The aspiration of becoming an MLB player has always been enticing. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, one that only a few can reach; but for those fortunate few, the road to The Show is often tumultuous.
Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is the first stop on the journey to the big leagues, and in all honesty, it could use some improvements. Throughout the various levels of play, and in seemingly countless teams across MiLB, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ball players all striving for the same goal. Every player’s time in the minors varies depending on development and organizational needs, but it’s not uncommon for players to go several years without seeing major league time and to possibly never make it at all. That being said, these are still professional baseball players who, unfortunately, are not treated as such, especially when payday comes around.
Now, obviously these are still the minors. I am not insinuating that these players need to be making Mookie Betts-level money at this stage; but as it stands right now, these men aren’t even making a living wage. The average Triple-A player’s salary is roughly $15k/season. The is the level just before the majors, so just imagine the scraps the lower levels are making. These wages are significantly less than so many other minimum wage positions across the country, and yet these players are on their way to what we deem to be a premium role. Minor leaguers are only paid during their season, and they usually range between three to five months, so what do they do for the rest of the year, especially in a year where the season has been canceled?
The financial grind of being a minor leaguer seems like it could easily overshadow the physicality. It’s easy to think of these players as just kids out of college, but as previously stated, it’s not uncommon for their stays in the minors to last a handful of years, and life doesn’t halt due to lack of funds. A large majority of minor league players have to seek out other forms of employment to sustain themselves and their families. For those players drafted in the higher rounds, or those more affluent than others, these struggles may avoid them as they are likely to be called up quicker than others, or money just may not be an issue. Players in situations like this are in the minority when compared to the entirety of the MiLB, so it’s in the league’s best interest to revamp the system as a whole.
Why is it in the league’s best interest? These are prospective MLB players after all. They are expected to be the future of whichever franchise they are a part of. Developing as a player and honing in skills to the point where they can compete on a major league diamond takes a lot of focus and discipline, and the way the league is set up now does not allow for that. When players are constantly concerned about making their rent, not having enough to eat, or the wellbeing of their family, their focus tends to be split. One would think that the owners of these teams would want to provide conditions that allow players to put all their time and energy into their craft, because better ball players means more money in their pockets. They are adding to the detriment of their potential on-field product by not doing so. Billionaire MLB owners are some of the richest people in the world. It’s well within their means to pay ALL the players and staff within their organizations sustainable wages, and it still wouldn’t make a dent in their wallets. If the owners aren’t willing to spend the money it takes to run a professional baseball team, maybe they shouldn’t own one.
One of the main reasons for the plight of minor leaguers is the lack of unionization. MLB players have a union and have their best interests protected by the players association, a luxury in which MiLB players are not included. This opens the door for them to be exploited as much as they have been. There are no officials in their corner fighting for them. There are several current big leaguers who are outspoken about the struggles in the lower levels and how the conditions these players face need to be fixed, because they’ve been in their cleats before. They are using their platform to get the conversation started, because minor leaguers essentially have no platform of their own. MLB players across the league also gave their own funds to minor leaguers within their organization to aide them after the season had been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though these acts are noble and gracious, they shouldn’t be necessary. There should not be a need for outside organizations devoted to making sure MiLB players are able to sustain themselves while they play all because MLB owners won’t take care of their employees.
Earlier this year, MLB did make an announcement regarding a pay raise to all minor leaguers, but the wages are still not reflective of all the work that they put into developing themselves. After the raise, a player at the lowest level whose season lasts five months will still only make $8k, then they’re on their own again for the rest of the year. Despite these increases in wages, a majority of minor league players will still be living below the poverty line. Not to mention, wage increases mean very little at the moment considering there is no minor league baseball being played in 2020.
Contrarians constantly argue that players at the lower levels need to struggle, that it instills a drive in them to ascend to the MLB level. These folks believe that their financial struggles at the minors will lead to a greater appreciation of major league paychecks. This ideology isn’t specific to the business of baseball; this is a reflection of the class structure of our society as a whole, which is also inherently flawed. Anyone who has already made it to the minor league level almost certainly has an incomparable drive–no other outside hardships are necessary. I also feel it’s safe to say that a large majority of people who have never seen MLB-level money in their lives will greatly appreciate it, no matter their prior wages. Again, they don’t need to be paid millions of dollars right away, that’ll come in time. But these players are doing their job at a high level, and they deserve to be paid accordingly. Nobody deserves to worry whether or not they’ll have a place to stay, or when their next meal will be because they don’t earn enough money. You’d inquire about a raise at your job if you felt you weren’t being compensated fairly for your efforts, so why shouldn’t these minor leaguers do the same?