Earlier this month, minor league free agent Jeremy Barfield began to share his thoughts on the Minor League free agency process. “The minor league free agency process is an absolute joke,” he said, “All I got for the last six years of my life was a letter thanking me for my services.”
This brought up the old debate on the financial treatment of Minor League baseball players. Many players are not alone, and agree with Jeremy in the fact that they deserve to get paid more. In an effort to combat the pay scale, in April 2014, a lawsuit filed on behalf of 20 players against Major League Baseball and Bud Selig was filed. The claim is that Major League Baseball is violating many state and federal labor laws, including investigation that the amount they receive annually from baseball is below the poverty line, which violates many federal laws as an employer.
In an USA Today article, on the topic of salary in the minor league level, Sports Law expert Michael McCann said,
“Most earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season. As a point of comparison, fast food workers typically earn between $15,000 and $18,000 a year, or about two or three times what minor league players make. Some minor leaguers, particularly those with families, hold other jobs during the offseason and occasionally during the season. While the minimum salary in Major League Baseball is $500,000, many minor league players earn less than the federal poverty level, which is $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four….”
Under the FAQ section of the MiLB.com page, it clearly states that the salary of first-year contracts in the minors are a maximum of $1,100, with salaries differentiating for foreign brought players. Players are also given $25 on road trips for meals.
Under who pays for which equipment the players use, MiLB says, “Players, both at the Major and Minor League levels, are provided equipment like helmets, uniforms and such, but most opt to use their own bats and gloves. Often those pieces of equipment are custom-ordered by that player so they can be manufactured to his liking. If you look closely, many players have their names embroidered on their gloves and etched on their bats. In many cases, agents will provide their players with bats and gloves made to the player’s specifications.”
Aside from equipment and salary, few people know what type of health coverage and other benefits Minor League Players receive. The only coverage they receive is health insurance when they are playing. According to Prospect Watch, “Minor league players are fully enrolled, at no cost to themselves unless they have dependents, in the minor league insurance program from the time they report after signing. Players are also covered under the laws of the Worker’s Compensation Act for injuries while playing.”
Due to their lack of funds, it is very common for Minor League players to live together in apartments, or in some cases, live with a host family to save some money. Many of them have to pick up second jobs in the offseason just to make ends meet.
I spoke to a player who has been in the Minor Leagues for the last couple of years who has a lot of experience in this matter. I spoke to him to find out the first-hand results of such a low salary given to what is basically a full time job. I found out that aside from the below poverty pay scale, they receive what seems like the minimal amount of insurance they have to give.
“We do receive a variety of benefits. Health insurance, life insurance and some others that I will know more about when I get my health insurance packet during spring training. The coverage for everything is pretty low so in the offseason when we need to go to the doctor for something it could still be pretty expensive. They do cover all the hospital bills or doctor visits that you need during the season along with medicine.”
Besides a formal salary, the players also receive money for food, which restricts them to certain options.
“The amount of money that we get per day kind of restricts us to fast food options if we want more food. Which I know drives our trainers insane since they want us eating healthy. During the season we live in apartments that are affordable for our pay. We usually have multiple guys to an apartment to keep the rent and the bills as low as possible for each of us. There could be any where from two to five guys that will all live in a two or three bedroom apartment. The guys that choose the bedrooms will just have a pay a little more of the rent.”
Many players have to pick up a job in the off-season, or work at camps sponsored by the team, just to make some extra money to survive off of. The players are at the stadium upwards of 12 hours a day, which makes it difficult for them to pick up a second true job during the season.
“During the season there are usually some type of camps that the teams will put on for the community and the players have the opportunity to get paid a couple hundred dollars for 2 or 3 days of work in the mornings. During the offseason it could be anything. Some players keep playing ball in winter leagues to make money, some get part time jobs when they get back home. I have worked security at bars on the weekends, gave kids hitting lessons, worked as a package handler for UPS and a valet for a restaurant.”
Players can also be moved with no notice, which affects their living status. A player who is moved during spring training, or is moved to a different level, a lot of the time end up paying rent on two different properties, which further restricts their budget. This leads to many players being left helpless in unfortunate situations that are out of their control.
“One of the tougher situations for me happened to be last season coming out of spring training. I found out where I was going to be playing so I found a couple guys to live with and we found an apartment. We all split the deposit, which was a decent amount for a 3-bedroom apartment. We paid rent and got all moved in and the season started a couple days later. About a week into the season I was told that I was being moved so I could learn how to play a couple new positions. Just a week after I paid my part of rent, the deposit and my food for the week I had to leave and do it all again in a different state. At that point I think I had around 300 dollars to my name until my next paycheck, which was a scary feeling. I knew the what it meant to be a “penny pincher” at that point.”
Many times during the season, a player spends more than 12 hours at the stadium, which is a lot longer than a shift at an hourly paying job, or similar hours to working at a place such as a law firm, yet they are still paid below the poverty line. At a normal job, holidays and weekends are designated off days, and days to rest. The Minor League schedule in particular is very vigorous with sometimes three weeks in between a day off.
“Most days I’ll get to the ballpark around noon so I can eat my lunch and get dressed so I can be in the batting cage by 1. From there on we are doing something to get ready for the game that night. Our games usually start at 7pm and will get done around 10 or 10:30. I’ve been in games that have gone almost to 1 in the morning due to extra innings or rain delays. On certain nights in the week we are required to get a weight training session in once the game is finished. By the time we get showered up and dressed it is usually around 11pm and its time to get some sleep and do it again the next day.”
As I stated earlier, there is an ongoing lawsuit filed on behalf of MiLB players, regarding their low salary. Like most MiLB players, the support on this subject is overwhelming.
“I do support it. Playing in the Minor Leagues isn’t the glamorous lifestyle that most people think it is. The pay-out once you make it to the big leagues is amazing but the things that you have to go though in the process of getting there is pretty tough.”
The debate between salary in the MiLB has been an ongoing topic for years, with little to no change. Many people assume because they are professional athletes, they receive lavish gifts and live in nice houses, which is not the case at all. If you aren’t drafted in the first few rounds, the signing bonus you receive is in the four digits, and possibly smaller. Imagine trying to support yourself while only getting paid 300 dollars a month, and working a 12 hour job. All the stress and worrying about how you can afford food and gas for the next day, or rent for the end of the month, that is what most Minor League Baseball Players have to face every day, with many people unaware of their situation.