Kelyn Soong of Washington City Paper recently covered the lives of a couple players on the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate: the Potomac Nationals. The story focuses on the financial difficulties that minor league ball players face while trying to chase their dreams of making it in MLB. It’s a not-so-friendly reminder about the fucked up farm system that players, both young and old, have to go through before earning a real paycheck.
Towards the end of the story, however, the tone switches a bit when Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton shares his take on this whole situation. Eaton does what most grumpy veterans do at any job and argues that because he had to struggle during his climb up to the majors, then everyone else should have to go through the same process too. In fact, getting rid of those difficulties would be problematic as it would soften up this new generation of players.
While he believes things can be improved and players should make a little more money so they’re “literally not eating crumbs,” he doesn’t want the MLB to make minor league conditions more hospitable.
“If you do, complacency sets in,” Eaton says. “I think it’s difficult, yes, and it’s easy for me to say that because of where I am, but I wouldn’t be where I am without that … If I financially am supported down there and financially can make a living and not have to get to the big leagues, I think I’m a little more comfortable. I think that I might not work as hard because I know I’m getting a decent paycheck every two weeks, and may not push myself nearly as hard.”
“I don’t disagree with [the notion] that they’re being exploited, but I think it’s for the betterment of everybody,” he adds. “I know it sounds crazy … I think there’s a middle ground … There’s ground to be made up, but I think it still should be rough.”
It’s genuinely incredible that Eaton understands why his way of thinking should be dismissed—it’s easy to say this now because he’s already in the majors, and he knows “it sounds crazy”—and yet he pushes on with it anyways.
In case it’s not clear, Eaton’s problem is that he’s conflating luxury and a basic standard of living. Minor league players aren’t asking for the multi-million-dollar contracts that those in MLB are getting—though there might be some that deserve it. They’re just asking for a wage that doesn’t force them to live out of suitcases on air mattresses of host families in whatever city they get shipped off to for their Minor League assignment. The idea that those requests will force players to be complacent is absolutely ridiculous since most players who are only searching for a check in baseball don’t make it far enough for complacency to be a legitimate problem. Even from outside of a moral perspective, ball clubs pumping in more money into their MiLB affiliates would almost certainly result in better baseball in the future.
But it’s not like Eaton is making his argument from either of those perspectives. As is usually the case, he’s projecting his own thoughts and feelings from his time as a minor league players onto everyone else who’s still in that system. He thinks that struggle is good for those players because it was good for him. He thinks that those players should have it rough because he had it rough. With this logic, it’s to assume that he thinks minor leaguers would get complacent with more hospitable conditions because that’s likely what he would have done if he were in that position.