Minor League Baseball, or MiLB, has been a small-town athletics staple since its introduction, and its hiatus has been felt greatly amid the coronavirus pandemic. The MiLB season was officially canceled Tuesday, so its athletes are now out of jobs for the year — and they presumably don’t have as much compensation stored away compared to major leaguers, as minor league players are grossly underpaid normally.
The MLB has a long history of underpaying MiLB players. Athletes are paid by their respective major league organizations, not by the minor league teams themselves, meaning the latter get the short end of the stick when clubs’ budgets are distributed. Unfortunately, MiLB players aren’t protected by a union, which means they have less say and there’s more leeway regarding the amount they can get paid.
The minimum wages athletes can receive are based on the level at which they play: In recent seasons, the going rate has been $290 a week for Rookie and Class A Short Season players, $350 a week for Double-A players and $502 a week for Triple-A players. This seems almost insulting for those who have dedicated their lives to the sport. What’s more is that only about 10% of minor league players make it to majors. So is it worth it?
For many players, it is. Athletes who have made it through college ball or rigorous high school programs join teams with hopes of making it big, only to have to endure wildly unfair circumstances while chasing their dream. The belief that they’re “paying their dues” is perpetuated by the stereotype that minor leaguers need to pull themselves up by their cleat laces and put in the work necessary to reach the level of play in the Show. The concept of working in less-than-ideal conditions to achieve an elusive goal is romanticized, but in reality, there are many extraneous systems and structures designed to keep them from doing so.
Two years ago, Congress passed the Save America’s Pastime Act. Don’t let the name fool you — while the act could have made positive changes in baseball, it exempted minor league players from the Fair Labor Standards Act, meaning that MiLB players can legally be paid less than minimum wage.
Regardless, according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, increasing the wages of minor league players would still be prioritized. In 2021, their salaries are set to increase significantly — new wages are $400 a week for Rookie, $500 a week for Class A, $600 a week for Double-A and $700 a week for Triple-A. While these changes are overall positive, the wages are arguably still not enough to make a solid living off of. Additionally, it doesn’t make sense with the Save America’s Pastime Act, which the MLB rallied so hard for. Why would the league want to legally be allowed to pay its players whatever it wants, but still pledge to pay them more?
It’s also important to note that these increased salaries are only for the several months that the MiLB season runs for. Minor league baseball is a part-time job, and players are almost forced to work two or three jobs during the offseason to compensate.
In 2014, retired pitcher Dirk Hayhurst wrote a revealing piece for Bleacher Report, in which he detailed his experiences as a minor and major league player. He noted that players were encouraged not to complain about their lives — it was part of the grind, and it would all be worth it if one were to make it big. Hayhurst described how he lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because that was all he could afford. During spring training, he only received a $120 stipend for food each week — no paycheck. Players were essentially forced to eat fast food, which is incongruous with the necessity of professional athletes to maintain healthy lifestyles. While he worked two jobs during the offseason, he was sleeping on somebody else’s floor.
It seems almost comically unfair that the MLB would allow players to live under these conditions, but thanks to the Save America’s Pastime Act, it’s not obligated to change them. The MLB is allowed to overlook the rights of MiLB players, who, unlike major leaguers, don’t have a say in what conditions they’re subjected to.
Considering how preoccupied the MLB’s front office has been with strapping down its cash even amid a pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that it will look favorably upon the MiLB. If conditions were normal, athletes would be playing baseball and receiving compensation (albeit low). Luckily, most MLB teams have committed to paying their athletes a $400 stipend each week along with health benefits, even in light of the season’s cancellation. For some, this is a pay downgrade, but for others, it’s an upgrade. And every little bit helps when you’re already broke, right?
When the pandemic first struck, players were more concerned about whether or not they’d get paid rather than their safety during the actual pandemic on hand. That fact alone raises a red flag.
Minor leaguers’ meager pay, the season’s cancellation and the major league’s recent prorated salary disaster are all clear indications of the league’s apparent exploitative tendencies. The MLB has seemingly taken advantage of idealistic athletes with dreams of making it big someday by allowing them to exist for less than they — or any human — are worth. One can only hope that in the future, these players will be compensated fairly for their hard work — but it’s not happening this year.