Thinking About The Game: Are We Looking at the Minor League Pay Issue in the Right Context?

Dunkin' Donuts Park, Hartford, CT - Photo credit Scott Greene, @Scotty_Ballgame on Twitter

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.

I live at the beach in Palm Coast, FL with my wife. I'm an old retired guy whose main job is hosting trivia shows at golf courses for which I get free golf at several upscale golf courses. When it rains and I can't play golf, I read about baseball and try to find the next underrated prospect.


  1. Except in baseball you don’t get to choose who to intern for or who to work for when your internship is over. Instead your employer has the right to keep you on coffee making duty (AAA) well past when you have proven your capability, they always massively underpay you for 3 years (and under market value for another 3 or 4), they don’t have to offer you any security and in fact can force you to move to another company at no notice against your will. Plus if you suffer a work related injury while still on your internship that curtails your career, then your employer bears no liability.

    Just as a lack of privacy is a trade off for fame and fortune; the argument for better milb wages from a moral standpoint is due to the inherent advantages that MLB franchises have over players before they reach free agency.

  2. dude, wow. Thank you for writing this. Finally, a voice with some actual reason. How many Low A players drafted in the 20th round make it? Expectations and opportunity cost for the buyer (owner) and seller (player) get their salary to where it is. For every player that’s underpaid for how they’ve progressed there’s a player who got the big signing bonus, maybe made the 40 man and got the salary and maybe even Singleton-ed it and got a MLB contract all to just fail. Owners take risk paying anyone, players take risk playing Milb and not pursuing whatever else their skills, experience and education could get them. There’s no guns to anyone’s head there’s always a choice, in the free-est of free markets in the world. Playing Low A ball in front of 800 fans a night is not worth what people want it to be worth, as a flat up front entertainer, owners are losing money paying them anything, they’re just paying what the players will accept for a shot to make the MLB roster, and owners are paying what they must for a shot to groom said seedling. it’s insane people who know nothing of economics or just running a bossiness take hot takes on matters like this. thanks again for the reason!

  3. it’s pretty simple, common sense, there’s no gun to anyone’s head. players will play for their salary because of cost benefit analysis. is their alternative better or worse than accepting their pay and % chance of getting more? it’s the same choice all 18 year olds make going to college or getting a job. debt + education better than no debt and a job and no education. that’s the math they all run. why does everyone feel like they have to get involved in how businesses and employees make choices? these min wage people think they can make everyone’s decisions for them instead of the market? insane. these people are politicians buyin votes or communists 🙂

  4. Thanks to everyone for reading and for taking the time to comment. The purpose of this series is to present some thoughts on issues in the game, hopefully from a point of view that is different from the mainstream, in order to try to generate some thoughtful and productive discussion. Thanks for getting things started here.

    There are reasonable people on both sides of this question. Hopefully, the piece contained some thoughts that were new or different or that people hadn’t thought about before. I do see the point that common sense is trying to make, but I also agree with aaron that players signed contracts, uncoerced and after consulting with their advisors. The point remains that minor league players are in a better situation as far as compensation goes than people similarly positioned in similar industries.

    Thanks again!

  5. I’d like to mention there are 50+ rounds in the MLB draft. Most drafted players don’t get big signing bonuses. In fact, after taxes, anything past the 3rd round isn’t a lot. Just enough to see if you can make it the first year of pro – ball. I feel you discounted roughly 80% of players in the minors who never saw 6 figure signing bonuses.

    • Hey Jesse. Thanks for taking the time to comment. There are 40 rounds in the MLB draft. If you want to count the supplemental/sandwich rounds separately, I suppose you can. All of that is really beside the point. I know there are people who make the point that a lot of players get signing bonuses and they should be able to live for awhile off of that, but that was never a part of the points I tried to make in the piece.

      I think I tried to make two main points. One was that a large number of young people either go to college or start out in jobs that son’t pay a lot and they rely on assistance from somewhere outside their own personal resources so that minor league players are not in a significantly different space.

      The other point was that, in comparison to industries that more accurately reflect what minor league players do and what they are trying to do, they are actually better off because people in those other industries do not get any kind of stipend from the industry nor does the industry provide free instruction and training.

      Certainly those players who got big bonuses should be in decent shape during their minor league careers, but bringing that into the discussion is more of a distraction from what I see as the real issues than a useful line of reasoning.

      Thanks again for reading!

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