While sportswriters are frequently instructed to “stick to sports” when opining on political or social matters, members of the United States Congress frequently feel compelled to stick their noses into sporting matters. To a certain degree, sports should be governed and legislated like other areas of commerce, but for the most part, congressional efforts in the sporting arena miss the mark. The current “Save America’s Pastime Act,” brought forth by Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Cheri Bustos of Illinois in the House of Representatives is no different.
The bill comes in response to minor league players’ attempts to receive a fair, working wage. For a season’s worth of effort, most minor league players are paid far below minimum wage. The average minor leaguer will earn between $3,000 and $4,000 for a full season. Most live with host families to save money or bunk with a handful of teammates in low-budget apartments. With long bus rides and hastily prepared meals most nights, the life is far from glamorous.
Given the rigors of life as a professional athlete (no matter how far from the bright lights of Major League Baseball), it makes sense that players in the lower levels would want to be paid a bit more than roughly $30-40 per game. Considering that players spend at least four hours at the park every night doing their job, the compensation they receive is likely lower than the workers hawking peanuts and hot dogs in the stands.
The bill brought forth in the House of Representatives cites the need to save minor-league cities and teams from an “unprecedented cost increase.” Minor League Baseball is wholly behind the push to keep ballplayer salaries down, but raising the low end of player salaries would hardly bankrupt teams like the Louisville Bats or Lexington Legends. Players in organized baseball are employed by the Major League team that runs the affiliate. Tens of thousands of jobs will not be caused by young athletes being paid like the teenagers working in the stands.
Many minor league players have lived at the poverty line during the season for years. Save the bonus babies picked in the first few rounds, these players are not millionaires. Many foreign players send most of their paychecks back home to support their families. Chasing the dreams of the major leagues is a sacrifice in many ways, and the players know that. Few of them will “make it,” and most will walk away from their years of professional baseball with no marketable skills and little in the way of savings. These minor league players and their lofty dreams are what keep that “family-friendly entertainment” possible each summer in cities all across America.
America’s pastime does not need saving in cities like Harrisburg, Pennsylvania or Frederick, Maryland. Minor league ball is as healthy as its ever been in America’s small towns, but unfortunately the same cannot always be said of the men on the field keeping the game alive. Congress needs to get out of the way and let much-needed change come to minor league baseball and its outdated system of indentured servitude.