Of course Rob Manfred ‘rejects the premise’ of minor leaguers’ reality

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one. Sign up to receive articles like this one in your inbox here.

Some of you still hold out hope that a better commissioner for Major League Baseball is out there, that things would be different if only someone else were in charge besides the robotic, seemingly unfeeling Rob Manfred — a commissioner so actively disliked, so cold in his approach to the game, that multiple features have been published during his tenure where he has been given a chance to say, “no, no, I love baseball, I don’t hate it, go baseball, hooray.”

Rob Manfred is nearly a perfect commissioner, though, if you recognize what the job truly is: to serve as a buffer between the owners and the public. Profits are up, outside of the pandemic-shortened season no one had any control over. Selling a team still brings back a wildly profitable return. Minority investments in teams have also been opened up a bit, which helps further those franchise values, and while attendance is down, the league is squeezing out more money per customer, and they continue to find new places willing to give them money to broadcast baseball, like with the Peacock and Apple TV deals that began in 2022. Owners love the guy, because he’s helping to make them money.

You might be pining for Bud Selig, or, at the least, find yourself giving him a little more credit than you used to, but the difference between Selig and Manfred is mostly in the former’s ability to fool you into thinking that openly liking baseball is a positive character trait. Manfred just says the quiet part loud, even if he says it mostly emotionlessly, while Selig saved his maniacal megalomania for closed door conversations that you’d have to wait to read about decades later in exhaustively researched books like Jon Pessah’s The Game. Manfred was Selig’s right-hand man, both at the bargaining table and later on, as the guy assigned to do the dirty work like, say, interfering with a federal investigation so Selig could do a retirement victory lap around the suspended corpse of Alex Rodriguez’s professional career. He understood what was needed to keep MLB on the financial upswing that Selig’s reign had brought, and while he’s less capable of fooling the masses than his predecessor, he still succeeds at the central role of the position. He’s not going anywhere.

On the plus side, since a different commissioner wouldn’t bring actual change, but simply better public relations skills, we should be thankful for Manfred, as he’s basically guaranteed to say something you can disprove with regards to labor whenever he gets behind a mic. As he did on Tuesday during the All-Star Game press conference, when Yahoo!’s Hannah Keyser asked him if, “his owners don’t pay minor leaguers a living wage because they can’t afford to or because they aren’t interested in doing so.” Manfred’s response?

I kind of reject the premise of the question that minor leaguers are not paid a living wage. I think that we’ve made real strides in the last few years in terms of what minor league players are paid. Even putting to one side the signing bonuses that many of them have received, they’ve received housing, which is obviously another form of compensation, so I just reject the premise of the question.

I reject the premise that they are not paid a living wage.

Plenty to unpack here. First off, the fact Manfred didn’t immediately jump on “they can’t afford to” tells you that there is just no conceivable way to defend that response. MLB’s owners love telling you they can’t afford things even when it’s obviously untrue, but considering that full housing at all minor-league levels and an average salary of $50,000 would cost less per team than what Selig makes from the league in retirement, taking that bait was never an option. Second, Manfred is correct, in that MLB has “made real strides” in terms of minor leaguers’ pay in the past few years, as players received a significant pay raise in time for the 2021 season. Let me pull out an oldie but a goodie from the archives, though: 50 percent of shit is still shit, just more of it. The only classification of minor-league player making better than poverty-level wages is one repeating the Triple-A level. Yes, players have housing paid for now, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that are receiving, by and large, sub-poverty level wages, and that they, as Advocates for Minor Leaguers pointed out in their response to Manfred’s comments, are still working second jobs in the offseason in order to be able to afford to play baseball and live their lives with things like “food” and “shelter.”

Manfred is making $17.5 million this year as commissioner. He’s been a labor lawyer working for management for decades now, and a full-time MLB employee in that capacity and better-paying ones since the mid-90s. The only time Manfred even hears about the concept of “a living wage” is when someone mentions it to him like Keyser did, which is to say, it’s unclear if Manfred could even tell you what a living wage is, or if he’d simply muster some telling version of “I mean, it’s one banana. What could it cost?” in response.

Paying for player housing is not compensation: it is something teams should have been doing all along thanks to the nature of the job. Setting up a system where, even after a comparatively enormous raise across the board occurs, the vast majority of players are still making sub-poverty level wages, is not one where a living wage is being paid. “A living wage” is one “high enough to maintain a normal standard of living,” if you ask Oxford about it. Players still have bills at home to pay, they often have families to provide for there, too. The uniform player contract explicitly states that players are expected to continue to maintain their conditioning and prepare for the season on their own dime in the winter, as they are not paid outside of the regular season. Players are responsible for their own equipment, the meals provided to them are not necessarily of the highest quality, and it was literally just last month that I published a story about A’s minor leaguers not being able to afford to eat because they hadn’t been paid in months.

Manfred really is the perfect commissioner, in the sense that he makes it pretty easy to reject the premise of whatever lie he’s most recently told. MLB has made strides in minor-league pay, sure, but they have a long, long way to go to get to the point where players have a “normal standard of living,” and his rejection of Keyser’s question on the subject tells you all you need to know about the answer to it.

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.