Mailbag: Under the radar minor-league CBA issues

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Mailbag! If you have a mailbag question you’d like to see answered, either respond to this newsletter email, or hit me up on @Marc_Normandin on Twitter. Here goes.

I’m curious about what issues you think could come up in this first CBA that are under the radar. Things like wages, pay for spring training, codifying the housing policy seem pretty obvious, but what other important things might come up that we are not thinking about. —Justin

A few things spring to mind. First, I’m reminded of what Judge Joseph Spero said in the pre-trial period for Senne v. MLB, where he preemptively awarded the side of the players in the class action suit damages, and discussed how they were year-round workers and should have been recognized as such. Part of that, and less publicized, was Spero discussing how players should have compensated for their time traveling, as well. Per Evan Drellich’s initial report on the matter from March:

In his decision, Spero, of the Northern District of California, also found that the plaintiffs performed the legal definition of work during spring training in Arizona and Florida, and that travel time on team buses to away games during spring training and in California during the regular season is compensable under law.

Building that time into whatever compensation package is eventually negotiated makes a lot of sense to me: the travel schedule has certainly been changed and reduced for the better over the course of the regular season, now that game weeks are essentially Tuesday through Sunday and with Monday as a travel day, but Monday isn’t a day off: the players are still expected to be performing their duty for the team, even if that involves sitting on a bus. This is built into the regular season to a degree already, sure, but codifying it is better, and making sure that travel days are also pay days in the spring would be meaningful. Along with the rest of the spring, as you mentioned: don’t let travel days slip away in those talks.

A second item that sticks out to me involves equipment. Players have to pay for their own equipment: a not insignificant bit of what More Than Baseball has raised money for over the years since their founding was to help players be able to afford new cleats, new gloves, new bats — maybe when you played in high school or college, your cleats lasted an entire season, but the length of those seasons and the number of games shoved into them is a lot lower in those leagues. This is the pros, and you need more than one pair of cleats to get through, never mind that it takes a whole bunch of pricey wooden bats over the course of the summer. Players, at the least, should be able to find reimbursement for their equipment, and that should be a protected right of theirs won in collective bargaining. You know, to keep a team like the A’s from agreeing to it, but only if they’re allowed to buy everything from a used sporting goods store at a significant discount.

Last, the MLBPA should look to what the Pro Hockey Players Association has managed in their many years, to see what it’s possible to extract from the bosses of minor-league teams. As executive director Larry Landon told me back in 2018:

“You get a playoff share that’s close to $20,000, and you get full health-insurance, everything, including counseling for drug and alcohol abuse, etc. — that includes the spouses. We’ve got a full-fledged medical program for the players, and we have a career-enhancement program that gets players ready for life after hockey, for career transition. That’s all part of being part of the PHPA. We put 15-20 firefighters through every summer. We’ve got 90-100 players signing up every year to take courses. We’re fortunate the ECHL — Double-A level, if you compare it to baseball — actually gives us money to reimburse players for taking courses.”

Making the MiLB postseason, as of now, is just more work for no pay, but playoff shares could be a literal bonus for these players. The playoff share Landon mentioned is more money than your average Triple-A player is making as of right now over the entire season! Better health insurance would obviously be a major plus — the health plans for minor-league players are one of the few things you didn’t hear a ton of grousing about over the years, but they could stand to be more comprehensive, and year-round instead of tethered to when the seasons begin. (I’m reminded of a story I heard about a pitcher who desperately needed contact lenses during spring training, but couldn’t get them until his health plan kicked in — it’s a little hard to hit your spots and make the parent club when you can’t see.)

The career-enhancement program really stands out, though: the minors are absolutely overflowing with players who were pulled from other countries when they weren’t even old enough to drive, as well as high schoolers who didn’t go to college and those who didn’t finish up their education before shifting to the pro, and because of the way things work, the vast majority of those players aren’t making it to the majors. There’s no reason why the PA can’t argue for MLB to institute systems that allow players to finish their education with financial assistance from their teams, or to transition out of their pro ball career to the one they’ll likely spend far more years in, the one that comes after their athletic peak has passed.

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