Fair and competitive compensation for Minor League Baseball players has been an issue that has been brooding for quite some time. Now, in 2021, accentuated by a burgeoning housing crisis, the matter is about to boil over.
Though wages slightly increased this season (through a class action lawsuit), players are facing new challenges when it comes to finding affordable lodging within many minor league markets, especially those in smaller towns. The severity of the issue has been illustrated in a series of posts by Advocates for Minor Leaguers over the course of the last few months.
This week, anonymous Marlins players at three levels of the system communicated their experiences to the source.
In AA Pensacola, players are spending all of their income to keep a hotel roof over their heads.
“The housing situation this year… was terrible. I say that because I couldn’t find a place to stay within a half hour of the stadium so I was essentially forced to stay in a hotel which cost me thousands of dollars a month (way more than my salary).”
In A Jupiter, some players have resorted to even lesser ideal circumstances.
“I have had some issues this year with housing with the Marlins. Right after spring training finished, I had to start paying $55 a night to split a hotel room. That’s over $1,700 per month. We don’t make that much after taxes. So I was losing money. I said, “that is ridiculous” so about a month ago, I moved out of the hotel and am now spending 1/3 of my paycheck to sleep on a couch.”
In A Beloit, being able to live somewhat comfortably literally came down to the luck of the draw.
“Eight guys drew a lucky straw and are saving some money by sharing a three bedroom/one bath house, splitting up a $2,500 monthly fee. Most of the rest of the team is living in expensive apartments, literally making somewhere between $40 to $75 per paycheck after rent.”
Things are even more grim for international signees, most of which didn’t garner a lucrative signing bonus.
“The worst part is some of our Latin teammates are sleeping four guys to a hotel room to split expenses, rotating between sleeping in the bed and making beds on the ground. The hotel is easiest for them to live in because they don’t have cars and it at least has a shuttle to the field.”
How did we get here? One main reason is the erasure of host family programs. In year’s past, most minor league clubs would enlist the assistance of nearby residents that have the capacity to house a player over the course of the minor league season. In return, the family would be formally recognized by the team and would have the chance to make a lasting relationship with the athlete assigned to them. But amidst a global pandemic, these programs have been halted by the league.
Another culprit for the lack of available affordable housing has been due to the lack of residents relocating amidst the pandemic. With the bulk of the middle class feeling the financial affects of the pandemic and with a national eviction ban in place for the majority of this season and still active in seven states (and the District of Colombia), a qualifying residence matching the wage of a even several minor league renters has been very hard to come by.
Thus, here we are.
While these conditions would be unacceptable for full time employees in many lines of work, these young athletes are being subjected to the physical detriments of sleeping on floors and couches and being unable to afford good diets as well as the mental hardship surrounding the uncertainty and frailty of their living situations all while being expected to remain in top physical condition in order to improve in their line of work.
The simple situation is, as a great majority of minor league players don’t belong to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, that the league step in and mandate that owners cover 50-75% of livable expenses during the MiLB season. However, as political economy expert and JustBaseball.com contributor Ron Cox tells us, the owners, not the league are the string pullers that will not allow this to happen in order to continue to line their own pockets.
“The owners operate the league as a cartel, and with their anti-trust protection, have unilateral power over the minor league system, which has been extended after the recent MLB consolidation over minor league restructuring, which minor league teams could do nothing to stop. MLB owners are interested in streamlining costs and maximizing control over the minor league structure, not any kind of power sharing, even over wages and working conditions. The only way that happens is for minor league players to come together to make it happen, ideally with the support of MLBPA.”
This winter, the “league” and the MLBPA will work to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement. In this instance or any involving owners spending money without an immediate return on investment, MLB, cannot be counted on to stand up for minor league players. So that leaves the Players’ Association which MiLB players do not officially belong to. Can developing players count on Tony Clark and company to stand up for MiLB players this winter? According to Cox, it doesn’t look good.
“This is highly unlikely in the short term, because the minor league players are focused on gaining their own individual promotions and are divided by prospect status and bonuses, and the MLBPA already faces divisions in its ranks between veterans and young players, and are not willing to take on additional representation that is perceived as complicating their existing member representation.”
The commissioner could stand up for Minor League players and mandate their lodging and cost of living be paid for. It won’t.
The MLBPA could stand up for Minor League players and demand the mandate. It probably won’t.
And as the two parties squabble over issues such as a salary floor by way of an increased luxury tax threshold and new salary arbitration rules, this very human issue will again very likely be tossed by the wayside.
It comes down to a simple fact: Minor League Baseball players need and deserve their own representation group to protect not only their interests but their well being. The old “rite of passage” rhetoric that they need to suffer to earn their way to the big leagues is so tired and has always been wrong, now especially as these young men struggle through poverty. That adage that has already led to the far too early termination of many minor league careers and, in a changed political climate amidst a pandemic, is threatening to do so twofold.
So what can be done?
In the short term, independent groups have done yeoman’s work in bringing awareness to the hardships minor league players face and have worked to privately fundraise and garner monetary support from independent sources. These include the aforementioned Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization as well as Adopt A Minor Leaguer, another NPO which seeks out seasonal sponsors that contribute to individual players on a weekly basis. Donating to organizations such as these are the best way fans can get involved in alleviating the effects of a very broken system. If you wish to donate, links can be found at the bottom of this post.
Since the initiation of the Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman era, the Marlins’ organization has vowed to stay committed to developing prospects internally and becoming a feeder system. It has stayed true to that promise by making them very hard to come by in the offseason and the trade deadline. Imagine the condition of that system if the players could afford to house and feed themselves. Other owners are in the same position but they refuse to do the right thing. The MLBPA won’t intervene.
Imagine a car on a road with no turns. MLB owners are driving. The league is in the backseat. And this issue remains in the trunk.