This morning, the author of the “Save America’s Pastime Act” disavowed the bill as a wrongheaded attempt to stifle already inadequate wages. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos did a complete 180 and wrote that, “I believe that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they.” Today, MLB finally spoke on the bill. They disagree with Bustos.
MLB put out a press release at 6 p.m. this evening (not quite optimum news dump time, but still, after working hours right before a holiday weekend) that didn’t explicitly endorse the bill, but expressed affinity for its ideological underpinnings and conclusions. They compared working in MiLB to an apprenticeship, and painted their support for the minors as a simple subsidization:
“There are approximately 7,500 players in Minor League Baseball. MLB pays over a half a billion dollars to Minor League players in signing bonuses and salary each year. Minor League clubs could not afford these massive player costs. MLB heavily subsidizes Minor League Baseball by providing Minor League clubs with its players, allowing professional baseball to be played in many communities in the United States that cannot support a Major League franchise. Moreover, for the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.”
Yes, playing in the minors is not a career. But the transience of MiLB life is a shit justification for paying sub-poverty wages. For the 90 percent of players in the system who don’t make the show, toiling away in the dusty, anonymous ranks of Low-A ball isn’t a lifestyle choice, like, say, uh, playing music:
“Minor League Baseball players always have been salaried employees similar to artists, musicians and other creative professionals who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Like those professionals, it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees whose pay may be determined by such things as how long their games last, when they choose to arrive at the ballpark, how much they practice or condition to stay in shape, and how many promotional or charitable appearances they make.”
As ESPN’s Mina Kimes points out, the idea that bankrolling MiLB is some sort of charity act rather than a talent training program is very specious. It’s closer to an investment than a donation. Minor league baseball isn’t a long-term gig, but that shouldn’t exempt those who play from earning a living wage.