20 or $25 dollars each meal. So you’re spending like maybe $30 a day in meals and you’re only getting $20 back.”
Yes, teams would provide breakfast and lunch, but let’s be real: we know what the meals clubs like the A’s provide look like. “Meals” pathetic enough for me to write about, and to be sent, in photo form, to Advocates for Minor Leaguers.
Players in the Oakland A’s organization shared these photos of their recent post-game meals.
No employer would serve these meals to employees they care about. Why are the A’s serving them to their future Major Leaguers? pic.twitter.com/cIFqiPg6iX
— Advocates for Minor Leaguers (@MiLBAdvocates) June 1, 2021
So yes, if you don’t have a car, and rely on UberEats and Doordash in order to get your food if you aren’t lucky enough to be able to pool grocery money together with other players, then you were spending more than you were receiving for meal money. And if you had a car? Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but gas prices have jumped up even more than groceries, thanks to some of the only executives out there even greedier than MLB’s.
It’s worth reading Drellich’s piece for more than just the news that these five teams refused to pay for extended spring training, of course. As he writes, extended spring training’s rosters are predominantly made up of Latin American players who may or may not speak English, who aren’t paid enough to be able to afford transportation or groceries, and they’re just kind of forced to sink or swim. I mean:
“When you are 19, 18, you don’t have enough money to buy a car here. And like, you don’t know how to speak English, you don’t know anybody and you’re stuck in a hotel and you don’t know where to go,” said one player from Latin America. “So there’ll be guys, they go to Walmart and buy a bunch of bread, bread and ham and cheese almost every night, for a professional athlete. We used to do that all the time, maybe four, three times a week so you can get a good meal with the meal money they gave you.”
MLB did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s possible all of MLB’s teams are required to pay players for extended spring training soon, just as they were eventually mandated to provide housing as of 2022. If so, you can thank Advocates for Minor Leaguers for making it a priority, but also, the results of Senne v. MLB, the settlement of which is being negotiated as of this writing, as it attacked the league for failure to provide proper compensation to players or to treat work, like spring training, as work. That’s not much help to those who just went through extended spring training and dealt with all of this, no, but it could mean a lot to next year’s class.