Minor league baseball players deserve a living wage
Minnesota Twins minor league coach Phil Roof (96) walks past players as they stretch before practice during baseball spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. | John Minchillo / AP

When you hear someone mention “low-wage workers,” what do you picture?

Fast food workers? Janitors? Nursing home aides? Home health aides?

If you whispered “yes” to yourself about any of those, there’s a good chance they came to your mind because their militant organizing efforts have drawn media attention over the years—most recently in the form of the national “Fight for $15 and a Union” movement.

Before fast food workers hit the streets, there was the Service Employees International Union’s “Justice for Janitors” organizing drive dating back to 1985, followed by nursing home and hospital workers in the ’90s, and then home healthcare workers in the 2000s.

But what about minor league baseball players? Would you consider them low-wage workers?

When looking at the major league ball players, we see six- to seven-figure salaries, as well as millions in endorsements and outside investments.

Mike Trout, two-time MVP for the Los Angeles Angels, is currently the highest paid player, raking in over $34 million this year.

Would it surprise you to find out that minor league ball players have more in common with low-wage workers in the private sector than they do with Trout?

Currently, the lowest level of minor league pay is $1,100 a month. That comes out to less than $4 per hour if players were being paid on straight work time for a 40-hour work week, plus 20-hours of overtime and time-and-a-half.

At the higher level, players can expect around $2,500 month, which is barely over the federal minimum wage.

During Spring Training—only nine days left till the 2018 season opener—players go unpaid and only receive a small stipend along with food and housing.

Imagine uprooting your entire family, traveling to your designated spring training location—at your own expense—with only the smallest chance you would make the final 40-man roster.

Minor league players have talked about living out of their cars, crashing on friends’ couches, and working multiple jobs to make ends meet just for a shot at their major league dreams. In many respects, their stories are identical to those of fast food workers struggling to survive.

Let’s compare minor league hockey to baseball:

  • AHL hockey has 76 games per season; Class AAA Baseball has 144.
  • AHL hockey minimum salary is $45,000; Class AAA Baseball comes in at $10,750.
  • AHL hockey travel per diem is $72; Class AAA Baseball is $25.
  • AHL hockey pays out postseason bonuses; Class AAA baseball doesn’t.

Shocking, isn’t it?

The other two things minor leaguers have in common with low-wage and fast food workers are: no union representation and a multi-million-dollar enterprise that goes out of its way to ensure it can continue to legally pay poverty wages.

A report from the Washington Post Monday said that the massive government spending bill Congress will be considering this week could include a provision exempting minor league players from federal labor laws.

Just like McDonalds, Minor League Baseball has spent over two years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, lobbying Congress to write in an exemption for its players (the league has long claimed exemptions for seasonal employees and apprentices, allowing the clubs to play well under the minimum wage).

Speaking anonymously to the Post, officials close to the sensitive negotiations said the exemption issue was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

Spokespersons for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., all declined to comment.

Minor League President Pat O’Connor replied to a request for comment, first sent to Major League Baseball, and said:

“We’re not saying that it shouldn’t go up, we’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

Garret R. Broshius, a St. Louis attorney and former minor league player, said that any action by Congress on the exemption would “deny players their basic rights.”

Broshius represents 41 named minor league players in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball.

“This is about billionaire owners using their clout to try to pass something that isn’t going through the normal procedures of legislature and that is only going to make thousands of minor leaguers suffer even more,” he said. “We’re just talking about basic minimum wage laws here—the same laws that McDonald’s has to comply with, the same laws that Walmart has to comply with. And so surely if Walmart or McDonald’s can find a way to comply with those laws, then Major League Baseball can find a way to comply with them, too.”

The lawsuit currently sits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

A previous lawsuit by minor league players was dismissed on the grounds of Supreme Court precedent and the Curt Flood Act, which exempts “the nearly century-old-business-of-baseball” from federal anti-trust laws.

The Major League Baseball Players Association (the players’ union) explained to USA Today Sports that the union is monitoring the players’ lawsuit and that the union supports all workers’ rights to organize. They would not comment further publicly about the case specifics or the possibility of organizing minor league players due to the ongoing legal proceedings.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time Congress has had an opportunity to exempt minor league players. In 2016, the “Save America’s Pastime Act”—Republicans seem to always use the nicest phrases when it comes to screwing over working people—was introduced in the House but thankfully went nowhere.

This reporter would like to close out this column with a call to action.

If you believe that all work is dignified and that workers should earn a living wage, click here and send a note demanding Pat O’Connor pay minor league players a living wage.

You can also send a note to their HQ:

Minor League Baseball

9550 16th Street North

St. Petersburg, FL 33716


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.