In the spring of 2020, the United States as well as most of the rest of the world live in trying times. There is panic and worry. People are drifting further and further apart. Relationships are suffering. Store shelves are running thin and individuals are worrying how long their place of employment will remain operational.
The baseball world isn’t exceptional to this set of circumstances. In the past week, players and staff have gone from the anxiety of potential infection to the realization of it, from greeting friends and teammates to quickly saying goodbye and from settling in in their new cities, some permanently to suddenly being forced to go back to their last as games and events have been canceled.
After a conference call among owners this afternoon, Major League Baseball is expected to suspend spring training. The league likely will delay the beginning of the regular season as well. At this point, it’s a formality that ownership-level sources expect to happen.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 12, 2020
For minor league players who reported to their respective spring workout sites in either Florida or Arizona just two weeks ago, circumstances are the most desperate. On top of recently greeting friends new and old and starting to (re)acclimate themselves with their teammates only to be forced to disband a couple of weeks later, on top of beginning to prepare their bodies to go full speed only to be approached by a complete halt, there is also tons going on behind the scenes.
To the outsider, the phrase “I play professional baseball” probably causes individuals to view players in a different light, leading them to believe they live in lap and luxury. However, for the average player that works just as hard (if not harder) but that has yet to sign his first MLB contract, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In staunch reality, Minor League baseball players are some, if not the biggest victims of the monster that is corporate America. And this crisis serves as a continuation of proof.
Picture this: you’re 23 years old. Two years ago, you forwent your final year of college in favor of signing a contract to pursue your boyhood dream. Last year, you got engaged to your high school sweetheart and you rented your first apartment. You play baseball seasonally and you work out daily to stay in shape for it. You dedicate most of your life to your craft, but you are also employed elsewhere for supplementary income. She works a 9-5 Monday-Friday. You rarely see each other due to distance and timing. You struggle through each month but together, you make it happen.
Suddenly, the unexpected and seemingly unprecedented happens: a global emergency situation forces you out of work at your primary place of employment for the foreseeable future. Along with all of your preparatory work both mental and physical going for naught, your main source of income is gone. Your employer offers up severance pay and assistance for your superiors but you, the little guy, gets nothing but a trip back to your original place of residence. Due to the panic in the community, food and daily supplies are hard to come by. You’re struggling to pay your bills. You don’t know when you’re going to go back to work. And your rent is due in two weeks.
At this hour, this is real life for many young ball players. Right now, there is a 20-something-year-old who was promised a better life and who did everything in order to realize the “American dream” only to find himself on the brink of homelessness and facing the burden of carrying an eviction on his record for the rest of his days. This is the scope of Minor League Baseball’s compensation system. In 2020.
“During the season, I’m moving around; I’m going wherever they send me, living out of a suitcase. I moved (here) at the beginning of January to train and got my place. But we’ve gotta move. We’ve gotta go back home now,” one minor leaguer told us. “They are not letting me stay here and work out which was originally the plan. I have to go to the field tomorrow, pack up all my stuff and go home.”
Unless you are a very highly touted draft pick who comes out of college and goes within the first three rounds of the MLB draft or unless you are a high-priced international free agent, it’s a long way to the top if you want to play baseball in America. A very long way. Each season starts in Minor League camp. There, in droves of hundreds, players — a lot of which have never met and some of whom do not share a common language — prepare for a future so uncertain it can in some cases carry them to any corner of the country the following month.
Accommodations are meager at best. Players are allotted an estimated $40 a day for living expenses (aka “meal money”). If players choose to stay at the team hotel, that figure drops to around $20 a day. And for a minor league player, that’s good!
“It’s better than what we get in season,” our source told us. “There’s no direct deposit; it’s cash in our hands in envelope.“
During the regular season, even under a restructured pay system set to go into effect next season, players at many levels of the MiLB ranks will still make less than minimum wage, before taxes.
Two weeks in to this month-long process, they are allotted their payment in one lump sum. Not only will MiLBers not be compensated for the rest of camp this year, as of now they will not receive payment.
“From what I know right now, no, we will not get paid. I’m sure the same goes for major leaguers, but those guys obviously are doing alright for themselves; they’ll survive,” the same player said. “What hurts the most is that If we went one more day, we would’ve gotten all of our meal money. Now, we won’t.”
For comparison’s sake, those much better off MLB players get paid ~$100 a day. MLB and the MLBPA are also promising “those guys doing alright for themselves” $1,100 weekly up until what would’ve been Opening Day, April 9th.
MLB players who return home (or go to their franchise home city) — MLB recommends players leave spring camp — will be provided up to a $1,100 weekly allowance by the players union until Aril 9 or MLB begins picking up tab. This applies to MLB players plus qualifying NRI players.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 16, 2020
“I will get money for driving home. It’s like a per-mile basis. Driving from (coast to coast) obviously it sucks. They’ll give us pay for my hotel, or for my gas; things like that. That’s the only way we are getting paid right now, though,” the source said.
But that’s not all. The west-coast-based player we spoke with is one who chose to live off-property from the team hotel. The terms of his lease were up on April 1. He is uncertain that he will not be penalized for breaking his lease early and if he is, he is equally unsure if his employer will cover that expense.
“My lease was up at the end of the month. So we were going to have to leave anyway. But now they’re telling me I have to leave now,”he said. “I’m waiting to see if they will compensate me for my lease, for making me break it. I rented an apartment here and the lease is not cheap. If you’re kicking me out from half a month for my lease, am I getting compensated for that? That’s what I want to know.”
As grim as this situation seems, this particular player is in a better situation than many others. And it’s the others he is concerned for.
“I have family that is doing alright financially. Plus I’ll be able to get a job at Dominos. So I’ll survive,” he said. “But a lot of guys don’t have resources like I do.”
If you thought the laws of corporate America don’t apply to the sports world, they do. If you thought this billion dollar corporation didn’t forget about the little guy while protecting their bigger investments, here’s a reality check. It happens. It’s been happening. It’s happening now. At quite possibly one of the darkest hours in the history of the game, of our nation.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 16, 2020
These young players are just as, if not more vulnerable as the rest of us who belong to the workforce. And at the corporate level, their employer has made no promises.
This has gone on long enough. These kids deserve better. The future of the game and the desire to enter this profession must be protected. MLB, once and for all, protect their investment as much as you do your own. Do your due dilligence. Pay Minor League players. Get it done.