During what seemed like an otherwise cordial interview between Baseball America’s Josh Norris and minor league baseball president Pat O’Conner, the topic of minor league players’ salaries came up. There were previously multiple lawsuits filed against MLB and its teams in relation to what players make, which can be as little as $1,100 a month as rookies. And that’s only when they are playing.
One lawsuit — Miranda v. Selig — has since been dismissed and the other — Senne vs. Royals — is currently ongoing.
There are endless stories of minor leaguers relying on family members, teammates, or friends in the league in a better financial situation they are, or second (and third and fourth) jobs throughout the year in order to make it through the season on meager salaries. They aren’t eligible for overtime, aren’t a part of the MLBPA, and are stuck figuring out their own room and board for most of the season.
O’Conner, though, doesn’t seem to agree with the assertion of many that minor league players should be paid a fair wage based on what they do five months of the year, despite the fact that MLB’s revenues continue to rise and players make millions in the majors.
In this interview, he says he “doesn’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player” and bases that on the fact that “the average life or the average career of a minor leaguer is less than three years.”
In an ideal world, yes, minor league players would graduate from level to level until they achieved their goal of playing major league baseball and getting paid a fair wage. But O’Conner is either willfully ignoring or wildly ignorant of the fact that even though it shouldn’t be a career path to circle around the minors for years on end struggling to make ends meet, that’s not up to the players. Some players last far longer than three years and can’t pay bills the entire time.
So to ignore the number of players that don’t make it to the majors and therefore are stuck in the system through no fault of their own, and are being paid far below a minimum wage, is an unfortunate world view.
Furthermore, even if the system did work exactly as O’Conner assumes it does and was a perfect example of guaranteed upward mobility, that still means at the lower levels the players would continue to make a pittance compared to the revenues that baseball achieves year after year.
O’Conner goes on to say,
I do think that it's time for an adjustment in salary, but the issue of putting them into an FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act)-protected position where they're entitled to minimum wage and overtime is complicated.
It’s not that complicated, actually. Baseball is making a ton of money that isn’t trickling down to its lowest levels, and it’s attempting to keep that salary “adjustment” away from being under the purview of an actual federal act so that the leagues that make up MiLB can continue to circumvent any legitimate salary floors.
To push his point home, O’Conner even begins to parse the hours that ballplayers spend at the field every day, as if the fact that they sometimes take lunch breaks completely prevents teams from tracking how much they work and pay them accordingly.
This exchange is one of the most telling of the entire interview when it comes to what O’Conner thinks players should actually earn for their efforts.
POC: What's a (minor leaguer's) workday look like, Josh?
JN: It's long. It's very long.
POC: But is it? OK, you come in at 2:00. You don't have to be there till 3:00, but you come in at 2:00. From 2:00-3:00, you play cards. And at 3:00 you go out for infield or extra hitting or whatever, and then you come back and you take an hour. While the other team's hitting, you take an hour and you get a sandwich that I (the club) pay for and you eat it. Are you working?
JN: Perhaps not, but at a lot of places where workers are paid an hourly wage, lunch breaks are paid.
POC: But not in all cases. There are people who clock in and clock out for lunch. My point is: We know what minimum wage is, that's easy.
JN: It varies from state to state.
POC: Yeah, but you can go to the national level and keep everybody happy. How do you figure out overtime?
JN: Is there not a medium somewhere between making them full-time hourly workers and raising the pay.
POC: That's it. Like I said, I think it's time for an adjustment, and that's it. This is not a career choice, and people want to debate about the fact that McDonald's worker make more than minor league baseball players, and that's a fact. But I don't think that somewhere there's a major league in French fry prep that makes $550,000 (as its) minimum wage or starting wage.
The bottom line is that minor league players don’t earn a fraction of what they should, there are at least steps that can be taken to make sure they are earning a living wage during the season, and the reasoning of “it’s not a career path” is both incorrect and ignorant of how the leagues actually function.
Ideally, the league is putting more thought into how to improve its players’ lives than O’Conner is in this interview. But if it isn’t, then that is why the lawsuits were filed in the first place, and there is still a chance that the issues can get resolved through those channels instead.