Minor League Baseball players do not make much money. There is no denying that fact. In the last several years, more and more people have begun to lobby for an increase in minor league pay. The arguments made are fairly consistent. People point out that minor league players lack the resources to eat or sleep properly or to take care of many other basic needs. They talk about how hard it is to be married and/or start a family. It’s also a fact that players are only paid during their minor league seasons and are on their own for Spring Training and for the offseason work that is required to develop their skills and keep themselves in shape.
Minor league teams and fans often do a lot to help their local players, but without doing a deep dive, there are other things that the higher pay arguments miss. If you’ve been to college, you likely know that young men between the ages of 18 and 25 don’t necessarily see eating and sleeping properly as high priorities, regardless of how much money they have. In addition, a large number of young people, wherever they might be, struggle financially while they try to establish themselves in their chosen careers. They get support from their families, they take second (and third) jobs, their spouses work to support the family if they choose to get married. In short, minor league baseball players are not in a significantly different situation than vast segments of young people in other areas.
Again, that’s not a to say there are not points to be made on both sides, but the purpose here is to see this from another point of view, so it is not productive to go down every rabbit hole and try to answer every argument. While the case for higher minor league pay often takes on a minimum wage tint, it is very difficult to determine hours in this case if you compare it to people in other minimum wage jobs.
In the end the argument seems to be an example of what is becoming the new national pastime. That is finding people who we feel don’t have enough money and matching them up with people we feel have too much and trying to facilitate an exchange. Too often, those who propose these exchanges take a simplistic view of the situation, often ignoring or, worse, not stopping to consider what they don’t know and the intricate complexity of what they do know. A bigger problem is that, even when there is some agreement, it’s usually not going to be seen as sufficient. A great example of this principle is that the Blue Jays have announced that they are going to increase minor league pay by 50% and the reaction from the other side has been, ‘it’s about time, but that’s not enough.’
Minor league baseball is not an entry level, minimum wage position. It’s not a career that people aspire to or wind up doing for 15-20 years. It’s much more of an internship where every player has the chance to learn and develop the skills necessary to perform at the highest level. It’s actually a lot more like ‘baseball college’ than anything else, where players get their bachelors, masters and doctorates in baseball to try to move up to the highest point on the baseball career ladder.
Comparing it to other careers, then; when you are an entry level bank teller, you are not learning the skills you need to eventually become the CEO of the bank. The minimum wage argument doesn’t really seem to translate.
In the proper context, MiLB players might actually have it better than people of similar status in other segments of the entertainment and sports industries. Minor league players have much more in common with actors/actresses, musicians, writers and those types of professions. People trying to reach the top in those walks of life don’t get any stipends from their industries, which are just as financially successful as MLB. People trying to get to the top of those professions take whatever jobs they can find with hours flexible enough to allow them to chase their dreams. They pay for their own coaches and training. They practice on their own time without compensation.
Sticking just to other sports, there are those who try to reach the top of the professional golf, tennis or even poker world. They travel from event to event, sometimes living out of their vehicles, playing on the smallest of tours for the smallest of stakes, hoping to hit it big. Again, there are no stipends and they’ve gotten no signing bonuses, though some can occasionally get some small sponsorships.
Getting much closer to home, it is almost unbelievable to think of the disingenuousness by the many internet sites that post their opinions about how unfair MLB owners are to their young minor league players as they are doing the exact same thing to many of their writers. Most of those writers make little or no money to spend long hours traveling to and from games, watching games and/or writing about baseball to make money for those sites. In spite of that example being an almost perfect picture of how minor league players are treated, it turns out that it is a lot easier to tell other people how they should spend their money or treat their employees than it is to do what you say you think is ‘the right thing’ yourself.
In the end this is also an example of our society’s trend toward not wanting to hold people responsible for the consequences of their decisions. We do it out of a sense of what we feel is compassion, but in reality we are really keeping people from growing, learning and maturing.
And that may just be the answer to the MiLB pay question; players making better decisions for themselves. Rather than complaining about how it’s impossible to live on a MiLB salary, players might choose to take their talents elsewhere into other walks of life. MLB owners need ‘organizational depth’ to be able to field teams so their best prospects can gain the experience necessary to contribute to the big club. Right now, there is plenty of cheap and willing labor. If enough players start choosing to do something else, the free market could quite possibly take care of minor league pay all by itself.